Although the capabilities of today’s smartphones are expanding, offering perks such as live television and internet radio, current network conditions often limit the usefulness of these features. For the past three weeks, we have been using Samsung’s Instinct phone, and while its list of features is compelling, its execution was somewhat disappointing. While this isn’t entirely the fault of the phone, it may be indicative for anyone that resides in an area with spotty cellular reception.
What’s In the Box
Upon first opening the Instinct’s box, we were taken back by the consummate number of accessories included with the phone. Whereas many manufactures lower the price of a phone by selling a no-frills package, Samsung thoughtfully included an earbud/microphone set, 2 GB memory card, case, stylus, installation disk, two batteries, and a charger. After installing the memory card and battery in our phone, we began charging the Instinct, while installing the necessary drivers on our computers. Unlike many other flash and disk based accessories that connect via USB, most phones still require a bloated installation with bundled applications. We eagerly anticipate the day where our phones are recognized as quickly and easily as our plug-and-play thumb drives. After a fifteen minute install period and reboot on our XP-based system, our phone was recognized as a flash based device. We initially tested the music capabilities of the phone by installing some mp3s on the phone.
Music and Transfer Speeds
Although the Instinct states it utilizes high-speed USB 2.0, we found data transfer rates abysmally slow; so slow we double-checked our findings on another computer, so ensure there was no hardware malfunction. Transferring 200 MB (about 25 MP3s encoded at a 192 kilobit per second bitrate) took us nearly four minutes on each of the two machines. Taking the microSD card out of the phone and plugging it into an adapter, reduced the transfer time to ninety seconds. Once the music was installed, it was time for a test listen. The included earbuds were serviceable for music, but lacked the crisp highs found on higher-end earphones. The Instinct’s music player had some problems finding the tags in some of our mp3’s, although this was a relatively minor problem. One much larger problem we encountered was found while listening to a podcast- the phone could not accurately jump to a desired point in the music file. At first, we thought this might be a problem with one particular podcast, until we duplicated the problem with a number of files that played perfectly on other music players. Hopefully, this problem can be remedied in a future firmware update.
Once we finished listening to a few songs, it was time to make a few calls. When used as a handset or with the included earbuds, the Instinct offered crisp sound that rivaled the clarity of our home phones. The interface lived up to the phone’s moniker- the Instinct offered a myriad of options, from saving phone numbers to offering lists of recently dialed and received numbers. We did encounter one problem- when using the phone from downtown Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley, the signal strength meter fluctuated wildly. While the bulk of the problem probably lies with our carrier Sprint, having calls repeatedly disconnect while in a major metropolitan city was incredibility frustrating.
E-mail, Internet, Radio and Television
Sending and receiving email with the Instinct was a breeze. Thoughtfully, the phone comes configured for most of the major web-based email systems from Hotmail, Yahoo, to Gmail. Here, the only drawback was the onscreen keyboard that resembled the iPhone’s interface- with our large thumbs, hitting an errant letter was a bit too easy. Using the stylus made things much more exact, at the cost of convenience. Web browsing with the Instinct was somewhat disappointing. Beyond the slow transfer speeds, the formatting of many web pages was skewed, resulting in large, puzzling gaps of space on the screen. Although the Instinct has preset zoom sizes for web surfing, it lacked the efficiency and ease of browsing via an iPhone. Instead we recommend using the phone’s integrated news service which offered easy, quick access to world events, sports, entertainment and weather. Streaming internet radio offered a wonderful, commercial-free alternative to listening to mp3s. The sound quality was rich, and we experienced few interruptions. We wish the same could be said of watching television on the Instinct- after a few seconds of broadcasting, the screen became a pixilated mess. Disgruntled with not being able to watch television, we decided to play a few games.
Games and GPS
We found the Instinct to be a serviceable platform for games- downloading game was exceptionally quick and easy. Touch based titles like Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader and Scene It? worked best. Pac-Man required the player to control the yellow dot eater with an on-screen d-pad, which was completely unresponsive and frustrating. For the portable gaming aficionado, the Instinct is no replacement for the DS or PSP- the hardware seems to struggle when moving more than a few sprites around the screen.
Lastly, we tested the GPS capabilities of the phone. When the global positioning system data can be accessed, the phone easily can deliver detailed, verbal, driving instructions. The Instinct’s ability to plot and direct a trip was exceptional, save for the occasional slow refresh rate. Users have the option to set a destination, search for gas stations (by price!), ATM, and Wifi hotspots (which is puzzling, as the phone doesn’t offer Wi-fi capability). The ability to access this inforamtion stood as one of the phone’s best features.
The Instinct’s current ad campaign touts that Sprint has four times as much 3G network coverage as competitor AT&T. While that may be true in some parts of the country, it didn’t reflect our experience in Southern California. Hopefully, Instinct owners in other geographical regions receive the bandwidth to fully utilize the Instinct’s broad feature set. While the phone is incredibly feature-rich, jamming every application we could ever want on a portable device, some of the individual application such as the web browser and music player may disappoint. Hopefully, a firmware update will improve the capability of this phone.
Size: 4.6″ x 2.2″ x 0.49″
Weight: 4.4 ounces
Talk Time: 5.5 hours (Advertised), 5.2 hours (tested)