capsule review

Samsung Instinct S30 (Sprint) Smartphone

At a Glance
  • Samsung Instinct S30

    PCWorld Rating

Phone fans had been hoping that Sprint's next-gen version of the Samsung Instinct smartphone would drop weight and beef up on specs. Then, at CTIA 2009, the Instinct S30 ($130 after rebates, with a two-year contract) premiered. Let's just say that the new version underwhelms. The S30 still lacks Wi-Fi; and even worse, it has downgraded EvDO support. And while the built-in camera takes decent photos, it is still missing a flash and photo editing software.

Measuring 4.6 by 2.1 by 0.5 inches, the S30 is only slightly slimmer than the original. The S30, however, has smoother corners and a slicker design, and it feels quite comfortable in the hand. It is also a hair lighter, weighing 3.9 ounces. It comes in two attractive colors, Cobalt Metal and Copper.

Among other important upgrades are a few new preinstalled apps (such as the Opera Mini 4.2 browser), added internal memory (from 16GB to 32GB), and instant messaging, calendar, and contact-syncing capabilities.

At CTIA 2009, when the S30 debuted, Samsung said that developers would have more access to core Java APIs (application programming interfaces), including messaging, multimedia, and Bluetooth. Sprint is forming an Application Developer Program to provide developers with free resources and a kit containing Instinct programming templates and device emulation.

The second-gen Instinct gets no Wi-Fi love, and oddly the S30's EvDO support is downgraded. Rather than EvDO Rev. A, the S30 supports Sprint's EvDO Rev. 0 network. As a result, instead of download speeds of 600 kbps to 1.4 mbps, you'll get 400 kbps to 700 kbps; upload speeds will be about 50 kbps to 70 kbps instead of 350 kbps to 500 kbps. Why Sprint decided to offer a second-gen model at a slower speed is beyond me.

Fortunately, the Web browsing is still snappy. The native browser runs in landscape mode only, made narrower by sets of icons on either side. The icons on the left perform display-related tasks such as zooming in and out, toggling between mobile and standard mode, and selecting (with a picture-frame-like square) the areas of a page you want to magnify. On the right are icons for search, bookmarks, and history. Overall it's touch-friendly and fairly easy to use, but you can also try the preinstalled Opera Mini browser if you want an alternative.

The Samsung S30 retains the previous model's lackluster Favorites screen--basically an empty grayscale screen that you can populate with your most frequently used applications. Though the screen seems intended to show off customization capabilities, it is pretty drab; Samsung would have done better to have the unit default to the Main screen, which is filled with colorful icons for apps such as e-mail, navigation, and the calendar.

Nothing has changed with respect to the S30's solid, responsive touchscreen. It is slightly larger at 3.2 inches (as opposed to 3.1 inches). The original Instinct shipped with a stylus, but the S30 doesn't--that's okay, though, since both models have no place in the hardware for you to store it.

I had no difficulty using the S30's touchscreen. You can optimize the display for left-handed use, as well as make adjustments for calibration and touch sensitivity. I also liked the unit's haptic feedback, the small vibrations it made in response to touches.

The S30, like the original Instinct, has three touch-sensitive icons embedded in the hardware underneath the display that light up when you start up the device. The Home icon at the center always brings you to applications. If you want to make a phone call, you press the Phone icon to the right, which brings up the speed-dial menu. The third icon, a left-pointing arrow on the left side, lets you step back to the previously active screen. Call quality on the Instinct was good. Voices sounded decent over Sprint's 3G network, and call recipients said my voice sounded clear with ample volume. The contacts display is large and readable; tapping a contact number to initiate a call is easy.

With the original Instinct, Samsung included not only a spare battery but also a small charging case for it, so you could charge the spare while you're using the phone. We thought that case was one of the best features of that package, but unfortunately the S30's package does not include a charging case.

The Instinct S30 has a good music player, in part due to Sprint's helpful media-management software, which not only locates tracks on your PC but also tells you whether DRM protection will make playing them on the device problematic. Video isn't as good, however, as it suffers from noticeable pixelation and frequent pauses.

One thing that did let me down: Samsung didn't bother to touch the Instinct's mediocre camera. The S30's lens offers only 2 megapixels, and the camera comes with no flash and no photo editing software. Though it captured decent images in good light, it was prone to fuzzy-picture alerts in low-light conditions. You can capture video, too, as much of it as your storage card can hold--but you can upload only as much as 2MB over the air. The phone can upload directly to a MySpace or Photobucket account. If you're out for a night on the town, though, the only images you'll get are shadowy black blobs.

Samsung has done a solid job on both the original Instinct and the S30; either way, you have to admire the extensive feature list and sharp design you get for the price. But Wi-Fi support, better camera specs, and a snazzier user interface all seem like obvious additions that Samsung should have considered for this second-generation device.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Samsung Instinct S30 is a solid phone, but it needed Wi-Fi support and better camera specs to be a true upgrade.

    Pros

    • Slimmer profile feels great in hand
    • 32GB of internal memory

    Cons

    • Still no Wi-Fi
    • Weak camera capabilities
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