capsule review

Samsung Instinct HD (Sprint) Cell Phone

At a Glance
  • Samsung Instinct HD

Fans disappointed with the minor upgrades in last spring's Instinct S30 will be pleased with the Samsung Instinct HD ($250 with a two-year contract from Sprint; price as of 9/25/09). This iteration of the cell phone bumps up the features considerably: Not only does it support HD video-out (as the name implies), but the handset also has a sleeker design, a 5-megapixel camera, and--at last--Wi-Fi connectivity. But to get HD video-out, you have to shell out extra for a mini-HDMI-to-HDMI cable.

The Instinct HD measures 4.6 by 2.3 by 0.5 inches, the same dimensions as the S30; it weighs 4 ounces more than its sibling. The HD, however, has a slicker look, with rounder corners, a shiny piano-black case, and silver trim. The black matte backing feels nice in the hand, and I experienced no discomfort holding it during long phone calls.

Call quality was solid over Sprint's 3G network; voices sounded clear, and the volume was ample. Call recipients said my voice sounded loud enough, with no static or hiss. One of my contacts said that the phone seemed to pick up a lot of background noise, though.

Like the previous generations, the Instinct HD has three touch-sensitive icons underneath the display; these icons light up brightly when you start the device. The Home icon at the center always brings you to applications. If you want to make a 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.

I found the 3.2-inch touchscreen mostly responsive, particularly while I was using the on-screen keyboard. I encountered some sluggishness, however, while scrolling through Web pages, browsing my music collection, and using the Unlock slider. If you're planning on loading a lot of media content onto the Instinct HD, be aware that you might end up taking a while to find what you want.

As for the user interface, not much has changed from the older Instincts. The Instinct HD retains the lackluster Favorites screen--basically an empty grayscale screen that you can populate with your most frequently used applications. Though the screen is intended to show off customization capabilities, it looks pretty drab; once again, I think Samsung would have done better to make the phone default to the Main screen, which is filled with eye-popping icons for commonly used apps such as e-mail, navigation, and the calendar.

Your apps are divided up among four screens, each accessible via a tab at the bottom of the display: Main, Fun, My Stuff, and Web. On the Main panel you'll find e-mail, instant messaging, settings, and a few other helpful tools. The Fun panel houses the camera and multimedia players, as well as apps for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace. The My Stuff panel has shortcuts to Sprint's Web site for ring tones, games, and app shopping; you'll also find the Google Maps app there.

Web browsing is relatively speedy, but is definitely enhanced with the addition of Wi-Fi. Opera 9.7's system of displaying open pages isn't the slickest (it shrinks them to thumbnails and tiles them side by side), but I got used to it. The browser defaults to the mobile version of a site, if one is available. Certain multimedia-heavy sites wouldn't load at all.

The Instinct HD's 5-megapixel camera is a noteworthy upgrade from the S30's mere 2-megapixel shooter. I found the camera fairly versatile, too: It has several different shooting and scene modes, each appropriate for a specific picture-taking scenario, such as sunsets, action shots, portraits, and nighttime. I was really impressed with the image quality, both indoors and out. Details were sharp, colors were bright and accurate, and the images lacked the usual cell phone camera graininess. Having a dedicated shutter button rather than a touch button is nice; none of my photos had the slight blurring that plagues so many iPhone pictures. The camcorder is also quite good. It can shoot in VGA, QVGA, and, of course, high-definition (at up to 720p).

If you want to view your videos directly from the Instinct, you can do so: The phone has a mini-HDMI port for connecting the phone directly to an HDTV. However, Samsung didn't include the necessary cable, which costs $30 from Sprint. (And unfortunately, I could not test HDTV playback, as our review unit did not include the HDMI cable. We should be receiving one soon, however, and I'll update this review accordingly.) Samsung's tacking the letters "HD" onto the Instinct is misleading in other ways, as well: You can't play back HD video natively on the device--the same issue that plagues the Microsoft Zune HD.

The Instinct HD's music player supports playlists, album artwork, and shuffle playback mode. I found the audio quality decent, albeit a little flat; and since the player lacks an equalizer, I couldn't boost or adjust the sound to compensate. If you're tired of your music, you can check out the Instinct HD's FM radio. Video playback wasn't as good, unfortunately. Videos played from Sprint TV suffered from so much pixelation that I could barely tell what I was watching. A music video I downloaded looked a little better but had a blurry, oil-painting-like effect.

The Instinct HD is a strong update to a great phone, but I wish Sprint would have kept the price lower and bundled the HDMI cable. To justify the handset's steep price, Sprint should have included that cable in the package. One tip for interested customers: You may get a better deal on the Instinct HD at Best Buy, which at this writing offers the handset for $200 with a two-year contract.

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At a Glance
  • The Instinct HD has a plentitude of features, but you have to pay extra to experience HD video on your TV.

    Pros

    • Slick, pocketable design
    • Excellent camera

    Cons

    • Must pay extra for HDMI cable
    • User interface can be slow
  
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