The Samsung Intrepid ($150 with a two-year contract from Sprint; price as of 10/19/09), successor to the Samsung Ace, features a touchscreen and a sleek design, measuring just 4.9 by 2.4 by 0.5 inches. The cover is soft black plastic, and at 3.2 ounces the phone is light. As far as looks go, it's definitely an attractive device--usability, however, is a different story.
The Intrepid has a full physical QWERTY keyboard as well as a 2.5-inch, 320-by-240-pixel touchscreen. That might seem like the best of both worlds--the convenience of a touchscreen with the typing power of physical keys--and it would be, except for the fact that the commands are split between the touchscreen and the keyboard. It's hard to know when you can use just the touchscreen, when you can use just the keyboard, and when you have to use both in order to get anything done. For example, to set a photo as the background, you can use the touchscreen to select the photo and choose its transparency, but then you must press the physical OK button on the keyboard to set the photo. This procedure is not intuitive; figuring it out cost me an hour of frustration.
Another annoyance: The Intrepid doesn't seem to have a Clear (or similar) button to press to go back. Instead, I ended up having to exit out of whatever app I was running and start over again. I tried pressing the power button (which only set the phone to sleep mode), the delete button (which did nothing, except when it started deleting text), and the phone-off button (which exited the app). I may be missing something, but this was really annoying.
Windows Mobile 6.5, to put it mildly, doesn't have the slickest user interface. It definitely slowed down the phone--I saw as much as a 2-second lag in some cases--and unfortunately it still requires users to go through several steps to perform tasks. You do get a customizable home screen, which is convenient; you can set it to show anything from new messages in your inbox to the time. The start menu is somewhat haphazardly arranged (the icons are in an every-other-square type of grid, which Microsoft has dubbed a "honeycomb interface"), but it is touch-friendly and easy enough to navigate.
The Intrepid supports Adobe Flash Lite (YouTube videos played easily, but somewhat choppily), and it has the Internet Explorer Mobile browser, which works reasonably well. Most pages were fairly quick to load, even if they had a lot of images. The Intrepid has a built-in 802.11 b/g wireless modem, too, for connecting to the Internet without using the network. Music plays well in the drab Windows Media Player, which supports the MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA, and MIDI formats. The audio was pretty true over headphones, and just slightly tinny on the speakers.
The Intrepid's camera is only 3 megapixels--average, for a cell phone--but it took some decent-quality photos, even under low light. It does not have a flash, but it does have a little mirror on the back for self-portraits.
Call quality on the Intrepid over Sprint's 3G network was fantastic. It did a great job of filtering out wind noise (a plus in San Francisco), and none of my calls dropped--not even in the tunnels on Caltrain (the Intrepid is, in fact, the first phone I've tried that did not drop my calls in those tunnels). Voices sounded clear and not at all tinny on both sides, and the phone was comfortable to hold for long periods of time. According to Samsung, the Intrepid has a talk-time of approximately 6 hours, which is decent for a smartphone.
One thing that worked really well was Microsoft's TellMe application. To activate it, all you have to do is press a button (with a picture of a talking person on it) and tell the phone what you want. For example, if you want to know where the nearest Starbucks is, you can just tell the phone "coffee," and it will pull up a listing (via Microsoft Bing) of coffee places near you (the app uses GPS to determine where "near you" is). You can also use the app for basic phone commands, such as "Call Ron" or "Text Mom." In my tests TellMe was fairly good at recognizing words, even when I spoke with my mouth full, or when other people were talking around me. It recognized words such as "enlightenment," "entrepreneur," and even "Sarah Jacobsson" (though it spelled my name wrong). The only drawback was that if it didn't recognize a command, it went straight to the Bing search engine. For example, when I asked for for e-mail, it didn't give me my e-mail account, but rather a search result for Yahoo Mail.
The Samsung Intrepid is an improvement over the Ace--if not such a great phone otherwise. Like the Ace, it supports CDMA and GSM networks, which is perfect for the international traveler. It syncs up quickly with Microsoft Outlook, and setting up e-mail accounts is easy. While the touchscreen and keyboard combination is not fantastic, the keyboard itself is responsive and easy to use, even for people with large hands. While you can find phones that make similar touchscreen/keyboard combos work (see the HTC Touch Pro 2, also on Sprint), the split-up commands on the Intrepid had me feeling a bit schizophrenic.
The Samsung Intrepid has some great e-mail and messaging features, but navigating its interface can be difficult.
- Great call quality
- Easy to sync and set up e-mail
- Commands split between keyboard and touchscreen