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Review: Samsung Instinct

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Jun 13, 2008, 10:57 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Samsung and Sprint break out the touch screen Instinct to combat the swelling ranks of touch devices. Does it compare to the competition? With video tour.


Is It Your Type? 


The Samsung Instinct is Sprint's flagship media phone for 2008. While it bears a striking resemblance to you-know-what, it is different in many ways. It does almost all that you can ask of a media phone and packages it in a sleek, touch-based slab.


Disclaimer: We're not going to be able to avoid comparisons to the iPhone in this review. We'll do our best to keep such references to a minimum and judge the Instinct as if Apple's device didn't exist, but you need to accept that comparing it is natural. Cool? Now that that is out of the way, I feel better, don't you? On to the review...

The Instinct is a simple bar-style block. The inky blackness and glossy finish on the front face give it an air of class, though it comes off just a little simple looking. As with any phone that uses this type of styling, you just have to resign yourself to the fact that the screen is going to become smudged. It is simply unavoidable. The Instinct is not alone in this regard. Rimming the front face is a deep blue / silver frame. It's nice that Samsung's designers didn't go with chrome and did something a bit more unique here.

We have no complaints about the size. It feels good holding it in your hand. The back is covered in a soft-touch paint job, and that gives it a bit of extra grip. There's no fear that it will slip out of your hand. It is also just narrow enough so that you can get your fingers most of the way around it to hold it tightly. It isn't a featherweight device, but it is far from heavy. If you put it into the pocket of loose fitting pants, you'll feel it tug at your pocket, for sure. Speaking of pockets, it will slip into even the tightest jean pockets without any problems.

On the front of the Instinct are just three buttons below the screen: back, home and phone. They aren't physical buttons, but touch capacitance buttons. They provide haptic microvibration feedback when touched. These three buttons worked just fine, and didn't require multiple touches (more on that later) to get them to work.

On the left side of the Instinct is the data/charge port hatch and the volume toggle. The hatch opens up with no problems, as Samsung provided a generous area for your nail to dig underneath it. I really liked the volume toggle. These bumps let you know exactly what your thumb or finger is touching, as they are distinctive in the way they feel. Travel and feedback of the volume toggle is good, and there is a nice click when it is pressed.

On the right side of the phone is the microSD hatch at the top, with the voice activation key and camera key below it. The microSD hatch is nearly identical to the port hatch. The voice activation key resembles the volume toggle from the other side, and provides similar travel and feedback. The camera button, however, is smaller and harder to find. It also offers less travel and less feedback.

The top of the Instinct houses the lock/power key. This button is small, but you'll be making regular use of it to unlock the phone. It is a little too flush with the top surface of the phone for my tastes. It can take a second to find it, and that became annoying when I wanted to wake the phone quickly. Next to it is the hatch covering the 3.5mm headset jack. It's noteworthy to point out how nice this 3.5mm headset jack is, because many Samsung phones come with an adapter for headphones rather than an actual jack. The hatch covering the jack, however, doesn't make much sense to me. I used the Instinct often enough for music that it became tiring to continually have to open and close that hatch to stick my headphones in.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The Three S's 


Smudge factor aside, the Instinct's screen is nice, but not astounding by any stretch of the imagination. To our eyes, all the icons, images and pictures had a soft look to them. I am not sure if this is an issue with the screen or the design of the UI, but the lack of sharpness, even of images, left me wanting to continually rub the screen to remove a non-existent film that gave it a clouded look. What's more, the screen is darn near impossible to view when outdoors. With indirect sunlight, making out text and icons was difficult at best.


The Instinct's signal indicator ranged wildly all over the place. Sitting on my couch, the Instinct has zero bars. Moving to another spot in my living room (we're talking six feet away), and it suddenly had 5 bars. Walking into my kitchen dropped the signal strength to 3 bars. Even when stationary, signal strength waffled between 0 bars and 2 bars most of the time. Granted, Sprint's network is not really strong where I live, but this is below-par performance. This made for lots of dropped calls. I was often in the middle of a conversation when the call was dropped, and the phone gave me the "Entering Sprint Service Area" message. Clearly the dropped call is related to poor signal strength.


Calls that went through and remained connected sounded very good. There was only the slightest amount of hiss every so often. Never were callers garbled or difficult to understand. The ringer could be made plenty loud, as could music through the phone's ear piece speaker.


We've only been able to pass the Instinct through one charge/discharge cycle since we've had it. The battery lasted for three full days, with consistent usage, including phone calls, speakerphone, music listening and web browsing.



The Instinct uses touch resistance, not touch capacitance, for the main screen. This means you need to push the screen to get it to react. As with most phones that use this technology, I find it lacks the responsiveness and finesse possible with the technology used by the iPhone. You have to be blunt with the Instinct. This means pressure.

The haptic vibrations can be turned on or off, and in the end, I settled for off. The style of vibration used by the Instinct just didn't agree with me. This almost improved usability. You can alter the sensitivity of the touch screen in the settings menu, but even with it set to the highest sensitivity, I found the screen to be unresponsive about half the time.

The real killer, though, is that the Instinct will give you FALSE POSITIVE haptic feedback. The phone will buzz when you touch something, which is meant to confirm to you that the phone registered the press. But it didn't. The phone takes no action, even though it gives you feedback. This is a real failing of the touch technology used in this phone.

One action (opening a web page) took 10 presses before the screen registered the touch and opened the browser. It was common to have to tap things twice or thrice to muster a response from the Instinct.


Sprint worked with Samsung to develop a brand new menu system for the Instinct. It resembles Sprint's regular menus only slightly, but it speaks "Sprint" loud and clear.

The Instinct's home screen, for example, is Sprint's list of favorite shortcuts. This is fully customizable. You can add and rearrange the shortcuts on the home screen at will. This includes applications, actions, web bookmarks, etc. There doesn't appear to be a limit for adding in favorites, but once you fill up the screen, there's not much point to adding more, because then it might be just as fast to access the application you want through the standard menu system. Speaking of which...

Along the bottom of the Instinct's screen are four buttons: favorites, main menu, fun and web. The favorites button duplicates the action of the home button, and takes you to the list of favorites you have.

The main menu is a standard grid of nine folders/applications that pop up when you hit the button. This menu doesn't appear to be customizable in any way. It lets you access the Instinct's settings, tools and applications.

The Fun menu is where you find all your content applications, such as the music player, camera, gaming and access to Sprint's application store. This menu can be customized a bit, as items can be added or deleted as you download applications such as Mobile MySpace.

The Web button takes you to another grid of icons that allow you to launch the browser, get sports scores, the weather report, etc. You can also add bookmarks to this menu if you so choose, as well as other Sprint content.

In all, the menu system is pretty intuitive. It won't take long to figure out and get used to.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.


Similar to the iPhone, the process of making simple calls can become rather involved. Let your finger on the almighty Phone button, and rather than launch a dial-pad, you jump to the calling menu. The home screen is a list of your speed dials, just like the iPhone's. You can add to these at will, as well as delete them. This page corresponds to the Speed Dial button on the bottom of the phone. There are three other buttons: Contacts, History and Dialer.

Tapping any of your speed dials will call them. There is also a little arrow on the far right of each speed dial. Tap that, and the phone will open up that contact's main information page, where you can choose actions other than placing phone's calls.

Since there are no send/end keys, the History button is the only way to get to your calling history. One nice touch about the history is that all the calls are grouped by date. There is a separator that delineates each day, so you can see how many calls you received on a given day. Tapping any of the calls will automatically call that number. If you want to do something else with that number, such as save it, you have to tap the arrow on the right side of the contact. If you do this, you can choose to see all the calls placed to/from that number. I happen to like that feature.

As with the iPhone, you have to be careful on this page. Accidentally hitting the screen can initiate a call when you don't intend to. This can lead to embarrassment and awkwardness, depending on who you accidentally call. You can also scroll up and down with your finger. Above the call list is a little trash can. If you want to delete some of your call records, you have to hit the trash can button. This will let you delete all your calls, or select specific calls to delete.

The Dialer button brings you to a software keypad. The numbers are ginormous, so it is easy to dial (as long as you don't have any mishaps with the touch screen). Above the touch screen is a huge green Talk button. Once you've dialed, hit that big ole button to place the call. On this page, you can also save numbers to your contacts list, set up your voicemail, or set up a pause for dialing extensions.

With a call in progress, you have a a nice big picture of the person you're calling, along with several options. Directly below the caller ID picture is a red End Call button. To hang up the phone, you have to slide it sideways. Below that button is a mute button, speakerphone button, add a call button, as well as links to your contacts and the dialer. One you get used to the entire process, it speeds up, but calling does take longer than it would with phones with traditional keypads because you have to take actions to reach your speed dials or the dialpad.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

As for the contacts, in the Contacts page, it is as simple as hitting the + button to add a contact. The contact application lets you enter names, numbers, emails, street addresses, URLs, memos and set a ringtone or picture ID. If you have a mobile number set for a contact, a little bubble appears next to the mobile number. Tapping it will initiate a text message. There is no way to search the contacts application, so if you have a lot of names stored in your phone, you have to scroll to find them.

The annoying thing here is that any time you need to enter text information for your contacts, the phone automatically reorients itself sideways for you to use the QWERTY keyboard. If you have a lot of information to load into a contact, the back and forth and constant rotating of the phone is pure hell.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.


Messaging is pretty straight-forward. Since you can load the messaging application into your Favorites list, it is easy to get started. Hit the messaging application and it automatically brings up a list of all your SMS conversations, just like the iPhone. It allows for threaded messaging, so all your conversations are clustered by contact. Opening up a conversation gives you access to all the SMS messages sent back and forth. Just as with the call log, it groups messages into days. Messages are color coded, so you know which ones you sent, versus which ones you received.

In the messaging application home screen, there are two software buttons at the bottom of the screen. The left one will start a brand new text message, the right one will start a brand new picture message. The MMS messages are formatted very much like emails, and you can send them to multiple people, as well as insert voice memos and place subject lines in the message. The process is a no-brainer.

A few words about the software QWERTY keyboard. It is always oriented in the landscape mode. This means the buttons can be somewhat bigger. The problems with the software keyboard are related to the touch technology. Presses that don't work, false positives and other feedback issues make for frustrating typing. One thing that is maddening is the delete button. It is placed way up at the top of the screen. Below it is a button that gets rid of the keyboard. Pushing the delete button rather than that keyboard buttons is nearly impossible. Sprint and Instinct need to seriously consider placing the delete key, which is needed often because of the failings of the touch screen.

You can also switch the keyboard to portrait mode, but it loses the QWERTY layout and switches to a simple ABC configuration. When in this mode, there is also a character recognition software tool. You can use your finger to write letters and the recognition software works pretty well at figuring out what you mean to type.

The email application has all the software aboard so you can easily configure email accounts with providers such as AOL, Gmail, Windows Live Mail, and Yahoo. Once you have them set up, you can set the mail program to auto-retrieve email. This is no push email service, though. One thing I really liked was the ability to add attachments to emails. You have access to your photo library, videos, as well as music files and other documents. These can all be attached to emails and sent from the Instinct. You can also format your email settings to accommodate your time zone, the date format, upgrade the software, and refresh the inbox. The Instinct does not support IM.

Incoming messages will pop up alerts on the Instinct's standby screen. When you unlock it, the first thing you see will be a list of any missed calls or messages you received.

The Instinct also comes with Visual Voicemail. After your inbox is set up, you get a visual record of all your voicemails similar to how they appear on the iPhone. You can listen to the ones that you want, rather than listening to all of them to get to the most recent message.



Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.



Your music can be accessed with the music application. Since you can place a shortcut to the music app on your Favorites page, it is easy to get to. Opening it up brings you to a screen that resembles standard music phones' music players. You can choose from playlists, artists, songs, albums and genres.

At the very bottom of the screen are four buttons: MyMusic, Player, Store and Search. The MyMusic button is essential the home screen for the music application. This is where you cycle through your library to find music you want to listen to. There is also an options button here, that lets you sync music to a web account, scan the phone for music, set a password, etc. The player itself is fair enough. With a song selected, it will display album art in the upper one-third of the screen, with the track title and artist name at the very top of the screen.

There are two buttons that are floating in the middle of the album artwork, and they are the shuffle and repeat buttons. Hitting them does exactly what you expect them to do. The rewind, play and fast-forward buttons are at the botton of the screen. You can multitask and do other things while listening to music, but the player offers no EQ settings to choose from, or no options during playback. The volume toggle on the side of the phone is the only way to raise or lower the volume of the music. Incoming text messages or calls will pause the music, which will resume once the message alert is dismissed, or once the call is disconnected.

You can access Sprint's Music Store directly from the player, which has been completely re-realized by Groove Mobile. It is much improved over the version of the Sprint Music Store that is available to standard Sprint phones. The user interface has been improved drastically, and the discovery process is a lot faster. It's easier to find and buy what you might be looking for.

Music definitely doesn't sound all that great if you use the Instinct's built-in speaker. Using your own headphones is the best option.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.



The Instinct's camera is OK, but definitely not great. You can launch it from any number of different menus on the phone, and of course the dedicated button. Probably the first thing you're going to notice about the camera is the "Fuzzy Picture Warning" that pops up on the screen constantly. Basically, if you're moving the camera around quickly, or have it three inches from something, or are aiming into a dimly-lit area, the camera warns you that any pictures you might take will be crappy. It ain't lying. This warning popped up so much, that I found it highly irritating, though I understand why it was included.

As with the iPhone, there's pretty much nothing you can do with the camera but take pictures. There is no menu for altering the resolution, brightness, quality, etc. You can pretty much just point and shoot it. That's a disappointment. The camera does launch fairly quickly, however, and you can start taking pictures in about three seconds. Pictures take about two seconds to capture and save. There is one little indicator in the bottom left corner of the screen that lets you know how many pictures you have left. You can toggle this indicator on and off, but that function just leaves an empty box sitting there on the screen, rather than a box with useful information.

Perhaps the most exasperating feature of the camera is that you CAN'T TAKE PICTURES AT ALL WITH NO MEMORY CARD INSERTED. This is just ludicrous. Granted, often you want your pictures stored on the microSD card. But you don't even have the option to save photos to the phone's memory temporarily. In fact, the camera won't even open without a memory card inserted. That's just plain crazy. Of course, the Instinct comes with a 2GB microSD card in the box. It serves as the phone's memory.

The video software is pretty much identical. Same controls, same issues, and same wacky limitations. You can set the video camera to take videos with a max time of 2 minutes, or set it to allow for full access to the memory card and record until the card fills up.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.


The gallery application can be reached via the camera software, the Fun menu, or placed as one of your favorites. The gallery software assumes that you'll be using it with the camera, so it is permanently oriented in landscape mode. Your photos can be set to appear as a grid, or in a tiled format similar to that of the Nokia N Series gallery application. Using your finger, you can scroll sideways through your pictures until you find the ones you want. Once you find it, tap it once to load it on the screen.

With a picture selected you have 8 different options, with four buttons flanking each side of the picture. On the left side are icons that let you trash the photo, send it via Bluetooth, play a video, or zoom in/out. On the right side, the four buttons let you jump back to the camera, send the image as a MMS, upload it to a photo sharing service, or switch to the other gallery view.

This is it, though. You can't rotate or crop images or make any improvements or edits to the image. What you shot is what you got. You'll have to use your PC to make any improvements after the fact.

You can also scroll through your gallery by swiping images sideways in the gallery app.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.



The Instinct has a 2 megapixel camera. Outdoor shots looked good, but not stunning. There is plenty of good color and the pictures are reasonably sharp. The same cannot be said for indoor images. I noticed a lot of vignetting (darkening of the corners) on a lot of shots taken inside. Indoor shots are also more prone to trigger the "Fuzzy Image Warning" and definitely look softer than images taken outdoors. If you're looking for basic image capturing, the Instinct gets the job done, but its certainly doesn't compare to the iPhone's camera.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.


Best results were obtained with the video camera when it is held still. Moving it around, even a little, pushes everything out of focus. The video recorder did do a decent job at responding to drastic lighting changes, though. And when it is held still, produced video clips that are worth sharing via MMS or YouTube. CNN will likely not use it for its iReports, though, as the fine quality just isn't there.



If you think you're in store for iPhone-like browsing on the Instinct, best to get those notions out of your head right now. It isn't even close. The browser must be used sideways in landscape mode, there is no portrait-mode browsing.

Launching the browser will bring you to the Sprint home page for the Instinct, which has access to standard Sprint stuff, as well as content specifically made for the Instinct. This includes a set of clips that teach you how to use your Instinct. Flanking either side of the main windows are eight buttons that let you access and control the browser's features.

You can view things in "mobile" mode and "standard" mode. On the left side is a zoom button. This button has three settings. You can view the web page at 1x, 2x, or 1/2x zoom levels. If you're at 1x, and want to view at 1/2x, you have to cycle past 2x first. The browser also has a mini-map, that zooms the page way out and shows you what portion of the web site you are looking at. You can then move the map to another location on the site and the page will automatically zoom in on that spot. The bottom-most button on the left side of the phone will let you fill more of the screen with the web site page, or bring up the secondary set of browser icons on the right side of the page. Those include a search function, a button that takes you to the home screen, a link to your bookmarks, and a page refresher.

One neat feature the browser has, is that it will allow you to pan around Web sites by tilting the phone. Simply press the camera key while the browser is open to activate it.

At the top of the browser window is the address bar. Getting this bar to function was an exercise in madness. It typically took 5 or more taps to get the address bar to come up. When it finally did, it would open up a new window with the QWERTY keyboard to enter text. When you're all finished typing, hit Done, and it takes you back to the browser, but doesn't automatically bring up that new page. You have to then hit the refresh button. This is an extra step that is somewhat irritating.

The Instinct uses Sprint's EVDO Rev A. network. Browsing speeds should be fairly fast, but in our experience were all over the place. Google took a full 30 seconds to load, while CNN loaded in just 8 seconds. The nice thing is that the browser supports full HTML, so you'll get more of a real web experience. It's definitely better than the standard WAP browser, but some extra thought could have made this browser much better.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.


The fact that you can change up the features menu entirely - as well as alter some of the secondary menus - lets you customize the Instinct to suit your usage needs. This lets you put applications and functions where you want them, which speeds up the time it takes to get things done. You can set the standard ringtones, picture IDs, wallpaper and so on to make the phone look more yours, but you can't change the fonts or overall theme of the Instinct. The menu style is pretty much set in stone, as are the colors used for all the graphics, borders, etc. Hopefully Sprint will provide more themes for the Instinct via its store.



The Instinct has access to Sprint's standard set of Java applications. They can be found and downloaded through the Fun menu. There are nine of them in the menu. I previewed the Pac-Man application and it worked really well. The application included a software D-pad to help navigate the game. Many of Sprint's Java apps don't have native support for touch screen devices, so the full library of applications is not available just yet. Some of the applications say they will be available in the summer.


The Instinct supports a number of profiles, including stereo Bluetooth. We paired standard and stereo headsets with it easily. Sound quality was OK, but not great through either.


If you need to check the time, just hit the unlock button briefly. Pressing it will show you the time in a nice large digital readout, as well as show you a quick glance of any missed call or message alerts. The clock application is nearly identical to the iPhone's, and even has the large scroll wheels for selecting alarm times. Samsung borrowed a little too closely there, methinks.


The Instinct has access to most of Sprint's PowerVision services, such as mobile TV, mobile radio, navigation and such. The large screen was nice for viewing mobile TV clips.


The Instinct should pair with PCs for transferring music and other files via USB mass storage mode. We could not get it to pair with an Apple computer, it gave us an error message that said the drive was not readable. It was readable by a Windows XP machine.


Here is a video tour of the Samsung Instinct. You can watch it here:

Or visit YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.

Wrap Up 

There were definitely things we liked about the Instinct, and things we didn't like. The form factor is great. Nice weight, easy to hold, and good looks to boot. But the Instinct suffers some performance issues that make it a questionable choice. Signal quality was poor, and lots of dropped calls were the result.

The touch screen technology is far from perfect, and can be difficult to use at times, but we do find that interacting with touch-based devices is enjoyable on a whole different level compared to regular phones with D-pads.

The camera and video software are seriously lacking in functionality, but the pictures and video are passable. The music player is better than what we've seen on other Sprint phones, but it doesn't match the iPhone.

Lastly, the browser gets the job done better than WAP browsers, but it could be much better. More intuitive controls that are better integrated with the Instinct's touch capabilities could really push the browser into "excellent" territory.

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Forum Options

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Subject Author Date
Possibly a good phone, but Sprint will screw it up! dmeier1231 Jun 16, 2008, 1:32 PM
Instinct Modem NAI disable? firefox111 Jun 23, 2008, 7:10 AM
Wrong about messaging you can do it in pictoral view... skeemo Jun 23, 2008, 1:14 PM
Security Features for Touch Phones stringbean321 Jun 25, 2008, 5:34 AM
Instinct = Failure upon Arrival bluecoyote Jun 15, 2008, 12:34 PM
Does Not Sync With Outlook????? MAJOR MAJOR MISTAKE!!! rjmoose Jun 17, 2008, 9:41 PM
The spin stops here!! john.salazar Jun 23, 2008, 11:35 AM
There's no problems with the touchscreen, just the reviewer. monkeyracer Jun 16, 2008, 6:48 PM
Phonearena Gives the Instinct a better review also CNET Sprint Speed Jun 21, 2008, 11:26 PM
Real review crackberry618 Jun 15, 2008, 10:24 AM
no instant messaging? hockeychik191 Jun 19, 2008, 2:51 PM
To all the haters, if you haven't tried it, you can't say anything about it. monkeyracer Jun 17, 2008, 3:07 PM
Importing pictures take with a digital camera ceprograms Jun 21, 2008, 10:22 AM
Is IMAP with SSL supported? firefox111 Jun 19, 2008, 1:38 PM
For those considering... Jrox Jun 20, 2008, 3:05 AM
kudos to eric aTextbookTypo Jun 20, 2008, 12:59 AM
I have the is amazing jacin88 Jun 19, 2008, 9:07 PM
Our Review Unit was FINAL Hardware and FINAL Software Eric M. Zeman Jun 16, 2008, 1:28 PM
Here's an idea: Think for yourself! monkeyracer Jun 15, 2008, 11:41 PM
A Few Words On Bias... Eric M. Zeman Jun 16, 2008, 1:34 PM
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