The Instinct family has been all about budget-friendly pricing for quality features, such as a full HTML browser, a music store, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a decent touchscreen experience. The Instinct HD goes in a different direction with such features as a 5-megapixel camera, HD video recording, Wi-Fi, and a smart phone-like $249 price tag. While the Instinct HD has enough features to sound like a jack of all trades, it costs more than many of today’s hottest smart phones, which offer a lot more apps and a more robust experience when it comes to e-mail, messaging, and social networks.
The original Instinct was a rectangular device that measured 4.5 x 2.1 x 0.4 inches and weighed 4.4 ounces. Then Samsung updated the Instinct line with the more rounded and lighter 3.9-ounce Instinct s30. The Instinct HD measures 4.6 x 2.3 x 0.5 inches and weighs 4.0 ounces, which is closer in size to the original, but it maintains the rounded facade of the s30 and has a glossy black-and-silver color scheme. Its 3.2-inch, 480 x 320 touch display (with haptic feedback) dominates the front of the phone, and there are touch-sensitive Return, Home, and Call buttons below it that each glow white.
The Instict HD has volume controls and a speech-to-action button on the left side of the phone, and there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. On the right side of the Instinct HD is a camera quick launch button, a power jack, and a proprietary video-out jack for outputting HD video. The HDMI cable costs an additional $29.99.
The back of the device, home to the Instinct HD’s 5-MP camera with flash, is dark navy in color.
Samsung hasn’t changed the Instict’s interface much since the original model, but the UI does feel zippier, despite some minor load lag during switches between tabs.
The home screen consists of five tabs: Favs, Fun, Main, My Stuff, and Web. In Favs, you can add links to your favorite apps, games, TV channels, and even Sprint Radio stations. The Main screen is home to programs such as Calendar, Email, IM, Messaging, Navigation, and more. By clicking the Fun tab, you can view and update Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.
You can also watch YouTube videos, play music, view your photos, or listen to Sprint Radio. The My Stuff tab is home to shortcuts for your games, Google Maps, the NFL Mobile Live app, ringers, screen savers, and a shopping application. Finally, the Web tab provides icons for launching the Web browser (Opera Mobile 9.7), Live Search, or preset bookmarks like CNN.com, ESPN.com, and Weather.com.
The call screen has five tabs: Contact, Dialer (which brings you to the call screen), Recent, Speed dial, and Voicemail (visual).
The Instinct HD defaults to a vertical keyboard that lists the letters from A-Z in order, with six letters on each row. It reminds us more of a Bingo card than a keyboard, and it’s annoying to type on. Samsung should try to use a QWERTY design, similar to those found on such devices as the HTC Hero and myTouch 3G. Using the Instinct HD’s accelerometer, however, you can turn the phone sideways to launch a (mediocre) QWERTY keyboard. The Instinct HD has a built-in spell checker, and it highlights misspelled words in red. To correct a word, simply touch it and choose one of the recommended replacements.
True to its name, the Instinct HD shoots 720p HD video. Our test footage of a carousel at Bryant Park in Manhattan was some of the best we’ve captured from a cell phone. The video even looked good when we output our clips to a full HD 18-inch laptop. We appreciated the smooth motion, and that there were very little artifacts. Overall, the Instinct HD won’t take the place of a dedicated camcorder like the Pure Digital Flip UltraHD (which offers more vibrant colors and even better details). However, the Instinct HD is good enough for recording videos you might want to share on YouTube.
Daytime photos taken with the Instinct HD’s 5-MP camera were on a par with the Sprint HTC Hero. In some still shots of Bryant Park, we noticed that the washed-out sky bled into the surroundings, like skyscrapers and trees. However, shots directed at the sky standing under a tree accurately showed the deep fall blue, and the leaves were a clear and crisp green. In darker environments with the LED flash on, our subjects were well illuminated, but the photos didn’t look as good as the Motorola Motozine ZN5, which has a brighter Xenon flash. Still, at least the Instinct has a flash (unlike the Hero).
The Instinct HD comes with a 4GB microSD Card for storing movies, music, and photos. It also has a host of entertainment services, such as Sprint Radio and Sprint TV. We loaded the NFL Network and watched a few minutes of The NFL Head Coaches. The picture was mediocre, and we could hardly read the ticker text at the bottom of the screen.
We played Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” and were impressed with the Instinct HD’s speakers: they were crisp, and loud enough to fill a small room. When we played back an Iglu & Hartly music video from a microSD Card, the frame rates were good, and the picture was satisfactory.
The Instinct HD uses Opera’s Mobile 9.7 browser, which takes advantage of Opera Turbo on mobile phones, allowing for better page compression for faster load times. It accurately rendered full HTML pages, such as the LAPTOP homepage. We zoomed into pages by double-tapping the screen, and Opera 9.7 reacted quickly, but there was noticeable lag when trying to pan around Web sites.
Using Sprint’s 3G connection, we loaded m.CNN.com in 5 seconds, m.ESPN.com in 5 seconds, and m.NYT.com in 4 seconds. Even with the browser set to load full HTML Web sites, these pages defaulted to mobile view. Laptopmag.com, a full HTML site, took a zippy 23 seconds to finish, which is impressive.
With Wi-Fi activated, we loaded m.CNN.com in 3 seconds, m.ESPN.com in 4 seconds, and m.NYT.com in 3 seconds; Laptopmag.com took 13 seconds.
Messaging and E-mail
AIM Mail, AOL Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail are all available as preset e-mail applications on the Instinct HD, and all you have to do to get started is enter your username and password for each service. You can also set up IMAP or POP accounts, and the phone supports Microsoft Exchange for work e-mail. If your company doesn’t use Exchange, you can use the Sprint Mobile Email Work connector to pull e-mail from your corporate account.
We signed into our work e-mail account in under a minute, and the Instinct HD began loading our most recent 25 messages. We were able to view Microsoft Office documents (such as Excel files) from within our e-mail, and files open in a separate default file viewer application, but zooming around the document was a bit sluggish. Also, you can’t edit these documents.
Out of the box, instant messaging on the Instinct HD is handled using AIM, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger; however, users must install Google Talk themselves.
The Instinct HD has a voice recognition feature, powered by Nuance, that you can use to call friends or speak and send text messages. The phone accurately called our number, and we were even able to say commands like “Go to Weather” to view the current weather conditions.
The Instinct HD comes loaded with Sprint Navigation, which is powered by TeleNav. We were blown away by how fast the GPS locked on to our location. It took the phone 2 seconds to pinpoint and then route us to a Manhattan address. Most phones take about 5 to 15 seconds to lock on, and another few seconds to map a route.
Call Quality and Battery Life
The Instinct HD offered good call quality during our tests. We left a voicemail on our landline phone and could clearly make out our voice, even with some wind in the background. However, voices from a few people nearby came through loud and clear as well.
During our week of usage, we were able to easily make it through 24 hours before the battery began alerting us that it was too low to launch the camera. On most days we used the Instinct HD to make calls, film video, and surf the Web.
The Instinct HD has more going for it than the fact that it can record good-looking HD video. It has a sharp and stylish industrial design, decent Web browser, Wi-Fi, and reliable GPS. But the Instinct HD isn’t a smart phone, which means you don’t have access to thousands of apps as you would with, say, the HTC Hero. Plus, at $249, this phone is $50 more expensive than such competing devices, and the monthly data fees are the same as what you would pay for a true smart phone. Once Sprint lowers the price of this device, it will become more attractive.