The Samsung Innov8 i8510, a hefty and feature-packed slider available unlocked in the U.S., is superlative in more ways than one. Its 8-megapixel camera trumps our reigning favorite, the Motorola Motozine ZN5. And with an average unlocked price of $600, it’s also one of the most expensive multimedia phones you can find. It’s sleek and well-spec’d, but the lack of 3G data support in the U.S. might be a deal breaker for some.
The price for packing an 8-megapixel sensor into a phone is that it’s large and heavy for a phone. At 4.2 x 2.1 x 0.7 inches and 3.2 ounces, the i8510 could pass for a dedicated camera in a blind test. It certainly dwarfs the ZN5, which is 0.5 inches thick at its thinnest point. The sturdy sliding action reminds us of the Motorola Z9, another slider that stands out for its long, heavy form. Like the Z9, it also has a flat keypad, only with raised metal lines separating the rows instead of metal nubs beneath each key. They keys themselves glow white when the phone is turned on.
The front face of the i8510 has a bright 2.8-inch screen. Beneath it is a five-way, square-shaped navigational pad, flanked by twin soft keys, Answer and End keys, and two dedicated buttons for accessing the menu and media. Tapping the button in the middle of the navigational pad lets you scroll quickly through lists.
The back of the phone has a matte black finish, and the lens protrudes slightly at the top. A small flash is in the upper left corner, and a small red logo in the upper right corner showing that the camera has an 8-MP sensor. This logo, and the fact that the back side is otherwise empty, makes the phone actually look like a point-and-shoot camera whose sliding lens cover is closed.
On the left side of the i8510 is a 3.5mm headphone jack, twin volume keys, and a mini-USB port. The right side houses a microSD Card slot, camera-launch button, and a three-way toggle for selecting playback, movie, or photo mode.
The i8510 runs on Symbian, a colorful (with three themes) and easy-to-navigate OS. When you turn on the phone you’ll see a thin column of icons on the left, with associated options listed to the right. Navigating these options is intuitive; just highlight a category on the left, then press the right side of the navigational pad to enter the menu.
We like that these options—shortcuts, calendar, music player, FM radio, and personalization—are so accessible. But having a clean desktop would be a nice option, were it possible to personalize the phone by cleaning up the welcome screen.
Turning off the phone requires holding down the end button, after which you have to select Switch Off from an on-screen menu that appears, an extra step that seemed a nuisance.
The 8-MP camera is the crown jewel of the i8510’s features. In well-lit situations we could choose from different exposure settings (similar to the ZN5). To take a shot you simply press the center button; taking pictures on the ZN5 is more unwieldy because you have to hold down the camera-launch button on the side of the phone. The i8510’s 2.8-inch screen is also more ideal for framing and reviewing shots than the ZN5’s 2.4-inch display. Ergonomically, though, we prefer the ZN5, because its candy-bar shape keeps from accidentally blocking the lens with your finger; it’s easier to mess up a shot when the lens is embedded at the top of a slider.
The i8510 held its own in low-light situations, despite the fact that it doesn’t have a dedicated low-light setting. Our shots were bright, but not unnaturally so, and sharp. Outdoors, the i8510 continued to produce crisp, bright shots. More often than not, the i8510’s lighting was more pleasant and lifelike, but occasionally our shots seemed overexposed.
The i8510 also shoots video at 30 frames per second, which look razor-sharp even on the screen. The level of detail in our footage was most impressive, and the handset picked up the ambient background noise without distorting it.
The i8510 includes a music player, FM radio, voice recorder, and video editor. The phone has stereo Bluetooth, so you can listen to music wirelessly or just use the 3.5mm headphone jack. The phone comes with a pair of headphones as well as an extension whose single buttons allows users to answer and end calls swiftly.
The FM radio lets you seek stations by either pressing the navigational pad or just swiping a finger (you can do this when you listen to your own music, too). The radio picks up at the station you last selected when you reopen the app. You can also listen to music in the background, even after you leave the radio interface and return to the main menu.
In the case of both the FM radio and the music player, the headphones delivered accurate, pleasant sound. The headphones’ cord is on the short side, so you might want to use the included adapter, if only as an extension. The in-ear buds themselves block external noise well, although they can feel irritating after awhile.
Playing music through the phone’s speaker was loud, albeit a bit tinnier. If you want to add your own music to the phone, you have the choice of loading it through a microSD Card as large as 16GB, transferring via Bluetooth, or using the included Samsung PC Studio software (sorry, it’s not Mac-compatible).
Navigating the browser on the i8510 was intuitive because the touch-sensitive navigational pad allowed us to move a cursor around the screen and scroll up and down—all without clicking. That said, the browser itself was fairly dumbed-down and devoid of pictures. You can zoom in and out of Web pages by clicking the center button and swiping your finger up or down at the same time.
Although the i8510 supports HSDPA abroad, in the U.S. you can only use EDGE and Wi-Fi. (For this reason, we couldn’t take advantage of the phone’s GPS.) With EDGE, loading NYTimes.com, CNN.com, and ESPN.com with pictures took 9, 12, and 20 seconds, respectively; over Wi-Fi, they took 4, 4, and 6 seconds. That’s not so bad, given that some of the most popular 3G phones sold in the States don’t take much longer to load pages. In our reviews, both the T-Mobile G1 and the iPhone 3G took 8 seconds to load NYTimes.com.
E-mail and Instant Messaging
The i8510 has an option for setting up IMAP4, POP3, or Sync e-mail accounts. Manually configuring our Gmail account took just one minute, although we recommend doing a simple Web search to find out what your provider’s settings should be (for Gmail, for example, the incoming server is pop.gmail.com and the outgoing is smtp.gmail.com). Thereafter, typing e-mails and text messages using the flat keypad was smooth sailing.
Within the Google category on the main menu, you’ll find a shortcut to Gmail.com, where you enter your login information in the appropriate fields as you would on your PC (you can check the box Remember Me. You’ll also receive a prompt asking if you want to save your login details for that page).
Like the other Web pages we visited, our Gmail inbox looked dumbed-down—not at all like the way it appears on an iPhone or other phones serving up the real Web. Although stars appeared next to messages we had flagged on our PC, we could not add stars to messages on the phone.
We tested the i8510 using AT&T’s network, although you can insert a T-Mobile SIM card as well. When we placed a call from a street corner, with passersby talking and light traffic in the background, our friend said we sounded slightly scratchy but that she had no problem hearing us and the background noise wasn’t too distracting.
The i8510 comes with 11 apps and games in the Applications folder: fring, DLNA, GPS+, Navigation, ShoZu, Asphalt 3, Yahoo Go, CNN, GyPSii, RoadSync, and FIFA 08. In addition to Gmail, the Google folder also includes Google Maps.
Bluetooth Range and Battery Life
The i8510 has a Bluetooth range of 33 feet. On our tests, we were able to hear our caller 50 feet away from the phone. If you’re in the U.S., you’ll be using EDGE, in which case the rated battery life is 8.5 hours of talk time and almost 13 days of standby time. On our tests, we left the phone on and placed calls and surfing the Web intermittently; indeed, the phone lasted almost 2 weeks.
If you want a sharp camera phone and you’re willing to pay for it, the Samsung Innov8 i8510 is a tempting device. Although it costs some $600 unlocked, it offers an 8-MP camera that trumps even the Motorola Motozine ZN5. But if you’re in the U.S., you can’t take advantage of the phone’s HDSPA, so you’ll be stuck with EDGE and Wi-Fi. If you can live without 3G stateside, the i8510 is worth the splurge.