Review: Samsung Instinct

To call the Samsung Instinct an iPhone knockoff would be an understatement of grotesque proportions. Seriously: Even the packaging looks like it came straight outta Cupertino.

With its buttonless face and black monolithic look, the all-touchscreen Instinct is immediately familiar: It’s virtually the same weight and size as the iPhone, only about two-tenths of an inch narrower. Most of the expected specs for any 2008 handset are here: 3G, GPS, 2-megapixel camera (with video recording), and full e-mail and web browsing features. But the Instinct doesn’t stop there; it tries to stake a claim on new ground by adding features its arch rival (even the upcoming version) skips: Haptic feedback buzzes below your fingertip when you work the touchscreen, and voice control lets you do certain tasks sans typing.

Of course, the real reason for the iPhone’s success is its operating system, and here the Instinct is still playing catchup. While everything is intuitive and pretty zippy, it’s still not quite as polished as Apple’s version. The web browser shows some terribly rough patches, a crude zoom button stands in for the iPhone’s sophisticated “pinch” system. As well, the narrower body trims nearly a half inch off the iPhone’s screen size, which really cramps page size. Even typing on the Instinct can be rocky, as there’s no pop-up indicator to show you what button you’re actually hitting. I made so many mistakes in notes and web URLs that typing slowed to a painful crawl even by iPhone’s slow standards. It got so bad I ended up using a fingernail to type instead of my fingertip.

Call quality is fair, not great, but music playback is considerably higher fidelity. Battery life is under five hours of talk time. That’s not great for a smartphone, but we’ll have to wait and see how it compares to the iPhone 3G in real-world testing.

The Instinct won’t woo the Apple faithful from upgrading to the iPhone 3G, but it’s definitely good enough to rank as a solid second-tier player in the smartphone space. If nothing else, if you have the misfortune to be locked into a long Sprint cellular plan from which you can’t escape, pick up one immediately.

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