On the downside, we weren't thrilled with the Innov8's flash, which is really a dual-LED photo light. Thought it's bright by all measures, it's not a xenon flash. As such, shots taken in low light only come out well if at close range.
The panorama mode is particularly cool, even if it works only in the 640x480 resolution. After you snap you first photo, the Innov8 will shoot seven addition shots as you move the phone to the left or right. You don't need to press any additional buttons; rather, the phone uses an orange box on the display to shoot the next photo automatically. It is convenient, easy to use, and it works well.
On the video side, the Innov8 also goes the extra mile. You can record clips in two resolutions (640x480 and 320x240) with sound. The editing options are just about identical to the still camera's, minus a few options. Videos meant for multimedia messages are capped at 45 seconds, but you can shoot for much longer in the standard format. In the default mode, the Innov8 records video at an impressive 30 frames per second, but you also can shoot slow-motion video at 120 frames per second.
Not surprisingly, photo quality is quite good. In our standard CNET studio shot, colors were bright and there was little to no image noise. We'll continue testing the Innov8's still camera and video recorder to get a more rounded assessment, so check back to see our final assessment. The Innov8 offers a very generous 16GB of internal storage, but if you need more, the microSD-card slot accommodates cards up to 32GB.
When finished with your shots, you can get them off your phone in an e-mail or multimedia message or you can transfer them to a PC using a USB cable, Bluetooth, or a memory card. An integrated Print OTG app will assist in transferring snaps directly to a printer. We were impressed with just how easy it was to transfer photos using a USB cable. Indeed, we just plugged it in and our computer recognized it instantly. If you have trouble, you can use the included Samsung PC Studio software. Additional applications include photo and video editors, Shozu (for uploading photos to Flickr), and geotagging. Also, you can use the camera as a "digital frame" to play your shots on the display in a slide-show format.
As for basic features, each contact in the Innov8's phone book can accommodate 18 types of phone numbers, a job title and department name, an assistant's name and phone number, spouse and children names, three e-mail addresses, three URLs, three street addresses, a birthday, an anniversary, and notes. And since the Innov8 is a GSM phone, you can store 250 contacts on the SIM card. You can save contacts to groups and pair them with a photo, but only groups can be paired with one of the 20 polyphonic ringtones. The Innov8 offers a selection of alert tones, as well.
Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a calculator, an alarm clock, a notepad, and a currency/unit converter. You'll also find HSDPA 3G support, full Bluetooth, a speakerphone, a file manager, a ZIP manager for compressing files, USB transfer and mass storage, PC syncing, instant messaging, and a voice recorder. The Innov8 supports POP3 e-mail access and it offers an application called RoadSync, which delivers push e-mail for Microsoft Exchange for corporate e-mail contacts and calendar. We particularly like the dictionary app, which allows you to enter and edit "acceptable" words that the predictive text feature will recognize. The integrated Wi-Fi couldn't be more welcome, but the lack of voice dialing is a big miss.
Thanks to the Symbian operating system, the Innov8 brims with third-party applications, many of which interact with the handset's integrated Assisted GPS. There's a dedicated Google portal for maps, Gmail, and search, and Yahoo Go for maps and driving directions. You'll also find a Real Player app, QuickOffice (to create, edit, sync, and print your office documents), Fring (for making VOIP calls), GyPSii (mobile social networking), DLNA (manage media content through a home network), Adobe Reader, CNN Mobile, Samsung Mobile Navigator, and two Java-enabled 3D games: Asphalt 3 Street Rules and FIFA 08. Just note that many of these apps require a W-Fi connection. You always can get more applications and more customization options with the wireless Web browser.
The Innov8's music player isn't too fancy, but it's functional and accessible. Features include playlists, shuffle and repeat modes, and an equalizer. Album art is supported, if the phone can find it, and you can choose from three visualizations. Also, you can use music tracks as ringtones. The player supports unprotected tracks in a variety of file formats (MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, AMR and RealAudio). As with photos, transferring files to the phone via a USB cable was a breeze. The Innov8 also offers an FM radio.
We tested the Samsung Innov8 SGH-i8510 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. With support for four GSM bands (850/900/18900/1900) the Innov8 is a true world phone for calling. Yet, its 3G bands (900/2100) aren't used in North America (we use 1900). As a result, you won't be able to use UMTS or HSDPA networks here but you can drop down to EDGE or GPRS. Call quality was quite good--believe us when we say this handset isn't just about its camera. Throughout our test period we enjoyed a clear signal that was free of static or interference. Also, the volume was loud and voices sounded relatively natural. Our only gripe was that voices sometimes sounded a bit tinny, particularly at the highest volumes.
On their end, callers also reported a tinny quality at times, but on the whole we got positive reviews. Most of our friends could tell we were using a cell phone, but that's more or less the norm. We had few issues with voice-automated systems as well. Speakerphone calls were fine. The two speakers have decent output and our conversations were intelligible, as long as we were speaking in a quite location. We just wish we could activate the speaker before we made a call. Bluetooth headset calls were satisfactory.
Over time we noticed that the Innov8's menus are a bit sluggish. It doesn't take longer than a second to open some subfolders, but there was a noticeable lag. The same goes for backing out of menus. Also, unless you back out of applications completely, you need to select the "Exit" option rather than just hitting the End button or the app will continue running in the background. What's more, an icon will appear next to that app's icon in the menu. Chalk it up to being such a complicated phone.
The music player is serviceable. The external speaker has decent output, but the audio had the same tinny quality that we heard with voice calls. Also, there isn't a lot of warmth to the sound. You'll have a better experience if you use a headset.
The Innov8's battery life depends on how you use it. The rated talk time is 5 hours on 3G and 8.5 hours on 2.5G. Promised standby time is 13.75 days on 3G and 12.93 days on 2.5G. During our initial testing, the battery appeared to perform well during a full day of using various functions. Our tests revealed a talk time of 8 hours 15 minutes. According to the FCC, the Innov8 has a digital SAR rating of 0.287, which is quite low.