If you want to view the video in high-def, you'll need to transfer the video to an HD-capable monitor. That's understandable, but we wish that Samsung included the required cable in the box rather than making it an optional accessory ($29). On the upside, it took just a few seconds to hook up the phone to an HDTV in the CNET Labs and play a test video. The quality was quite impressive, with a sharp picture and bright colors. Editing options aren't extensive and clips can be blown out in direct sunlight, but the Instinct HD does a remarkable job for what it offers. It may not compete with the best HD camcorders out there, but it doesn't have to.
Keep in mind that HD video will take up a large chunk of memory; Samsung wagers it to be about 30MB for every minute. Since the Instinct HD offers only 512MB of internal shared memory, frequent videographers will need a microSD card. You'll get a 4GB card in the box, but the phone can accommodate cards up to 32GB.
You also can record video in VGA (640x480) and QVGA (320x240) resolutions. Naturally, a lower resolution will take up less memory. When recording you can activate the flash as a light, change the exposure, and adjust options like the color tone, contrast, sharpness, white balance, saturation, and video quality. You also can set a self-timer. Videos for multimedia messages are capped at 6MB, which is between 40 seconds and 2 minutes long, depending on the resolution (HD videos cannot be sent over the air). In the normal mode you can record for as long as the available memory permits.
The still camera shoots photos in four resolutions (2,592x1,944 down to 640x480). After the stripped-down Instinct S30, we welcome the plentiful set of editing options. You'll find a self-timer, six color tones, three quality settings, spot metering, seven "scene" modes (night, portrait, etc.), five adjustable white-balance settings, 4x zoom, autofocus, face detection, and a macro mode. And like on the camcorder, you can change the ISO, saturation, brightness, contrast, and sharpness. The flash is quite bright; you can choose between an automatic and an "always on" setting.
Photo quality was quite good. Colors were bright, details and faces were sharp, and there was no image noise. Non-HD video was better than we've seen on many camera phones. Very quick movements still are bit blurry, but our clips were remarkably clear and fee of distortion or pixelation. When finished with your standard shots and clips, you can send them to friend in an MMS or e-mail and save them to an online album. With photos you also can assign them to a contact or transfer them off the phone via Bluetooth, a memory card, or a USB cable. The photo/clip gallery is intuitive. You can move between shots with a finger swipe or you can play a slideshow.
As the Instinct HD is a 3G device, you can connect to Sprint TV, which includes live and on-demand programming from a wide variety of channels. You also can access the NFL Network and Sprint Movie. In all, it's an exhaustive selection of programming with much of it exclusive to Sprint. The touch-screen interface performs well, but, like with the original Instinct, it was disconcerting to use the phone's Back button to navigate through the video menus. Since you're using the phone in horizontal mode, the Back button is facing down.
The music player MP3 is relatively similar to that on the previous Instinct phones. You can access the Sprint Music Store for simultaneous downloads both to your PC and wirelessly to your phone. The player interface is nothing fancy. Though you get album art, the features are limited to repeat and shuffle modes, and you can't use MP3s as ringtones. The airplane mode turns off the phone's calling functions for listening to music while in-flight, and you can send the music player to the background while you're using other phone functions. When a call comes in, the music will pause automatically and will resume again after you hang up. Unfortunately, the Instinct HD doesn't offer an FM radio, but you can stream more channels from Sprint Exclusive Entertainment (SEE) Music and Sprint Radio.
The Instinct HD also offers a fair number of widgets for MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. We used the latter two and found them to be quick and easy to use. The Facebook app doesn't offer all the functionality of the Facebook iPhone app, but it's a step in the right direction. Similarly, the YouTube widget wasn't as clean as it could be, but it does the trick for brief video forays. You'll also find three demo games (Monopoly, Uno, and Brain Exercise) and widgets for Google Maps, Weather.com, CNN, ESPN, Fandango, Bloomberg, Nascar Sprint Mobile, and NFL Mobile Live. A shopping widget offers access to more apps for purchase
You can personalize the Instinct HD with a variety of color themes, screensavers, and wallpaper. Additional customization options and ringtones are available for download from Sprint.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Samsung Instinct HD in San Francisco. Call quality was respectable, though we weren't overwhelmed. Volume was fine and the signal was strong, but there was some occasional audio interference. Most of the time there was a slight background hiss, and we also encountered slight static. We also noticed that voices sounded the slightest bit raspy.
On their end callers said we sounded fine. They could tell that we were using a cell phone, but they didn't share the problems that we encountered. Some of our friends said that the Instinct HD picked up a lot of background noise, and quite a few had trouble hearing us when we were speaking in a loud place. But even with those complaints, most callers were satisfied with the audio quality.
Speakerphone calls were fine, but not great. The volume does get loud, but the audio on our end was rather grainy. We had to sit close to the phone if we wanted to be heard on the other end. Bluetooth headset calls were satisfactory, but your experience will vary by headset. The handset is compatible with M4 and T3 hearing aids.
Thankfully, the Instinct HD shares the original Instinct's EV-DO rev. A support (we still can't understand why the S30 dropped back to Rev. 0). Data speeds were indeed zippy. We browsed through pages quickly, and graphics and applications took just a few seconds to download. Of course, Wi-Fi will offer an even better experience, but Sprint's 3G network is fine. We could even get strong EV-DO service in some buildings and when underground.
Streaming quality was some of the best we've seen on a cell phone. Clips downloaded swiftly and played without interruption. What's more, we're quite pleased that the frame size uses the entire display. The quality was also good; there was little pixelation and the sound matched the picture. Only a couple times did we see some distortion between scenes. Music downloads were very quick; it took just about 20 seconds to get a 3.7MB song. Music quality was fine over the external speaker, but nothing special. The volume is sufficiently loud, though our tunes lacked warmth. Look for a headset to offer the best experience.
Our biggest performance worry is that the phone is rather sluggish. Browsing through menus and opening some functions, like the browser, the Sprint TV menu, and the music player, could take up to a few seconds. The handset also froze for a few seconds on multiple occasions and it took time to back out of media features as well.
The Instinct HD has a rated battery life of 5.8 hours talk time. We got a talk time of 6 hours and 15 minutes in our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Instinct HD has a digital SAR of 1.16 watts per kilogram.