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Can the Instinct take on the iPhone?

It won't topple the iPhone, but the Samsung Instinct could give it a run for its money.

Though Sprint is carefully avoiding any direct comparisons with the iPhone, it's obvious that its new Samsung Instinct (SPH-M800) is meant to compete with Apple's device. They look almost the same (our Instinct slide show has a gallery of shots), they do a lot of the same things, and they rely heavily on touch screens and unique interfaces. These comparisons are inevitable and Samsung and Sprint are doing nothing to silence them. So Apple fanboys and slamboys, just take a deep breath before the flame wars begin.

I have to emphasize the Instinct is no iPhone killer, but I don't think one device ever will be. When you really think about it, the whole concept of an iPhone killer is ridiculous. Indeed, the iPhone is a good device that does many things well, and it's going to have a genuine appeal for a long time. And no matter what the iPhone critics say, some users will continue to love it no matter what.

Samsung's Instinct Sprint

The other cell phone manufacturers know this, but so far their collective response to the iPhone has been simply to ignore it. But now, nine months after the iPhone hit stores, Samsung is trying a different tactic. The Instinct is the first cell phone I've seen that throws some serious competition Apple's way. Even at this early stage, the Instinct looks far superior to LG's Voyager, not only in how it looks but also in what it offers. Though I doubt the boys and girls in Cupertino will be losing much sleep over it, they shouldn't dismiss it completely. If the Instinct does everything Samsung promises--and more importantly, it does it well--it could steal away a whole class of users who like the idea of the iPhone, but don't want to switch to AT&T or fork over the cash for it. These "iPhone fence-sitters" (as I call them) appear to be the target market for the Instinct.

To the untrained eye, the Instinct and the iPhone may appear to be two versions of the same device. Both have large touch screens with few external controls and both handsets have just about the same dimensions. The iPhone is noticeably sleeker on the whole, but the Instinct is lovely in its own right. The display is gorgeous, and it has a comfortable and solid feel in the hand. Also, I liked the extra navigation controls, even if they are touch sensitive. On the downside, the Instinct lacks the iPhone's multitouch interface, but it did offer a cool panning feature in the Web browser. By tilting the phone up and down or side to side, you can move around the Web page. Also, you can also drag around a page with your finger.

It's all about the interface. Sprint

But cosmetic differences aside, it is the Instinct's user interface that poses the most serious threat to Apple. The iPhone's slick and easy-to-use interface is one of its biggest attractions and Samsung has taken note. I've been able to handle only an Instinct preproduction unit so far (real devices won't be out until June) but it looks quite promising. Sure, it was noticeably buggy and a bit sluggish but Samsung appears to have laid the groundwork for something cool to come. Finding my way through the menus took little acclimation; there were a lot of sharp icons and graphics and I loved the nifty Favorites menu. Though I don't think that the Instinct's menus are quite as pretty as the iPhone's, perhaps they don't need to be. Ease of use is the real key and the Instinct may just have it.

One area where the Instincts trumps the iPhone (at least for the moment) is in its feature set. It offers many goodies the iPhone lacks including 3G, stereo Bluetooth, multimedia messaging, and video recording. You can also use the onscreen keyboard in landscape mode when you're typing a message. While all of this could, and probably will, change when the 3G iPhone is unveiled, it's a mark in the Instinct's favor for now. What's more, the Instinct also has its own version of Visual Voicemail. I didn't get to see it in action but the fact that it's there is interesting enough.

Of course, only the next few months will tell just how the Instinct plays out. By introducing the Instinct so early before release and by unveiling it at a high-profile event like CTIA, Samsung and Sprint take a big risk. Though they will get a lot of positive attention for now, the two companies have to deliver on their promises. As I mentioned earlier, there's a whole crowd of people who like the idea of the iPhone, but still haven't made the jump for whatever reason. The Instinct's design and features have a lot of potential for winning them over, and the the sub-$300 price tag won't hurt. All Sprint has to do is not muck it up between now and release time.