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Phone owners: Instinct good, not great

CNET asked Samsung Instinct owners to give candid feedback on their phones. And boy, did they ever.

The Samsung Instinct: good but not great. Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

Two weeks ago, I asked Samsung Instinct owners to tell me what they thought of their phones. Normally, I don't write blogs asking for comments on individual phones after we've reviewed them, but Sprint's Instinct had me worried. While I liked the handset when I reviewed it, I know that people who use a phone long term can develop varying opinions. After I started to get e-mails from disappointed Instinct users, I began to wonder if I had it wrong. Even now, the average user score on the review almost matches my score of four stars (or 8.0), but perhaps opinions were changing over time.

After a careful review of the responses to my blog, it's clear that the Instinct is a good phone, but it falls short of a being a great phone. Of the 67 verbose and candid comments that passed the "relevancy" test (I had to discount quite a few because they were duplicate posts, comments from non-Instinct owners, flame wars, or just off topic), opinions were just about evenly spread. The largest group (39 percent) wrote that they liked the phone overall, but they didn't shy away from registering quite a few complaints. The next largest group (31 percent) was soundly positive with very few gripes, while 30 percent were strongly negative with very few praises. So even though the majority of users like the Instinct, many of them do so only begrudgingly. On the other hand, the unhappy minority is shouting at the top of their lungs.

Let me state that this wasn't a scientific study by any means. Also, while one reader warned me that there was a "concerted effort" on Sprint forums to bombard my blog with negative comments, the results are interesting nonetheless. For the most part the "likes and "dislikes" were universal. I'll list those below. Also, while I agreed with most of the complaints, and noted them in my review, there were a few gripes that didn't occur to me before. As I said, long-term use gives a fresh perspective. So now, on to the opinions (albeit in a Zagat's Survey format).

This feature received the harshest criticism by far, and it was one of my biggest complaints with the device. For better or for worse, the iPhone set the bar for a touch-screen browser on a mobile device, and the Instinct just doesn't measure up. Users characterized the phone as "terrible," "absolutely useless," "barely functional," "half-baked," and "complete garbage." In other words, they didn't like it. A few users were more muted in their opinions, but you know it's not good when the positive comments are limited to "it's not as bad as everyone says." The lack of Wi-Fi also was a big beef and many readers said that the browser crashed often.

TV and video
TV and video were features that received a lot of criticism. Indeed, users characterized both as "terrible," "extremely poor," and "unwatchable." Though I thought they were decent, it's important to point out that most streaming video, even over a 3G connection, is never very good. Also, when one reader said, "TV is the biggest lie on the phone," part of me also wonders if the term "Sprint TV" is a bit misleading. Sprint doesn't operate a MediaFlo video service like Verizon's V Cast Mobile TV or AT&T's Cellular Video, both of which feature live TV signals. Video on those services operates at 30 frames per second (fps)--the same as a regular TV--while Sprint TV runs at just 15fps. So you really can't compare them.

Opinions were somewhat more mixed on the music feature. While some said it was "mediocre" or "horrible," others said it was "awesome or "very good." I thought the music quality was fine, but not excellent. I agree that that player's interface is minimalist and it is rather lacking in features, but I don't really mind. In my opinion, the syncing software is a bigger issue. I've found it slow and buggy, and users seem to concur. One said it is "better thrown away."

As I wrote in my review, the GPS is one area where the Instinct excels. And users agreed. A few even said it was the best part of the phone. Others called it "great," "excellent," "totally cool," and "really good." People also seemed to like the Microsoft Live Search feature as well.

Call quality
Call quality is one area where I had problems but for the most part readers were positive. Comments included "I could not ask for better," "fantastic," and "sounds great with never a dropped call or a weak signal."

Interface and design
Users were largely positive here. They liked the slim design, the haptics feedback, and the menu interface. One user said that the latter was "easy and fast," while another called it "very nice." Yet, there were some that disagreed. The most common complaint was over the lack of an accelerometer, but others wanted to be able to add more items to the "Faves" menu. Also, some users asked for additional customization.

Many people complained that the Instinct is not Java 2.0 compliant, and I agree with them. It does rule out third-party applications on the Instinct, which is an area where the iPhone succeeds. However, on the upside, Sprint is promising an LCDUI keyboard by the end of the year or earlier.

Other features
I saw only positive comments about the camera, but users were not happy about the lack of calendar syncing, which is understandable. The e-mail application, which is something I liked, got a smattering of positive and negative comments. One gripe that had never occurred to me is that the calculator only holds two decimal places.

Service and support
Though it's not a feature of the Instinct, users had no positive things to say about Sprint's customer service. Opinions ranged from "an insult," to a "D+." Even a user who liked the Instinct has this to say: "The Instinct is not the problem. The problem is the lack of support."

To sum it up, the overarching theme of these comments is best expressed by user MGP67. "Overall this phone is OK. I'm not completely enamored, but it will do." Of course, there were more extreme opinions on both sides--rl1211 thinks the Instinct is "awesome" while phoneitis calls it a "failure"--but most users who responded like it enough to keep it.

Finally, as fair disclosure, I got heat from user trendonite who said my review of the Instinct was more aggravating than the phone. "Your review of the Instinct was abysmal. You grossly underestimated how broken the browser is...To me, it was a terrible job of a comprehensive CNET review."