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Samsung Instinct (SPH-M800) review: Samsung Instinct (SPH-M800)

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Seven months after the Instinct's release, Sprint added calendar syncing for Microsoft Exchange Server 2000, 2003, and 2007 accounts and IBM Lotus Notes. We had to download three software updates, which took about 20 minutes, but the updates loaded without incident or a missed connection.

After installing the update and syncing the phone with our CNET OWA (Outlook Web Access) e-mail, a new "work calendar" update button appeared under the calendar menu. Pressing that button synced the Instinct and my Outlook calendar in just a few seconds. The data connection cut out on our first try, but the second attempt brought success. All of our current appointments then appeared under their appropriate days with the correct times, locations and descriptions. To get back to the calendar from the main menu, we could choose either the calendar or e-mail icons.

As Sprint promised, we were able to create a new appointment on the Instinct, which then synced back to our PC automatically. Also, we could get meeting reminders, accept or decline new appointments, and edit or delete current meetings right on the phone. Any edits made on the Instinct synced back to our PC in just a few seconds, but the reverse process took a bit longer. Despite that, it was a satisfying experience on the whole.

Still, there were a few quirks. If we made a change to one instance of a recurring meeting, it applied only to that specific meeting. We didn't have the option to apply it to every meeting in the series. What's more, we could get only daily and monthly views--weekly views were not a possibility.

The Instinct defaults to separate personal and work calendars, but you don't have to use them. There's nothing to stop you from entering all events, personal or otherwise, under your work calendar. In any case, that probably is your best bet, considering that since the syncing function doesn't support calendars through IMAP4, e-mail services like Hotmail, AOL, and Yahoo are not supported.

The Instinct's Web browser excited us, but we came away with mixed impressions. On the upside, it is a full HTML browser so it will display Web pages in almost their full glory. It lacks support for Flash, but that's common on devices likes this. Alternatively, we liked that you can choose to see stripped-down mobile versions of pages instead. That's a great option for times when you're away from a fast 3G connection. What's more, inputting new URLs via the onscreen keyboard was easy. Yet at the end of the day, the browser's interface was disappointing. The actual pages are squashed into a small area of an already small display. That left us feeling rather cramped and we had to do a lot of scrolling to see the whole pages. You can drag the page by moving your finger, but the screen responded slowly with jerky movements. We had the same experience on the LG Voyager; in other words, it's like the iPhone but not quite as elegant. Alternately, the Instinct offers a unique Web-panning method for moving around a page. Just hold down the camera shutter (that will be on the top of the Instinct since the Web browser defaults to landscape mode) and move the phone up and down and from left to right. The Web page will move correspondingly, which allows you to sweep throughout the page. It's a neat idea but the concept is better than the reality. Though the movement was fluid, we found it difficult to control the speed. Too often, we zipped past something we were hoping to land on. Also, we didn't like how when you reached either side of a page, the panning reversed direction automatically. But wait, the Instinct offers yet another way to move around a page. Clicking on the "full screen view" will display the page in its entirety. You then can move a blue square around the toggle to select the area of the page you'd like to see. It works fairly well except that you can't read any text when the Web page is in full screen view. Oops.

Fortunately, we had few problems selecting links on a Web page. There were times where we had to press a selection twice but that's not uncommon on touch-screen phones. Yet we did notice that selected links weren't always highlighted when we touched them. That could be an issue if you're a busy browser or you're surfing a crowded page. The Instinct does include a load of handy shortcut buttons surrounding the browser window. Among other things you can search the Web page, open your favorites list, return to your home page, review your surfing history, and zoom in on a page. The latter option is a nice idea but it's not terribly effective as it only zooms in one degree. Indeed, we admit we've been spoiled by the iPhone's multitouch interface.

The Instinct's lack of Wi-Fi is quite a blow on such an Internet-friendly phone. Sure, Sprint's EV-DO connection will do the job most of the time, but there are times where 3G coverage isn't available. Also, even though the Instinct requires an unlimited Internet plan, it would be nice to be able to use your home network if you preferred to do so. It's all about customer choice.

Besides the main browser, the Instinct offers dedicated channels for weather, sports, news, and movies. The weather options works much like the iPhone's; just punch in your list of cities and you can see the forecast for each. But as an added bonus you also can see a radar map of U.S. locations. In the movie channel you can get area show times by entering in your ZIP code.

As previously mentioned, the Instinct supports full GPS. You can use the feature to use Sprint Navigation for spoken driving and visual turn-by-turn directions. You also can search for neighboring businesses as you would with the Live Search. Traffic information is available as well, including a neat 3D map option. Using the touch screen to pan through maps was easier than on the Web browser. The finger motion is more fluid and the response time is quick. Read our Sprint Navigation review for a full description.

As an EV-DO phone, the Instinct offers full support for Sprint's 3G services. You can connect to Sprint's Power Vision and Sprint TV, which include live and on-demand programming from a wide variety of channels such as CNN, E!, MTV Mobile, Discovery Mobile, ESPN, Logo Mobile, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon. You also can check out movie previews to help you select a flick. In all it's an exhaustive selection of programming with much of it exclusive to Sprint. You also can stream more than 150 channels from Sirius Radio and Sprint Radio. The touch-screen interface for the media player is intuitive and responsive. At first 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 Instinct's music player (MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA formats) is relatively similar to that on Sprint's other music phones. You can access the Sprint Music Store for simultaneous downloads both to your PC and wirelessly to your phone. The music 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. As we said earlier, the Instinct uses a 3.5mm jack, so you'll be able use the headset that came in the box. 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. The Instinct also supports the Sprint Media Manager for syncing the phone with your PC.

The Instinct offers a self-portrait mirror but no flash with its camera.

The Instinct has a 2.0-megapixel camera, but we were surprised by its lack of options. You can't adjust the resolution, quality, brightness, or any of the other settings you'd find on any basic camera phone. We're not sure what Samsung was going for here. Perhaps they're trying to make the Instinct easy to use, but we were disappointed at the lack of options. Sure, those options don't always make a big difference in photo quality, but it's still nice to have them. As we said earlier there is a self-portrait mirror but the Instinct doesn't have a flash. However, we did like the handy photometer and the "fuzzy picture" warning when you're about to take a bad photo. Photo quality was decent, though not spectacular. Objects were distinct and colors were natural but there was too much light in most cases.

The Instinct offers respectable photo quality, but most shots were washed out.

On the other hand, we liked the Instinct's photo-viewing feature. Similar to the iPhone, you can move between photos by swiping your finger across the screen. It makes for a fun experience and we like that fluid motion. Alternatively, you can view photos in a filmstrip mode. Shortcut options are plentiful as well. You can send your photos via Bluetooth, upload them to an online account, save them as a contact's photo ID, or zap them to a friend in a multimedia message. There's also a 2x digital zoom.

The camcorder lacks editing options but it takes clips with sound in two lengths. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds; otherwise, you can shoot according to the available memory. Camcorder lips were very sharp and we like that the video player can support files from your PC. Both photos and videos are saved directly to the microSD card for easy transfer off your phone. The Instinct can accommodate cards up to 8GB, which is a good thing since internal storage tops out at a paltry 32MB. More memory would a bonus.

You can personalize the Instinct with background images and alert tones. Additional options are available from Sprint via the wireless Web browser. Games and applications include demo versions of Bejeweled, Brain Challenge, Sudoku, Midnight Bowling, Million Dollar Poker, Nascar Sprint Cup, Scene It, and Pac-Man. You also get Sprint's NFL Mobile application. The full versions of games plus additional tiles are available for purchase. For further fun the Instinct offers direct access to MySpace Mobile and Photobucket.

We tested (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) the dual-band CDMA Samsung Instinct in San Francisco using Sprint's service. Call quality was fairly mixed, unfortunately. Though the volume level was fine, the clarity was not. Not only was the sound on our end rather harsh, but it could also be rather patchy at times. We wouldn't say it ruined our experience--far from it, in fact--but it was enough for us to take notice. We recognize that this is one of the first Instincts available, so it may be just this unit. After extended testing call quality improved a little, but not by much.

On their end, callers had no trouble hearing us but they could tell we were using a cell phone. They also reported patchy sound quality and they said that the phone picked up some background noise. It didn't ruin their experience, either, but the Instinct's call quality wasn't the best we've heard from a Sprint device. Similarly, speakerphone calls were loud but we encountered noticeable static. We had to speak close to the phone to be heard, but that is not uncommon. Automated calling systems could understand us if we were speaking in a quiet location.

The signal reception for voice calls was marginally erratic, but the GPS and EV-DO connection remained strong even when we were in a building. And as is the case with most Sprint phones, we could get a strong signal underground.

As it is the first Sprint device to support EV-DO Rev. A from birth, we were excited to see how zippy the Instinct's Web browser would perform. However, during our initial testing we didn't notice much of a difference between other Sprint devices. In fact, busy Web pages such as took quite a few seconds to load. Sprint assures us, however, that the delays are related to network enhancements and not the device itself. On a couple of occasions, pages appeared incorrectly but this was fairly rare. Song downloads were quick, and it took about 30 seconds to download a 3.7MB track. Games downloads were very quick; in our tests it took just a few seconds for each title.

The phone's internal menus performed well. We moved between individual pages quickly with a delay of only a second on some pages. Overall, the navigation is a pleasant experience, and that's an improvement over the Voyager. Playing games with the touch screen involved a slight learning curve, but it was pleasant experience for most titles.

Multimedia performance was a mixed bag unfortunately. Music sounded fine for the most part. The single speaker has decent output but the sound is distorted at the highest levels. Video performance wasn't quite as good, however. The streaming videos take up only a small part of the Instinct's display and the quality is pixelated. Also, the sound was a bit off and the video couldn't support jerky movements. Live video was about the same, unfortunately.

The Samsung Instinct SPH-M800 has a rated battery life of 5.75 hours talk time. In our tests we got a little more than six hours of talk time. Don't forget that a backup battery comes in the box; it should provide an additional 5.75 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the Instinct has a digital SAR rating of 1.46 watts per kilogram, which is on the high side.

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