Last year in Orlando, Samsung's UpStage was one of the biggest announcements of the CTIA show. And this year in Las Vegas, Samsung may have done it again. Today the company announced the Samsung Instinct SPH-M800, which will land at Sprint this summer. The Instinct looks a lot like a certain cell phone from Apple, but Sprint (thankfully) isn't positioning it as an iPhone killer. Rather, a Sprint spokeswoman called it just an iPhone competitor. We're not quite sure what to make of that, either.
But whatever you call it, the Instinct is undeniably eye-catching. (See our Samsung Instinct slide show.) The predominately touch-screen device sports a thin candy-bar design (4.57 inches by 2.17 inches by 0.49 inch; 4.4 ounces) in basic black. At first glance it resembles not only the iPhone, but also the LG FK700 and the Samsung SGH-F490. Indeed, its strong similarity to the latter is more than just a coincidence. Except for a feature changes and a unique interface, the Instinct is a recycled CDMA version of the SGH-F490, which we saw two months ago at the GSMA World Congress.
The Instinct's feature set is well stocked with a host of goodies that should make any media phone fan proud. Inside the 3G handset, which is Sprint's first device to have EV-DO Rev. A at birth, you'll find a 2-megapixel camera, access to the Sprint Music Store for wireless downloads, stereo Bluetooth, audible caller ID, voice dialing and commands, a full HTML browser, a digital music player that shows album art, support for Sprint Radio and Sprint TV, phone as modem capability, Microsoft Live Search, and integrated GPS with Sprint navigation.
Instant messaging is not onboard, but the Instinct will display the full thread of the text conversation. You'll also get multimedia messaging and access to personal and corporate e-mail. And in a surprising move, the Instinct will have some form of Visual Voicemail (yes, Sprint says it should be capitalized), which up until has been exclusive to the iPhone. In case you haven't heard (and really, you should have), Visual Voicemail allows you to pick and choose which messages you want to hear. It's quite a cool feature, but we we wonder if AT&T and Apple are calling their copyright lawyers.
As mentioned earlier, the Instinct relies heavily on a large (3.1-inch, 262,000 color) touch screen, which will be your interface for almost all of the phone's functions including placing and ending calls. Below the display are three separate touch controls: a back button, a Home key, and a shortcut control that will take you to the calling menu. In an improvement over the iPhone, the display gives localized tactile feedback, and the texting and e-mailing onscreen keyboard will display in a landscape orientation. The user-programmable Favorites menu looked pretty nifty, as well, and we like the multitasking capability, which allows you to move between different functions pretty handily.
But even with those features, the menu interface isn't quite as slick as the iPhone's. It's not that it doesn't have promise; it's just that it falls a bit short in both usability and beauty. That could be because we were using a beta version; we'll have to wait for a final model to give our firm assessment.
We were glad to see that the phone comes with a 2GB memory slot and two batteries, each of which promises 5.75 hours of talk time. The 3.5mm headset jack is another plus as it lets us use our own headphones without any kind of adapter. That's very cool indeed.
So on the whole the Instinct looks promising, but at this early stage it's too early to give it a thorough shakedown--it won't be available for purchase until June for a price of "under $300."