Not yet available in the UK, the Samsung Instinct will appear familiar to anyone who's clapped eyes on the Apple iPhone. So everyone, then.
If nothing else, Samsung's Instinct shows just how disruptive an influence the iPhone has become in mobile phone design.
From its spare black packaging (everyone is copying Apple in this regard) to its slim, glass-encased industrial design and fingertip-friendly interface, the Samsung Instinct pays homage to Apple's iconic creation while one-upping it in several respects.
The Samsung Instinct is about to be unleashed on the US, but as yet there are no plans to release it in the UK. This is a shame, as in a sea of mobile phone mediocrity the Samsung Instinct does at least offer a viable alternative to the iPhone.
Indeed, if the next-generation iPhone wasn't about to address some of the very same weaknesses the Samsung Instinct seeks to exploit, Samsung's creation would look a lot more appealing. But while the Samsung Instinct is a solid effort in its own right, it still has a Brand X feeling to it. Our review unit, although generally feature-rich and very capable, also had a few noteworthy glitches.
Let's start with the strengths. The Samsung Instinct feels good in the hand. It's narrower and somewhat thicker than the current iPhone, but close enough to the general profile for that not to matter.
Things start off promisingly when you power the Samsung Instinct on and unlock the screen by pressing firmly on a hardware button on the top edge (somewhat similar to the way the iPhone gets going, although without the finger swipe). You see a nice-looking starlit sky on the 3.1in display, with the current time at the bottom.
But then the Samsung Instinct switches to a rather lacklustre Favorites screen - basically an empty grayscale screen that invites you to populate it with your most frequently used applications. Although this screen seems intended to show off customisation capabilities that the iPhone lacks, it isn't particularly attractive; Samsung would have done better to have the unit default to the Main screen, which is filled with iPhone-like icons for sending messages and email, as well as for GPS navigation.
Overall, Samsung has done a pretty good job on the Samsung Instinct's touchscreen. It's a resistive touchscreen, so if you prefer you can use the little enclosed stylus instead of your fingertip. (But then you'll have to worry about where to store the thing - the device has no place for you to slide it. All you have for it is a slit in the rather cheesy plastic case that's included.)
We had no difficulty getting along using only an index finger, however. We were happy to find a setting to optimise the touchscreen for southpaws, along with adjustments for calibration and touch sensitivity. We also liked the Samsung Instinct's haptic feedback, small vibrations in response to touches (something the original iPhone didn't offer). And wherever scrolling was possible, the unit was responsive.
Intuitive navigation, good voice commands
Navigation is reasonably intuitive. Startup illuminates three touch-sensitive icons embedded in the hardware underneath the display. The Home icon at the centre always brings you to applications. If you want to make a phone call, you press the Phone icon to the right, which brings up the speed-dial menu. The third of the hardware icons, a left-pointing arrow on the left side, lets you step back to the previously active screen.
Within the two principal modes, four small squares at the bottom of the display afford access to all other options. For example, if you're in phone mode, the leftmost square always returns you to the speed-dial screen; additional squares bring up your contacts, your call history, and a software dialpad. On the applications side, tapping the squares (from left to right) brings you to the aforementioned Favorites and Main screens, a Fun screen with multimedia functions such as music and video players and the camera, and the web browser.
The Samsung Instinct also comes with first-rate voice-command features. Simply press the voice-input ('Speech to Action') button on the right side, and you can initiate calls or text messages to contacts in your address book, or launch key applications. Training is not required, but the device does afford a brief training session for users who believe that the device isn't understanding them.
Decent phone, bad battery life
As a phone, the Samsung Instinct works well. We particularly liked the large dialpad, with its big green Call button. Voices sounded good, and call recipients said we sounded good too. The contacts display is large and readable; tapping a contact number to initiate a call is easy.
But the battery life isn't great - it came in at about 5.5 hours in our tests, making the Samsung Instinct one of the poorer performers in this respect. In contrast, the iPhone ran the full 10 hours of our test.
Perhaps to compensate, Samsung includes not only a spare battery but also a small charging case for it, so you can be charging the spare all of the time while you're using the phone. This is one of the best features of the Samsung Instinct package.
Web browsing is fast. But the browser itself lacks the iPhone's elegance. It runs in landscape mode only, made narrower by sets of icons on either side. The icons on the left perform display-related tasks such as zooming in and out, toggling between mobile and standard mode, and letting you select (with a picture-frame-like square) the areas of a page you want to magnify - which is helpful but nowhere near as cool as the pinch capability on the iPhone. On the right are icons for search, bookmarks, history and the like.
The Samsung Instinct is equipped with good GPS features, too. Since it uses the Sprint network as well as GPS satellites, its assisted GPS can more or less locate you even when you're indoors. The swift EvDO network makes location and point-of-interest searches go very quickly, a real plus.