It Only Looks Like an iPhone

Samsung's new smartphone, Instinct, is a leading seller. Why?
Samsung's new smartphone, Instinct, is a leading seller. Why? (Sprint)
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By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, July 3, 2008

So many people are lining up to buy a new touch-screen wireless phone that the carrier selling it can't keep up with demand.

No, not that one.

The popularity of Sprint Nextel's Samsung Instinct -- the company says its first-week sales beat those of all its other broadband-capable phones -- represents a bit of a puzzler.

Yes, this device bears a resemblance to Apple's iPhone. But the Instinct doesn't come with features to rival those of the iPhone. Nor does its price, $229.99 before a $100 mail-in rebate with a two-year contract, offer a big discount over of Apple's creation.

Like many phones, the Instinct looks much better than it works. A polished slab about half an inch thick and weighing only 4.4 ounces, this smartphone dispenses with almost all of the standard buttons, save a few on the sides that perform such basic tasks as turning it on and adjusting its volume, in favor of a large touch-sensitive screen that fills most of its face.

That roomy display, more than 3 inches diagonally, allows for on-screen buttons that even thicker fingers should be able to hit. And you can scroll through its contacts and recent-calls lists with a flick of a finger -- though a search function is missing. You can also call somebody without lifting a finger by using the Instinct's voice dialing.

Its on-screen slider controls -- for instance, turning on its built-in speaker phone or ending a call requires you to move your finger across an image of a switch -- can prevent you from hanging up on the boss after poking the wrong button on the keypad or the screen.

The Instinct also slays voice mail as Sprint users have known it with a "visual voice mail" display that lets you see who left a message and when, then play their recordings back in any sequence you desire.

Sprint advertises more than five hours of talk time, but even the nearly 4.5 hours an Instinct loaned by Sprint achieved compares well to many other phones.

The Instinct comes with a long inventory of added capabilities: Web browsing, e-mail, text/picture/video messaging, digital music and video playback, photography and video recording, GPS navigation and so on. But it fumbles most of these more ambitious tasks.

Start with its on-screen keyboard, which offers neither effective spell-checking nor tactile feedback, ensuring plenty of typos.

The Instinct also doesn't make enough use of its mobile broadband Internet access (limited to Sprint's coverage, as the Instinct lacks a WiFi receiver). Its Web browser struggles as much with full-size sites as the antiquated software on Palm OS phones, taking an irritatingly long time to display some of them. Its e-mail software ignores Web formatting in messages and can't read PDF attachments, one of the most common kinds of files to arrive in a message.

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