Samsung Instinct s30
Design and feel
Compared to the original Instinct (which we'll be doing throughout, just so you know), the s30 is a far sexier phone. The addition of curves makes it much nicer to look at (as opposed to the "blocky" stature of the original), and it's actually much more enjoyable to hold. As for dimension changes, the original measured in at 2.17- x 4.57- x 0.49-inches and weighed 4.5 ounces; the s30 checks in at 2.1- x 4.6- x 0.5-inches and weighs 3.9 ounces. In other words, the s30 is actually a smidgen larger all around, but the drop in weight and the choice to use curves over straight lines enables it to "feel" trimmer. Kudos, Samsung.
The 3.2-inch display, which is spec-for-spec the same as on the Instinct, boasts a 432 x 240 resolution that continually left us begging for more pixels. The front of the handset in general looks strikingly familiar, with three backlit buttons providing general navigation and a vibrating touchscreen handling the rest. In our testing, the bottom three buttons had no issue recognizing inputs from our digits, and by and large, the touchscreen was right on when reacting to our commands. We will note, however, that we're no more fond of the random haptics while typing (selecting apps in fine, so you know the input was received) than we were last summer. Thankfully, the vibes are customizable in options, so we won't harsh too loudly on this point. The screen itself feels appropriately solid (as in, not mushy), and we were duly impressed with how gently we had to mash on it in order to get some respect.
Moving on to other build aspects, we have to throw up a high five for the inclusion of a 3.5 millimeter headphone jack, though the rest of the border buttons left a bit to be desired. For starters, the on / off switch is still horribly implemented. We know the "Slide To Unlock" deal is totally played out, but considering that Samsung allows you to do just that when ending a call, why not let that bleed over to the "get into the phone" quandary? Instead, you have to hold down the power button for a few seconds, which -- excuse our pettiness -- is a real aggravation. Particularly when you know that Samsung knows a better option exists. The microSD slot, while appreciated, packs a puny 1GB microSD card that's darn near impossible to eject and insert (grow out those fingernails!).
Compared to the original Instinct, which also launched at $129.99 on contract, the s30 arrives with a card that's half as capacious, despite that fact that flash memory has continued to become more affordable. With a litany of other smartphones arriving with at least 4GB of storage, the 1GB thrown in on the s30 is darn near insulting -- particularly when Samsung bothered to give you a legitimate headphone jack in order to use this as a music player, something that can't even be said about the recently released Propel Pro. Scooting on around, we can't help but point out that the volume rocker and power ports are inexplicably reversed. For whatever reason, Samsung placed the volume controls halfway down the handset, forcing users to reach low in order to adjust volume. Also, the dedicated camera button is definitely nice, but a label to tip you off on its purpose would've been even nicer.
So, the bread and butter of the review. For those willing to forgive the aforesaid minor hardware nuisances, this portion is what'll make or break the deal. Unfortunately for those upset with the OS on the original Instinct, you'll likely be similarly disappointed here. While a few updates have been throw in here and there, the OS is largely identical. Users still can't customize the Icons on the "Main" screen (don't bother with the "Favorites" tab argument -- it's not even arranged the same way), text messages still show a pop-up alert even when the Messaging panel is loaded and the web browser is still an absolute and utter disaster.
Before we break completely into the bad news, we will say that we noticed far less lag when surfing between panels and applications as compared to the first Instinct, and the integrated NFL and NASCAR applications were actually fairly useful for those into sports. Similarly, we were mildly impressed with the built-in MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and Photobucket apps (which really act as bookmarks to URLs), but there's no dedicated Twitter option (let alone a few to choose from), and there's essentially no hope of ever seeing s30 applications that beat (or even rival) those found in the BlackBerry App World, iPhone App Store, etc. For instance, the "Weather" panel takes you a poorly formatted web page with local weather -- compare that to even the patently awful "Weather" iPhone app that Apple forces upon you, and it's easy to see which implementation is preferable. In basic tasks such as calling folks (audio on both ends was crystal clear), penning a text message and checking voicemail, the s30 was a real champ. In fact, if this was marketed and priced as a lower-end featurephone, we'd say it's among the best out there. But truthfully, the phone is far too limited to be stickered at $130 on contract and tethered to a mandatory data plan, which you'll largely never use. Why, you ask? Let us explain.
For starters, we'll never, ever forgive Samsung, Sprint or whoever was responsible for snatching the EV-DO Rev. A radio from the s30. If you'll recall, Sprint was unyielding in driving home the fact that the Instinct was its first-ever consumer EV-DO Rev. A device; for whatever reason, the handset's successor gets stuck with an EV-DO Rev. 0 radio that's far slower. And to add insult to injury, there's still no WiFi radio here. Seriously folks, it's 2009 -- if you're going to sell a phone that requires a pricey data plan, make sure it has a modern day radio. And barring that, at least toss in WiFi so we can take advantage of coffee shop waves on our way to work. Thankfully, the decision to scale back on the mobile data front doesn't really matter, as you'll likely spend a grand total of 30 seconds on the web browser before you close it out in disgust.
For starters, there's still an inexplicably large sidebar that takes up far too many precious pixels while browsing. Secondly, there's no multi-touch, so you'll be zooming in and out via the archaic "Zoom Button" method. Finally, there's no accelerometer, so you can forget about flipping web pages (and the keyboard, for that matter) by just turning the phone around. The bottom line on the web browser? It's fine for viewing pages specifically designed for mobile browsers, but that's it. If you're okay with that, you'll be pleased as punch, but if you were hoping to find an internet experience that's even a touch better than that on the original, you'll have your dreams crushed -- particularly when you see just how sluggish EV-DO Rev. 0 is compared to Rev. A.
Of note, the built-in Navigation application is a bright spot amongst loads of ho hum, though it's still not a suitable replacement for a dedicated GPS. Many lauded the navigation abilities in the original Instinct, but we found it to cave under the heavy pressures of Metro DC-area traffic. The version bundled in here is largely identical, so while we can't deny that it's certainly better than most phone-based nav systems, it's hardly a reason in and of itself to go with the s30 over similarly priced rivals.
As for Sprint TV? It's just as heavily pixelated and unpleasant to watch as it was before, and unless you pony up for Premium content, most of what you'll see isn't live. To be fair, it's not just Sprint that's struggling to get mobile TV right, but if you've been rather "meh" about the whole idea before, there's nothing here that'll change your stance. As for the camera, you're looking at the same flash-less 2.0 megapixel shooter as on the original Instinct, and image quality is definitely nothing to write home about. Yet again, we're disappointed that a "successor" phone makes no effort whatsoever to show progress; if this phone was sold for $50 or less on contract, we'd excuse the lack of initiative, but at over a Benjamin, we just can't let it slide.
Samsung Instinct s30 sample images
In case you're somehow oblivious to negativity, you can probably guess that we can't wholeheartedly recommend that to-be smartphone owners equipped with $130 and an open mind purchase the Instinct s30. If we're being entirely honest, we're wondering why Samsung and Sprint even bothered releasing this phone. In far, far too many ways, it's just an Instinct that looks a wee bit different than the one outed last June. And in some critical areas (mobile data, specifically), it's actually less featured. To that end, we're really struggling to see where the s30 fits in today's oversaturated featurephone / smartphone marketplace. As we've insinuated already, we could totally see this as a winner if priced anywhere between $0 and $50 on contract. As it stands, there are just too many better options out there in the $130 - $200 range, and so far as we know, each of those rivals support EV-DO Rev. A or the GSM equivalent.
What Samsung did here was give a lackluster phone an uninspiring makeover and a price tag that's not a penny lower than the original. You're buying the same camera, the same display, the same form factor, the same operating system (mostly), the same experience -- and you're paying the same price ($129.99 on contract). Oh, and you're also getting less speedy mobile broadband (Rev. 0 on the s30 versus Rev. A on the Instinct), a less capacious memory card (1GB on the s30 versus 2GB on the Instinct) and less battery life (4.6 hours of continuous talk time on the s30 versus 5.75 hours of talk time on the Instinct). Of note, that last tidbit is made even worse when you consider that the same $130 got you a spare battery right in the box with the original Instinct, which is something you definitely won't find in the box of the s30. If you can manage to snag one for $49.99 at Best Buy Mobile, you may be pleased with the value proposition, but there's just nothing here to warrant a triple-digit MSRP -- who knows, maybe the real Instinct 2 will actually pack some innovation (or a reasonable price tag, at worse).