Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Instinct s30™ Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung Instinct S30 offers a slick design, bigger external memory, and an attractive touch-screen interface. Features are respectable and the call quality is satisfactory.

THE BAD: The Samsung Instinct S30's video quality is erratic and it lacks Wi-Fi and camera editing options. In a disappointing move, Samsung and Sprint downgraded the EV-DO support.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Instinct S30 has its good points, but Samsung and Sprint missed the opportunity to make a better device.

Samsung and Sprint typically make a big showing at the spring CTIA show. In 2008, the two companies introduced the Samsung Instinct touch-screen phone, and this year they followed up with the Instinct S30. Though we expected a second Instinct at some point, the S30 is more of a minor redesign than a full-blown revamp of the original model. It's the tinniest bit thinner with smoother angles, but it only adds minimal new features. And even worse, it removes at least two things that we enjoyed on the first model. The Instinct S30 is available for $129 with a contract. That's a fair price, but the Instinct S30 falls short of being both new and improved. It's disappointing considering how we liked the first handset.

The Instinct S30, aka the SPH-M810, has the same basic shape as its predecessor, but a side-by-side comparison will show a more aerodynamic profile and smoother lines and rounded corners. It also has a slight bulge at the bottom end. The S30 is almost the same size (4.57 inches tall by 2.11 inches wide by 0.48 inch thick), but it's just 0.1 inch thinner than the original Instinct and a tad lighter (3.88 ounces). Overall, we like the new look–it's less boxy and the phone has a nicer feeling in the hand. You can get it in two colors–cobalt metal and copper–but the features are the same on both models.

The S30's virtual keyboard is unchanged form the previous Instinct.

The S30's touch screen is just a bit larger than the original handset (3.2 inches versus 3.1 inches). We welcome the change, though you'd barely notice it when using the device. The color resolution is the same (262,000 colors; 432,240-pixels) and the easy-to-use, customizable menus are unchanged. The touch screen felt no different, as well.

Outside on the display you'll find the same exterior controls and an identical virtual dialpad and QWERTY keyboard. The memory card slot is again on the left spine. Samsung kept the proprietary charger jack, but we were glad that the company didn't didn't mess with the 3.5mm headset jack.

The Instinct S30 offers many of the same features as the original Instinct. You'll find stereo Bluetooth, a personal organizer, voice dialing and commands, GPS with Sprint Navigation, support for Sprint's Visual Voicemail, FM radio, PC syncing, messaging, IMAP4 and POP3 e-mail, USB mass storage, 600-contact phonebook, and a full HTML browser. Unfortunately, the 2-megapixel shooter still doesn't offer camera editing features, but photo quality was quite good.

Like its predecessor, the S30 has a self-portrait mirror, but no flash.

New features on the Instinct include an Opera 4.2 browser and more external memory (32GB versus 16GB). You also get instant messaging, calendar, and contacts syncing out of the box. The precious Instinct required an upgrade to add both features. We were hoping for Wi-Fi this time around, but it's not here.

The S30 promises admirable photo quality.

The S30 is also a 3G EV-DO device that supports Sprint's NFL Mobile, Nascar application, Power Vision, and the Sprint Music Store. Yet, we were blown away that Sprint and Samsung downgraded the 3G support. Instead of EV-DO Rev. A, the S30 supports the carrier's lower EV-DO Rev. 0 network. The means that instead of download speeds of 600Kbps to 1.4Mbps, you'll get 400Kbps to 700Kbps. Similarly, upload speeds will average about 50Kpbs to 70Kbps instead of 350Kpbs to 500Kpbs. While the Rev. 0 speeds may be fine for some people, we can't imagine why a second-generation device offers slower wireless data speeds.

We also were disappointed that the S30 does not come with the extra battery that could be charged separately in its carrying case. That was a nice touch on the previous phone.

Samsung is promising that the S30 will be more open to developers, who will be able to access the core Java application programming interface. Available features will include messaging, multimedia, contacts, calendar, and Bluetooth. As part of the program, Sprint is creating an Application Developer Program. We'll give you more details on this program as they are made available.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) Samsung Instinct S30 in San Francisco using Sprint service. Call quality was somewhat improved over the first model. We experienced none of the patchy and harsh audio that we had before. For the most part, we enjoyed a clear signal without any interference. Voices sounded natural except at the highest volume level (the phone can get pretty loud).

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could tell we were using a call phone, but they reported fewer problems than on the Instinct. They only times they had trouble hearing us was when were in a particularly noisy locations. It was the same experience with automated calling systems. Speakerphone calls were average. The audio was a bit distorted muffed and the volume didn't get as loud as we'd like.

Streaming video quality was as mixed as on its predecessor. Videos loaded quickly, but videos paused a few times while playing and there was a bit of choppy motion. On one occasion, the video was so pixelated that we couldn't make out what was going on, but that was the exception. The audio was mostly in sync, though as with the speakerphone it could be louder. Music quality was fine, though headphones will provide the best experience.

The Web browser performed well for the most part. Simple Web pages loaded quickly, but busier pages took longer. For instance, CNET's Web site took about 15 seconds from start to finish. Again, the downgrade to Rev 0 is a mystery. On the upside, it's pretty easy to navigate around pages using the touch screen and the internal performance was zippy.

The Instinct S30 has a rated battery life of 4.6 hours talk time, which is more than an hour shorter than the original Instinct. Our tests showed a talk time of 5 hours and 44 minutes. According to FCC radiation charts, the S30 has a digital SAR of 1.33 watts per kilogram.

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