Sprint today launched their big new release, the Samsung Instinct. Instinct (M800) is a no-holds-barred consumer handset with just about every feature you can think of and a full-frontal touchscreen that can't help but remind one of Apple's iPhone. I got a chance to play with an almost final version of Instinct a few weeks back at a one-on-one meeting with Sprint and Samsung executives. Here's what I can tell you:
The short version is that Instinct is just about the most advanced consumer device on the market today, notwithstanding rumored devices like AT&T's LG Vu, VZW's Samsung Glyde and LG Dare, and Sony Ericsson's Xperia X1. Instinct supports just about every voice and data service Sprint currently offers and will also be Sprint's first Rev. A consumer device - that is, it'll be fast, fast, fast when it comes to Email, Web, and other data applications.
I only spent about a half-hour with two pre-production units, but I came away very impressed by Instinct and encouraged by Sprint. It's hard to avoid the iPhone comparisons, and frankly Instinct isn't quite as flashy or polished as Apple's black and chrome device. But Instinct's still really good and has a feature set as long as the day is ... uh, long. And between Sprint's plan to price the phone well below what an iPhone costs and the company's new Unlimited data and voice plans, Instinct is positioned to open the world of feature-rich mobile handsets to consumers willing to spend $200 or so - and not the $400-500 that iPhone currently commands.
Now here's the long version:
Instinct is impressive, and frankly has me considering a move to Sprint when my T-Mobile contract expires later this month (my current personal handset is an unlocked iPhone). Honestly, I'm Sprint's target market for Instinct - someone who wants multimedia and Email/Web on the go but with a little more style and ease of use than a Windows Mobile or BlackBerry device could afford. Instinct's got all that going for it, but I'm not convinced just yet.
The handset is built on the same hardware platform as Samsung's F490 GSM phone and both the hardware and software look like the leaked photos of the M800 that have been kicking around the Web for the past month or so. Instinct fits easily in the hand and has a nice soft-grip backside that makes it easy to hold. I had an iPhone me so I did a quick comparison - overall Instinct is a bit narrower and a bit thicker than iPhone, and about the same length. iPhone is flashier looking, what with its chrome trim, and feels a bit more luxurious in hand, but Instinct certainly isn't cheap looking or feeling. I had some concerns about Instinct's display being scratch-proof enough to withstand daily use, but was assured that it's made from very scratch-resistant hardened glass. The display worked well with fingertip input and via the included stylus.
Spec-wise, there's a standard (non-recessed!) 3.5mm headphone jack, a USB port, a 2MP camera with zoom and video recording, Stereo Bluetooth support with audio caller ID, visual voicemail, threaded text messaging, integrated GPS, full HTML Web browsing (no Flash support), Live Search powered by Microsoft, and a nifty voice command system. Everything but the kitchen sink here, and powered by Sprint's new Unlimited data and voice plans which range from $70/month up to $100/month for unlimited minutes (There's also Sprint's SERO plan which may be able to get you even lower monthly rates if you know a Sprint employee who can refer you).
Sprint's press release also lists the following bits of info:
Dimensions: 2.17 x 4.57 x 0.49 inches; 4.4 ounces
Display: 3.1? TFT (240 x 432 pixels and 262K vibrant colors)
Standard Lithium (LiIon) battery: up to 5.75 hours continuous talk time
Instinct will be Sprint's first Rev. A EV-DO consumer device, which means it should be very fast when it comes to data-related tasks, and can more than do in a pinch as a cellular modem for your laptop. If you live or work within Sprint's EV-DO coverage map you know their data network is zippy. Instinct promises "peak" download speeds of up to 3.1 Mbps and peak uploads to 1.8 Mbps. In layman's terms that means Instinct should be way faster than any U.S. handset this side of Sprint's other Rev. A phone, the HTC-made Mogul. It also means it should beat the pants off of iPhone's EDGE capabilities when it comes to Web and Email over cellular networks. Instinct doesn't have a WiFi antenna, however.
Despite the best efforts of the Sprint and Samsung folks to educate me about all of Instinct's features, once I sat down I immediately started playing with the phone's touchscreen. I can't help it - it's the iPhone effect. Instinct's screen is big, bright, and sharp, if just a touch smaller than iPhone's. The touchscreen was responsive and features haptic response, providing very handy vibrational feedback to confirm that you've actually pressed a virtual button on the screen. Haptics are great. But Instinct doesn't let you flick through Contact lists and photos with the same amazing grace and ease as iPhone. At least the not-quite-final versions I played with didn't. All in all it I found it better than the HTC-made Sprint Touch but not on par with iPhone. Seriously, Apple's multitouch display is just in a league of its own compared to anything else I've actually gotten to try. But Instinct is quite good - at least that was my impression based on a very short time with a pre-production model.
The music player, photo browser, and visual voicemail features on Instinct were all very reminiscent of iPhone's. To be fair, there are only so many ways you can build a music player's UI while still making it useable - it's not like Sprint and Samsung stayed late one night at the office with an iPhone, a Xerox machine and a six-pack and wound up with Instinct. They actually worked with a third-party user interface company to build Instinct's software from the ground up. It's a very useable and attractive interface, though I do think consumers will want more customizability when it comes to the Home screen. The Home screen is a bit atypical in that it only shows shortcut icons - there's no background wallpaper. The icons are all customizable and the UI makes a ton of sense in terms of letting users decide what features and apps they want quick one-touch access to. I also like the bottom row menu that divides everything into four easy to access categories. But I like having that goofy photo of me and my wife on my phone's Home screen and I know other folks like seeing their kids, dog, favorite swimsuit model, or whatever when they look at their phones. I told the execs as much so for all I know they've enabled Home screen wallpaper on Instinct by now. As if I had that much pull ...
I'll be honest in saying that I expect consumers to see this phone and immediately think "iPhone knockoff." That's a bit unfair to Sprint and Samsung, but I think it's the truth of the American marketplace right now. Phone geeks will immediately point to the subtler differences consumers don't notice or care about as much, and the geeks may also cry foul at Sprint's decision to forgo the Samsung "Croix" UI found on the original F490. But the masses will see a big touchscreen, few buttons, and multimedia features galore and think iPhone. The trick for Sprint will be getting them to see past the "iPhone clone" factor to notice what Instinct actually has going for it that Apple and AT&T can't offer: namely, a faster network at a better price.
In general I think Sprint and Sammy did a good job on Instinct's software - the prototypes I played with were easy to navigate and easy on the eye. Instinct packs a ton of features including full Web and Email support, GPS navigation, Sprint TV, Sprint Music Store access, visual voicemail, and SMS/MMS/IM messaging, and the phone's custom UI makes it pretty easy to find your way around all of those goodies. I like that Instinct boasts three "real" buttons beneath the touchscreen, which makes it easy to return to the Home and Phone screens and also to backtrack one step ? iPhone's single button system is elegant but offers incrementally fewer navigational options.
Honestly, in an iPhone-less world I'd probably be talking about Instinct as a revolutionary consumer device. It's got the promise to be that good. Rev. A data is fast, Sprint's Music Store and other multimedia offerings are excellent, and if they really do price this thing at the $199-249 price point bandied about at my meeting, it'll represent a lot more bang for your buck than a $399-499 iPhone. That's not even mentioning Sprint's very competitively priced voice and data plans that let you use their handsets as Bluetooth laptop modems. I love that sort of flexibility, and commend Sprint for offering it as part of a "one price gets you everything" package to consumers. Well, almost everything - you'll still have to pay per play to download music and games and such.
I'll get a lot more time with Instinct at what promises to be an over-the-top launch event at CTIA today, and was told that review models will be available as soon as May. The phone is set to ship to consumers sometime in June. I'm excited for Sprint - they continue to innovate and push exciting devices and services in the face of some tough times at the company. I'd like to see them do well because it'd be good for consumers - AT&T and Verizon need Sprint and T-Mobile's scrappy, more value-focused innovations to keep them honest and push the cost-to-value ratio more in consumers' favor.
Sprint's planning a big advertising campaign behind Instinct, and I don't blame them. Feature for feature it's one of the most advanced handsets currently on the US market (bear in mind I'm writing this prior to whatever else may be launched at CTIA, including the AT&T LG Vu and VZW Samsung Glyde). And until Apple comes out with a 3G iPhone, Instinct matches up feature-for-feature with iPhone and works over a much faster cellular data network.
However, with consumers it often comes down to style and usability. Instinct's got a lot going for it in both of those arenas but it remains to be seen if it can compete with whatever Apple's got up its sleeve in terms of a next-gen iPhone - not to mention the "iPhone clones" you know are coming from the other major handset makers. Feature rich consumer devices that blur the line between phone and smartphone are hot right now, and they'll be big business over the next few years.
At first, unreleased prototype, glance Instinct does more and does it faster than iPhone, but does it with just a bit less ease and pizzaz. Then again it also does it all a little cheaper. It'll be very interesting to see if Instinct wins the hearts of consumers, or if features like Rev. A data speeds get lost on everyone but the geeks. As soon as I can I'll post hands-on video, images, and more thoughts on Instinct so you can start the process of deciding for yourselves.