Sprint's Instinct: It's iPhone-ish!

Sprint's Instinct smartphone has some features that make it stand out against the iPhone, but not enough to surpass it.

The scoop: Instinct smartphone, by Samsung (on Sprint network), about $130 (after rebates and two-year service agreement). Data plans start at $70 per month and indreases to $100 per month for Sprint’s “Simply Everything” plan, which offers unlimited voice and data.

What it is: A cell phone with all the bells and whistles, the Instinct is taking dead aim at the iPhone with features that mirror (and in some cases surpass) Apple’s device (at the time of this article, I haven’t tested the iPhone 3G yet — stay tuned for next week’s column for that review). Software features on the Instinct include an HTML Web browser, music player, Bluetooth 2.0, built-in GPS (with Sprint Navigator support), a 2.0-megapixel digital camera, visual voice mail and speech activation for messaging and making calls. E-mail support includes access for POP3 and IMAP accounts, and a microSD memory card slot that supports up to 8GB of extra data. The device even mimics the iPhone’s sleek black and silver exterior, glass touchscreen (although the Instinct adds tactile feedback when you touch the screen), and relative size.

Sprint loyalists will be very happy with the Instinct.

Why it’s cool: It’s hard not to immediately start comparing the Instinct features with the iPhone, but there are some differences that make the Instinct stand out. First and foremost, the phone can access Sprint’s EV-DO Rev. A network, which offers faster download speeds than the original EDGE-based iPhone, and possibly even the UMTS network from AT&T (again, we’ll check next week). The built-in GPS with Sprint Navigator (powered by TeleNav) is a great alternative to stand-alone GPS devices, and worked very well in my testing. The Instinct doesn’t have direct Exchange capabilities, but it does have a “work” e-mail option that lets you access your Exchange e-mail, provided your company allows for Outlook Web Access. It’s a sneaky way to get Exchange e-mail, but it’s somewhat effective. I also liked the phone software that lets you create a three-way conference call; it was very iPhone-like in its ability to put the first caller on hold and add a third caller. I did think it odd that to end a phone call you had to tap and slide a button, rather than just tap it.

Some caveats: The e-mail application grabs the latest 25 e-mails, so if you have more e-mails (for instance, if you get a lot overnight), you have to continually refresh or delete e-mails in order to get new ones. The tactile feedback on the touchscreen is nice at first but then gets annoying after a lot of usage. Also, the touchscreen sometimes ignored my finger taps, creating some additional frustration. The Web browser was decent but still not in the class of the Safari browser on the iPhone (although it’s better than other mobile browsers). Other features of the phone (music player, games/applications, video player) were average, nothing stellar.

Bottom line: This isn’t an enterprise-class phone — the e-mail application and lack of a VPN client prove this — but it could be considered at small or midsize businesses. I don’t think iPhone users will switch to the Instinct (especially with the iPhone 3G now available), but Sprint loyalists who’ve had iPhone envy for the last year can finally have a multimedia phone that matches the iPhone in several categories. If the iPhone is an A+, then the Instinct is a solid A-.

Grade: 4 stars (out of five).

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