Samsung Instinct HD Review

Introduction and Design

The Instinct family now has its third member, the Samsung Instinct HD.   Unlike the s30, the HD is a true upgrade from the original, and what upgrades there are As the name indicates, the new Instinct is capable of recording HD videos, a first for the US market. The camera is up to 5 megapixels, the HVGA display now sports 16 million colors and the orientation can easily be switched thanks to the accelerometer. The Instinct HD is the first non-Windows Mobile phone to use the Opera Mobile browser, and for those without 3G, Wi-Fi is available. The Instinct HD is a serious upgrade, but Sprint’s lineup has been upgraded as well. Can the Instinct HD compete with the likes of the Pre and Hero?
Included in the box you’ll find:

•    Li-Ion battery
•    microUSB AC adapter
•    USB data cable
•    4GB microSDHC card
•    Stereo headset


The Instinct HD shares many design elements of the original and the s30, yet it is unique in its own way. The front of the phone still sports the large 3.2” display and you’ll find the familiar Back, Home and Phone buttons at the bottom. Now only the buttons that can be used light up, as opposed to having them all lit as was the case before. The display is now capacitive where previously it was resistive.  It is noticeably more responsive than before and still offers haptic feedback when pressed.  It does not support multitouch and is not as responsive as the Palm Pre, and in fact it was not immediately apparent to us that it was capacitive.  The Instinct and Instinct s30 both featured 240x432, 262k color displays but the HD is significantly better with a resolution of 320x480 and 16 million colors. It is extremely vibrant, and the light sensor now automatically adjusts the brightness to the current lighting conditions.

You can compare the Samsung Instinct HD with many other phones using our Size Vizualization Tool.

The overall dimensions are slightly larger than the previous versions, but like the s30 the rounding of the edges makes it feel smaller than it is. The phone feels great in your hand; the weight is just right and the slightly added width makes it comfortable to hold the phone.

The phone has silver trim around it and the back has been given a very subtle blue shade. Along the left side you find the volume rocker and Speech to Action button. On the right is the microUSB charging and data port, TV out port and camera key. Along the top is the 3.5mm audio jack and the power button. The 5MP shooter is very prominently displayed on the back above the LED flash. There is a speaker on the bottom, a change from the previous two iterations which had the speaker on the earpiece.

We’ve always been impressed by the design of the Instinct, but the HD takes it to the next level.  The buttons offer plenty of feedback, the display is responsive and easy to read in direct sunlight and the in-hand feel is very good. It is a well-built phone and we would be very happy to carry it in our pocket.

Samsung Instinct HD 360 Degrees View:

User Interface:

The Instinct HD is built off of the original UI, but there are many improvements. The main layout is the same; there are two environments - home and phone - and each one has several tabs. Previously, there were four tabs on each, now there are five. On the Phone side you’ll find the self-explanatory Speed Dial, Contacts, Recent, Voicemail and Dialer. The Home side still has Favs, Main, Fun and Web, and is now joined by My Stuff. There is a new lock screen this time around; instead of a press and hold of the power button (which still works) the user can slide to unlock, just like the iPhone.

Favs allows the user to set up to 12 shortcuts to menu items, bookmarks, TV channels, radio stations, playlists or to send a text or email to a specific contact. Main features commonly used items such as messaging options, navigation, calendar, settings and others. Fun houses all of the multimedia and social networking offerings of the Instinct HD and My Stuff has all of your downloaded games and apps. Lastly is Web, which now has top-tier content providers instead of a generic link to news, sports, weather, etc. Partners are CNN, ESPN,, Fandango and Bloomberg.

All of these menus except Favs allow you to view them in the familiar grid view, but like Favs, you can also view the other menus in list view. Certain apps, such as CNN,, and My Photos deliver content directly to the homescreen when in this list view. For instance, the app gives the current conditions, and if you have multiple cities set you can scroll through them. CNN delivers five headlines, and the My Photos app shows your most recent pictures snapped. These upgrades really enhance and make for a richer user experience.

The screen is very responsive, but the menu isn’t always so snappy. Performance doesn’t seem to be improved over the original too much and we were often waiting for apps to load. Granted, there is  only 84MB of internal memory, but given this isn’t a smartphone (despite Sprint and Samsung’s claim) there really isn’t an excuse for the sluggish performance. Unfortunately this is all too familiar with featurephones, and overall the Instinct HD has the best dumphone UI out there.


The phone interface is largely the same as before. Users can easily assign speed dials by touching “Tap to add,” then selecting them from the contact list. From the Speed Dial tab they can simply touch the user to call them directly, or hit the arrow key for contact details.

On the details screen the user will see the picture ID (or placeholder silhouette) at the top and the contact’s details down below. The user can tap on a number to call it, or the speech bubble next to it to send a text message. Tapping the email initiates an email. If you have the user’s address stored you can initiate a navigation session with the press of a button, or you can map the location or send the address as a text. You can also view the history for that contact, which holds all of your text messages and call logs. We would have liked to see a few more options, such as birthday info or Facebook integration, but everything is still very good.

The contacts tab of course lists your contacts, in this case alphabetically. There is no first name/last name field so it sorts by however you have them named. At the top is a “+” icon which is used to add a new contact. Along the right is a little half circle that you can drag to quickly scroll though them; as you grab it a giant “A” appears on the screen and you can run through the alphabet. Samsung has addressed one of our gripes by adding a search option at the top of the screen.

Visual Voicemail is pretty much the same as we saw the first time around. Within a contact you are given the option to send them a voice message, which is a welcome addition. We appreciate that Sprint does not charge for Visual Voicemail, it really is a fantastic product, but we wish that it was on more phones other than the Instinct line and now the Hero.

Voice dialing is the same as before, again powered by Nuance. The Speech to Action button on the left-hand side initiates this, and it goes beyond the standard voice dialing by allowing the user to launch applications or initiate a message to a particular contact. We loved it the first time around and it is still best in class. Mobile Sync still backs up your contacts to the cloud free of charge.


The original Instinct choked in this area, and the HD is not much different. It toes the line quite nicely however, and does support Exchange calendar support out of the box. Mobile Sync has a desktop client that syncs with Outlook for indirect contact sync. The phone offers remote management support so that it can be controlled by your enterprise admin.

The calendar is relatively basic, allowing you to add appointments and set a reminder alarm up to one hour before. You can set it to recur daily, weekly, monthly or yearly as well as select days of the week for it to occur. The notes program allows you to store notes and nothing else. The calculator can function as a standard calculator, tip calculator or unit converter and now when rotated it turns into a scientific calculator. The alarm clock will let you set up to 10 alarms. They can be one time use alarms, or can be set to repeat daily, Monday-Friday or Saturday and Sunday. You can set the snooze interval to 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes. With the accelerometer you can now flip the phone over to snooze. Other clock features include a world clock, stopwatch and countdown timer.


The Instinct had the best landscape onscreen QWERTY we’d ever encountered at the time, and the HD carries on this tradition. The Instinct had the stupidest portrait keyboard we’d ever encountered at the time, and the HD carries on this tradition as well. The landscape QWERTY offers visual, tactile and audio feedback and we couldn’t confuse it even when we tried. Auto-correct is now an option in the settings menu, instead of being hidden within the messaging app, and when we did make a mistake more often than not the Instinct HD fixed it for us.

For some reason the portrait keyboard is still alphabetical, which makes no sense at all. It is not intuitive, it is not easy to use and it just plain sucks. It should be a T9 keyboard like on phones such as the Memoir, but at the very least it should be a cramped QWERTY. This continues to perplex and frustrate us.

All types of messaging are handled in nearly identical fashion as before. Text messages are threaded, the phone supports picture and video messaging and email is handled by the Sprint Mobile Email app, which has Exchange support. It should be noted that HD videos are too large to share over picture mail.

There was not an IM client available when the original Instinct launched, and the s30 did not come with one preloaded. Fortunately, there is one for the HD, which can be found on the Main menu. The service supports AIM, Yahoo! Messenger and Windows Live, just like the previous IM client. The interface has been reworked; the layout is better and it is in landscape mode versus portrait. The program pseudo runs in the background, but alerts arrive as a text and they don’t always arrive in a timely fashion. When open it works just fine and gets the job done.

Connectivity and Data:

The Instinct HD brings back EV-DO Rev. A and has Wi-Fi as well. For local connectivity it offers Bluetooth 2.1+EDR; profiles include HSP 1.1, HFP 1.5, DUN, OPP, FTP, PBA, A2DP, AVRC. Paring device is easy enough and in general you won’t need to enter passwords since the HD tries all common ones.

The high speed connectivity is much better utilized this time around with the Opera Mobile browser. Not only is it the first non-Windows Mobile device to sport the browser, but it is also the first device to offer version 9.7 with some Flash support. The banner or focal point of pages like ESPN, and our own website loaded properly, but when we tried to play embedded videos or use the desktop YouTube page it said our Flash player was out of date. Still, when phones like the iPhone and Pre can’t handle Flash it’s impressive to see it in a feature phone. Performance is very similar to what we’ve seen from Opera Mobile on previous devices like the HTC Touch Diamond and Pro. With the lower resolution text isn’t legible when zoomed out, but a simple double tap zooms in and fixes that issue. It’s a drastic improvement over the original Samsung browser and even Opera Mini which was included on the s30, but wasn’t the default browser.


One of the Instinct HD’s calling cards is the 5 megapixel autofocus camera with HD video recording.  Pictures can be captured at 5MP (2529x1944), 3MP, 2MP or VGA resolution, and videos can be shot in HD (1280x720), VGA or QVGA.  The first Instinct didn’t allow for any adjustments to the camera, but now you can tweak all kinds of settings such as ISO, white balance, exposure, anti-shake and many others including a 5 and 10sec self timer.  The auto-focus offers a macro mode as well as face detection, and the LED flash can be controlled manually if you desire.  Unfortunately it does not have the slick panoramic mode found on many newer Samsungs, including Sprint’s Reclaim.

Results were good but nothing ground-breaking.  Details were sharper than most cell phone cameras, but nothing like you’d find on a good point and shoot.  Color representation was overall pretty good as well; some of our images were taken on a cloudy day and the camera captured that mood well.  The pictures taken in bright sunlight produced much better results as you would expect.  The macro mode had mixed results; a few of our pictures were very crisp, but others had some blur and some were unusable.  The flash did its job from about 12 feet and in, which is rather impressive for a single LED.  Despite all of this the images didn’t have any real pop to them and looking at the pictures it is clear that they were taken with a camera phone most of the time.

The video camera has fewer options than the camera, but covers your basics with white balance, exposure, contrast and a few others.  For a phone touting its HD recording capabilities we’d have expected more options, such as slow motion recording.  The results were pretty good, but again it’s not something you’d replace a real video camera with.  It is, however, better than an entry level camcorders like the Flip HD.  With the included 4GB memory card you can record about 1.25 hours of video, but as mentioned HD video cannot be sent over MMS.

Samsung Instinct HD sample videos at 1280x720 pixels resolution:Sample 1, Sample 2


The media player is pretty much the same as before, but the upgraded screen makes for a much better video experience. The music player is good enough, but like the original the Instinct HD had issues recognizing ID3 tags; many of our albums weren’t read at all, while others got artist, song and album information but the album art was not loaded. Sound out of the single speaker was pretty good, but being rear-facing the sound was often dampened. The 3.5mm headset jack allows you to use higher quality headphones than the included set, and trust us you’ll want to. In addition to playback the Sprint Music Store allows users to download tracks OTA for $0.99.

Video playback looked excellent on the high quality display. It couldn’t handle our H.263 files, but the H.264 files played fine at resolutions ranging from 176x144 to 800x480 and frame rates of 15-60fps. Our Monsters vs. Aliens HD resolution trailer looked phenomenal; the Instinct HD is right there with the iPhone and Pre in leading the industry for video playback. The Instinct HD offers video out to your HDTV via an optional HDMI cable that will set you back $19.99. For $250, or even $200, we’d expect this to be included.

SprintTV performance seems to have improved and looks on par with the Pre. Sprint Radio again delivers content by genre and offers many local stations as well. We prefer Pandora, but it’s not a bad app. Pandora was actually available on the original, so we’d imagine a version will be available for the HD as well.


The Instinct HD finally has some real apps, including Facebook , Twitter and Google Maps. Some of these, like YouTube, are still web links, but the aforementioned ones are are all stand alone applications.  More standard software is included as well also, such as Sprint Navigation and the aforementioned SprintTV and Radio. It runs Java apps, but they must be designed for the phone since there are no soft keys, nor hard input.

The excellent Live Search is included and makes searching local businesses as easy as can be. The app can be launched by voice, and then you search either category or business name with your voice as well. Simply tap on the result you want and you have one click to share the info (via text,) call the business or launch Sprint Navigation to direct you there.


Callers were pleased with how we sounded on the Samsung Instinct HD,  but weren’t blown away. They rated us an 8/10, saying that there was nothing particularly wrong with it but that we just sounded normal for a cell phone. We would say the same for them; our only complaint was the volume could be higher. It was fine in a room with minimal background noise, but in noisy conditions we had to ask callers to repeat themselves at times. The battery is rated at a very solid 5.8 hours of battery life, which is excellent for a CDMA phone.


The Instinct HD has some excellent elements, including a gorgeous screen, HD video recording and a vastly improved browser. Performance was good and battery life is stellar, and it is a better phone than the original in every way. There are several useful apps this time around, and the accelerometer makes the phone more natural to use. If this had come out last year, or even in place of the Instinct s30 Samsung and Sprint would have had a killer phone on their hands, but right now it’s at best the third most exciting phone Sprint has behind the Pre and Hero.  The Tour and Touch Pro2 can be thrown in the discussion as well, but then again having too many cool phones isn’t exactly a problem.  What will ultimately hurt Instinct HD sales is the inflated price (though it’s not bad for those looking to buy a $100-$170 Flip for example,) but if it is dropped to match the current Instinct offerings that could change a lot of things

Samsung Instinct HD Video review:


  • First phone to offer HD recording
  • Opera Mobile 9.7 is a great browser
  • Good size and build quality
  • The accelerometer makes the phone more natural to use, and the onscreen keyboard is still our favorite
  • Beautiful, vibrant display


  • Price is too high
  • HDMI cable not included

PhoneArena Rating:


User Rating:

8 Reviews

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