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    Samsung’s Instinct offers Bell and Telus customers an iPhone wannabe

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver October 14-20, 2008; issue 990

    High Tech Office column

    With all the iPhone hype, what are mobile carriers like Bell or Telus to do? Apple has an exclusive contract with Rogers/Fido, and even an unlocked iPhone can’t connect to Bell or Telus’ CDMA networks.

    Instead, both companies are offering customers an iPhone wannabe: Samsung’s Instinct. Bell loaned me one for a week. Like the iPhone, it’s a slender rectangle with a large touch screen and few buttons, dominated by a large (240x432 pixel) touch sensitive display. A virtual touch pad pops up when dialling and virtual keyboard appears for data entry.

    It’s impossible to avoid comparing the Instinct to the iPhone. In a number of ways, it manages to beat Apple’s trendsetter. For instance, while both phones ship with headsets, many third-party headsets can’t be plugged into the iPhone’s recessed jack, but will work fine with the Instinct. Both phones sport two-megapixel cameras, but the Instinct’s can also be used to shoot video clips. While the iPhone’s data storage and battery are built-in and non-removable, the Instinct allows users easy access to both.

    Unlike the iPhone, which syncs with both Mac and Windows systems, however, the Instinct is Windows-only.

    The iPhone’s touch screen allows various intuitive multi-touch actions; for example, pinching or moving two fingers apart zooms out or in on a photo or web page. Turning the iPhone 90 degrees flips the view from horizontal to vertical. The Instinct lacks these ease-of-use features, and it lacks the iPhone’s WiFi capabilities; you have no way to get online except using Bell or Telus’ EVDO mobile data networks.
    Nicely, Bell is making that affordable, offering Instinct customers unlimited data access for $10 per month.

    And while the latest iPhone adds features to appeal to BlackBerry-addicted business users, Bell is aiming the Instinct at consumers. Its e-mail application takes users to Microsoft’s Windows Live service, the latest remake of Hotmail, for instance. You can access other webmail services using the browser, but I would have preferred an e-mail application that works with a range of providers.

    GPS is built-in, but is an added-cost service. Bell lets users buy it either by the day as needed or by the month.

    A “fun” menu screen offers games, media features and downloads for additional software. Music, photos and video can be stored on easily removable micro-SD cards, and can be transferred from a Windows system. A two-gigabyte card is included, pre-loaded with music. Additional ringtones and games are available for download, but the download areas promising access to additional productivity applications were empty when I checked. Hopefully more will become available later, but for now, Instinct users don’t get the range and excitement of add-on software accessible by iPhone owners.

    The Instinct’s web browser did a much better job of displaying standard pages than most mobile devices, but was slow and not as easy to use as the iPhone’s Safari browser. I had difficulty clicking on links much of the time and missed the competition’s intuitive zoom in and out.

    As with the iPhone, when you tap on a data-entry field, the virtual keyboard pops up. Unlike on the iPhone, when that happens, the web page disappears, so you’re unable to see the question you’re answering.

    Using a custom operating system developed by Samsung, the Instinct is more responsive than touch screen models like HTC’s Touch, which adds touch-sensitivity onto Windows Mobile. It is, however, neither as intuitive nor as expandable as Apple’s iPhone. But for customers wanting to stick with Bell or Telus, it is a fun and usable multimedia-capable touch screen phone in its own right. Bell’s pricing starts at $150 with a three-year contract. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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