Phone, Smartphone, Notebook and Gadget Reviews and buyers guide
Phone Notebooks & Tablets Gaming Gadgets iPhone & iPad Shop Forum


Home > Phone Reviews > Samsung Instinct HD (SPH-M850)


Samsung Instinct HD

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star
Discuss this product
Where to Buy

What's hot: Fun and easy to use, excellent GPS experience.

What's not: Price is high for what you get, UI has changed little in this 3rd gen. Instinct.


Review posted October 1, 2009 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor and Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

The Samsung Instinct family is in a class by itself. Exclusive to Sprint, it sports a unique user interface that's not at all related to Samsung's wide range of TouchWiz phones though the hardware similarities are strong. The Instinct HD, like the original Instinct released in June 2008 and the Samsung Instinct S30 released earlier this year, features a 5 tab home screen, 4 of which are populated with large, attractive and finger-friendly icons. The fifth tab is for your favorites, just as with prior models in the line. In fact, little has changed in terms of user interface in this 3rd iteration of the Instinct. Instead the improvements are refinements of the OS and UI, a much better camera and a capacitive touch screen. If you're an Instinct or S30 owner who's a shutterbug or are looking for a better email and calling experience, the HD is worth a look. Beyond those, there's not much to captivate a current Instinct owner. Basic feature phone owners looking to upgrade to a phone with a very full feature set and a touch screen are the likely buyers for this phone. Ironically, the Instinct HD's biggest problem is Sprint's excellent fall 2009 smartphone lineup which competes with the HD in terms of price and features. For example, the Palm Pre, a wonderful and accessible smartphone and the HTC Hero, a very cool Android phone, can do everything the Instinct HD does and more, yet they currently cost less.

Samsung Instinct HD


Samsung Instinct HD at a Glance

The Samsung Instinct HD has a dual core CPU with the MSM7625 (ARM11 528Mhz) and BCM2727 ARM9 (256Mhz) processors. The Instinct HD feels zippy at most tasks but we occasionally encountered short lags. The phone has 256MB of RAM and 512 megs of ROM. The large 3.2-inch capacitive display has 320 x 480 resolution and supports 16 million colors, but it doesn’t support multi-touch. That’s a good improvement over the Instinct S30’s resistive 240 x 432 pixel touch screen and it's brighter than the original Instinct's.  The Samsung Instinct HD has a 5-megapixel camera that can take still photos and videos in VGA as well as 720p HD resolution. The phone has built-in Bluetooth that supports A2DP stereo, GPS, a microSD card slot with a 4GB card included, the Opera Mobile 9.7 web browser and a host of Sprint services including Sprint TV and Radio, Sprint Music Store, Sprint Navigation and NASCAR Sprint and NFL Mobile. The Samsung Instinct HD also comes with a social networking app that works with Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. The Samsung Instinct HD is a digital dual band CDMA phone with EV-DO Rev. A  3G for fast data and it’s exclusively available from Sprint.

Samsung Instinct HD


Design and Display

The Instinct looks similar to other Samsung touch screen feature phones, and it's on the large side being as tall as the iPhone 3GS (though narrower), taller than the HTC Hero and about the same height as the Touch Pro2 (though much thinner). We like the rounded corners that make the phone look smaller and feel comfy in the hand. The chrome accents give the otherwise all-black phone a dose of style though they make it a bit slippery. As with prior Instinct phones, controls are at a minimum. Front touch buttons for back, home and calling make sounds when you touch them and only the ones that are appropriate light up. For example, if you're in the home screen, the home button doesn't light up nor does it do anything since you're already home.



Deals and Shopping

Wirefly price:

Price (no rebate required)
Instinct HD
Click to Select Product



The display is bright and sharp. It has an ambient light sensor to set brightness, and you can override this and set brightness manually. We appreciate the higher resolution display that makes web surfing more productive and photo viewing more pleasurable. The screen requires a relatively firm touch and doesn't feel like the iPhone, Palm Pre or MyTouch 3G as a result. In fact, if we hadn't tried using a stylus and fingernail, both of which don't work with capacitive displays, we'd have guessed this was a resistive display. The phone has haptic (vibration) feedback and an accelerometer but there's no multi-touch support. Thus you can't pinch zoom in the browser; instead you tap the screen to zoom in.

The on-screen keyboard is very good: the keys are large and the capacitive display plus haptic feedback really make a difference. Turn the phone to landscape mode to use the full QWERTY on-screen keyboard. In portrait mode the keyboard is laid out in alphabetic order which is less intuitive.

Samsung Instinct HD

The Instinct HD's right side with the camera button, video out port and USB port.

The microSD card is located under the back cover and you must remove the battery to insert or remove a card- doh! We'd much prefer a readily accessible storage card in a high end imaging phone. You can use the included USB cable to get photos and videos off the camera and onto your computer. Next to the USB connector and also under a rubber door lies the video out port. You can plug the phone directly into your TV or monitor's HDMI port to share those wonderful vacation photos and videos. Alas, this $29 cable isn't included in the box.

Samsung Instinct HD


Video Review

Here's our 10 minute video review of the Samsung Instinct HD. It covers Sprint TV, YouTube playback, the UI, phone design and much more.


Phone and Web

The Samsung Instinct HD doesn’t have very strong RF. In the areas where the HTC Hero gets half of full signal strength, the Samsung Instinct HD gets about 25% of full signal, but the phone has never dropped a call in our tests. The voice quality is clear and loud on the Instinct HD and the built-in speakerphone has good quality that makes it a decent conference phone. The phone book holds only 600 entries which is quite low by today's standards for a high end phone. The Instinct HD has Nuance voice command for voice dialing, checking phone status and launching messaging and applications. The voice command worked very well in our tests. Perhaps the biggest enhancement from the original Instinct is the proximity sensor the Instinct HD added. The proximity sensor allows the phone to shut off the screen during a call so that you don’t accidentally hang up or dial random digits by touching the screen with your face.

Samsung Instinct HD

The Samsung Instinct HD comes with Opera Mobile 9.7 web browser. It displays full HTML pages close to the desktop version, but it doesn’t have Flash support which means you can't play embedded YouTube video. The browser can play the mobile version of YouTube videos just fine. Web pages load fast and you can add large bookmark icons that are very finger friendly. There's a standalone YouTube player that does a fine job of playing video full screen (watch our video review to see it in action).

Music and Video Playback

The Samsung Instinct HD has very good audio quality both via the phone’s speakerphone and the 3.5mm stereo audio jack. The audio is crystal clear and super loud. So if you plan on using the Instinct HD for music playback, watching high quality videos and enjoying gaming sound FX, the phone won’t disappoint. The Samsung Instinct HD has a built-in music player that’s very similar to prior models and it’s decent but it won’t tear anyone away from the iPhone. The included stereo earbuds sound better than average and you probably won't feel a need to upgrade them unless you're looking for an over-the-ear design.

Samsung Instinct HD

The 3.5mm stereo jack is up top along with the power button.

Sprint TV performed very well on the Instinct HD: videos play full screen with little digital artifacting, reasonable buffer times and good audio-video sync. For multimedia consumption, the Instinct is a champ.


The GPS on the Samsung Instinct is a joy to use with a large screen for viewing maps, fast processor for real time navigation and a very clear and loud speaker. The phone acquires a GPS fix quickly, and it routes speedily using Sprint Navigation powered by TeleNav. Sprint Navigation is included in the mandatory Sprint Everything plan, and it offers maps, turn-by-turn directions, real time navigation and traffic, and sharing locations with family and friends. Trip routing is mostly accurate and the phone is speedy at re-routing trips and checking traffic. The Samsung Instinct HD has a really nice user interface in the Sprint Navigation app with a 3D map and shortcut buttons to most used features. The 3D map is accompanied by the next turn direction, arrival ETA and a voice guidance replay touch button. 


5 megapixel camera phones are a rarity on Sprint and the Samsung Instinct HD fills that void though the phone isn’t billed as a camera phone like the Samsung Memoir and Behold on T-Mobile. The HD’s selling point is instead high resolution video recording at 30fps-- nice. The Instinct HD can take still images and HD video in 1280 x 720 resolution. The Samsung Instinct HD provides a better camera than that of past Instinct phones and other camera phones on Sprint, and the HD video capturing is a big plus especially since you can play it back on your HD TV using the optional cable. Among CDMA camera phones on Sprint and Verizon, the Instinct HD is a champ for photo quality, but when pitted against some US GSM and import phones, it's not at the top of the heap. Samsung's own 8 megapixel Memoir on T-Mobile and the Moto Zine (also on T-Mobile) take better photos. AT&T's Sony Ericsson C905a takes some of the best photos in the business as does the recently released GSM unlocked 8 megapixel Nokia N86. None of these can shoot video at 1280 x 720 though, and there the Instinct HD wins. In fact, very few camera phones in the world shoot video at that resolution, with Samsung's Omnia HD i8910 being one of the few (the i8910 is a GSM import phone that runs Nokia S60 touch edition software).

Sample video taken with the Instinct HD, 1280 x 720 resolution:


While nothing can compare (other than the Omnia HD) for video resolution, we won't say the Instinct HD takes the best quality video. That crown goes to the 5 megapixel Nokia N97 and Nokia N96 as well as the 8 megapixel Nokia N86. While these Nokia phones shoot at VGA 640 x 480 max resolution at 30fps, video quality is superior to the Instinct HD's taken at 1280 x 720 and VGA resolutions. At 720 resolution, the Instinct's video has plenty of dancing pixels, some blockiness and problems with high contrast settings. At VGA things look much better with all but the high contrast problem diminishing. That said, among US carrier phones, the Instinct HD is as good as it gets for video and it certainly beats the pants off the Palm Pre, HTC Hero and any other camera phone on Sprint (or other carriers for that matter).

If photos rather than video are your thing, the Instinct HD doesn't take better photos than the Hero, and the GSM phones mentioned earlier also show up the Instinct HD. Its photos have some digital noise, and exposure in outdoor and high contrast settings is unpredictable. Fine details such as leaves and blades of grass look less natural than on the Nokia and Moto Zine. Most images have very high contrast yet have a slight haze. The exposure could be improved with a software update (though Samsung camera phones tend to have trouble with white-out and excessive contrast). The haze is likely due to lens quality and the plastic over the lens. The Instinct HD does a very good job with indoor shots, even low light shots, and the camera picks up quite a lot of detail.

Samsung Instinct HD

The HTC Hero and Samsung Instinct HD.

Battery Life

The original Instinct and the Instinct S30 came with a second battery in the box. We miss that with the Instinct HD. The large touch screen, GPS and smartphone-level horsepower are power-hungry and the Instinct HD just makes it through the day with moderate use. The 1440 mAh Lithium Ion battery is swappable, so you can buy a spare if you need more juice. Sprint may also offer an extended battery for the phone.


The Instinct HD builds nicely on the original Instinct with evolutionary improvements and a darned good video camera. It's a fun phone with plenty of features and it offers strong voice quality though only middling reception. In the end it's the Instinct HD's price we have qualms with, not the phone itself. Given the current economy and Sprint's own lineup of phones that offer touch screens, shiny new operating systems and even more smarts for less money, it's hard to recommend the HD over the less expensive HTC Hero and Palm Pre. In fact, the powerhouse HTC Touch Pro2 is only $100 more and rumors say it will drop in price soon. If you like the Instinct HD, we can't blame you. But wait for the price to come down if you're tight on cash.


Price: $250 after $100 rebate with a 2 year Sprint Everything plan.

Web sites:,


Display: 16 million color capacitive touch screen. Screen size diagonally: 3.2". Resolution: 320 x 480, supports both portrait and landscape modes Has haptic feedback, accelerometer and proximity sensor.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1440 mAh.

Performance: Dual core CPU with the MSM7625 (ARM11 528Mhz) and BCM2727 ARM9 (256Mhz) processors. 256 megs RAM and 512 megs flash ROM.

Size: 4.6 x 2.28 x 0.50 inches. Weight: 5 ounces.

Phone: Dual band digital CDMA phone 800/1900MHz. EV-DO Rev. A with fallback to 1xRTT.

Camera: 5 MP camera with autofocus lens. Can shoot video up to 1280 x 720 pixels at 30fps (uses 30 megs/minute and saves to a microSD card).

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated Bluetooth supporting the following profiles: A2DP, AVRC, headset, FTP, Bluetooth printing, DUN, serial port, GOEP, SDAP, SDP and Object Push.

Software: Proprietary OS. Opera 9.7 web browser, IM and email, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace clients, Sprint TV, Sprint Radio, Sprint NFL Mobile and NASCAR, Sprint Navigation, YouTube player, video player, music player, notes, calendar, clock, contacts, calculator, Nuance voice dialing, visual voice mail, Google Maps and trial games.

Expansion: 1 SDHC microSD card slot. 4 gig card included.


All Phone Reviews
Smartphone Reviews
Android Phone Reviews
Windows Phone Reviews
HTC Phone Reviews
LG Phone Reviews
Motorola Phone Reviews
Nokia Phone Reviews
Samsung Phone Reviews
Sony Phone Reviews
AT&T Phone Reviews
Sprint Phone Reviews
T-Mobile Phone Reviews
Verizon Phone Reviews
Unlocked GSM Phone Reviews


All Tablet Reviews
Android Tablet Reviews
Tablet Comparisons
Android Tablet Comparisons



Laptop Reviews
Ultrabook Reviews
Laptop Comparisons
Best Ultrabooks



Bluetooth Headsets
iPhone and iPad Accessories
eBook Readers

iPhone Game Reviews
iPad Game Reviews

iPhone Case Reviews
iPad Case Reviews


RSS News Feed

About Us

Contact Us


Site Map