Samsung Innov8 (Unlocked)
At a Glance
The Samsung Innov8 delivers high caliber photos, but call quality is unreliable.
The pricey Samsung Innov8 ($930, unlocked; as of 4/7/2009) innovates in several ways--most notably with its 8-megapixel camera; carrying the highest resolution among phones sold to date in the United States, the Innov8 offers advanced in-camera photo editing capabilities and delivers excellent photo quality. And it has versatile multimedia features and an easy-to-use interface.
The Innov8's design and ergonomics resemble that of a stand-alone camera. The unit's black case with silver details gives it an attractive, minimalist look. A bright, 2.8-inch display takes up most of its front face, while a four-way navigational toggle with a central "OK" button sits below the screen. Talk and End/Power as well as two soft keys lie on either side of the toggle; you can customize the soft keys as shortcut keys of your choosing. As on the Samsung Omnia, the "OK" button doubles as an optical mouse: You can flick your finger over the button to scroll through contacts or multimedia or move throughout the interface. Using the optical mouse is a bit of an acquired taste: I found the mouse area almost too small to use comfortably, and it wasn't always responsive. But you can turn this feature off.
On the right spine of the phone is a volume rocker, a 3.5-mm headphone jack, and a microUSB port for charging and data transfers. On the left sits a camera shutter button, a camera mode switch, and a microSD slot. The volume rocker on the right also serves as the digital zoom control, but this layout is a bit awkward: When you're using the Innov8 in camera mode, the shutter button is on the top right corner and the zoom is on the bottom left. The placement is contrary to stand-alone cameras, which place the zoom and shutter button close to each other, so it feels somewhat counterintuitive. I kept hitting the camera mode switch by mistake when I wanted to zoom.
Despite this nitpick, I was really impressed with the Innov8's camera. It has a surprising number of advanced features: Seven resolution settings, four image effects (black and white, sepia, negative, and watercolor), light metering, adjustable ISO, and a self-timer. It also offers three fun shooting modes (continuous, panorama, and mosaic), as well as a smile-shot mode that will take another picture if the subject is frowning.
In my hands-on tests, I found Image quality superb, for the most part. Colors were bright and accurate, detail was sharp, and most of my pictures in various environments looked great. The only issue I had was with darkly lit settings: The dual-LED flash just wasn't strong enough to light my subjects. A true Xenon flash, such as that found on the Samsung Memoir or Motorola ZN5 models, drastically improves shots taken in low-light environments.
The Innov8 has 16GB of onboard storage, plenty of room for you to snap away without worrying about filling up your phone's internal memory. And if you're an avid shutterbug, you can pack on 32GB of extra storage via the Innov8's microSD slot. A lot of the high-megapixel camera phones that have debuted on U.S. carriers don't come close to this much storage. The Innov8 runs the 3rd Edition, Feature Pack2 version of Symbian S60, the same as the Nokia N96 and N85 phones. And like those N-Series devices, the Innov8 lacks a touchscreen and a hardware QWERTY keyboard, so you must navigate by using the toggle or the awkward optical mouse. Luckily, the majority of the most frequently used menu items are laid out cleanly on the home page. The menu's interface is a predecessor of Samsung's TouchWiz overlay. You can scroll through five icons: Shortcuts (which lists the more frequently used programs), Calendar, Music, FM Radio, and Personalization, and view them from within the home screen.
The S60 Web browser is easy to use, and pages loaded quickly and correctly. In the U.S., you can only access the Internet via Wi-Fi, though, because the Innov8 supports only European (900/2100MHz) 3G bands for data.
Unfortunately, I found call quality was hit-and-miss (I used the phone on T-Mobile's 3G network). On a few calls, I heard a background hiss that was just loud enough to be distracting. Some of my contacts sounded tinny, as well. Parties on the other end of the line, however, said that my voice sounded loud enough, clear and natural, and most said that they did not hear the background hiss.
The audio player is fairly standard: You can view your music library by artist, album, genre, song title, and composer; you can also create playlists on the fly and adjust the sound using the equalizer Sadly, it's not a true multiband equalizer that you can tweak. Instead, you can choose from different types of sound settings (party, treble, club, to name a few). Video quality was good, but I noticed some pixelation and image noise in a few clips.
Since the Innov8 debuted, Samsung has released the Memoir, which also has an 8-megapixel camera and is offered at a subsidized price through T-Mobile. The Memoir boasts similar camera features as the Innov8, but with one notable upgrade: a Xenon flash. Add a fun touchscreen user interface, and the Memoir is actually the better all-around camera phone. But if you're not looking to bind yourself to a contract, you won't be disappointed in the Innov8's snapshot capabilities.