Samsung’s Instinct HD: It’s Cool, But It’s No Flip

samsung_instinct_HDCan a cell phone take the place of your pocket camcorder? More and more phones are trying to serve as compact camcorders like the Flip models, as are MP3 players like the iPod nano. But few — if any — offer the same video quality and ease of use that you’ll find in a dedicated camcorder. One of the latest phones to attempt this feat is Samsung’s Instinct HD. And, though the Instinct HD does offer a very good camera and camcorder, I wouldn’t trade it for a Flip MinoHD…yet.

Samsung and Sprint (s s), which is offering the Instinct HD for $250, are highlighting the HD features of the phone. And it can capture HD video; in fact, you’re reminded of this every time you fire it up. Before you can capture any video, you have to select your desired resolution: HD (1280×720), VGA (640×480) or QVGA (320×240). I found this constant reminder a bit annoying; I’d rather pick a default resolution and just change it via a settings menu.

That’s not my only complaint about the camcorders controls, either. You can launch the phone’s 5-megapixel camera by pressing a dedicated button on the side of the handset, but to change it to video recording mode, you have to press a teensy camcorder icon on the phone’s touchscreen. The icon was so small, I couldn’t accurately tap it without using the tip of my fingernail.

Luckily, you can start and stop video recording by pressing the camera button on the side of the phone — which conveniently sits on top when you rotate the handset sideways so it’s in widescreen mode. But to zoom in and out you have to tap another on-screen button. This one is big enough that it’s easy to tap, but doing so does cause the camera to jerk slightly, and you’ll likely notice that movement in your video clips.

In the HD clips I captured, video quality was, for the most part, very good. Close-up subjects looked the best, while larger scenes tended to look a bit washed-out and less crisp. And while it’s nice that you can zoom in and out while recording, using the zoom degraded the video quality to the point that I simply wouldn’t bother.

One of the key HD features about the Instinct HD — it’s mentioned multiple times on the box — is the ability to play your photos and videos back on auxiliary HD devices. The phone even has a mini-HDMI video out port on its side. So, after I recorded my videos, I was all set to hook my phone up to my HDTV to see how they looked. And I would have been able to…if only the necessary mini-HDMI to HDMI cord was included with the phone. Alas, it’s a $30 accessory.

The Samsung Instinct HD does take advantage of some of Sprint’s cool video services, like Sprint TV (which offers a mix of live and pre-packaged TV and video clips) and the NFL Mobile Live service, which lets you watch live football games. Both of these services are included with the voice and data plans that Sprint offers for the Instinct HD, which start at $69.99 a month.

When compared to similar cell phones, the Instinct HD’s camcorder shines in some respects: The video quality tops most phones I’ve tried, and the video out port is a nice touch. But it lags in usability and that HDMI cable really should come with the phone. But what the Instinct HD — and any other phone I’ve tested — can’t do is replace a dedicated pocket camcorder. Cameras like the Flip and Kodak’s Zx1 simply offer superior usability and video quality.