The Samsung Intrepid is the company''s successor to the mediocre Ace—and is unfortunately just as mediocre. It does a reasonable impersonation of a BlackBerry for business-minded Microsoft fans. It''s also an OK choice for globetrotters due to the inclusion of CDMA and GSM radios. But despite the Intrepid''s refreshed Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system, it brings virtually nothing new to Sprint''s lineup—and pales in comparison to other smartphones available from the carrier.
Design and Voice Quality
The Intrepid isn''t much of a looker. It measures 2.4 by 4.9 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.3 ounces. It''s finished in black plastic with a dark chrome band around the front panel edge. The 2.6-inch plastic resistive touch screen offers just 320-by-240-pixel resolution. It''s small and stubborn enough that you''ll need the stylus—tucked into the bottom right corner—for just about anything not on the home screen or main menu (more on that later). Six function keys bracket a large, rectangular five-way control pad; all were easy to press in regular use. The four-row QWERTY keyboard felt a little cheap, but it was fine for modest typing chores. The keys didn''t wobble perceptibly, and I made few mistakes.
As a dual-band EV-DO Rev A (800/1900 MHz), quad-band GSM (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and UMTS (2100 MHz) device, the Intrepid is a true world phone—just as its namesake implies. It also includes Wi-Fi. Voice quality was solid in both directions, with a trebly, crisp tone in the earpiece and good wind rejection. Reception was average. Annoyingly, the OS couldn''t keep up with dialing numbers; all the tone sounds piled up a second or two afterward and cut each other off. The booming speakerphone was plenty loud for outdoor use. Calls sounded fine through a Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth headset. Battery life was excellent at 6 hours and 34 minutes of talk time.
Windows Mobile, Business Support, and Apps
Without the proper tuning a la HTC TouchFLO or Samsung TouchWiz, Windows Mobile looks archaic. Version 6.5 brought a much-needed refresh to the home screen—which actually looks and works nicely, with its larger buttons and clearer fonts. But the rest of the OS remains ugly and outdated—right down to the old-school touch screen calibration process on first start-up. At least Internet Explorer Mobile 6 is slightly improved from earlier horrific versions, and even renders static Flash content in a pinch. But it renders desktop pages very slowly and hangs up loading scripts, and the touch screen controls still feel like an afterthought.
As a proper Microsoft-powered smartphone, the Intrepid views, creates, and edits Microsoft Word and Excel documents, and views PowerPoint files. It connects to Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange Server accounts for Direct Push e-mail. The Intrepid isn''t a bad smartphone for third-party apps, thanks to its 528 MHz Qualcomm MSM7600 processor, 266MB of free internal storage, and 193MB of total RAM, with a generous 153MB available for user programs. A microSD card is located underneath the battery cover and off to the side. You have to pull the battery to swap cards, which is a royal pain. An ill-fitting battery cover compounded the misery; it always took five or six tries to seat properly.
Multimedia fans get the usual compliment of Sprint Power Vision services, including dozens of Sprint TV channels (live and simulcast), Sprint NFL Mobile Live, and NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile. The GPS radio hooks into the TeleNav-powered Sprint Navigation for voice-enabled, turn-by-turn directions. The Intrepid locked onto my location quickly and spoke clearly, although the low-res screen and Windows Mobile''s fixed upper and lower UI bars made for a tiny map window. Sprint included quick links to Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr for social networking duties. Instant messaging was a disappointment: the tabbed interface works with AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo accounts, but charges for each message as a 20-cent SMS.
The Intrepid includes TellMe, Microsoft''s voice control system. Press and hold the TellMe button near the bottom right of the QWERTY keyboard, and you can order the phone to text your friend—complete with transcribing the entire message—as well as call a colleague, bring up a Web page, or run Bing searches. It worked pretty well in my tests, and fired up instantly (at least after a lengthy 45-second-long first initialization). But it only did half the job at times. Saying Barnes & Noble brought up Bing searches of the nearest two stores, though it only showed the street and not city. But the 1-click directions link didn''t pipe the address to Sprint Navigator. Instead, the address went to Bing, which began asking about different routes—decidedly not one-click and not as useful.
Multimedia and Conclusions
A standard-size 3.5mm headphone jack graces the top left edge. It''s hidden under a large, stiff, floppy port cover that will likely break off in the first year of ownership. Music sounded fine through Motorola S9-HD Bluetooth headphones. The built-in Windows Media Player app was clunky and frustrating for both music and video playback. Videos played smoothly, though, and MP3 and WMA music tracks displayed album art when available. The app took about three minutes to cue up a full-length, 320-by-240 movie. I thought it crashed and had moved on to other tests, when suddenly I heard movie audio playing in the background. Since Windows Mobile just piles up tasks in memory, it just fired up on its own eventually, with no easy way to return to the movie. I had to navigate to the task manager to figure out what was happening.
The 3.2-megapixel auto-focus camera lacks an LED flash. Test photos looked vibrant but overly hot, with a strong pink cast indoors and out. There wasn''t much noise, though. Auto-focus slowed down shutter speeds to about three seconds for some shots, which felt intolerable. Recorded videos lacked contrast and proper lighting, but otherwise looked OK at a reasonable 478-by-359 resolution and 13 frames per second. (Oddly, the camera app reported a 320-by-240 resolution while recording.)
Competition in Sprint''s smartphone lineup is fierce. Spring has four powerful smartphones, all at about the same price as the Intrepid. First up is the BlackBerry Tour 9630, Samsung''s intended target for the Intrepid. The BlackBerry Tour offers better push e-mail, a more sensible OS design, and a higher resolution screen, even if the latter doesn''t respond to touch. The Android-powered HTC Hero features a larger and more responsive capacitive touch screen and a much better Web browser, although it lacks a hardware QWERTY keyboard. The Palm Pre offers a similarly awesome touch screen and browser, though Palm''s App Catalog is still a barren wasteland. Finally, the HTC Touch Pro2 retains the Intrepid''s Windows Mobile compatibility but gets the UI right, at least on the top few layers. And its 480-by-800-pixel screen and roomy QWERTY keyboard blow away the Intrepid''s.