I have spent some time last weekend, and during the week, getting to know the Samsung i8510 INNOV8 I received last Friday. I have been pretty busy at work and have not had time to get this out as quickly as I would have liked, but here it is…some initial thoughts and impressions on the INNOV8.
Overall, the impression I got when unboxing the INNOV8 has only been confirmed by the additional time, I have spent using it: The INNOV8 is an outstanding piece of hardware with great build quality and several interesting features.
Software-wise Samsung seems to have generally nailed S60 with the INNOV8. There are a few glitches, however, reflecting how Samsung’s offering is not as polished, as I somehow thought it would be.
Please note this is not a full review – it is merely some observations based on about a week’s usage of the INNOV8. If you have some feature or function you would like me to investigate further, please let me know by commenting – I am more than happy to check something out and provide image or video documentation.
In my “unboxing post”, I noted the INNOV8’s build quality and also its size. It is a big handset – it is as broad as the N95-1 and when slid open it is very long (because of the height of the keypad). I doubt the size of it will fit many women’s hands, also because it a bit tricky sliding it open using one hand. The back cover has a very smooth surface and if I do not use both hands, I cannot help feeling a little worried that it might slip out of my hand. The big keypad is a perfect match for my thick fingers and affords very fast texting - I also simply love the tactile feedback from the keys.
Two of the INNOV8’s hardware features are new to me, and I love them already. I am referring to the camera function selector key and the touch pad. Both are outstanding – the selector key because it saves the key presses necessary to switch between image and video mode on other S60 handsets; the touch pad because it is simply so intuitive to use. When I occasionally switch over to my N95-1, I find myself sliding my thumb across the D-pad center key, wondering why nothing happens.
If is funny, when I set out to get a new handset, I was aiming for something smaller than the N95-1, but I have now ended up with something bigger.
MIGRATING TO THE i8510
Basically, all data has to be transferred manually. Apparently, the “Switch” application, found on Nokia’s S40 and S60 handsets, is Nokia only and Samsung currently does not offer anything similar. There is of course the (syncml) “Sync” application built into the OS, so if you have put stuff in the cloud (with ZYB, Ovi or some other service), you are all set in a manner of minutes. But other data like images, videos and such, all have to be transferred manually.
Samsung should license “Switch” (if possible), or develop something equivalent – preferably interoperable with “Switch”.
No remarks concerning calls or texting – if you are used to S60 everything is standard. I have not made enough calls to really say anything about the quality of calls. Browsing on 3G (HSDPA) works great and Bluetooth just works. WiFi did not work with my WEP encrypted home wireless network – I switched to WPA encryption (something I have been meaning to do in a long time anyway) and everything worked fine.
“Destinations” – the access point group manager – makes a whole lot more sense on a handset with WiFi. It did not on my Nokia 6220 Classic. If you use WLANs at work, at home etc., pplus 3G HSDPA, “Destinations” is a godsend.
You do not need to spend much time with the i8510 before you notice it is loaded with features. Besides the standard S60 stuff, there is extra features like digital photo frame, Smart Reader for reading business cards and adding the info straight to Contacts (works great in the few tests I did), and a video editor.
I have taken a quick look at the video editor and I am not impressed. I have used the video editor included on the N95, N82 and 6220 Classic and find it very easy to use. In comparison, the editor on the INNOV8 seems very difficult to use. I spent something like 10 minutes fiddling with it, without figuring out simple tasks like cropping, inserting text etc. Also, the editor only supports saving video in QVGA (320 x 240 pixels), which seems like a really weird way to cripple the INNOV8, which records VGA video (640 x 320 pixels).
There are two gallery applications – both the standard S603rd FP2 gallery, and a Samsung-only gallery (I guess), that comes as part of the camera software.
The S603rd FP2 gallery is genuinely horrible, IMHO – it basically just consists of separate lists of images, videos, songs etc. - the video list does not even have thumbnails! Really makes me miss the the carousel-style gallery on the N95 and N82. Is it Nseries only? No, really - how it is possible to release something like that 18 months after the launch of the original iPhone is a complete mystery to me. I am thinking someone let the engineers decide way too much. Zooming in and out on images takes forever, but that is probably due to the large file size for 8 mp images (~ 2 MB).
The Nseries carousel gallery and the i8510’s touchpad would have made a killer combo!
The camera software gallery is better in this respect as it blends images and vidoes – the experience of flipping through the gallery using the touchpad is awesome – if you go fullscreen you get that iPhone “thumb-slide” flip! However, this gallery has at least one very odd shortcoming: it is impossible to send multiple images at the same time. There is a “Send” option in the “Options” menu enabling you to send an individual image by MMS or bluetooth. Images can also be marked, but here is the odd thing: if several images are marked, the “Send” option disappears from the “Options” menu! WTF?? Sending a bunch of images is the #1 reason for marking them, so why include one and not the other? It is possible to zoom in and out on images, but only by clicking through the menus – there are no keypad shortcuts (or I have not found them).
Quite a few applications come preinstalled on the i8510 – I am guessing in part as an attempt to match the homebrewed apps (Nokia Maps, Share Online, Active Notes etc), Nokia bundles with their equivalent handsets. Route66 navigation, branded as “Samsung Mobile Navigator”. I think it comes with a trial license for map data (I have yet to check out the INNOV8’s GPS). Mobile client for GyPSii – a geo-centric social network I have never heard of.
Fring (IM), ShoZu (media uploader), two games (FIFA 08 and Asphalt 4), and RoadSync (sync with Exchange).
There is a dedicated ‘Google’ folder in the main menu containing links to mobile versions of Gmail (web, not Java ME) and search - as well as a preinstalled version of the S60 Google Maps app.
This is not the time or place for a grand camera shootout (plus others are way ahead of me), but in general they i8510’s camera appears to be very good.
In both image and video mode there are more settings and options to choose from than you can shake a stick at. Yet, the camera is very easy to use – mainly because the most important options are ready-at-hand, using the D-pad. To me the camera autofocus seems very fast.
Use navigation keys to switch between No autofocus, autofocus and macro modes. “Options” opens a menu with settings galore – in image mode there are a grand total of 13 scene modes to choose from, including “Beach”, “Dawn”, “Waves & Snow”, and “Autumn colors”. Very specific!
Video mode supports initial autofocus and macro mode – great! When using the video macro mode, the camera has to quite close to the motif (~10 cm), or else it will not be able to focus.
There is something very strange about the videos recorded on the INNOV8, however. First, in most video recordings, audio and video is out of sync. Second, when transferred to a PC, videos play without sound (at least in VLC Player). These issues have also been noted by Steve Litchfield at All About Symbian.
Here is a video that demonstrates the out-of-sync problem:
I shot some more video to investigate the problem further and I was quite surprised that I was also able to record video that does not have the out-of-sync problem. In the video below, I have recorded Matthew Bennett presenting the Nokia Daily News and as far as I can tell audio and video are in sync.
So what gives – I have no idea why one clip is out of sync and the other one is not? If you - dear reader – can shed some light on this issue, please do not hesitate to comment.
Music Player is S60 standard, but like with the camera scene modes, there is an awful lot of preset equalizer modes – 18 in all.
I would say the INNOV8’s speakers produce better quality sound than those of the N95-1 – the sound is richer and less distorted. The speakers are not as loud as the N95-1’s, however - when INNOV8 is at max volume and my N95-1 is at 80%, they are about equally loud. Note the INNOV8’s speakers are located on the back so turn it around, if you want to fully enjoy their output.
The RealPlayer included on the i8510 plays DivX encoded video out of the box – so there is no apparent need to install DivX Mobile Player. I have transferred a rather big bunch of DivX videos, I have converted using SUPER and the ones I have tried so far all play nicely. When watching video, the screen seems very crisp and clear.
Some INNOV8 issues mentioned in this and/or other posts:
- Audio/video out-of-sync problem in video recordings. Videos play without sound on PCs.
- Video editor can only handle QVGA video.
- There is a problem downloading map data for Route66 – handset by default tries to store map data on internal memory (128 MB) and there is no way to use a different location. Memory patch fix from Samsung can be downloaded and installed on the handset.
All of these issues can probably be straightened out in future firmware upgrades, although I am bit surprised how Samsung is able to ship a device with issues such as the first and last on the list. You cannot help but wonder what other “easter eggs” might have slipped by Samsung’s quality control? I suspect additional issues will be brought forward as more people start using the INNOV8.
The above brings me to what is perhaps the INNOV8’s biggest issue: at this point there is no way to upgrade the firmware.
In the past, Nokia has released handsets with equally grave issues, but the thing is – if you buy a Nokia you know firmware upgrades will be released pretty soon after product launch (the N96 is a case in point).
I think it is great to see a cutting edge S60 handset from another manufacturer than Nokia. The INNOV8 can help push the envelope and make Nokia stay focused, which will only benefit consumers. In this respect, the INNOV8 really demonstrates Samsung’s innovation capability.
Breaking in the INNOV8 made me reflect on the Nokia experience. Nokia is often chided for releasing unfinished handsets (subsequently catching up by releasing firmware upgrades), and I had somehow gotten the impression Samsung’s offering would be more polished. This is clearly not the case with the INNOV8. In comparison, I do not think Nokia is doing so bad, and what is more, Nokia seems to have a better grasp of the “whole consumer experience” (in lack of a better term). The integrated applications and services offered by Nokia – Nokia Maps, Share Online, Ovi – make it easy for consumers to make the most of their handsets. It is an offer Samsung is currently not able to match.
In its current form, I would say the INNOV8 has great potential. It will take a serious effort on Samsung’s part to fully realize this potential and make the INNOV8’s great hardware shine. For starters, Samsung has to come up with a streamlined way to upgrade firmware and a firmware revision that addresses the issues mentioned in this and other posts. If Samsung is serious about S60 and the INNOV8, they would also do good by beefing up stuff like the media gallery, video editor and the software bundled with the handset.
If you are in the market for a large handset and like to use the camera a lot, I recommend to take a look at the Nokia N82. It can be had for less than half the price of the i8510, and with its advanced firmware and outstanding camera, the N82 is simply a superb handset. You just have to live with its stupid keypad design.
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!