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Review of GSM/UMTS-smartphone Samsung i8510 (INNOV8)
Samsung i8510 vs Nokia N95 8 Gb - live photos
First thing we'll have to note in this write-up, is that it's not a complete review, as we are going to avoid some moot points and focus on what's already set in stone about the i8510.
Even though the Samsung i8510 is hardly the first powerhouse in Samsung's S60-based portfolio, it's considerably different from all their offerings in this segment. For starters, let's recall what other phones Samsung can offer here: as far as its latest solutions go, these are the i400, i520, i550, i560 and G810. What's remarkable is that all but one of the above phones are housed in the slider type design, which should come as no surprise, seeing what weight this form-factor has always had in their portfolio. This is actually part of the reason why the Samsung i8510 is also a slider - in fact all their hopes now lie with this handset, as they are aiming to take a stab at Nokia's very own playground.
Before the arrival of the Samsung G810 all S60-based phones from this Korean manufacturer were, let's face it, pretty lackluster. Samsung found it vital to maintain the image of a versatile company that could churn out both feature phones and smartphones running S60 and Windows Mobile. Over the last couple of years they have been experimenting with these two platforms and oftentimes their offerings turned out to be mixed bags - always heavy on features but rarely appealing to the mass market. And while things are unlikely to change for the Windows Mobile department any time soon, the situation with S60-based handsets is starting to turn around as the Samsung i8510 is set to take the market by storm. But before we cut to the chase, let us take a few steps back to the fact that with the i8510 Samsung is jumping on Nokia's own turf. And there are several reasons why we feel this is important.
First and foremost, S60 has always been considered the domain of Nokia's - furthermore, the vast majority of users who have heard of S60 or have a vague notion of what a smartphone is, tend to synonymize S60 with this phone maker. And this mental bond between "Nokia" and "S60" has been growing stronger over the years.
Secondly, the i8510 is in fact Samsung's first all-in-one phone running the S60 platform. In other words, they have taken some cues from Nokia and their widely successful N95 and all other iterations that followed (N95 8Gb and N96). While Nokia has been around in this field for years now, Samsung, being new to this game, have managed to deliver the fight right to Nokia's doorbell. If there is one thing we learned from our quality time with the INNOV8 (another alias of the i8510), is that not only have Samsung implemented all features in a proper fashion, they have also used today's dearth of premium hi-tech phones to their advantage. All this chemistry has worked out pretty well, to say the least…
Looking at the i8510 it's hard to deny a simple truth - Samsung have finally overcome, although with great difficulties, their bog-standard design paradigm and brought in new colors and shapes into their portfolio. A year ago it was extremely hard to tell the difference between LG's and Samsung's offerings, but these days Samsung have broken away from this "generic" Korean design, and while on some forums you will still bump into rants that they haven't made much progress on this front, we couldn't disagree more. True, it probably isn't as no-nonsense as the Nokia N95 8Gb, but the i8510 has got no trace of that toyish feel left to it. All in all, while it has no bells and whistles in the way of looks, this phone won't bore you, that for sure
As far as materials go, the Samsung i8510 is a step ahead of the Nokia N95 8Gb - if feels more robust and enjoys a better set of materials, at least that's what we felt after playing around with both handsets for quite a while. Also going for the i8510 is the number of different types of plastic and metal in the mix: the display is surrounded by a chrome strip, the keypad is made of lacquered plastic, the battery compartment is metallic and finally, the inserts on the sides are decked out in soft-touch plastic. This array of materials makes the INNOV8 look a whole lot smoother and lends it a very pleasant feel in the hand, despite the handset itself being not the most petite model around.
Speaking of the i8510's size - probably it's the first thing that gives away its true nature and top-of-the-line functionality. This phone is thicker and wider than most other smartphones on the market, let alone feature phones.
Due to being so thick and heavy, the i8510 won't remain unnoticed in your jeans pocket, let alone a breast pocket on a shirt.
While some may think that the size of the Samsung i8510 is its major letdown, it's not quite true. It is on the bulkier side, no doubt about that, but even if they could make it twice as small, that would have been a mistake. As far as mobile powerhouses go, their weight and size somewhat help their credibility. Having a hefty and sizable device that looks the part in his hand, the user will know right away what kind of phone he is dealing with. Should you modify the i8510 size even a tiny bit, it will be perceived in a totally different way.
Many people who saw the Samsung i8510 for the first time pointed at its width and thickness, however when we told them what features it had under the hood, this initial disappointment turned into approving nods in an eyewink.
The smartphone's front fascia features a forward-facing camera for video conferencing within 3G networks; on the left is the ambient light sensor that handles the backlight intensity of both the display and keypad. The earpiece is mounted right next to it - it's slightly recessed into the casing and covered with a metallic grill.
The lanyard eyelet is perched towards the top of the left-hand spine, along with the volume controls, 3.5 mm audio jack and microUSB slot (covered with a plastic flap) that accepts charging devices and sync cables.
On the right there is the camera slider key that allows jumping between different modes (Album, Video recording and Still images) in just one flick. In fact, this control is more common among standalone digital shooters rather than imaging-savvy mobile phones. Several inches below is the microSD memory card slot sealed behind a removable flap. Keep in mind, however, that it enables beefing up the i8510's already huge 16 Gb of bundled storage.
Further down is the two-stage capture key. The top and bottom ends of the i8510 are completely empty.
Mounted on either side of the battery cover are two loudspeakers. While there is no distinguishable "stereo" effect, these two speakers do put up clear and noise-less sound. The camera lens is hidden behind a plastic shutter; sitting next to it is the LED flash. You can learn more about the i8510's camera in our dedicated write-up.
One thing about this phone's camera that many tend to overlook is that much like all Samsung's latest and greatest digital cameras that sport a thin blue strip rimming their lenses (it's especially discernible in the NV-series), a tiny blue line runs around the i8510's camera module too. It certainly does make its rear side look more Samsung's standalone digital shooters.
Like we already said, the i8510's build quality is supreme - the halves don't feel wobbly at all, we never encountered creaking noises or anything of this nature. Plus it's not a finger-print magnet (although its display sort of is, but all screens of this size have this drawback) - the i8510 manages to look relatively clean even after a day of intensive use. The spring-loaded mechanism isn't flawless here, however - while the INNOV8 readily zips open, closing it may prove to be a challenge. The thing is, the mechanism kicks in too late in this case, just about the time you have already closed the phone with your fingers alone. Other than that, we have no gripes with the i8510's casing or build quality.
The number pad of the i8510 employs a single-slab design, textured with several strokes of laser. All keys rows are separated from each other with slim stripes of grey plastic that are easy to notice on this otherwise all-black casing. While the buttons have pretty short travel, they don't feel wobbly and are generally easy to press.
All in all, texting with the Samsung i8510's keypad was a breeze - the keys are neither big nor small, which certainly adds to the phone's ergonomics.
The navigation cluster seems to be quite ordinary at a glance - it has a five-way navigation button in the middle, two soft-keys, Call and End buttons along with the S60 key and Quick Menu shortcut.
However as it turns out Samsung couldn't resist the temptation to throw in a touch-pad into their top-of-the-line phone. They have built it into the central button in the D-pad, so that you can slide your finger across it to move around the menu (it can be disabled it in the Settings). So, in case you are sweet on conventional controls, you won't run into any troubles with the Samsung INNOV8.
First versions of the phone that we managed to get our hands on, feature the Cube user interface that is somewhat similar to that found in the HTC Touch. Basically, it allows you to put various shortcuts to applications, contacts and files onto its facets. Using the touch pad you will be able to toggle between these facets (thankfully, the i8510 comes installed with a 3D accelerator that makes the whole process a gratifying experience). Also the i8510 features a bundled accelerometer that automatically rotates the screen to landscape mode and back, plus allows utilizing various sport-minded applications, including those developed by Nokia.
The i8510 sports a 2.8-inch TFT display capable of 240x320 pixel resolution (42x55 mm) - similar screens are found in the Nokia N95 8 Gb and N96. This unit shows up to 262 K colors, which come together in a bright and juicy picture. Subjectively, I found it a tad better than that the of the Nokia N95 8Gb - the i8510's picture revealed fewer pixels and appeared smoother overall. However, it didn't fare all that well in bright light - the picture got washed out and reading texts became somewhat difficult.
The screen accommodates up to 12 text and 3 service lines, although in some modes you will see as many as 16 lines of text.
The smartphone comes packaged with a 1200 mAh Li-Ion battery. Our test unit managed to stay up and running for around 1,5 days - during this time we were particularly heavy on its camera and music (3-4 hours a days), whereas calls made only a small part of our activities (30 minutes a day or so). Nevertheless, we will reserve our final verdict until we get our hands on a commercial unit.
The battery compartment cover feels very solid and seems unlikely to loosen up with time.
The Samsung i8510 is no bells and whistles in this department, running on the same platform as the Samsung G810. For those of you who haven't skimped through our review of this phone yet, it employs Qualcomm MSM6280 radio module and TI OMAP 2430 chipset that comes included with a 2D/3D accelerator that kicks in when shooting with the i8510's built-in camera too.
You can learn more about the OMAP 2430 technical merits on its manufacturer's official page.
The Samsung i8510 comes bundled with 60 Mb of flash memory and 16 Gb of main storage. As far as smartphones go, this is as much as you can only get these days. The user also gets to access 85 Mb out of 128 Mb of the i8510's RAM (right after the phone's first boot). On top of that the handset allows beefing up its already huge storage space with microSD memory cards (that can be over 4 Gb in size all thanks to the support of SDHC standard).
USB. The handset comes in with USB 2.0 support, upon a successful PC connection you can choose one of the following modes:
Data Transfer (Mass Storage USB) - memory cards is available, no drivers required, as your OS identifies the handset automatically. Data transfer speed makes around 2800 Kb/s (USB 2.0).
PC Suite - used for device management via PC Suite, enables all features of the phone, data backup etc.
Media Player (MTP protocol) - synchronizes data with Windows Media Player.
Bluetooth. The smartphone sports EDR-enabled Bluetooth 2.0 alongside the following profiles:
The top speed you can get with the i8510's Bluetooth connection is around 100 Kb/s. We also tested its A2DP profile in pair with the Sony Ericsson DS970 headset, which worked just fine - we managed our play list, skipped within tracks and adjusted volume seamlessly.
Wi-Fi. We didn't bump into any difficulties with the i8510's Wi-Fi wireless connectivity - it instantly located and tapped into any available local network. We were also pleased by the fact that even after 2 hours of wireless data transfers the phone's casing remained pretty cool.
The i8510 runs with Route 66 for its navigation package - basically, it's not the most widely adopted solution among phone makers (Nokia used to implement it some time ago, but these days they equip their phones only with Nokia Maps), although as far as functionality goes it is not much worse than Nokia Maps and the likes. We already covered this application's feature pack in our review of the Nokia 6110 Navigator, so if you are willing to learn more about it, you should better look through that article.
Apart from Route 66, the Samsung i8510 comes preinstalled with Google Maps 2.0 that was a cinch to handle. In case you have got all the latest data on satellites uploaded, it won't take the phone longer than 30 seconds to get a GPS fix on your location.
The handset doesn't come preinstalled with a host of applications. The standard suite only includes Adobe PDF, QuickOffice for reading documents. Unlike Nokia's S60 solutions, the i8510 comes bundled with a full version of this package - in other words, it allows you to both read and edit documents. Pretty neat addition, if you ask us; it will certainly save you a couple of bucks.
Video Editor. Another application that goes beyond the standard suite of features found in Nokia's S60-based phones. There are three modes available with this Video editor - the first and the least sophisticated one allows you to edit video clips (clip length, start time, sound track, sound recording etc).
The second mode is more a valuable addition to the default functionality of the system. With a bunch of photos on your hands, you can create a CIF, QVGA or QCIF clip. In a word, you pick all photos you will need, set the background music and then tweak transition effects. There is a multitude of options available in this mode, but it doesn't get too complicated - on the contrary, everything is pretty intuitive. Naturally, you will need some skills and taste for this, but it's worth your time. And this is by no means a replacement for the slide-show mode, you just get a short video that can be shared right away.
The last mode you can find in this Video editor is 'StoryBoard', that is quite similar to the previous one, however here you can throw photos and video into your clip. All other settings have been left intact.
The i8510 also features a slew of other apps, but this list may well change before its official retail release, so we won't cover all programs in this review, for now at least.
The smartphone sports three themes and do make some difference to the way the i8510's menus look.
We have already reviewed the i8510's camera in a separate write-up. Below are some more camera samples taken in different environments.
The handset comes bundled with FM-radio - the default application features no frills, but most users will be pretty content with what it has to offer (auto and manual tuning, ability to save up to 50 stations and give every one of them a unique name).
Apart from that the i8510 sports TV-Out functionality that has been carried over from other Samsung-branded phones. In short, using this feature you can transfer images and audio from the smartphone straight to your TV set.
As we all know audio quality is something everyone should figure out for himself - even RMAA tests won't give you a complete picture of how the i8510 sounds. But in my humble opinion, on this front the INNOV8 fares at least no worse than the Nokia N95 8Gb. If you can't stand subpar music players and some lousy music-minded phones, then the Samsung i8510 is the way to go - it certainly won't disappoint you. Even though Samsung themselves prefer not to tout its dedicated audio processor and crystal clear sound, rest assured the i8510 has got all this and even more on offer. All in all, it will make a pretty decent music phone, considering that it has got the 3.5 mm audio jack and plenty of memory on top of all other things.
The i8510 won't have any direct competition upon its retail release - Nokia and Sony Ericsson are set to launch similar products only later in 2008, and by that time the i8510 will already be widely available. But we though it'd be interesting to see how the i8510 might fare against some already existing phones.
First up, the Nokia N95 8 Gb - in fact it's the only real rival to the i8510 (of those that have already hit the shelves, of course). But essentially, the only thing that is better in the N95 8Gb and the Samsung INNOV8 doesn't have is that "Nokia" logo on the front. Other than that, it just can't stand up to the vast array of features found in the i8510, including camera, storage, and even build quality. Also many will find both the navigation cluster and keypad of the N95 8Gb less convenient to use in view of their smaller size.
Furthermore, even retailing for around 100 Euro less than Samsung's latest and greatest phone, it won't even be able to give the former a good run for its money. The thing is, people who are ready to shell out 550-600 Euros for a new mobile powerhouse will gladly take another hundred for their wallets just to get even more features and in a more slicker package at that. In this segment price and availability take a back seat, while multimedia prowess and wow-effect get to the centre stage - in other words, these are exactly the areas where the i8510 excels with its mind-blowing megapixel count and cracking fast hardware
Now for the Nokia N96 - this phone actually takes the place of the Nokia N95 8Gb, but offers more memory onboard and a differently styled casing. Other than that, it's not much of an upgrade, since all its new features, such as mobile TV support and other frills, aren't particularly enticing at the moment. On balance, it's the good old N95 8Gb in a new wrapping that will go for just about the same as the Samsung i8510 INNOV8.
However, you won't get the same astonishing sound quality or camera as with the i8510, so once again, the N96 is a sensible choice only if you really fancy Nokia-branded phones - on all other fronts it falls flat when compared to the Samsung INNOV8.
Sony Ericsson C905 - first 8Mpix shooter from this joint venture, but it doesn't quite qualify as a worthy rival to the Samsung i8510 simply because it's a feature phone and its image quality isn't as good, plus the C905 won't be much different price-wise.
The Samsung i8510's ring tones were quite loud, although it still fell short of the volume put up by the Nokia N81 and N82. The vibro alert was of average strength, but pretty sharp nonetheless.
I believe touting the i8510's strengths won't be of great use - it's simply THE most functional solution around and it won't give up this title for 4-5 months more, which is a pretty long term these days. Samsung have finally managed to roll out a really top-notch phone that trumps literally every other handset we have ever seen as far as its feature pack goes. Curiously, when designing products like this, phone makers usually have their own name and prestige in mind rather than market prospects. That's why the i8510 is actually a quite painful poke at Nokia, who gave birth to this very segment a while back with their record-breaking N95 and are now looking at Samsung taking it away from them.
Wrapping it all up, if you had bought the Nokia N95 8Gb to replace your old N95, and when the N96 got announced you pondered whether or not you would want to buy it too - now is the time to take a really close look at the Samsung i8510. If you are a tech leader, and can't stand compromises when it comes to functionality, then the INNOV8 is the only way to go. It simply has it all - supreme music quality, loads of storage and sublime picture quality. Probably the only thing it lacks is a VGA display, like those found in Windows Mobile communicators, but it's always something!
Samsung have pinned all their hopes on the i8510 and basically played the same game as Nokia did a while back with their N95. The INNOV8 is a perfect solution for someone with deep pockets and high requirements in terms of phone functionality. So this audience won't really mind the i8510's price tag that is as hefty as 700 Euros. But for this money you will get a handset with an unparalleled functionality. Why? As far as camera goes, the only phone that can get close to the i8510 is the Sony Ericsson C905, but its quality is not as stellar and the video department is significantly hobbled, just like on most Sony Ericsson branded phones, though. Plus it is scheduled to hit the market a bit later, its price/quality ratio is far from ideal and it can't offer as many features onboard. All in all, the C905 is in a completely different league. While some might argue that Nokia has some phones that can well take on the i8510, the truth is, they aren't as fashionable as Samsung's latest and greatest offering and their feature packs a bit thin on the ground compared to that of the INNOV8.
Another thing of note about the Samsung INNOV8 is that effectively it's the first S60 phone that doesn't follow in the footsteps of Nokia - on the contrary, Samsung have managed to come up with something of their own, and this phone has turned out to be the most feature-rich solution to date on top of that. And since it will get some competition more towards February 2009, it will get the best of the Christmas fever. Plus its price tag may well lose some weight by February, which will serve as another boost for its sales.
If you take a gander at Samsung's previous S60 phones, you won't see anything that is even remotely close to the i8510. In fact, they have never been on top of the heap before - their offerings have always shown up after Nokia's and therefore haven't garnered much following at all. But now it's different. While Nokia can't possibly see a sensible threat to their portfolio in this one-off release that hasn't evolved into a whole new line-up yet, Samsung have finally brought in a breath of fresh air into the S60 market. Seeing Samusng's latest activities in this segment, specifically the launch of the L870 (that, supposedly, will become an affordable and reasonably functional S60 offering housed in a metallic casing), we can say for sure - they have come into this market with some serious intentions.
So, the bottom line is this: the Samsung i8510 is the most feature-packed phone to date and will keep this title until February 2009. Also, it's the market's first 8Mpix phone that is already out there, and now all other top-of-the-line solutions will have to meet this standard. Furthermore, adding to the i8510's uniqueness are the touch-sensitive controls and some neat features for the touch-pad that will come along later on. That said, Samsung have managed to pull off a small revolution in this segment - now all perfectionists out there can finally get a perfect phone that fits the bill and there are no alternatives whatsoever.
Also we can't overlook the i8510's audio quality and especially our RMAA tests that can reveal a lot of interesting things to those who are looking in the right places. In short, this phone packs in Samusng's latest developments in the way of sound quality and therefore is second to none these days. It compares quite favorably to the ROKR E8 and beats Nokia's solutions hands down, let alone Sony Ericsson's Walkman handsets. All in all, the i8510 does the same thing as the Nokia N95 a while ago; and even though it won't be able to repeat the latter's success, it has already raised the bar to a completely new level. Now all other manufacturers will be trying to reach it, while some won't be able to come up with a worthy rival to the INNOV8 even a year from now.
Published 08 September 2008
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