Samsung OMNIA Review

OMNIA means “everything” in Latin, and given its feature list, it’s fair to assume that this means that it can do everything that one could expect from a modern smartphone. The question is: how good is it at what it does. In this review, we will try answering that question the best we can. We will tell how we used it, what worked for us and what did not. Hopefully, you will be able to extrapolate how our experience can translate into yours. Don’t hesitate to drop a question in the comments section. Someone from our team, or another reader might know the answer. Let’s start, shall we?

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Highlights

  • This is the CDMA version as sold by Verizon in the U.S
  • Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional
  • 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth connectivity
  • 8GB of storage + 256MB of internal memory
  • 3.2″ Display, 240×400 pixels
  • microSD support (16GB max)

Basic phone – dial

Dialing a number on the OMNIA is very easy. Just hit the “Call” button once and a keypad will appear. From there, you can type a number or search a contact name. Typing a number works very well because of the big virtual keypad. However, searching for a contact requires more work. You need to hide the keypad, then open the QWERTY keyboard – 3 “taps” away from the homepage. There’s also the option of scrolling through the contacts, but half of the time a swipe will open a contact and the scroll is arguably too slow.

Basic phone – sound quality

The sound quality of our unit is very good, even with only 2 bars in our office. No problems to report on this side.

Physical design

The Samsung OMNIA obviously has a sleek design. The form factor is comparable to the iPhone, although the OMNIA feels a bit narrower and lighter. The build quality is high and all the surfaces appear to be relatively scratch-resistant.

Note that in between the Call and Hang-Up button, there’s what Samsung calls an “Optical Mouse”. Because Windows Mobile isn’t built for touch interfaces, this optical mouse might save a lot of hairs that you would have otherwise pulled out.

Touch Display

The display has a resolution of 400×240, which is less than the iPhone, but sufficient in general. The touch display hardware works well, it can sense the difference between a tap and a slight touch. Nothing extraordinary but nothing catastrophic either.

Main Menu

We’re glad that Samsung has added a custom user interface (UI) to hide Windows Mobile’s native UI that is definitely not designed for touch phones. However, the Samsung custom UI is not the phone’s default page, so you’ll need one tap to launch it. Once launched it features the finger-friendly buttons that people have come to expect from touch phones. There are 12 shortcuts per page and a swipe will lead you to the next page. Note that a button on the upper-right side of the phone launches the main menu.

Widget Based Homepage

The Homepage of the phone comes with widgets. The concept is popular on desktop operating systems, but we think that it translates poorly in this instance. There’s room for 3 widgets, and most of them aren’t very useful to us anyway. We feel like Samsung should use the Main Menu as a homepage, and get rid of the widgets altogether.

Windows Mobile

If you venture outside of the Main Menu, you will go back to the standard Windows Mobile user interface. Fortunately, the Samsung OMNIA is the fastest Windows Mobile phone that we had the chance to play with. Most UI elements are responsive, except maybe for the “Start” button, which is also the portal to the rest…

Virtual Keyboard

Just like HTC, Samsung came up with a replacement for the original Windows Mobile software keyboard, and it’s a good thing. Samsung’s works much better, especially in landscape mode, where the keys are bigger. There’s a tactile feedback for each key press that is not equivalent to a physical key, but it helps a little.

Web Browsing

The OMNIA comes loaded with Opera for Mobile, a web browser that is arguably better than Microsoft’s pocket IE, but don’t expect miracles – it works best for mobile websites and usually does a less-than-ok job with desktop sites. There’s no fancy gesture based zooming here. Clicking on link within pages was sometimes difficult as the phone would not recognize a click.

GPS

The Samsung OMNIA comes with a Verizon Navigator, an app that seems based on Google Maps. As a pedestrian tool, it can be quite useful to show you where you are. However, it is too slow to use when driving.

There are many improvements that could be done on Verizon Navigator. First, wireless carriers need to resist the urge to download everything every time the user scrolls within a map (to show off the data network). Allowing a few megabytes of map cache would improve the user experience by leaps and bounds.

Secondly, it would be nice if we could tap to pinpoint a destination, instead of centering it on the screen. And if we really need to center it, it would be great to have a crosshair or something that helps show where the center is…

Email

Email support is great if you use Exchange. It’s OK for a classic POP/IMAP account. If you are on GMAIL, you should look at Android-powered phone (isn’t that Google’s plan anyway?). For this test, we used Exchange with push-email (via an Exchange Server) and everything worked just fine. Emails arrive even before it gets to our desktop computers and the synchronization is perfect.

YouTube

Unlike the HTC Touch Pro, YouTube doesn’t come in a pre-installed form. You will need to go to m.youtube.com and play movies via Windows Media Player. Overall, the quality is not great and Windows Media Player’s UI takes too much screen real estate, which is annoying. Going into landscape mode even makes the movie smaller than in Portrait mode. Ouch.

Photo Quality


The OMNIA can snap decent photos in dim lighting

Our Blackberry 8320 could not even focus on the SIM card

The Samsung OMNIA camera is good. I’ve taken a photo of a SIM card on my desk in dim lighting and compared it with the same shot taken from a Blackberry curve. I think that the photos speak for themselves! The OMNIA could even be used as a backup in relatively dark conditions, like a tech cocktail event – if the subjects don’t move (perfect for snapping photos of gadgets). It is rated at 5 megapixels, but we all know that megapixel count doesn’t really matter – if you get a great 1024×768 image of a phone, you should be happy.

Battery Life

The battery life can vary a lot depending on your usage of the phone. In idle mode (Phone ON, WIFI OFF, Bluetooth OFF), we found the OMNIA to be very resilient as it could last for days at a time. With a normal usage (push-email, few calls, little browsing) it should
last a day but we suspect that most users will charge it every night.

Misc Cool things

We found the business card reader (smart reader) to be interesting. Basically, you snap a picture of a business card and an optical character recognition (OCR) program will extract the contact information and create a new contact in your contacts book. It works OK and would be much cooler if it was faster. Right now, it takes about 30 seconds from the main menu to a complete scan of a business card.

Pressing the Volume Up button for a few seconds turns the flash LED light on to use the phone as a Flashlight.

Things to improve

The Samsung OMNIA hardware is good, and we can’t help but wonder what kind of Android phone this would be. Windows Mobile 6.1 was not built for touch phones and fortunately, Samsung added things like the Main Menu, a custom virtual keyboard and the optical mouse to compensate for it. However, it’s clear that customers would greatly benefit from a better user interface. Windows 6.5 (set to be unveiled at Mobile World Congress 2009) might be the answer to this – let’s hope that it is possible to upgrade current devices to the 6.5 version. (larger UI screens)

Conclusion

The Samsung OMNIA is a nice phone. Its physical design is good, it feels great in the hand and the basics (dialing, sound quality, camera) are well executed. However, the touch-interface lacks the appeal of competitors like the iPhone and even the T-Mobile G1 as their software was natively designed with touch in mind. But, if you want Windows Mobile, this is one of the best touch-only phone out there. If the operating system (OS) is not of great importance to you, we would recommend looking at non-Windows Mobile phones like the BlackBerry Storm, the G1 or the iPhone. If Verizon is your carrier of choice, the BlackBerry Storm is most likely the best touch phone available.

Pricing

$199.99 with a 2-yr contract on Verizon’s website.
$620 unlocked (16GB, GSM version)

Related

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