What’s Good: Universal landscape mode and universal landscape QWERTY; optically-enhanced action button functions as a scroller or track pad; appropriate use of haptic feedback and accelerometers; excellent 5 MP camera with LED flash, auto-focus and face detection; secondary cam for video calls; embedded GPS; FM radio and overall A/V-friendliness; large, welcoming and sensitive screen; it's a generally comfortable phone that makes you feel cool even though you're obviously using a Windows product. 

What’s Not Good: Windows Mobile may be a bit cumbersome and inaccessible for some users, even with Samsung's TouchWiz UI, which is a bit bland, but better than WM default; reception problems in sketchy coverage areas; no built-in stylus sheath; volume rocker sits RIGHT next to the camera button; in-call screen lock can be a hassle; proprietary headphone jack.

Bottom Line: The Omnia is at the top of everyone's list of gotta-try-it touchscreen phones. It has capable hardware and a generous screen; large and sensitive enough to compete in the iPhone-driven market. The unlocked version is pricey, but cheaper than it closest rival – The HTC Touch Diamond. And, it feels tougher than other phones in the same price range. Windows Mobile isn't everyone's favorite interface, but you really have to play with this beauty to appreciate how comfortably it rests in your hand.

Specs:

  • Make/Model: Samsung SGH-i900 (Omnia)
  • Network: HSPDA 7.2 Mbps
  • Data: Quad-band EDGE, Bluetooth 2.0, Wi-Fi,
  • Carrier: Unlocked
  • Size: 112 X 56 X 12.5 mm
  • Weight: 122 g
  • Form Factor: Candybar with full Touchscreen
  • Display: 3.2” TFT WQVGA (240 X 400)
  • Memory: 16GB/8GB with an SDHC expansion slot that supports an additional 16GB
  • Notable Features: 1440mAH battery; Windows Mobile 6.1 professional, Push email, tv-output, business card recognition, Samsung's proprietary easy sharing capabilities, nice camera.

Introduction

The touch screen market has really heated up over the last year, and Samsung's Omnia is no sloucher.  Building on the success of the Instinct, Samsung delivers hardware upgrades-a-plenty. The 5 MP camera in particular is a welcome and impressive improvement.

For some reason, Samsung snatched the volume rocker from the perfect spot on the Instinct and moved it to the undeniably wrong place on the Omnia. My other minor complaint is that this European unlocked version of the phone that I've been using features a barely-disguised Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. Which, in comparison to the UI of Sprint's Instinct, or the Unlocked HTC Touch Diamond, feels like a work-in-progress. Fans of Windows Mobile may love it, but the non-fans will find that Samsung has done little to spruce-up that old goose.

Still, the accessibility of the hardware makes the phone very comfortable to hold and use. It feels pretty rugged for a touchscreen, and doesn't induce the overprotective paranoia that comparably-priced phones are known to cause.

A generous screen and universal landscape QWERTY make the Omnia a great messaging device, but the screen resolution is a bit low for serious web browsing. Overall, it feels like a mid-to-high-quality smart phone designed for casual use.


Design & Features

The Omnia fits perfectly in my hand. It feels like a phone, not a cramped computer. It looks stylish but humble: the corners and edges are rounded; the front with a gunmetal sheen, the back, a plastic imitation of black brushed metal.

The style is simple: three buttons on the front, two on the right side, and a power button on top. On the left side, there is a hatch that covers the port for charging, data transfers and headphones. There is also a protruding clip-point for a lanyard.

The back features a 5 MP camera and LED flash, and removing the shell reveals a microSD slot. It's a pretty media-capable phone, but is lacking a standard headphone jack.

The face of the phone is quite lovely. The plastic screen and its plastic surroundings look like glass and metal. The weight of the phone says otherwise. There is a secondary camera for video calls, send and end keys, as well as an action button that encases an optical sensor that allows the button to read finger movements. There is an option to use it as an optical mouse, with a cursor on the screen, which I never felt the need to use.

The screen dominates the face, which is pretty tempting. Unfortunately, due to the 256k colors, gradation is apparent in the wallpaper. The resolution is a bit disappointing when browsing the web as well. Fonts look pretty horrible until you find that sweet spot in the zoom spectrum. The screen is fairly sensitive and responsive; I have no complaints in that regard. I only wish the Omnia's display had more colors and pixels per inch.

Windows Mobile looks and feels like a relic, and with so many companies trying to improve upon it's dry appearance and unintuitive configuration, I'd think that Microsoft would be hard at work on some revolutionary UI. Samsung's TouchWiz addition to WM does offer a cool home screen dock-like panel, filled with widgets, as well as a handy program launcher page. Better task management is an obvious trouble spot, begging for attention.

The 5 MP camera is a nice surprise. My pictures have turned out much better than I had suspected they would – especially those taken in low light. It doesn't match the Dare in terms of quality optics, but the results easily beat those of the $250 3.2 MP Fuji I've had sitting around for a couple of years.

The Omnia is a capable media player, but the interface does not emphasize these features. Even though Samsung improved a bit on the old Microsoft player, it doesn't feel fresh or new.


Usability & Performance

I want to start by saying that I enjoy using the Omnia. But in the search for the perfect phone I can be a bit finicky; possibly not giving the attention I should to positive attributes, while I nit-pick and expound on the negative. That said, let's mush on.

In good coverage areas, the Omnia sounds great on both ends; in shady coverage areas, look out. This phone cuts out quite a bit more often than some other comparable full touch screens, and a heck of a lot more often than a good, old-fashioned flip phone.

Keep in mind that I test in very poor coverage just to see how much signal any given phone needs to function. As I said, in good coverage, the phone sounds great. And rather than dropping calls when the signal is bad, it hangs on to the connection and gives you some white noise to contemplate while you wait for your buddy's voice to return.

Trying to adjust the volume during a call is annoying. The shutter button is situated about 2 mm from the volume rocker switch, while the other side of the phone is button-free. Isn't the upper-left corner of the phone the industry-wide, designated volume region? I'm sure I'll get used to this placement eventually, but I call it a poor decision.

I use speaker phone occasionally, but it's become a redundant feature for me, thanks to bluetooth. There are two occasions where the speaker function still comes in handy: group singing for birthday calls, and the dreaded phone queue menu.  The latter is when Samsung's screen lock gets irritating.

When a call is placed, the touch screen locks up immediately. Touching the action button unlocks the screen, but it locks back up pretty quick. This should not be the default setting for speaker phone calls. Which, by the way, are the only means of getting through one of those phone menus that recognizes tones rather than speech.

The Omnia really shines as a messaging phone. Others have complained about it's predictive text behavior, but I have adapted quickly. Here's a hint: never use predictive text when entering email or web addresses. I think the predictive text is helpful and accurate when messaging or taking notes.

Landscape mode, as well as a full QWERTY keyboard, is universally available in the Omnia. Thank you, Samsung. There is nothing more disappointing to this ex-Sidekick user than picking up a sexy touch phone only to find all that screen space wasted due to the lack of landscape mode. Or worse; landscape mode can be used, but only for a few functions, so the user can see how nice it would be if it were available in other apps. This feature makes a notable difference for me, and scores several points for Samsung in my book. It changes the entire experience.

The screen is large and responsive, and I was able to get by without the stylus, which is good, because they didn't give me anywhere to put it. I used my pinky nail, now and then - especially when twiddling some archaic (it is Windows Mobile, after all) wizard, trying to get MMS to function with my T-Mobile account.

The haptic feedback (vibrating) is good, but occurs every time you touch the screen – even if you haven't actually selected or done anything. This is a minor complaint – I'd rather have all than nothing.

The camera is very nice. I haven't done extensive testing; comparing photos with other phone-cams and such. But I can say this: the colors are accurate, the pictures are sharp, and the flash is bright.

I was surprised by how little battery life the LED flash uses. I wouldn't plan to go take 50 pictures and still browse the web, but the1440mAH battery offers plenty of juice for my needs. I've gone two days without charging, using only the phone functions. I usually charge it every night. 

I'm a bit disappointed by the display resolution. It is fairly sharp, but browsing the web is awkward. Here you have all of this space to work with, and you can zoom in and out and scroll with the nifty optic button on the from of the phone, but it's difficult to read anything on a web page. I find myself endlessly zooming in and out, trying to reach that magic zone where the text looks sharp – rather than zooming to the view I feel comfortable with.

Speaking of views, if you want to use this phone in direct sunlight, you'd better have an umbrella, or a loose shirt to tuck your head into. Trying to make a call in the sun is the one scenario that makes me miss having more hardware buttons. Other than that, the Omnia has me embracing the touchscreen without regret.


Conclusion

The Omnia is built of some slick and sturdy hardware; perhaps not as sophisticated as the (not much) pricier touch screens in the market, but I'm not nervous about taking this one out on the road and treating it like a phone. 

The screen is big and does not require a stylus, but Samsung's TouchWiz user interface isn't as inviting or inspiring as it could be... as it should be. The phone is far too handsome for it's software. It's actually Windows Mobile that comes off bland; TouchWiz isn't much but a tweak here and there, plus two launchers. One of them is a sexy dock-like, widget-holding app on your home screen. If only that kind of style were applied to the rest of the UI.

Samsung has blessed the Omnia user with a universally available landscape mode, which is one of those things I consider a requirement, but feel endless gratitude for when I receive it. This feature makes the Omnia much more accessible than most of it's touchscreen competitors.

Big screen + landscape QWERTY =  comfortable mobile computing environment.

The Omnia is a perfectly-sized, hot phone that begs to be used, and used casually. While it looks, feels, and handles like the high-end phone that it is, no one will be rubbing this one with a diaper or spending a paycheck on protective accessories. This one is ready for the real world.

Samsung Omnia hands on image


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