Mini-Review: Samsung Omnia - Verizon

Noah Kravitz
 from Oakland, CA
Published: November 25, 2008

Pros: Large, responsive touchscreen and optical mouse; 3G (EVDO Rev. A) and WiFI; Windows Mobile and Easy-To-Use TouchWiz UI; Slim, lightweight form factor

Cons: Image quality doesn't live up to camera's specs; TouchWiz not as refined or mature as HTC's TouchFlo 3D; No stylus slot in phone

That other new touchscreen device for Verizon has been grabbing all of the headlines over the past week or so, but big red actually has three new finger-friendly smartphones in their lineup.  While Storm has been featured all over the place and phone geeks have long been awaiting the arrival of VZW's HTC Touch Pro, Samsung's Omnia may actually offer the most appealing blend of style and substance amongst the trio.

Samsung has improved the quality of their resistive touchscreens since the debut of Instinct (Sprint) earlier this year.  Like the company's other new TouchWiz devices - Eternity (AT&T), Behold (T-Mobile) and Delve (Alltel) - Omnia features a bright, clear LCD that's usable via fingertip or with the included stylus. I'm not crazy about the stylus, both because it resembles some sort of makeup applicator (eye liner brush?) and because there's no slot in the phone to store it in.  But I was able to navigate Omnia just fine without it thanks to the combination of that touchscreen and the optical mouse that's been showing up on several of Sammy's newest smartphones.

Verizon retained virtually all of the features found on the original unlocked GSM Omnia, including WiFi connectivity and a 5MP camera wtih autofocus, flash, and a full VGA-resolution camcorder.  Omnia also runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional with Samsung's own TouchWiz user interface.  TouchWiz is nowhere near the tasty piece of eye candy that HTC's TouchFlo 3D is, but it does a decent job of masking WinMo's less than friendly native UI with customizable home screen and application and shortcut menus.  There's promise in TouchWiz's home screen widget sidebar, but the current selection of widgets is pretty limited.  Still, the wireless manager, Email/MMS status, and music player widgets proved particularly handy and were easily dragged to and from the sidebar.

Samsung loaded Omnia up with some other goodies, including a Podcast catcher, RSS feed reader, and multimedia player with support for DivX video files.  The Verizon version also gains Visual Voicemail and access to the new VZW App Center (an online app store that's very much a work in progress).  I was particularly happy to see that Opera Mobile came pre-installed along with Internet Explorer for a better Web browsing experience.  Opera worked very well on Omnia and Web pages loaded quickly over both EV-DO and WiFi connections.  And while Windows Mobile's Email app isn't the prettiest thing you've ever seen, it's functional and flexible, and the veritable plethora of text input options available on the phone made it easy to dash off Emails and SMS/MMS notes despite the lack of a physical QWERTY board.  Omnia offers a choice of T9, SureType, full vertical QWERTY and full widescreen QWERTY keyboards, along with handwrting recognition.  Between the sheer size of Omnia's display and the optional vibrational feedback, I actually found it easier to type on Omnia than on the new BlackBerry Storm and it's fancy SurePress clickable touchscreen.

My biggest complaint about Omnia is that the fancy camera on its backside isn't as good as its specs might indicate.  While a 5MP camera with autofocus, flash, and multiple shooting modes might sound great, Omnia won't replace your standalone digital camera thanks to less than stellar image quality.  I found similarly disappointing results from the phone's camcorder mode, which does record in full VGA resolution, but suffers from jagged playback and audio sync issues at its highest resolution.  Still, the still cam's user interface is nice, and the panorama mode is pretty cool, and Omnia is definitely capable of capturing above-average cameraphone pics more than suitable for online posting and sharing.  8 gigs of internal memory and a microSD card slot mean you'll have plenty of space to store all of your captured images and videos along with music, podcasts, and Windows Mobile apps.

Omnia doesn't have the flash of Storm, and its display can't quite match Storm's ultra glorious hi-res screen.  And Omnia lacks Touch Pro's slide out QWERTY board and full VGA resolution display.  But Omnia bests Storm for ease of use and functionality (at least until Storm gets a major firmware update) and connecticity options, and is far sleeker, lighter, and easier to pocket than both Storm and Touch Pro.  Aside from the occasional lag (which is pretty standard on Windows Mobile devices), Omnia performed very well for me during voice, messaging, Web, and GPS-based tasks, and it slipped easily into my pocket when I didn't need it. 

 I'd love to see Samsung build TouchWiz out with more widgets, and maybe give their UI a visual overhaul - Samsung's menus just aren't as nice as their competitors', for some reason.  The icons and fonts just don't look as smooth to me as those found on HTC, Apple, or even newer BlackBerry devices.  But Omnia's hardware looks great, and by and large it performed like a champ during my testing.  Omnia's definitely worth a look if you're in the market for a smartphone or sleek touchscreen phone on Verizon.

Verdict: Thumbs-Up

Products mentioned