Samsung Omnia Review

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$720

Pros: Top-notch user interface; Wi-Fi and HSDPA (in Europe) support; Loaded with apps; Supports multiple video and audio formats

Cons: 3G doesn't work in the U.S.; Keyboard and touchscreen could be more accurate; Expensive

Verdict: Samsung's ultra-high-end touchscreen phone brings a welcome makeover to Windows Mobile along with a sharp 5-MP camera.

Think of it as the Windows Mobile-powered Instinct for trust fund babies. Samsung's luxury touchscreen phone, the Omnia, is a very expensive unlocked device ($720 with 16GB of storage, $690 with 8GB) that comes with a 5-megapixel camera (with autofocus), GPS, and Wi-Fi. While the Omnia doesn't offer 3G support in the U.S., it does abroad, and its innovative TouchWiz interface and robust multimedia player make it a seriously good alternative to the HTC Touch Diamond.

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Design

Looking like a cross between Samsung's F-490 and Instinct phones, the Omnia is classy and stylish; it turned many heads during our testing. It measures 4.4 x 2.2 x 0.5 inches, similar to the iPhone's 4.5 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches. The Omnia has a slick metallic border along its entire exterior, and its large 3.2-inch, 400 x 200-pixel capacitive touchscreen display takes up the majority of the front, leaving room for the Send and End keys on the bottom corners. Between them is a small black pad that acts as the device's mouse pointer.

On the left of the Omnia is a charging port that doubles as a headset input (Samsung includes a 3.5mm adapter) and a power button is on the top right. On the right is a quick-launch button for the menu or switching to the media player, two volume keys, and a camera button. The back is plastic with a brushed-metal look.

The impressive touchscreen is just a notch below the iPhone in terms of quality: It's still hard to be dead accurate on Web page link selections without using a stylus, and you need to use force to press icons. Like the iPhone, the Omnia switches to landscape mode when you turn it sideways; however, it's controlled by software that uses the camera to decide which mode the display should be in, instead of an accelerometer. Switching to landscape mode was a bit sluggish.

Keyboard and Mouse

The Omnia has seven options for inputting text: You can use a block recognizer for letters and numbers; a letter recognizer for capital letters, lowercase letters, and numbers; the standard Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional keyboard; Samsung's larger QWERTY keyboard; the Samsung keypad, which has two letters per key; or the Samsung phonepad, which has three letters per key. Finally, there is a transcriber, which is supposed to recognize written sentences, but it didn't work very well. "Laptop Magazine Rules" came out jumbled.

We like the iPhone's keyboard more, but the Omnia's full QWERTY keyboard is fine (despite being a bit cramped), and we think it tops the HTC Diamond's, which you can't turn horizontally. We loved the mouse button on the device; you simply need to glide your thumb over the mousepad to move the cursor around the screen, and push in to make a selection.

User Interface

The Omnia uses Samsung's proprietary TouchWiz UI, which sits on top of Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. TouchWiz is similar to the LG Dare's interface: You can drag applications from a sidebar--in this case on the left--out onto the desktop. Unlike with the Dare, when you pull an icon from the toolbar to the desktop, it doesn't just create a shortcut; it launches the program. A small arrow at the bottom left of the screen hides TouchWiz' toolbar.

The Main Menu soft button icon launches the 12-icon TouchWiz menu for quickly accessing such common apps as the music and video players, your photo gallery, a notepad, and more. This eliminates the need to dig through menus just to show pictures to a friend or to change the song. TouchWiz is colorful and refreshing compared with the stock Windows Mobile Today screen. Inside the Programs menu, you'll find more applications, such as Google Maps and ShoZu. Menu animations were smooth and quick, but Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional still resides beneath the surface; a majority of the desktop, along with Settings, Programs, and Outlook applications are unchanged.

Multimedia

The Omnia is available in two flavors: 8GB and 16GB. Its microSD slot (which holds cards up to 16GB) is more than just another feather in its cap; when 16GB microSD Cards become available, the Omnia will be capable of doubling the capacity of the iPhone. Better yet, it supports more formats. You can load it up with AVI, DivX, H.263, H.264, MP4, WMV, and XviD video files as well as AAC/AAC+, AMR, MP3, OGG, and WMA audio files.

Lupe Fiasco's album The Cool sounded crisp over the Omnia's included headset (you can use your own, too). We watched an episode of Heroes and although audio came through clear, the colors didn't pop as much as they do on an iPhone or iPod touch. Overall though, the experience was enjoyable.

Camera

The Omnia features a 5-megapixel camera, which records still photos and videos. We filmed a few friends singing their favorite karaoke tracks and snapped pictures of others' reactions. In dark conditions, even with the built-in image stabilizer, movement made for blurry pictures. The LED flash didn't do enough to brighten the room, although it was sufficient for taking photos at a dinner table. We wish it had a more-robust Xenon flash like the Nokia N82 has. The camera supports geotagging for snapping photos with your current location embedded.

Outside shots during the day were clearer and more colorful than with the Nokia N82. Photos of a yellow flower taken from 3 inches away offered much deeper yellows and better color saturation. The Omnia's autofocus was superior in these shots; it focused on the center of the flower instead of areas around the blossom, as the Nokia N82 did.

You can record videos can in 640 x 480-pixel resolution at 15 frames per second. We'd prefer 30 fps, which the Nokia N95 offers. The Omnia captured the karaoke fun, but when we played the video back on our computer, the image was soft and not as sharp as we would have liked. Videos taken outside on a sunny day were acceptable, but the 15-frames-per-second rate was noticeable as cars drove down the street. Colors were represented well, however, and the camera did a good job adjusting as we moved from the sunlight to the shade.

Web Surfing over EDGE and Wi-Fi

Opera 9 is the default Web browser (instead of IE mobile), which we love. It supports Ajax but not Flash and is much better than Internet Explorer. Opera lets you keep multiple tabs open and view full Web pages. Using AT&T's EDGE network, we were able to load CNN's mobile site in 8 seconds and ESPN's mobile site in 13 seconds. NYTimes.com loaded in 20 seconds. Using the phone's 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, m.CNN.com and m.NYT.com loaded in 2 seconds, and m.ESPN.com in 3 seconds. We didn't appreciate having to turn off AT&T's data network before using Wi-Fi. Most devices, like the iPhone, will automatically switch to the Wi-Fi signal. A 1MB trailer for Horton Hears a Who downloaded from m.divx.com in 1 minute and 30 seconds, which is slow for Wi-Fi.

Clicking URLs wasn't as accurate as it is on the iPhone--we sometimes missed the link--but using the mouse to make selections eliminates this problem. We scrolled through Web sites with the swipe of our finger, and we could zoom by double-tapping anywhere on the screen. We wish the Omnia loaded full Web sites, though, and not just the mobile versions of each site.

E-mail and Chat

Microsoft's Outlook Mobile e-mail software supports Microsoft Exchange for Direct Push functionality, as well as IMAP and POP3 accounts for scheduled delivery of messages. It offers to go out and find the settings for commonly used Web e-mail services such as MSN or Yahoo. We set up our Gmail account in less than 5 minutes. The Omnia comes preloaded with MSN Messenger, but if you want other chat applications you'll need to download them.

GPS

Google Maps is preloaded as the GPS software on the device. It incorrectly placed us five blocks south of our location in New York City with a full AT&T signal. You can use Google Maps for turn-by-turn directions (not spoken) and it accurately plotted our trip home. You'll have to spring for a third-party program like TeleNav GPS Navigator to get spoken directions and other bells and whistles.

Call Quality and Battery Life

Call quality on the Omnia was stellar. On the streets of New York City, our caller said we sounded better than on most phones we've called her with, and we could say the same on our end. Except for a few small pops during a few calls, most conversations were quite crisp.

The Omnia had good battery life. We listened to music, browsed the Web, and made phone calls between Friday and Sunday and didn't have to charge the phone until Sunday night. Samsung claims the Omnia has 20 days of standby time.

Verdict

The Omnia blurs the line between phone and a pocket Internet device. While its touchscreen isn't as accurate as the iPhone, and neither is the keyboard, the device looks just as sharp, and its 5-MP camera is far superior. It also offers twice the storage of the HTC Diamond for just $50 more. The Omnia doesn't currently support 3G networks in the U.S., so we suggest waiting until it's picked up by a domestic carrier, when you're likely to see a dramatic price drop. If the Omnia comes to AT&T, it will certainly give the iPhone a run for its money; we'd like to see the carrier not only keep the TouchWiz interface intact but also find ways to make it even more compelling and useful by adding its services to that menu.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier Unlocked
Form Factor Candy Bar
Operating System Windows Mobile OS
Data EDGE
Memory Expansion Type microSD Card
Display (main) 3.2 inches (400 x 240 pixels, 64,000 colors)
GPS Yes
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth Stereo
FM Radio No
Camera Resolution 5 MP
Talk / Standby Time 5.5 hours/20 days
Size 4.4 x 2.2 x 0.5 inches
Weight 4.3 ounces
Company Website http://www.samsung.com/us