Samsung Omnia (Verizon Wireless) Review

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Pros: 3.2-inch capacitive touchscreen; 5-MP camera and excellent video recorder; Good battery life; 8GB internal memory; Visual voicemail

Cons: Windows Mobile 6.1 unsuited for finger touch; Too many user interfaces; Stylus attached via lanyard; No 3.5mm stereo headphone jack

Verdict: This Windows Mobile smart phone has many compelling features, but it's easier to use with a stylus than your finger.

The Samsung Omnia, now available from Verizon Wireless for $199, is a handsome smart phone filled with all the latest amenties--EV-DO, a 5-megapixel camera, GPS, Wi-Fi, an HTML browser, push e-mail, an excellent multimedia player, mobile Microsoft Office, and 8GB of built-in memory, all operated via a bright and sensitive 3.2-inch capacitive touchscreen. However, despite the best efforts of Samsung's clever TouchWiz interface, this next-generation combination of attributes are nearly ruined by the inclusion of Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional.

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Design

The Omnia measures 4.4 x 2.2 x 0.5 inches, similar to the iPhone's 4.5 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches. It has a slick metallic border along its entire exterior, and its large 3.2-inch, 400 x 200-pixel touchscreen 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, and a power button is on the top right. On the right is a quick-launch button for the menu and switching to the media player, two volume keys, and a camera button. The back is plastic with a brushed-metal look. There's no 3.5mm headphone jack, however. The box includes both a 2.5mm and a 3.5mm adapter, but these are extra items that will be easy to lose or forget.

Stylus and Touchscreen

Also easy to lose is the included stylus. Like on LG's similar Incite for AT&T Wireless, the telescoping stylus is tied to the side of the phone with a lanyard instead of having a slot in the phone itself. Move the Omnia up to your face rapidly and be prepared to be smacked in the eye by the now-swinging stylus--that's if the stylus doesn't get snagged on something in your pocket.

The stylus aside, the Omnia is a handsome phone, its buttons neatly and nearly seamlessly integrated into a chrome-like, nearly mirrored surface. Its screen is among the brightest we've seen, even in direct sunlight. Behind the display is localized haptic feedback, plus an optional rear vibration response, all of which made us feel like we were manipulating physical buttons. The Omnia's touchscreen and accelerometer were both very responsive, although finger-swipe menu and list scrolling was one constant--and slow--speed.

TouchWiz and Windows Mobile 6.1 Pro

Whatever your opinion of or need for Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, it is designed to be used with a stylus, not with your fingertip. Its navigation options, drop-down menus, and scrolling controls are mostly too small to be precisely touch-controlled by larger fingertips. Only those with daintier digits and the patience to apply them precisely may find fingertip or nail touching adequate.

Knowing that Windows Mobile isn't designed for finger-touch control, Samsung has laid a couple of additional UI layers to protect users from Microsoft's OS: its TouchWiz widget-based interface, which is more interesting in concept than in execution, and a standard 12-button grid of oft-used programs that is much easier to control with finger touch. (For more detail on how TouchWiz works, see our original review of the unlockedSamsung Omnia.)

Omnia has too many interfaces, which can get confusing. When turned on, the TouchWiz widgets are kept in a vertical drawer on the Omnia home screen. In order to use these widget apps, you have to drag them onto the main screen; they'll do nothing if you tap on them while they're in their drawer. When you're done with the widget, you should move them back to the drawer, otherwise Omnia's "desktop" will get cluttered with multiple overlapping icons.

Web Browsing

Verizon Wireless' EV-DO Rev. A network is so speedy with Opera's HTML browser that we hardly noticed any page loading improvement when we switched to the Omnia's Wi-Fi connection. Over the mobile broadband connection, mobile versions of CNN.com and ESPN.com loaded in 3 seconds, and the mobile version of NYTimes.com in 4 seconds. Omnia defaults to the mobile pages of Web sites that offer them. A full HTML site such as Wikipedia.com took around 20 seconds to load.

Business Apps

For the business user, the Omnia is equipped with Microsoft Outlook Mobile for access to e-mail, calendar, and contacts. Office Mobile gives users the ability to view and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. All of these features were a pleasure to use on the Omnia's bright screen and widescreen touch QWERTY keyboard. Corporate users will appreciate support for Microsoft Direct Push technology for e-mail, over-the-air syncing of PIM data (when paired with an Exchange Server), and Microsoft's System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 (for software distribution and security).

Camera

The Omnia's 5-megapixel camera was quick, but it produced disappointingly dull photos compared with other recent 5-MP cell cams we've used, such as theMotorola Motozine ZN5. However, the Omnia stitches together beautiful 848 x 192-pixel panoramic shots, and its video recorder captures bright, large VGA movies at 15 frames per second with surprisingly few digital artifacts.

GPS Navigation and FM radio

Also handy is the Omnia's inclusion of Verizon's precise voice-prompted VZ Navigation GPS service ($9.99 per month), which includes local search and live traffic information. The built-in FM radio struggled to bring in some 50,000-watt New York City stations. If the Omnia's 8GB of internal memory isn't enough, its microSD slot can handle up to a 16GB card.

Call Quality and Battery Life

As a phone, the Omnia sounded nearly landline-like on our tests and, even though it's rated at 5.8 hours of talk time, we got nearly twice that endurance on our unscientific test of simply calling another phone and letting the Omnia run until the battery died.

Verdict

The Samsung Omnia's value begins and ends with how capable you are at navigating Windows Mobile with your fingertips. From Mobile Office to Wi-Fi to GPS, there's plenty of technology and functionality here for the sophisticated business user. But if you don't have a light and precise touch--or you don't like to use a stylus--you'll grow frustrated quickly. Nevertheless, for Verizon Wireless customers the Omnia is marginally better than the finickyBlackBerry Storm.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier Verizon
Form Factor Candy Bar
Operating System Windows Mobile OS
Data EV-DO Rev. A
Internal Memory 8GB
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 Yes
Camera Resolution 5 MP
Talk / Standby Time 5.8 hours/19.3 days
Size 4.4 x 2.2 x 0.5 inches
Weight 4.3 ounces
Company Website http://www.verizonwireless.com