Samsung Omnia Review

Is the Samsung Omnia the iPhone killer everyone hoped it would be?

Around Christmas this year, mobile phone sales are expected to become bigger than ever. Everyone has a mobile phone these days and it’s impossible not to compare one phone to another.

While its release has taken more time than many would like, the Samsung Omnia is finally here. A fight can now take place in the “iPhone Killer” segment of the market and we’re selling tickets right here.

So what does the Omnia have?

Cased inside of a body that’s just a fraction smaller than an iPhone, the Samsung Omnia has a lot going for it. It’s fairly light, looks good, and has a plethora of features that been making geeks drool for months.

There’s a fairly high amount of memory included in out of the box for your files: our unit had 8GB but we’re hearing that up to 16GB can be found. Add a 16GB microSD to this and we’re talking about a lot of things that you can load onto your phone, media player, GPS, anything.

Samsung have even been nice enough to make their phone easier to use than most would expect.

Because the Omnia runs off of the Windows Mobile 6.1 platform, Samsung have had to be creative to find an interface that really makes it usable. That’s one of the problems with Windows Mobile because – while it’s gotten a lot better than in recent years – it’s still not the user friendly device that something like the iPhone is.

This never used to be an issue, mind you. Before the iPhone, practically every company had no problem with leaving the interface of Windows Mobile exactly the way it was. The problem with that was that it was designed like Windows and we all know just how fun that can be to use (grumble, grumble).

So while companies like HTC have decided to build complex architectures over their hardware, Samsung have taken a slightly different route.

Turning the Omnia on for the first time, you’ll be greeted with an interfaced called “TouchWiz”, a widget-centric interface very similar to the widgets found in Mac OS and the sidebar on Windows Vista. In TouchWiz, you can easily drag shortcuts and interactive menu items (like media playback and clocks) off of the TouchWiz interface and arrange them as you please on your own personal Today screen.

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It’s not just the widgets that make up the main screen. Samsung have done a good job with customisation in this phone by giving you the option to have no less than 3 menu settings that Samsung have designed. I personally preferred the Samsung Today screens over the Widget menu, but with the amount of choices you’ll have to set up your screen, you’ll never be unsatisfied again.

Making phone calls is easy and if you’re one of those people not all that into touchscreens, Samsung have included small vibrations for “clicking” the buttons by way of haptic feedback. The sound quality from phone calls is excellent and rates among some of the best I’ve heard all year.

Connectivity is even better here with the Omnia sporting Bluetooth, WiFi 802.11 b/g, A2DP, and up to HSDPA operating at 7.2Mbps. It’s a shame that Samsung didn’t think to use a proper USB port for their connectivity but we’ll get to that later.

Many people considering the Omnia are likely to use the phone for internet access and those that do will be pleasantly surprised. Once again, it’s another Windows Mobile opting to go with Opera Mobile instead of the Internet Explorer platform and it sure does work a treat here. The large touchscreen combined with the optical trackpad found on the bottom of the device really makes surfing the web a treat.

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Bringing more high marks to the table is the inclusion of GPS as well as a decent 5 megapixel camera. As expected, the camera doesn’t quite have the quality of say a 5 megapixel point & shoot camera let alone a digital SLR with a similar megapixel range, but it’s not bad as it is. You end up with a whole slaughter of options including burst modes, photo effects, geo-tagging with the GPS, scene modes, ISO, exposure, anti-shake, face & smile detection, and plenty more.

There’s also an accelerometer for auto-rotation and this can even be linked in with the haptic feedback, the Omnia giving you a slight nudge every time you rotate the device telling you what you’ve done.

You could say that the Omnia is decked out to the extreme and… you’d be right. It’s one very cool device. It looks professional, clean, and for the most part stylish.

But for all the Omnia does that’s great – the phone, the web, the camera – it still doesn’t get one thing right that it probably should sitting pretty in that “iPhone Killer” category: music playback.

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The “Touch Player” as it is called lacks any real reason to be called “Touch Player” unless you include the option that you’re touching the button to turn it on. Giving you the option to play your music, switch tracks, use shuffle, hit an equaliser setting, and look at album art is about all you can you and while you might think that that’s all you want from a media player, the implementation is less than impressive. While finding media is relatively easy provided you know what you’re looking for, the interface is ugly and clunky. Trying to change the dynamics from the equaliser setting won’t give you much with control relying on individual presses of the button first labeled “NORM” (no equaliser settings) to find what you want. Likewise, if you want to turn the equaliser off, you’ll have to hit the button until you find “NORM” once again.

It’s strange that the options don’t really include any options and even stranger that the volume is so poor on this device. While the included breakout remote cable is useful with its inbuilt analog volume dial, it’s also completely required to listen to music because Samsung chose to go with a proprietary connection rather than just a 3.5mm headphone jack.

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This gets worse for people with their own headphones because even if you want to pump your music up loud – perhaps you like it loud or need it because your hearing is bad – the Omnia doesn’t get very loud at all. I pushed the system volume all the way up and almost had the dial all the way up on the remote cable and I was barely reaching what is about 65% volume on my iPhone.

While the Apple iPhone is pretty clear that it’s first a music player followed by the phone, multimedia, and internet capabilities, it’s also clear that the Samsung doesn’t follow that order.

This of course is all fixable by firmware, and that’s one area where I think with proper time and development, Samsung could pull out a real winner here. However there are some things I still feel obligated to mention.

Things like the proprietary connection for listening to music bug me but so does the inclusion of a microSD port that requires you to take the battery out. The obvious fix for each of these is that you should move to a Bluetooth stereo headset for replacing the remote and leave the microSD permanently in the Omnia, but each of these seem like design decisions that could have each been thought out better.

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While I love the feel, I don’t love how plastic-y it is. A casing of aluminium or some other material would have been better here and while it does feel solid, it doesn’t feel as solid as some of its competitors. There is no fix for this; buy a case to hold it in.

The screen size has me a little puzzled as the resolution doesn’t feel all that high-tech compared to what else is out there. While it’s a nice clear screen, the Omnia runs at a resolution of 240×400, a hair less than that of the iPhone’s 320×480 and a fair bit of distance from the HTC Touch Diamond’s resolution of 480×640. This complaint isn’t enough to say that the Omnia doesn’t use a sharp screen because it’s certainly very nice, but in the same way the component used here certainly feels lower tech than some of the very devices the Omnia competes with in this market space.

Overall, there is a lot to like about the Samsung Omnia. Is it the iPhone killer you all were expecting? Probably not. But is it a lot better than the rest of the competition? I would probably say so. While the Omnia does have some limitations and some interesting quirks, I’d say its positives far outweigh any negative attempting to bring it down.

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Product: Samsung i900 Omnia

Vendor: Samsung

RRP: TBA

Website: Samsung

Reviewed by Leigh D. Stark

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