Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 3:53:21 PM
A fine-looking phone with a truly staggering feature set.
Our touch-screen calibration caused problems and affected the overall user experience.
It has been a tremendous year for Samsung Mobile, which is now seriously beginning to challenge Nokia as the number one handset manufacturer in the world.
Touch-screen user interfaces are integral to many of today’s high-end smartphones and top-tier handsets and Samsung is doing as much as any manufacturer to speed up the touch-screen evolution. This summer, for example, Samsung enjoyed tremendous success with the F480 Tocco. However, the Samsung i900 Omnia is very much the Korean manufacturer’s flagship touch-screen phone for 2008.
The Omnia may be larger and not quite as cute as the Tocco, but this is a more powerful device with a Windows Mobile operating system and a much bigger display. It also trumps the Tocco by including a built-in GPS receiver, Wi-Fi and a hefty 8GB of memory.
The iPhone still provides the barometer for handsets offering a touch-screen user interface, and the display on the Samsung Omnia is every bit as roomy as its Californian competitor.
In fact, give or take a few millimetres, the phones are a very similar size. The Omnia’s rear casing is a little less curvy and the device sports three mechanical keys below the main display, but you still get that sleek and shiny minimalist design.
Look carefully and you’ll notice a metal clasp on the right-hand side of the Omnia. It’s from here that you can connect and dangle the retractable stylus that comes boxed with the smartphone. Although the design is quite clever, we just can’t see the appeal of a tied-on stylus. In fact, if the touch-screen is friendly enough to fingertips, you shouldn’t really need a stylus at all. But we’ll come to the UI in a moment.
Overall, the phone is beautifully constructed. It’s robust yet light and, thanks to its slimness, feels very comfortable in the hand.
As with the majority of touch-screens where the display dominates the phone’s fascia, the user interface is key to the device’s overall design as well as its ease of use.
The Samsung Omnia’s homescreen features Samsung’s Touchwiz technology, which enables users to drag and drop applications from a gallery running down the left-hand side of the display.
There are seven applications visible at any one time, but to see more you can simply stroke the screen up or down to view the full range. You choose an application by touching it with your fingertip and dragging it onto the main display.
This is a feature that also appears on the Samsung Tocco and a really neat trick that’s enhanced by the tactile feedback you get when dragging and dropping an icon, but it’s just a little too easy to mistakenly choose an application while you’re attempting to scroll up or down the page.
In addition to the Touchwiz, the Omnia offers the traditional Windows Mobile UI, which can be found by clicking on the Windows logo in the top left-hand corner of the screen as well as a Samsung UI which is selected by choosing ‘Main Menu’.
The Samsung UI on the Omnia was our preferred means of navigation purely because it’s more aesthetically pleasing than the Windows version. The icons presented in rows of three are clear and not over-designed and you can open any one of the key features with a single click.
By choosing the Programs menu option, you’re presented with another UI where all the programs are presented in list format. Again, it’s a little easy to select an application when you simply want to scroll up or down the page, but you can use the mechanised exit keys to get you out of trouble.
Unfortunately, we found ourselves relying on the mechanised exit key a little too much as our screen didn’t seem to be particularly well calibrated, despite the fact that we spent a good 90 seconds calibrating the phone at start-up.
For example, the X that is familiar to Microsoft users and appears in the top right-hand corner of every page, enabling users to close the current page, proved unresponsive and only worked 50% of the time using either our finger or a stylus.
As a result, we had to fall back on the mechanised call reject key to close pages down, which is frustrating because it also closes the application and takes you back to the phone’s homescreen.
For dialling phone numbers and writing emails, text messages notes and Word documents, you have the virtual numeric and QWERTY keypads. Both are as good as you’ll find on a touch-screen device, but not quite as foolproof as the mechanised alternatives. We found the QWERTY keyboard to be slightly more user friendly when in landscape mode as you can use both thumbs to type. However, it took us a little while to locate the motion sensor settings that make the auto-adjust possible. To do this, go to Settings > System > Motion Sensor and then set it to automatic.
You can also choose whether to set the motion sensor to high or low sensitivity. If the motion sensor is something you will use a lot, we would recommend setting it to high, as we found it much more reliable. However, it may be that you only wish to use it for email or photos, for example. In this case you can set the motion sensor to manual operation.
Considering that sat nav is proving to be such a popular feature with today’s smartphone users, we’re surprised that Google Maps isn’t given top billing on the Omnia’s main menu. You’ll find Google Maps hidden in the Programs menu, and –
as anyone who’s used Google Maps will know – it’s a great application and it renders particularly well on the Omnia’s large display.
The Omnia offers A-GPS for a faster fix, so it doesn’t take long to find your location on the map. As with Google Maps on the Apple iPhone 3G, you can search for local points of interest such as pizza restaurants, hotels or taxi ranks or even domestic addresses.
The device also lets you plan a route between any two points in the UK and then gives you
turn-by-turn directions, although you don’t get voice-assisted navigation so you’ll have to pay to download a third-party application for that.
Although Samsung’s i8510 trumps the five-megapixel resolution on the Omnia, the camera is still a real pleasure to use. There’s a dedicated camera key on the side of the phone and the camera is designed to be used in landscape mode.
The camera controls and settings are laid out down each side of the display. It’s all beautifully simple to use and settings like auto-focus, macro mode and face detection can be accessed with a single touch of the screen.
As well as taking a single regular shot, you can shoot in continuous mode for action shots or panoramic mode, which lets you stitch a wide angled shot together. Meanwhile, Mosaic mode splits the shot into four separate quarters, which allows you to shoot a Warhol-esque portrait or even a cubist design shot.
Video recording is equally as impressive as the still camera and you can choose whether to record video in normal, MMS or slow mode. MMS records video that’s perfect for sending in a picture message, whereas slow mode lets you record video that can be played back in slow motion. It’s great for those slow motion action shots.
The Samsung Omnia is beautifully equipped for music, with a player capable of playing tracks and media files in MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA, OGG, and AMR format.
It also benefits from an impressive 8GB of built-in storage, which houses a total of 8,000 songs.
The phone comes boxed with a set of plug-in stereo headphones and the sound quality is really impressive.
As for video, the phone features a DivX, XviD, WMV, and MP4 player, so you’re well covered for playing files in most common formats.
Meanwhile, the TV out facility enables you to play back any of your videos – recorded or downloaded – on a full-screen TV.
That said, the display on the Omnia is large enough to enjoy fairly lengthy videos without making your eyes sore.
The Samsung Omnia packs in every conceivable feature you could possibly expect from a smartphone in 2008. In addition to the key applications we’ve already mentioned, the device also packs in an RSS reader, a podcast application, a smart reader for business cards, which works flawlessly, an FM radio, Wi-Fi and the full array of Microsoft Work applications, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Plus you also get the Windows stalwart games, Bubble Breaker and Solitaire.
This really is a staggeringly well-equipped phone. Our only real niggle concerns the calibration on the touch-screen, which unfortunately, is a fairly major issue, as it affects the entire user interface. It’s a shame because, without this niggle, it would be hard to fault the Omnia.