At a Glance
- Gorgeous QVGA screen
- Excellent battery life
- Interface can be slow
- No standard 3.5mm headphone jack
A versatile and stylish phone that is hindered by a sluggish interface.
Though it has been on the market in Europe and Asia for months, the Samsung Omnia debuted in the United States on Verizon’s 3G network only a couple of days before Thanksgiving 2008. Available for $249 (with a two-year contract), the sophisticated Omnia has just about everything you could want in a smart phone. But certain omissions, such as a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack and a physical QWERTY keyboard, keep it from being a threat to the Apple iPhone and the T-Mobile G1.
The Omnia has an elegant look, thanks to its chrome finish and black matte plastic back. The phone’s crisp, 3.2-inch, 640-by-480-pixel-resolution touch screen occupies most of the space on its 4.4-by-2.2-by-0.5-inch body. (The screen is just 0.3 inch smaller than the one on the iPhone.) End and send keys surround a smallish optical mouse at the bottom of the device. A volume rocker and a dedicated camera button sit on the left spine of the phone; a proprietary headphone and charger jack, and a stylus tether sit on the right. The Omnia carries 8GB of internal flash memory and a microSD slot that can accommodate a card with up to 16GB of external memory.
The Omnia weighs 4.3 ounces–that’s 0.4 ounce lighter than the iPhone–and it feels comfortable in hand and in pocket. Call quality was consistently good over Verizon’s 3G network, though I did notice a faint hiss on one call. The vast majority of my calls sounded loud and clear with very little background noise or distortion. We haven’t yet finished our lab testing of the Omnia’s talk-time battery life. Once the PC World Test Center completes its battery life tests, we’ll update this review with a final PCW rating.
The Omnia has a landscape QWERTY keyboard and uses T9 predictive text entry. The T9 function often made the wrong prediction, however, so I took advantage of the key that lets you turn it off. The keys themselves are a bit narrow, and I frequently hit the wrong ones while typing long messages. Another annoyance is that the Menu key, which launches a menu of messaging options, can be difficult to access because it’s located directly below the minuscule space bar. On the plus side, haptic feedback made the Omnia’s keyboard much more comfortable to type on than many other touch-screen keyboards are. Still, the Omnia would have benefited greatly from having a physical, slideout QWERTY keyboard.
Like HTC with its TouchFLO 3D, Samsung has its own proprietary overlay (called TouchWiz) that runs over Windows Mobile 6.1. Though not as visually attractive as TouchFLO 3D, TouchWiz is user-friendly and responsive. The Today screen–the Omnia’s home screen–has a widget bar running along its left side. You can arrange the widgets in any order you choose and drag them into the main screen. Available widgets include a calendar, a phone book, games, and a world clock. I wish that Samsung had included a weather widget, though, as the one offered by HTC is spectacular.
In my hands-on tests, TouchWiz was sluggish in some areas. For example, dragging the widgets back to their bar sometimes took multiple finger swipes. I also noticed a lag when I scrolled through my contacts in the Phonebook app. Similarly, the accelerometer reacted slowly and sometimes got stuck when switching between portrait and landscape modes. Another issue is that not all of Samsung’s applications support finger scrolling; for those that don’t, you must use the optical mouse, which is small and not always responsive.
Like all Windows Mobile devices, Omnia comes preloaded with the mobile version of Microsoft’s Office suite. Consequently it was easy to set up my e-mail in Outlook, and the phone’s calendar widget integrates nicely with my Outlook calendar. Setting up POP and Web-based e-mail clients such as Gmail is a breeze as well. The Omnia also has an IM client, which supports AIM, Yahoo Instant Messenger, and ICQ. For Web browsing the Omnia offers Windows Mobile Internet Explorer and Opera 9.5. Pages loaded quickly over Verizon’s 3G network and over the phone’s built-in Wi-Fi.
The Omnia’s 5-megapixel camera launches when you press the dedicated camera key on the device’s spine. The camera has autofocus and a power LED flash, but it lacks optical zoom. It comes with a handful of advanced features, including white balance and shooting modes such as Sports, Sunset, Night Shots, and even one for shooting text. Image quality was very good, though I noticed some noise in several indoor, low-light shots. Video quality wasn’t as good as the image quality of still shots, but adequate for sending short video messages.
The Omnia comes loaded with Windows Media Player and Samsung’s own TouchPlayer, a touch-based player that supports album art and background music mode. Loading music onto the Omnia from a PC is a snap. And if you get tired of the music on your phone, you can listen to the Omnia’s FM radio. Unfortunately, Samsung’s failure to provide a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack undermines the device’s potential as a music player–a shortcoming it shares with the T-Mobile G1 and the HTC Fuze for AT&T. If these phones’ makers want to compete with Apple’s iPhone, they should at least throw in a standard headphone jack.
The Omnia’s other applications include a podcast organizer; VZ Navigator, a GPS app; TVOut viewer, which lets you connect the Omnia to your TV; and ShoZu, a picture-sharing service. Surprisingly, the Omnia lacks support for Verizon’s multimedia V-Cast hub, which is included even on low-end Verizon phones.
Despite a few kinks relating to the interface and a few omissions in the design, the Samsung Omnia is a high-quality handset that delivers a generous array of features.