Since there's no physical keyboard and the Omnia attempts to be finger-friendly, Samsung has added a selection of large on-screen keyboards. Yes, the usual Windows Mobile Professional input methods are there: a tiny on-screen QWERTY keyboard, letter recognizer and transcriber handwriting recognition, but all of these require a stylus. Samsung has 3 custom keyboards that work in both portrait and landscape modes, plus Chinese pinyin handwriting input (the Chinese input appeared in the DXHG4 ROM). Their QWERTY keyboard is quite good, though once again we miss that haptic feedback that went MIA in the current firmware but should return in the next firmware. The letters are large, though they're a bit narrower than the iPhone's in portrait mode since the Omnia's screen is narrower. Broad-fingered fellas might feel cramped, but it's very usable for those with less burly fingers. The Omnia's on-screen keyboard's keys are larger than the Touch Diamond's since it has an almost 1/2" larger display.
The landscape keyboard is roomier, given the display's significant height (similar to the iPhone's). The UI isn't as slick as the iPhone's with the pressed letter popping up for visual confirmation, but the key does turn blue to indicate a press. You can switch between predictive and normal mode by tapping the xt9 button, and change to numeric/symbol entry using the sym/123 button. Happily, you don't have to hit the sym key to enter a period, though you must to enter a comma.
There's even a virtual number pad for entering text T9-style, for those who are accustomed to texting on traditional mobile phones.
Phone, Data and Reception
The Omnia i900 is a quad band unlocked GSM world phone that works on the 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands for GSM voice and GPRS/EDGE data. It will work anywhere GSM service is available and is compatible with any GSM carrier's SIM and service. The i900 has only Euro 2100MHz 3G HSDPA, so it won't work in the US for high speed data-- just EDGE.
Right side with the camera button, volume control and Main Menu launcher button.
We tested the phone with AT&T and T-Mobile US SIM cards, and the phone worked fine with both. We have the Singapore model and it lacks data and MMS auto-configuration for carriers outside that region. So you'll have to enter your carrier's data and MMS settings manually. It does however detect and configure voicemail number and SMS settings. Once we entered in the correct data settings for each carrier, we were off surfing on EDGE, downloading email and watching some slow streaming media. EDGE speeds averaged 120kbps on T-Mobile and 190kbps on AT&T according to DSL Reports mobile speed test. Quite good for EDGE, that AT&T number.
The phone's web browsing experience is superb when on WiFi (HSDPA would be lovely too, I'm sure *sigh*). Opera 9.5 is the default web browser, though the usual IE mobile is there too. Opera 9.5 provides an excellent desktop style experience, but the page overview isn't readable without zooming in on any WinMo device except the HTC Advantage X7510 with it's huge VGA display. Opera, though a resource-intensive application, runs well on the Samsung and doesn't bog down the phone as it does on the Touch Diamond. We also tested the latest preview release of NetFront 3.5 which runs well on the i900. it's quick becoming our favorite Windows Mobile browser since it supports most advanced web standards, has finger scrolling and runs faster than Opera 9.5. Opera Mini also runs fine and we had no problems with the lack of a physical keypad. The Omnia comes with a Java VM so running Mini and other Java-based apps isn't a problem.
Call quality is excellent, and this is one of the louder phones on the market. The speakerphone is super-loud yet clear. Call recipients couldn't tell we were on a cell phone when calling via the handset, and Bluetooth headsets also sounded good. We tested the Omnia with the Plantronics Discovery 925, which sounded excellent and had a range of about 15 feet. The Plantronics Discovery 655 also sounded great and had a 10 foot range (average for that headset), while the Jawbone sounded clear on both ends with its usual signature strong noise reduction.
Left side with lanyard mount for the stylus and the Samsung blade-style USB connector under a rubber door.
The phone has the usual Windows Mobile version of Outlook with support for POP, IMAP, Exchange and Direct Push email. Since the Omnia runs Windows Mobile 6.1, it also has threaded SMS.
Performance and Multimedia
The Samsung Omnia runs on a Marvel XScale PDA312 processor clocked at 624MHz, which is currently the highest speed for Pocket PC phones. It comes in two versions: 8 and 16 gigs, just like the iPhone. This is flash memory and not a slower, more delicate hard disc. There are 128 megs of RAM and 256 megs of flash ROM. The phone has 60 megs of free RAM at boot (plenty enough to run several applications concurrently) and 42.8 megs of flash storage, which is a bit low for a high end device, but we'll forgive it since has that 8 or 16 gigs of flash disc storage that works fine for installing and running applications.
While high capacity storage phones like the HTC Touch Diamond and iPhone forego a storage card slot, the Omnia does no such thing. There's an SHDC high capacity microSD card slot which is great if you want to run GPS packages like CoPilot and Garmin that ship on microSD cards. Unfortunately, you have to remove the battery to access the card though.
Back cover off showing the battery, SIM card slot and microSD card slot.
The device feels quite fast, even more impressive given the graphical challenges of the widgets UI, auto screen rotation and TouchWiz. Other than the bearable 2 seconds it takes for the display to switch orientations, the Omnia never seems to fall behind.
A widescreen phone with a fast CPU, lots of storage, good graphics and DivX certification begs to be a portable video player. Happily, the Omnia is up to the task. We loaded the 16 gig storage area with feature length DivX movies ripped from our DVD collection (mostly widescreen movies at 450+ pixels across, encoded at 500kbps in stereo) along with a collection of VGA youtube saved videos. The Omnia handled these well and the screen looks lovely when watching movies. Sound through the included stereo earbuds was good and even better when using over-the-ear 3.5mm wired headphones. We tested the i900 with the Samsung SBH500 stereo Bluetooth headset and it sounded very good: nice bass, good stereo separation and clear highs.
The unusual stylus, capped.
The Omnia ships with the standard Windows Media Player mobile and Samsung's own Touch Player. Samsung's player handles everything that WMP does, but it has a touch-friendly UI. We tested it with a variety of MPEG4, DivX and WMV files and it performed well. Likewise it handles WMA, MP3 and AAC files fine. It's got playlist support, EQ and it's faster at updating its library than WMP-- and it sees media in all locations: internal storage, flash disc and microSD card at once, no need to switch library locations as with WMP.
Though all the videos in our library played fine with the included applications, we installed CorePlayer (the commercial version of TCPMP) since it has a few extra options like stretch to full screen. The player ran fine on the Samsung and videos up to 600kbps played without drops and generally good AV sync. There's also a streaming player (by ArcSoft) that handles mobile youtube content (m.youtube.com but not full desktop youtube).
The phone supports mass storage mode and USB 2.0 for fast file transfers (video, music and other large files). It can also mount the microSD card via mass storage mode so you need not remove the card to transfer files to and from the card.
Rounding out multimedia, there's an FM radio that uses the headphones as its antenna. It has remarkably good reception for a phone FM radio and it auto-scanned and found 41 stations in our area while other phones manage 20. There's a widget that controls FM radio playback from the widgets Today screen-- we like! There's also a widget that controls Touch Player-- handy for background music playback. Also Samsung's task manager (swipe your finger from bottom to top of the display to bring it up) adds playback controls when the media player is running.
Here's our video of the Omnia running Google Maps with the GPS on, Touch Player playing a DivX movie and gaming:
The Omnia has a built-in GPS (Samsung doesn't state what chipset it is) that works with free and commercial GPS applications. No mapping software is included other than Google Maps, so if you want turn-by-turn spoken navigation, you'll have to supply it yourself. Both Google Maps and Windows Live Search (also free) work fine on the Omnia, and download maps along with POIs suitably fast over EDGE. For spoken navigation we tested both ALK's CoPilot 7 and Garmin Mobile XT, each of which ships on a 2 gig microSD card. Each program worked well with the Omnia-- no tweaking required. CoPilot runs letterboxed in QVGA mode and supports portrait and landscape modes, while Garmin fills the entire display. We found CoPilot's voice louder than Garmin's, but both were clearly audible in a sedan driving on a cement (noisy compared to blacktop) highway.
The GPS gets a cold fix in a minute or less. CoPilot and Garmin take a little longer than Google Maps and Windows Live Search, since they prefer a stronger signal. All were able to get a cold fix indoors within 10 feet of a first floor window, and warm fixes took less than 10 seconds. The GPS provided accurate location data, and on average found 8 satellites outdoors and indoors when near a window. We did notice that the back of the phone near the bottom gets warm when using the GPS to navigate. Note that the GPS antenna and battery are at the top, so those aren't the culprits. The phone and WiFi radios are at the bottom, but neither were being used for pre-loaded map applications like CoPilot and Garmin.
For Windows Mobile, the Omnia's 5 megapixel camera is ground-breaking. In fact, it's excellent by any standards, though it can't quite dethrone the Nokia N95 for outdoor shots in good light. The Omnia has an autofocus lens with standard, macro and face detection and smile detection focus (it actually waits until your subject smiles before taking the shot). It's the fastest focusing camera phone we've used (and we've reviewed most of them!)-- there's little delay between half-pressing the focus button and the actual shot. Save times to the 16 gig storage area are incredibly fast. Unless you're taking photos of our psycho kitten on a racing spree, the camera should be fast enough to capture most shots.
Click on a sample photo to see the original 5MP image taken at the high quality setting.
Max photo resolution is 2560 x 1920, with a variety of lesser resolutions available for photo caller ID, MMS and the like. There are plenty of settings to please photographers including white balance, saturation, flash control, quality, metering (center, spot and matrix), contrast, sharpness, anti-shake and GPS tagging. There are pre-sets for landscape, portrait, fireworks, beach/snow and other scenarios-- something you usually see only on a decent dedicated digital camera.
Cloudy day, bright Mini.
The default sharpening setting yields crisp and natural photos with good detail and no harshness. The standard color saturation setting is natural, though some folks might want to crank it up one notch since heavy saturation is the norm these days. In cloudy outdoor shots, we noticed colors seemed a little too washed out, particularly skies, though the subject was generally well-saturated. The Omnia gives the Nokia N95 a run for the money in outdoor photography with its more natural sharpness and colors (again, many folks prefer over-saturated images). But overall, the N95 takes somewhat more pleasing shots by the average person's standards (serious photographers will likely prefer the Samsung's better realism). Though the Nokia handles cloudy days better without washing out colors and contrast-- particularly skies are quite gray with the Omnia. The Omnia wins for indoor low-light shots, which are the Nokia's weakness. In many cases, the flash isn't needed-- in fact that flash is incredibly powerful (you'd think it was a Xenon) and can easily over-expose a too-close subject. It can illuminate a dark room, making night shots a possibility. Images average 1.1 to 1.3 megs in size, and the post-view application is handy for sending images via email, MMS and Bluetooth. We had no trouble using Bluetooth to send photos to our Mac Pro and Sony Vaio SZ650.
Video quality once again can't beat the N95, which records excellent quality video up to VGA resolution at 30fps. The Omnia can record video in VGA resolution at 15fps and QVGA video at 30fps. Colors are pleasing and there's very, very little blockiness-- no complaints there. But audio quality is sub-par, sounding a bit hissy and distorted.
Above: good detail in the flowers and textures on a partly cloudy day. Below: a macro shot of one of those flowers.
A powerful Windows Mobile Professional phone with a very large touch screen, very fast CPU and a wide range of wireless radios should have mediocre battery life, right? Well, the Omnia i900 just won't quit! It's 1440 mAh Lithium Ion battery easily lasted us 2 days with fairly heavy use. Each day we checked email on a 30 minute schedule, surfed the web for an hour over WiFi and EDGE, took 25 photos, watched 30 minutes of locally stored video, watched a few youtube mobile format streaming videos over WiFi, listed to an album using Touch Player and Samsung's stereo Bluetooth headset, and talked on the phone for over an hour via Bluetooth headset. Very good! Granted, this is using EDGE since they phone doesn't have US 3G, but overseas sites have commented on the Omnia's good battery life when using 3G. Samsung has a power-saving setting but we never used it, given the device's excellent battery life and good performance.
If the Samsung Omnia had US 3G, we'd give it our Editor's Choice award-- the i900 is otherwise our dream Windows Mobile device. OK, we might opt for a traditional d-pad for gaming, but we have our DS and PSP's for that . The smartphone is stunning looking, solidly built and loaded with cutting-edge features. More important is that Samsung's mostly excellent software and UI customizations have taken drab Windows Mobile out of the dust bin into today's world of touch-screen goodness. And this isn't just eye candy: Samsung's customizations have made it easier, more efficient and fun to do common tasks. From the responsive GPS to the excellent camera, the Omnia never ceased to impress us.
Pro: Large and responsive touch screen, great touch-customizations of Windows Mobile. The device is fun and easy to use. Fast, top-of-the-line processor, yet the phone has excellent battery life. Great camera! Good GPS performance and the 3.2" 240 x 400 display is well-suited to map-viewing. Lots of fast storage and and miniSD card slot mean you'll never run out of tunes or videos on the road. Good audio playback quality and strong video playback performance thanks to Samsung's graphics driver. WiFi is there so you don't have to live with pokey EDGE. A2DP sound quality is very good and battery life is excellent for this kind of device.
Con: No US 3G! We'll take a traditional d-pad over the trackpad thingy any day.
Display:65K color TFT flush touch screen, 3.2". Resolution:
240 x 400, supports both portrait and landscape modes (can use accelerometer to automatically rotate the screen).
Battery:1440 mAh Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
2G claimed talk time: 5.8 hours, standby: 500 hours. 3G claimed talk time: 4 hours, standby: 400 hours.
Performance:624 MHz Marvel PXA312 processor. 128 MB built-in RAM. 256 MB Flash ROM and 8 or 16 gigs internal flash memory storage.
Size:112 x 56.9 x 12.5mm (4.41
x 2.24 x 0.49 inches. Weight: 122g (4.3 ounces).
Phone:GSM quad band unlocked 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE for data. Euro-only 3G (2100MHz).
Camera:5.0 MP camera with autofocus, macro mode, face/smile detection mode. 2x digital zoom and LED flash. Camcorder: VGA max resolution at 15 fps, QVGA at 30fps.
in speaker, mic and Samsung blade connector audio jack with headset dongle that has a 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure. DivX certified.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR.
Mobile 6.1 Professional with Samsung's TouchWiz UI.
Opera 9.5, Outlook Mobile (email, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks), Microsoft Office Mobile (Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, OneNote Mobile), Internet Explorer Mobile, Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, Notes, Calculator, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker, Internet Sharing, , Task Manager, Java VM and Google Maps. Samsung applications: Touch Player, Media Album, Photo Slides, Smart Converter unit converter, world clock, touch-friendly phone book, Digital Frame (photo frame style desk clock), ShoZu, RSS reader, Streaming Player, TV out, Video Editor, business card reader, Enhanced GPS, DivX codecs, vibration and accelerometer settings. ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook trial version for PCs included.