The Samsung Omnia i900 and the HTC Touch Diamond are the two hot iPhone-inspired Windows Mobile Professional slate touch screen phones for the summer of 2008. While both pervasively re-skin the less than sexy Windows Mobile OS to make it more fun, attractive and finger-friendly, their approaches couldn't be more different. Samsung has taken a more practical, and ostensibly more mundane approach for those most part-- but what it lacks in eye candy it makes up for with superior usability.
The Omnia (Latin for "all") in fact has it all: a WQVGA haptic touch screen, quad band unlocked GSM, Euro-only 3G, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, FM radio, DivX certification, a 5 megapixel camera, 624MHz CPU, 8 or 16 gigs of storage and an SDHC microSD card slot. For those of us in the US, the Euro-only 3G takes "all" down one notch. The Omnia works fine on both T-Mobile and AT&T in the US, but you're stuck with EDGE for data. Really, it's hard to imagine that Samsung's flagship PDA phone leaves out triband HSDPA. No carrier offers the Omnia in the US; instead it's sold by online importers for approximately $700 (the 16 gig model sells for approximately $60 more than the 8 gig model). Prices may come down when the phone isn't so new and hot.
The Omnia has few hardware controls. There are call send and end buttons and a touchpad/directional pad (more on that later) on the front lower section. The camera button and Main Menu launcher are on the right side, and the tiny power button is up top (the power button pulses in a variety of colors if you wish to indicate missed calls, new messages and reminders).
The entire brushed metal finish rear cover slides off to reveal the battery, SIM card slot and microSD card slot. Unfortunately, you've got to remove the battery to insert or remove a microSD card. Thankfully, the Omnia has mass storage mode and you can set either the internal storage or microSD card to mount on a PC or Mac's desktop via a fast USB 2.0 connection.
The Omnia uses Samsung's blade connector rather than mini-USB. This is the same connector as that on the Samsung BlackJack II, and their USB cables and chargers are interchangeable. Samsung uses the blade connector for the wired stereo headset as well. It's a two part affair: the first section has the blade connector and ends with an inline mic module with volume controller. That module has a standard 3.5mm stereo headset jack so you can use the included earbuds or any headphones you wish.
At 12.5mm (0.49"), the Omnia is very thin, and only 0.04" thicker than the tiny Touch Diamond. The Omnia is just a hair wider and noticeably taller than the Diamond because it has to accommodate the large 3.2" touch screen running at 400 x 240 pixel resolution. The Diamond's display is 2.8", though it runs at the even higher VGA resolution. This makes photos look sharper on the Diamond, but the drawback is that text, especially in Opera 9.5, can be hard to read. The Omnia really hits the sweet spot for screen size vs. resolution: it's always easy on the eyes but text isn't overly large as it is on the HTC Advantage X7510.
Though the i900's screen isn't the brightest we've seen, it's more than adequate and pleasing for indoor use, and when reading text outdoors in sunlight. Photos and the camera viewfinder do wash out in direct sunlight. The phone has a brightness sensor that can automatically set display brightness, and you can manually set brightness if you prefer.
The 3.2" screen is great for viewing widescreen video, and the fast CPU plus 8 or 16 gigs of storage make this an excellent portable media player. Since the i900 has an SDHC microSD card slot, you can add an 8 gig card and bump max storage up to 16 or 24 gigs.
The screen is flush-- there's no raised bezel surrounding it, and the two Windows Mobile softkeys are virtual rather than dedicated hardware buttons. You can calibrate the display as you would any other WinMo Pro device, but in the Omnia's case, you might want to use your finger rather than a stylus if you intend to use the device with your finger. The display driver is set to work with a finger (touch points are larger) and we didn't find accuracy improved significantly with a stylus. The screen is responsive with the latest ROM, with few missed touches and no measurable lag. While it doesn't beat the iPhone's perfect touch screen experience, it's one of the best among iPhone competitors we've used. Finger-scrolling works well (and isn't reversed like the LG Vu), flick-scrolling (where supported) works nicely and dragging pages in Opera and Opera Mini works perfectly and is speedy.
When we first received the i900 it had the original ROM which had haptics everywhere (any and every screen touch had haptic feedback) but less than stellar screen response. We flashed it with the latest DXHG4 ROM (keep in mind the device has only been out several weeks and there have been at least 3 ROM revisions-- Samsung is keeping busy) and screen response, UI speed and accuracy were much improved. However, haptics largely disappeared. You get them in the Samsung applications and in the widget Today screen, but not when scrolling through standard Windows Mobile built-in applications, nor when using the on-screen keyboards. Given that generalized haptics aren't the most useful (the device vibrates when it registers any touch, and doesn't indicate that you've touched the target you actually intended), we don't miss it except in the keyboards. If you don't like haptics, you can disable it using a control panel applet. We've received word that there's yet another new firmware out-- but only available from Samsung service centers at this point, that brings back haptic keyboard feedback. Hopefully, Samsung will post this ROM on their web site soon.
User Interface Enhancements: Samsung's TouchWiz UI
Samsung has skinned and re-made a good deal of Windows Mobile's interface, though the core Windows Mobile applications such as IE, contacts, calendar and Office mobile are untouched. There are 3 Today Screens designed for fingers and quick access to important information and applications. The most talked-about one is the widgets Today Screen, which features a virtual desktop and widget bar. You can drag any of the Samsung-created widgets from the bar to the desktop and they become mini-applications or program launchers. Widgets include a web browser launcher, month calendar, caller photo speed dial (4 contacts supported), a games folder shortcut that looks like a PS3 controller, notepad shortcut, world clock with 2 times, analog and digital clocks, wireless radio control widget (Bluetooth, WiFi and the phone radio), music player and a profile changer (normal, silent and vibrate options). Widgets run in both portrait and landscape mode (in fact everything does, unlike the Diamond), and you can have a different set of widgets on the desktop for portrait and landscape modes. The default right softkey is assigned to Samsung's "Main Menu", a finger-friendly application launcher with a screen dedicated to a selection of built-in applications and a second editable shortcut screen.
Samsung's "Main Menu" program launcher screens.
While widgets is cool, it might not suit those accustomed to the usual, informative Windows Mobile home screen with its support for plugins for appointments, search, messaging and more. Samsung's other 2 Today screens (excitingly named "Samsung Today 1" and "Samsung Today 2") are more practical for those who want the most info on the go. The first has an embedded application launcher and icons that inform you of calls, text messages and new email. The second is less busy and has the same icons for calls and messaging along with shortcuts to a photo speed dialer and settings.
Samsung's Today 1 and 2 Today screens.
The settings pane in the Samsung Today 2 screen.
The widgets Today screen.
A widget to inform you of missed calls (see above). Likewise it does this for email, text and voicemail message. Nice!
Here's a video of the Omnia's user interface enhancements and the Opera 9.5 web browser:
How does the Omnia handle screen locking? We've seen various implementations from acceptable to abominable on touch screen phones, and the Omnia is near the top of the pack. Since it lacks the iPhone's proximity sensor, it can't turn off the phone because you're holding it close to your face for a call. Instead it relies on a timer and you can set it to disable touch response in 10, 20 or 30 seconds, or not disable it when in a call. The screen doesn't turn off so you can see call status, which we like (the Diamond's instant-off drove us nuts, though we love the remove the stylus to unlock the screen and start a call note). To re-enable the i900's touch screen during a call, press the mouse button. What about when not in a call? The first ROM had screen autolock enabled (the smartphone's screen locked once it turned off and you had to hit two on screen buttons to activate it). That was very annoying. The new ROM forgoes the auto screen lock which really wasn't needed since you can set the phone to only wake up when the power button is pressed. Should you wish to lock the screen, you can hold the call end button (alternatively you can assign the long call-end press to terminate the data connection). To unlock the screen (if that's what you've using the long call-end press for), press and hold call end again for a second or two.
Trackpad and Virtual Mouse
Instead of a traditional d-pad, the Omnia has a tiny trackpad, similar to the Samsung i780's. You'll use a software setting to select either 4-way directional mode where you run your finger across it to scroll and press the center action button as with a normal d-pad, or mouse mode which gives you a PC-like mouse pointer on-screen. The mouse pointer works quite well, and is particularly useful for word processing and web browsing. The directional mode's scrolling function responds correctly, but it takes quite a few finger swipes to scroll down a portrait orientation page unless you set scrolling speed fairly high. Really, it's no replacement for a traditional d-pad. Neither is terribly good for gaming, which is a shame given the Omnia's good gaming performance. Stick to games that use the touch screen for control!
The trackpad/mouse control nested between the call send and end buttons.
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.