Reviewed January 5, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Editor's Note, Dec. 2009: Read our review of the Samsung Omnia II that replaces the Omnia i910.
When cool overseas phones trickle to the US, they're often watered down. Remarkably and happily just about nothing has changed from the import GSM Omnia i900 we reviewed back in August, 2008. Of course, there is one major difference, the Verizon version of the Omnia is not GSM but CDMA. The good news is that means 3G in the form of EVDO for fast data, something we missed on the GSM version that lacked US 3G. The Omnia was one of our favorite Windows Mobile touch screen phones of 2008, thanks to good hardware specs and Samsung's TouchWiz user interface, so we're happy to see it on our shores. The smartphone market has evolved quickly this year thanks to the iPhone 3G, and the Omnia now has a good selection of US competitors. So how has it aged since August? Let's see...
On paper and in person, the Omnia is an attractive phone. It's a lovely looking slate with chrome accents, a dominating display and gloss black back. It's got a Marvell XScale 624MHz PXA312 processor, an 8 gig flash drive, 128 megs of RAM and 256 megs of flash storage with approx. 50 megs free. If that 8 gigs of storage isn't enough for you, there's also an SDHC microSD card slot. The 5 megapixel autofocus camera is impressive and a rarity on a US smartphone, and it takes good shots. The 3.2" 240 x 400 display is easy on the eyes and sharp (though not as sharp as HTC's VGA displays) and it has haptic feedback along with an accelerometer that rotates the screen when you turn the device on its side. There's a GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth and DivX support to round out the Omnia's very complete feature set.
For those new to the Omnia, it's an attractive and not terribly large slate design touch screen phone that runs Samsung's TouchWiz UI on top of Windows Mobile 6.1. Read our GSM Omnia review for in-depth coverage of TouchWiz. It features widgets, or little shortcuts on a sidebar that you can use to access common tasks, and you can drag them to the phone's virtual desktop (for example there's a mini media player widget, a calendar, a missed call widget and a simple on/off wireless manager for Bluetooth, WiFi and phone). TouchWiz first appeared on overseas Samsung feature phones like the Tocco, and more recently on the Samsung Eternity on AT&T and the Behold on T-Mobile. It's fun, it's useful but it's not terribly expandable-- you get Samsung's set of widgets and no more. For those who prefer the very informative, though not sexy standard Windows Mobile Today screen with its appointments listings, email status, call status and more, TouchWiz probably won't cut it (yes, you can use the stock Windows Mobile Today screen instead). But for those just crossing over into smartphone and PDA phone territory, TouchWiz and the widgets home screen are appealing.
The TouchWiz Today screen with widgets.
While not as fast and responsive as Samsung's feature phones running TouchWiz (feature phones are almost always faster than smartphones and PDA phones), it's quite usable and makes using the Omnia fun. The TouchWiz today screen, program launcher, menus and on-screen keyboards have been re-worked to make them finger-friendly. The screen requires a firmer touch than the iPhone, and a bit more pressure than HTC's TouchFLO 3D Windows Mobile phones (Touch Pro, Diamond, Fuze). That's one thing we didn't like on the first Omnia, nor do we like it on the Verizon version-- finger pressure requirements make the UI feel less responsive. For you Windows Mobile purists, yes you can disable all these features if you prefer the standard Windows Mobile interface. And if you dig deep into the applications, you'll encounter the same old Windows Mobile interface. Touch Wiz and Samsung's app launcher only gloss the top layers of the user interface.
The Omnia has larger, finger-friendly on-screen QWERTY and SureType style keyboards in addition to the standard Windows Mobile selection of QWERTY keyboard and handwriting recognition. Instead of a traditional d-pad, it has a small optical pad similar to the one on the Samsung Epix and a bit like the one on the Samsung Saga i770. It has two modes: d-pad mode and mouse mode where an arrow cursor moves around on screen as you move your finger across the pad. It works decently for general use, but isn't great for gaming.
Above: the call send and end buttons flank the optical pad.
A second today screen with frequently used apps and yet another launcher that appears when you select "main menu" from the Today screen.
Here's our video review of the Omnia, showing TouchWiz and a variety of other features:
The Omnia has great call quality on both incoming and outgoing ends. Call recipients praised it to high heaven, even when we called from somewhat noisy environments. Reception on the other hand is mediocre, and our phone couldn't get a signal in our office while other Verizon phones managed to hold onto 1 bar. If you're in a good coverage area, there's no need to worry, but if you frequent spotty coverage areas, the Omnia will likely falter.
Since there's no hardware number pad, you'll dial numbers on-screen using the finger-friendly dialer. Like all Windows Mobile PDA phones and smartphones, it has call history, smart dialing, support for call waiting and conference calling. Samsung and Verizon include the very good MS Voice Command application, offering speaker independent voice dialing along with support for a variety of voice commands to get info or launch applications.
There's no stylus silo, and instead the small telescoping stylus
attaches via a short lanyard (we're sure men won't be seen dead with this!).
The Omnia puts up a good show here, and even includes DivX support. There's plenty of on-board storage for videos and the fast CPU handles relatively high quality mobile video well. Music playback quality is good via a wired stereo headset and A2DP stereo Bluetooth headphones. Though the Omnia has the Samsung blade connector and no 3.5mm jack, Samsung does include a dongle adapter so you can plug in 3.5mm stereo headsets and headphones. Samsung's own music player widget makes it easy to control playback from the Today screen and it launches automatically when music is playing.
For Windows Mobile, the Omnia's 5 megapixel camera is ground-breaking (currently, only the overseas HTC Touch HD offers the same resolution). 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 8 gig flash drive are fast. While serious action shots might be out of the question, the camera is fast enough to capture most shots.
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.
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 flash is better than average for a camera phone, though dark club shots will look nothing short of dark.
Video is less impressive at QVGA 30fps, but it does beat most other camera phones on the market.
Sample photos, click one to see a larger version.
For those of you who wish to use your own GPS software such as TomTom, Garmin XT Mobile or CoPilot-- sorry: Verizon has done it again and blocked access to the GPS by 3rd party applications. Even Google Maps is a no-go. You can only use the included VZ Navigator, a $9.99/month mapping and navigation application that provides maps, POIs and spoken directions. It's a very good program, but we lament that 3rd party applications have been blocked from accessing the GPS on a smartphone.
The Omnia managed to get a fix indoors near a window and had no problems outdoors. The GPS and VZ Navigator kept up with us when driving 60mph and spoken directions were timed appropriately. The smartphone's speaker is loud and clear enough to be heard in the average sedan, and there's little distortion at higher volume settings.
Smartphones aren't exactly Energizer bunnies, and matters only get worse with today's many wireless radios, large screens and fast CPUs. That said, the Omnia is average among 3G and EVDO touch screen phones in terms of battery life. It lasts the day with average use, though if push email is on all day, then the phone begs for the charger by 8pm rather than 11pm. WiFi and GPS use will shorten battery life, while Bluetooth has little impact. The Omnia outlasts the Touch Pro on Verizon, though battery capacities are similar.
The 1440 mAh Lithium Ion user replaceable battery lives under the back cover, and the compact charger connects via the Samsung blade connector. This port handles both syncing and charging, as is common among smartphones.
The Omnia has aged well in the 5 months it took the phone to make it to US shores, and it's still a cutting-edge and fun PDA phone. And since it's Windows Mobile, it handles business tasks well, including Exchange sync, MS Direct Push email and working with MS Office documents. Given the lack of a QWERTY keyboard, the Omnia is obviously targeting smartphone users who care more about a good touch screen experience than writing scads of emails, Word documents or text messages. And it largely succeeds, though it doesn't rock our world the way capacitive (iPhone, T-Mobile G1) screens do, and we'd like to not have to press so hard on the screen.
Pro: Attractive, slim and well-made. TouchWiz is fun and eases the transition from feature phone to Windows Mobile. Fast CPU and a full complement of wireless radios: WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and a fast EVDO Rev. A connection. Large display makes finger navigation pleasant and it's easy on the eyes too. Great camera with strong image quality and fairly fast focus times. Lots of Samsung custom software that offers a friendlier face than the original Windows Mobile counterparts.
Con: Weak reception, GPS is locked down so you can only use VZ Navigator. New users may be confused by Samsung's custom applications and their Windows Mobile counterparts (2 user interfaces to do basically the same thing).
Price: $199 with 2 year contract after $70 mail-in rebate.
TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 3.2". Resolution:
240 x 400, supports both portrait and landscape modes.
Battery:1440 mAh Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Claimed talk time: 5.5 hours, standby: 300 hours.
Performance:624 MHz Marvell PXA312 processor. 128 MB built-in RAM. 256 MB Flash ROM and 8 gig internal flash memory storage.
Size:44.41" x 2.24" x .52". Weight: 4.34 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital with EVDO Rev A and fallback to 1xRTT.
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. Has FM radio.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR with hands free, headset, serial port, A2DP profiles.
Mobile 6.1 Professional with Samsung's TouchWiz UI.
Opera 9.5, MS Voice Command, 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, Task Manager, VZ Navigator, VZ App Zone and Visual Voicemail. Samsung applications: Touch Player, FM radio, Media Album, Photo Slides, Smart Converter unit converter, world clock, ShoZu, RSS reader, Streaming Player, Video Editor, business card reader, DivX codecs, vibration and accelerometer settings. ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook trial version for PCs included.