Along with the RIM BlackBerry Bold and Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, the Samsung Omnia is one of the most requested and sought after smartphones of 2008. Why all the buzz? It's not so much the Omnia's touch screen that's drawing attention (after all, we've seen it in the Samsung Instinct), but rather Samsung's TouchWiz interface. It brings drag-and-drop widgets for the Today screen (a la LG Dare) and provides an extra level of device customization. Truthfully, it's not as slick as the Apple iPhone, but it does wonders to make the notoriously unintuitive Windows Mobile easier to use. Plus, the smartphone is loaded with productivity and multimedia features that truly make it an all-in-one device that will satisfy both consumers and mobile professionals.
There's still no official confirmation that the Omnia will be offered by a U.S. carrier, though we think the chances are good it will land on U.S. shores. In the meantime, Samsung was kind enough to loan us an unlocked version of the model that is available in Europe, so we could give you a preview of the smartphone. Keep in mind, we reviewed the European model, so it has some functionality that might not be available in our version (e.g., 3G support, video conferencing). Still, we think there's a lot of potential in the Samsung Omnia. If you simply can't wait, you can purchase an unlocked Omnia, but you'll dish out a steep $600 to $700 for the privilege.
The Samsung Omnia is an eye-catching smartphone but in an understated way. It's simultaneously simple and elegant, with an attractive black-and-slate silver chassis and slim candy bar design that measures 4.4 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide by 0.4 inch deep and weighs 4.4 ounces. While light and compact, it has a nice solid construction and feels comfortable to hold and use as a phone.
The handset isn't adorned with many external controls, rather, like its sibling, the Samsung Instinct, and the Apple iPhone, the Omnia is all about the touch screen. The Omnia features a 3.2-inch diagonal TFT screen with a 262,000 color output and 240x400 pixel resolution. The display isn't as large as the Instinct's (4.25 inches) or the iPhone's (3.5 inches), nor is it as sharp as Apple's starlet. Sure, we could have used more colors and more screen real estate, especially for viewing Web pages and video, but it was sufficient for most tasks, and it was easy to read and vibrant.
As for text entry, there are several methods you can use in both portrait and landscape mode, including a full QWERTY keyboard, Block Recognizer, and Transcriber. The full QWERTY in portrait mode is pretty cramped, so we had a number of mistakes when composing text messages and e-mails. Also, like the HTC Touch Diamond, when opened, the keyboard takes up half of the screen, so if you need to enter text in any fields below the top half, you have to scroll down to access that portion of the page, which is annoying.
The touch screen is mostly responsive and offers haptic tactile feedback that lets you know that your touch has registered with vibrations. You can adjust the intensity of the feedback as well as choose from various vibration rhythms under the VibeTonz folder in the Settings menu. In addition, the Omnia's display has a built-in accelerometer so the screen will rotate from portrait to landscape mode when you turn the phone. Again, there are options for you to adjust the sensitivity of the motion sensor under Settings. Here, you'll also find something called Etiquette mode, which will silence any tones when the Omnia is placed display-side down.
What makes the Omnia unique, however, is Samsung's TouchWiz user interface. TouchWiz allows for an extra level of personalization on your Home screen. There is a tray located on the left side with various applications, such as the clock, music player, photo gallery, games, and notepad. You can then drag and drop these "widgets" to the main screen so they're easily accessible to you every time you fire up your phone. Once you've customized the phone to your liking, you can collapse and hide the tray by tapping the arrow button. Beyond the Home screen, there's also the Main Menu page that organizes the major applications in a nice user-friendly view--very non-Windows Mobile.
All that said, we had a couple complaints about the touch screen and TouchWiz user interface. First, the Omnia didn't register our touch when we tried to use the scroll bar (to the right of the screen) when trying to navigate longer pages, so we had to use the directional pad or virtual mouse. Also, you can't add applications to the TouchWiz interface. You're limited to the preloaded widgets, which is a big downfall, in our opinion. As of right now, you get widgets for photos, the media player, FM radio, calendar, profiles, games, several clocks, new notifications, and the notepad. It's a decent list, but at the very least, we'd like the addition of a Web widget. If you find you're not a fan of TouchWiz or a you're a traditionalist, you can switch back to the standard Windows Today screen back or choose the "Samsung Theme 2," which presents a more simplified home screen, similar to that of the one on the HTC Touch Diamond.
While the Omnia is all about touch, you do get a couple of tactile buttons. Below the display, there are Talk and End keys, and a four-way directional pad. The latter can be turned into a virtual mouse; just go to Settings > System > Finger Mouse and enable the functionality. We appreciate the inclusion of this feature but didn't use it that often and stuck with the directional keypad.
On the right side, you will find a shortcut to the main menu page, a volume rocker, and a camera activation key, while the left side holds the headphone/power connector port. Unfortunately, Samsung uses a proprietary port for the latter, so be sure to keep track of the included cables and accessories. Also, there's no built-in stylus. One is provided in the box, but you have to attach it with the included lanyard, so it dangles off the left side; we definitely would have preferred it built into the device. Finally, the camera lens and flash are located on the back, and there's a microSD slot, but you have to remove the back cover and battery to properly insert the card, which is a bit of a pain.