The Samsung i8910 HD -- the phone formerly known as the Omnia HD -- shows Nokia how it should be done when it comes to creating a usable and attractive touchscreen phone with the Symbian S60 operating system. Multitasking sometimes results in slight sluggishness, but this phone's upsides far outweigh that disadvantage
If we were Nokia, we'd be rather annoyed with Samsung, because, with the i8910 HD, it's achieved what Nokia hasn't yet: a desirable touchscreen phone with the Symbian operating system. The power of Symbian gives the i8910 its brains, but its spectacular AMOLED screen and touchable user interface makes it worth having in your pocket.
But all this loveliness doesn't come cheap. You can pick up the i8910 -- formerly the Samsung Omnia HD -- from free on a £30-per-month, two-year contract with Orange.
HD and seek
The i8910 is billed as the first phone with high-definition-quality video recording, but that may be overstating the case somewhat. High definition means more than just good resolution, and, at 24 frames per second, the i8910 doesn't deliver the frame rate or lack of noise that you'd get from an HD camcorder. In fact, it's nowhere near, but that doesn't mean that its 720p quality doesn't blow every other mobile phone out of the water. Although the i8910's video is jerky and noisy compared to a Blu-ray movie, it would be fantastic for uploading your high-quality shenanigans to YouTube.
As for the screen, it too doesn't quite live up to its HD promise -- it's only got a 640x360-pixel resolution, or half the number of lines normally considered necessary for HD. But that doesn't keep it from being truly spectacular among its phone peers.
Symbian gets touchy
At first glance, the i8910 looks like it's rocking the same user interface as the Tocco Ultra, which we liked a great deal. It has a larger version of the spectacular AMOLED screen, and the same homescreen with customisable widgets that can show things like photos of your contacts or a mini media player. But pop the hood and there's a major difference -- the i8910 sports the Symbian operating system inside, and that means this is a fully fledged smart phone.
Samsung hasn't joined the gold rush by opening its own app store yet, but you can download new apps from Orange. But, without something like Nokia's new Ovi Store, Symbian is slightly tricky when it comes to installing things, with confusing messages popping up all over the place.
Our i8910 had good applications included, however, so you may not bother downloading anything. For example, there's a search app that searches for anything on the phone, such as contacts, messages and music files. There's also Quickoffice, for editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.
The i8910 supports background processes, so you can keep the Web browser window open while you go off and write a text message, for example. But all this multitasking can lead to a very sluggish phone, if you tend to bounce around without closing things down.
We had to spend an annoying few minutes tidying things up, or restarting, when things started to go wrong. We found it easy to see what applications were running from the options menu, but didn't like how things such as the homescreen, which is always running, are shown on the list. If we can't turn it off, we just don't see the point of cluttering things up.
And that's just one example of the ways in which the i8910 still falls short of the usability bar set by the iPhone. There's very restricted multitasking on the iPhone, and it's missing key features like copy and paste, but the i8910's flexibility and power comes at a price. The user interface is more complicated and less intuitive, and performance slowed down when we pushed the phone to its limits.
Tapping and typing
The i8910's glossy black plastic body, trimmed with a chrome edge, and touchscreen goodness can't help but prompt comparisons with the iPhone. But its real peer is Nokia's touchscreen phones, such as the N97, which runs the same powerful Symbian smart-phone operating system.
In that battle, the i8910 comes out as the clear winner. It's biggest strengths are its capacitive touchscreen, which is much more responsive and pleasant to use than the N97's resistive touchscreen, and the graphic design which makes Symbian a desirable, touchable system instead of a bland workhorse left over from a keyboard past, as is the case with the N97.
One area where Samsung's effort does suffer is with the widgets on the homescreen. Like the N97, the i8910 has a customisable homescreen, on which you can drag and drop widgets for things like contacts. But the N97's widgets show live updates from services like Facebook, or live news feeds. The i8910's widgets are more basic and won't give you live updates.
The i8910 offers three on-screen text-input choices: an alphanumeric keyboard in portrait or landscape screen orientation, a Qwerty keyboard in landscape only, or handwriting recognition. We found the keys larger than average for a touchscreen phone and easy to use at top speed, with no delay. The predictive text worked well in the alphanumeric keyboard mode, but there's no predictive text when using the Qwerty keyboard. We really missed this feature, which makes fast, error-free typing significantly easier on a soft keyboard.
The back of the i8910 sports the large lens of an 8-megapixel camera, with an LED photo light. We were impressed by the photo quality, even without the LED light in low light conditions. But the LED light proved way too harsh in some shots, wiping out detail. Shutter lag is moderate, with about a second and a half between pressing the button and taking a photo. But looking at photos could sometimes be a slow process, as the photo viewer took a second or two to load the 8-megapixel image.
There's plenty of room for the big images and videos thanks to the 8GB or 16GB of internal memory, and there's room for up to 32GB more in the microSD memory card slot. You can also pack that space full of music. The i8910 supports heaps of formats, including MP3, AAC and WMA. You can listen to music on your own headphones too, thanks to the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. If it's all too much effort, there's also a good old-fashioned FM radio to keep you entertained.
Connect the dots
Getting more tunes, videos or applications onto the phone is made easy by the fact that Samsung has adopted the Symbian PC Suite software, familiar from a generation of Nokia phones, wholesale. It's too bad that taking up Symbian means Samsung had to ditch its PC Studio software, which was innovative and well-designed. PC Suite tends to do a solid job of transferring data, but it's PC only, so Mac users are left out in the cold.
You won't necessarily need a USB cable to get connected, thanks to built-in Wi-Fi, 5.76Mbps HSUPA and 7.2Mbps HSDPA. There's also GPS to keep you on track, but you'll have to install Google Maps yourself -- it wasn't included on our handset.
With so much going on, we were impressed with the i8910's battery life. It kept on trucking through a whole day of testing without breaking a sweat.
The Samsung i8910 HD shows Nokia how to make a fun, usable, attractive touchscreen phone sporting the Symbian S60 operating system. Without the Ovi Store, it won't be as easy to get apps onto this phone as it is with the N97, but that downside is far outweighed by the i8910's gorgeous 94mm (3.7-inch) AMOLED screen and responsive capacitive touchscreen. The i8910's support for multitasking occasionally makes it sluggish, but that's a trade-off you may be willing to make in exchange for the ability to keep so many balls in the air.
That great screen, huge memory of up to 48GB, 3.5mm headphone jack and support for a wide range of file formats make the i8910 an excellent entertainment phone. And, with unmatched video recording and speedy upload speeds, you can keep everyone else entertained with your own movies too.
Edited by Nick Hide and Charles Kloet