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Samsung Omnia review: Samsung Omnia

Samsung Omnia

Bonnie Cha
Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
9 min read


Samsung Omnia

The Good

The Samsung Omnia features a nice touch screen and customizable interface that makes the Windows Mobile smartphone easier to use. It also has a 5-megapixel camera and a boatload of other multimedia features.

The Bad

You can't add additional widgets to the TouchWiz interface, and there are some nagging design quirks. The unlocked version does not offer U.S. 3G support, and it's expensive.

The Bottom Line

While there are some design quirks, and we're still waiting for a U.S. release, the Samsung Omnia promises to be a solid alternative to the Apple iPhone.

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.

Like the HTC Touch Diamond (right), the Samsung Omnia features a unique touch-screen user interface.

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.

The four-way directional pad can also be used as a virtual mouse.

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.

The Samsung Omnia comes packaged with two power adapters, a USB cable, a wired headset with extra eartips, a 3.5mm headphone audio adapter, a stylus, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phones accessories, ringtones, and help page.

Though it doesn't look like a traditional Windows Mobile device, the Samsung Omnia does run Windows Mobile 6.1 with all the usual trimmings, including the Microsoft Office Mobile Suite and support for Microsoft's Direct Push Technology for real-time message delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. The Omnia can also be configured to access your POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts; we simply entered our Yahoo Mail login ID and password and were able to receive and send messages within a couple of minutes. There are plenty of other PIM tools to keep you on task and organized, including a task list, a task manager and switcher, a smart converter, a calculator, and a PDF reader, among other things.

For Web browsing, you could use Internet Explorer Mobile but the Samsung Omnia also ships with the Opera Mobile Web browser, which many find to be a superior browser. There's also Windows Live integration and a Google Launcher that gives you quick access to search, Gmail, and Google Maps. Unfortunately, there's no Flash support. As far as connecting to the Web, you can use the smartphone's integrated Wi-Fi or T-Mobile or AT&T's EDGE network. The Omnia is HSDPA capable, but as we noted earlier, we reviewed the European model, thus it only supported Europe's 2100 WCDMA bands. When and if the Omnia arrives stateside, we suspect (we certainly hope) it will support our 3G bands.

Phone features include quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, conference calling, text and multimedia messaging. The phone book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts), and there's room in each entry for multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, instant-messaging handles, and birthdays. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a picture, one of 20 polyphonic ringtones, or a group ID. Bluetooth 2.0 is also onboard for use with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, object exchange, and dial-up networking. And no need for a Bluetooth GPS receiver, since the Samsung Omnia has assisted GPS.

Multimedia plays a big role on the Omnia. As an alternative to the standard Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, Samsung includes something called the Touch Player, which features a nicer user interface and a functionality similar, but not as streamlined, as the iPhone's Coverflow. Supported music and video formats include MP3, WMA, AAC, eAAC+, MP4, 3GPP, H.264, and DivX/Xvid. Other goodies include podcast support, a streaming media player, and an FM radio, though you have to use the included headset for the latter. As for memory, the Samsung Omnia comes in two flavors: 16GB or 8GB. Either way, you should have plenty of storage; plus, you have the microSD/SDHC expansion slot, which accepts up to 16GB cards.

The Samsung Omnia features a 5-megapixel camera with advanced settings and editing options.

The Omnia comes equipped with a 5-megapixel camera with a slew of advanced features. In addition to video recording and digital zoom, you get a flash, auto focus, and face detection. For still images, there are three quality settings and six size options. You have a grand total of 15 shooting modes, ranging from sports to sunset to fireworks as well as white balance adjustment, various effects, ISO settings, and much more. You can even geotag your photos with the embedded GPS radio. In video mode, you don't get as many tools, but you still get three size and three quality choices.

We were impressed with the clarity of photos, though we would have liked just a bit more richness in colors.

Picture quality was impressive. We were amazed at how clear and defined objects looked in photos, and the camera response time was also good. The only thing we thing we would have liked is a bit more richness in color. Video quality was better than most camera phones we've tested. Once done, you can, of course, send your photos via e-mail or multimedia message. The Omnia also has a Digital Frame application that displays the time and date, while rotating through your photo gallery in the background. Finally, you get TV-out capabilities and a video editing application is included on the device in case you want to make a quick movie on the spot.

Performance We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) Samsung Omnia in San Francisco using T-Mobile service and call quality was OK. In general, audio was good but there were several occasions where there was some crackling in the background, and it got to be a little distracting. We didn't experience any dropped calls, though, and we had no problem using an airline's voice automated response system. Our friends also reported fairly good results with just one complaint of slight distortion. The speakerphone was pretty clear, but the audio can sound blown out when you jack the volume to hear the calls in louder environments. We were able to pair the Omnia with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

We were generally pleased with the performance on the Samsung Omnia. It was responsive most of the time but suffered a bit of that notorious Windows Mobile sluggishness when too many things were going on at once. Browsing the Net on EDGE speeds wasn't ideal, obviously, but the smartphone had no problem finding and connecting to our Wi-Fi network so we could enjoy faster Web surfing. Music playback through the phone's speakers lacked bass and like speakerphone calls, the audio sounded blown out when we had the volume set to high. Again, we wish that Samsung included a 3.5mm jack so we could enjoy songs through a nice pair of headphones. Video performance was acceptable. We watched a couple of WMV clips, and sound and picture were always synchronized, but we'd still limit it to short clips.

The Samsung Omnia comes with a 1,440mAh lithium ion battery, which has a rated battery talk time of 10 hours and up to 18 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, the Omnia provided an astonishing 15 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge, which is one the longest results we've seen in a while.


Samsung Omnia

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7
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