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Monday, November 24, 2008

Wow! Samsung i900 Omnia!

COMBINING work and fun in one small convenient package is certainly no easy task for any smartphone. Fortunately, Samsung’s new i900 smartphone, better known as the Omnia, looks to deliver everything you need and wish for in a mobile phone.

It is a unique blending of a phone with smartphone capabilities sporting enhanced features such as a 5-megapixel camera, a large touchscreen display and built-in GPS support.

However, does the Omnia (which means “everything” in Latin and “wish” in Arabic) have what it takes to match up to the masses of smartphones in the market? Read on to find out.


A quick glance at the Omnia and you might accidentally mistake it for an Apple iPhone. On the outside, the Omnia’s slim design and curved corners make it look downright attractive. In terms of practicality, the phone is lightweight and small enough to fit in a pocket.

Looks aside, the phone maintains a minimalistic design with only a Call and Hang Up button on the front. Interestingly, the Omnia doesn’t feature a directional pad — instead it makes use of an “optical” mouse, which is really a small pad that you scroll with your finger to use a cursor to navigate through the phone’s interface.

The front of the phone is dominated by a 3.2in LCD screen, which is a great display showing sharp images with good contrast that is fantastic for reading text. The 240 x 400-pixel resolution display is also great when using applications or surfing the Web.

The phone has a neat built-in accelerometer that detects the orientation of the phone so you can view your pictures and videos either in portrait or landscape mode. However the transition between the different viewing modes isn’t smooth as there’s a pause of one or two seconds in between.

Phone functionality

Call quality on the phone was great. I found the phone’s volume to be soft on default, but that was easily corrected with a simple adjustment of the phone’s volume. Surprisingly once the phone was on maximum volume, calls came in really clear.

Aside from using the standard Windows Mobile tiny keyboard and block recognition method of input, the Omnia has a touch interface that makes use of a larger keypad that you can type on with your fingers. This is assisted by haptics technology that provides force feedback when pressing virtual buttons.

Still, despite the inclusion of above features, I found typing on the keypad not as intuitive as the iPod touch’s virtual keypad. Though I was slowly able to get the hang of typing on it, I still found the letters too small and placed too closely together.

The included dictionary assisted me in writing my messages, guessing the words I was typing. However, it just wasn’t as good at predicting and correcting words as the iPod touch. Without the dictionary turned on, it was near impossible to get a text message across without constantly making spelling mistakes.

Needless to say users with large fingers will find the interface very difficult to use. I have to say that your best bet is still to use the included stylus for text messaging.

I was quite surprised to find that the Omnia had an exceptionally long battery life for a smartphone. It was capable of lasting close to two full days of regular use before needing to be recharged. In comparison, most smartphones typically drain out after a full day of use.

Smartphone functions

More than just a phone, the Omnia is a full-featured smartphone that runs on Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. Looks are everything for this phone so it comes to no surprise that the Omnia sports a refurbished interface that runs on top of Windows Mobile. The first and most obvious difference is that it does not feature a regular Today screen. Instead the Omnia uses the intuitive TouchWiz UI, a customisable user interface.

The interface is pretty, giving you a sort of virtual deskspace on the phone where you can drag and drop different widgets on to the main screen. These widgets range from simple tools like clocks, calendars, notepad to shortcut to games and the multimedia player. For example, you can have a digital clock displaying the time and a notifier for messages and e-mail.

There’s also a few clever widgets that take advantage of the Windows Mobile environment, like the calendar function that takes you into the Windows Mobile Task manager function.

Another notable change in the interface is how the Omnia presents a colourful main menu interface that gives you access to a number of dedicated phone functions as well as various other programs.

There are a couple of useful business applications on board, including mobile versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

If you need to be constantly in contact with the office when you are out of town, take comfort in knowing that that the Omnia supports push e-mail.

like any other Windows Mobile device, the Omnia gives you the flexibility of installing your own Windows Mobile-compatible applications if you don’t fancy the pre-installed ones.

Surfing on the go

We tried browsing the Net on a 3G and WiFi connection with the Omnia and were impressed at the surfing speeds we got. Pages loaded up quickly on the Omnia’s Opera Mobile browser, though you can also opt for the classic Internet Explorer browser.

Opera Mobile proved to be the better browser of the two as it provided multi tab browsing, page zooming and was “smarter” when it came to reformatting text for the small screen.

Depending on the page you visit, you may get a mobile version of the webpage. For example I visited my Facebook profile and Google on the Omnia and was subsequently directed to the simplified mobile version of the website.

Next up, I pointed my browser at a few regular sites I visit — Kotaku being one of the few videogame sites I frequent. The page took a while to load since it had a lot of images. Problems started to show when blog entries with embedded Flash video links were loaded as the browser froze, making the text warp in weird ways.

Fortunately, the problem resolved on its own after a few seconds, but it disrupted an otherwise smooth browsing experience.

Still lost

Another notable application is Google Maps which works in combination with a working 3G connection or WiFi connection to load map data and a built-in GPS feature that pin-points your exact location.

While the Omnia is supposed to be able to help you find your way around town, don’t throw away your dedicated GPS navigation device just yet. Google Maps’ GPS feature had very limited use as we couldn’t plot any driving routes at all. The feature simply doesn’t work, even when we tried plotting a path on a straight road.

However, we were at the very least able to find our way around by checking our location via GPS and referring to the detailed map provided by the application. Definitely more inconvenient than the regular GPS, but functionable.

Multimedia powerhouse

The Omnia is no slouch when it comes to multimedia features. It has a powerful 5-megapixel camera that’s capable of taking some relatively great looking pictures.

It’s almost as full featured as a compact camera with an image stabilisation feature along with other cool features like geo-tagging which adds location data to pictures.

Aside from taking pictures, the Omnia is capable playing back both music and videos stored on the phone’s internal memory or external microSDHC memory cards. It supports a variety of different video files including DivX, XviD, H.263, WMV and MPEG4.

We had no problems playing a couple of videos on the Omnia. Most came out pretty clear and sharp though the speaker wasn’t as loud as we hoped for, though you can put on some earphones for better sound quality.


The Samsung Omnia is really an all-in-one device that tries hard to cover all grounds. As a mobile phone, the Omnia nails it when it comes to providing exceptional call quality though it can be frustrating to text message with the phone’s cramped keypad. An outstanding battery life makes the Omnia perfect for long trips out though.

As a full-featured smartphone, the Omnia is great for its variety of programs and applications that can be used for both work and play. Web surfing on the Omnia is decent though the browser fumbles a little when Flash videos pop up on the page.

Additionally, it’s got a great 5-megapixel camera that’s almost on par with a regular compact camera. The ability to playback different video formats is great if you need to catch a movie while on the go.

One disappointment is its lack of GPS navigation out of the box. Possibly, you can install other navigation programs such as Mapking since Google Maps lacks the proper navigation capabilities.

Also, I found navigating with the Omnia using my finger very frustrating at times. Clearly, the phone is best suited for use with a stylus.

Those drawbacks aside, the Samsung Omnia is a decent phone that delivers great multimedia support and business functions.

Pros: Attractive user interface; great 5-megapixel camera; plays multiple video file formats.
Cons: Browser freezes up at times; GPS navigation does not work out of the box; touchscreen interface is frustrating without the stylus.

i900 OMNIA
HSDPA Windows Mobile phone
Camera: 5-megapixels autofocus
Operating system: Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional
Display: 3.2in VGA (240 x 400pixels) touch-sensitive TFT LCD
Messaging: MMS, SMS, e-mail, MSN Messenger Mobile
Connectivity: Bluetooth, HSDPA, EDGE, GSM 850/1800/1900, WiFi 802.11b/g, USB 2.0
Phone memory: 256MB ROM, 128MB RAM, 8GB internal memory
Expansion slot: microSDHC (up to 16GB)
Battery type: 1,440mAh lithium-ion
Standby/talk time: 500 hours/5 hours 50 minutes
Other features: TouchWiz UI, FM radio, Video playback (supports DivX, XviD, H.263, WMV and MP4 files), Microsoft Office Mobile, Java applications, Opera Mobile web browser, built-in GPS, Push e-mail
Weight: 122g
Dimensions (w x d x h): 112mm x 56.9mm x 12.5mm
Price: RM2,799 (8GB), RM2,999 (16GB)

Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia, 1-800-88-9999.

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