Samsung Omnia i900 mobile phone

Is this latest touch-screen smartphone a real iPhone killer?

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Samsung Omnia i900
  • Samsung Omnia i900
  • Samsung Omnia i900
  • Samsung Omnia i900

Pros

  • Attractive, reflective surface, design, finger mouse, TouchWIZ interface, feature-packed, DLNA support

Cons

  • Easily scratched and marked, stylus can’t be stored in the handset, speed could be improved, proprietary headphone/charging jack

Bottom Line

The Omnia is Samsung’s attempt at pushing Windows Mobile as far into the background as possible, but it’s certainly not perfect. With more tweaking to the TouchWIZ interface and a bit more speed, this could potentially knock the iPhone off its perch. As it stands though, it's an admirable handset without being outstanding.

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Touch-screen handsets are now flying thick and fast in Australia, with the launch of Apple’s iPhone 3G earlier this year forcing many manufacturers' hands. Samsung is the latest to respond, with its Omnia i900: a Windows Mobile smartphone with an excellent user interface and a bevy of features.

The Omnia is certainly a fashion statement. The handset is finished in a metallic, mirror-style surface on the front, and the rear contrasts nicely thanks to matte black plastic. However, the surface is prone to scratches and marks; after a few days' use our review unit looked as though it was already a few months old. While the iPhone 3G's edges are easily scratched, the screen certainly isn’t and this is where the Omnia lets itself down.

The Omnia is controlled largely via a finger-operated touch screen, but Samsung has also included a number of other buttons. Answer and end call keys, menu button, volume controls and a camera key are all present. An unusual feature is a finger mouse: this small square acts as a mouse when you drag your finger across it and even brings up a mouse cursor on the screen when it’s activated in the settings. We preferred to have this turned off, though, as sliding your finger across or up/down means it acts as touch-sensitive navigational pad.

Samsung certainly deserves praise for the interface. While this is a Windows Mobile phone, it’s been skinned with a far more user-friendly system, dubbed TouchWIZ. This displays a line of widgets on the left edge of the home screen, and you simply press and drag icons from the panel to the main area to use that particular program or function. Additionally, the main menu consists of a 4x3 grid of labelled, colourful icons; there is also a fully customisable shortcut menu, which allows you to add your most frequently used applications. When configured and tailored to your needs, you shouldn’t need to use the regular Windows Start menu very often — a godsend considering the frustrating nature of the regular Windows Mobile interface.

Despite Samsung’s efforts, there is certainly plenty more work to do. You are often left trying to press ridiculously small icons and buttons that were designed for a stylus. In addition, the widget system can’t be customised and it’s often troublesome to identify which widget relates to each program without making it active. Interestingly, Samsung does include a stylus in the package, but there is no place to store it on the actual handset. Instead it dangles annoyingly on the left side when attached. The general speed of the handset could also be improved; it's reasonable considering this is a Windows Mobile handset, but it's still slower than plenty of other smartphones with similar specifications.

Text messaging is a frustrating affair. While the on-screen keyboard has been given a facelift from the standard Windows Mobile keyboard, the touch screen isn’t as responsive as we’d have liked. We often had to resort to pressing multiple times, as well as pressing much more firmly than is usually required, in order to type efficiently.

Samsung seems to have taken inspiration from Nokia’s N-Series and thrown everything bar the kitchen sink into the Omnia. In addition to providing all the features and benefits of Windows Mobile 6.1, this unit is HSDPA capable, and features a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a built-in GPS receiver, and it comes with 8GB of internal memory as well as a microSD card slot (annoyingly located behind the rear cover). Unfortunately, the 16GB model is yet to hit our shores and Samsung couldn’t comment on its availability.

Frustratingly, the Omnia’s multimedia support is let down by Samsung’s decision to use a proprietary charger/headphone port, rather than a separate 3.5mm jack. Thankfully, an adapter is included in the sales package that allows you to use standard headphones, but the single port means you can’t charge and listen to music simultaneously.

Also present is DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compatibility. A feature that should be standard on all Samsung devices in the near future, devices equipped with this standard can network to other products, such as televisions. Samsung has demonstrated the Omnia connecting to its latest Series 9 television, allowing the handset to stream multimedia to the TV wirelessly. Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and LG are other phone manufacturers that are members of the DLNA alliance.

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