Samsung Omnia (SCH-i910) Review

Samsung Omnia (SCH-i910)

“The Samsung Omnia would have been considered a fine, and perhaps even innovative phone circa 2006...”
  • Hi-res screen; lightweight; many multimedia options
  • Clunky touchscreen; awkward keyboard; slow downloading when not using Wi-Fi

Summary

Like the Blackberry Storm, the Samsung Omnia is part of the first wave of post-iPhone smartphones aimed directly for the Apple market. From its lack of a keyboard to its multimedia capabilities, Samsung is going for convenience, portability and multi-functionality. It is a valiant attempt, but lots of unusual design choices make the Omnia more awkward than progressive.

Features and Design

The Samsung Omnia is four and a half inches by just over two inches, and about a half inch thick. In other words, it carries the same dimension as the older iPhone. It feels lightweight, however, perhaps because of the smooth, plastic backing and the equally smooth Plexiglas-style front. It isn’t a featherweight – you won’t forget it in the laundry – but it is a lot lighter than it or other comparable smartphones look. And, equally surprising, the phone seems to have a solid grip despite no visible grooves. It won’t slip out of butterfingers.

It is a candy bar phone, so the back is a solid black shell, the front a silver and charcoal frame around a 3.2 inch touchscreen. There are only three buttons on the front. The first two, shaped like a filled box and an empty box, are menu open and menu close buttons, the equivalent of what would be usually a green and a red button on a traditional phone. (It’s not clear why Samsung, other than for style reasons, would change this standard.) The final button – in the bottom middle of the front – isn’t so much a button as it is a very small touchpad. Run your finger over it and it will scroll the current item or menu in the desired direction. The phone will vibrate slightly when you do, like the phone rang briefly, with a low-pitch, accompanying “thud” sound. The pad itself was smaller than my pinky.

Atop the phone are the reset and power buttons. On the right side are the quick keys for the main menu, the volume control and the camera/camcorder switch. On the left side is an all-purpose port for power and data transfer cords. Finally, there is a small camera lens on the back tucked behind a plastic cover.

The Samsung Omnia is a GSM/GPRS/EDGE phone, tri-band 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz, and is available in America through Verizon. The Internet browsing was rather creaky through traditional cell towers, but the Omnia can also use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Price

Also known as the i910, the Samsung Omnia runs $319.99 MSRP, which is a pretty penny considering that comparable smartphones are available for cheaper and better smartphones are available for just a little bit more. At launch Verizon offered a $70 mail-in rebate, making it a more reasonable $249.99. And, of course, you’ll want to add in additional money for a microSD card to save additional multimedia. More information is available at http://www.verizonwireless.com.

Setup and Use

There are lots of material and attachments inside of the Samsung Omnia package. Inside you’ll find a USB cord, headphone adapter, and FM radio antenna, along with a physical instruction booklet, CD instructions, an additional CD with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional and, finally, a VZAccess Manager CD with Verizon’s proprietary multimedia software and Internet program.

As mentioned earlier, using the Samsung Omnia is a little awkward. Once booted, you’re treated to a blank screen with a tab to the left. “Pull” on the tab and a row of icons appears. You may be able to intuit most of the icons – the little joystick for games, the FM dial for radio – and, furthermore, that you can push and pull yourself along the long column of icons.

Here is the strange part: To use an icon, you first must drag it off the column and onto the main screen (Double-tapping on an icon doesn’t automatically make it appear on the main screen and, when you do move it, the icon will sit at whatever awkward position you end up dropping it off instead of locking into a logical place.) Secondly, you have to figure out how to “use” the icon. The radio looks like a traditional multimedia face, with stop, play and other indicators. The world wide web? It is simply an icon that looks like a globe. You have to double tap that one.

The problems are compounded by the picky touch screen. The phone does a light rumble every time you touch the screen which, even though it gets old quick, at least you know you’re being heard. The phone’s collision detection seems a little off, though. It may take a couple drags for it to recognize that you want to pull an icon out. The biggest frustration by far was getting a simple double tap to be recognized. Any touchscreen recognition difficulties are unacceptable in this day and age. Ditto for the Omnia’s vertical to horizontal “flip,” which goes through an animation that makes the orientation change twice, if not three times as long as other phones. (We suspect the animation is meant to mask a longer loading time.)

Samsung Omnia
Image Courtesy of Samsung

Testing Cont’d

The Samsung Omnia uses Windows Media 6.1, so Microsoft Outlook and other products are built in. They are on par with similar devices. Microsoft ActiveSync – a quick installation – will match your calendar, email and so on.

Less smooth is the “keyboard,” which actually uses an archaic multikey format. For example, going on the Internet to visit Yahoo! required tapping the virtual “w” key, then tapping on a series of likely letter combinations to find “ww,” again to find “www.,” and then starting the process over again to spell yahoo and the final com. It doesn’t help that the web seems to creep along – even on uber-popular sites like Yahoo! – unless you are in Wi-Fi range.

The multimedia visuals and speakers look and sound great – no weak screen and speakers here. Less impressive is the synchronization. To play your multimedia, you must find the search for files option under the menu and wait for the phone to find your goodies. It is a small detail, but the additional step makes absolutely no sense. Why not make it automatic, since there is no logical reason why someone would download multimedia from their computer onto the phone unless it was going to be used?

The 5.0-megapixel camera is as lush as it sounds. Though packed with icons, the camera setup is smooth and intuitive – you can go as deep as you like. Held horizontally, the options line either side of the screen while the middle gives a view of the action. Tap the touchpad and it takes a quick flick which can be trashed, emailed as an attachment or just saved. The only thing missing is a flash, but in most cases it seemed unnecessary.

Samsung Omnia
Image Courtesy of Samsung

Conclusion

The Samsung Omnia would have been considered a fine, and perhaps even innovative phone circa 2006, but now even non-techie users expect more than a lackluster touchscreen or a non-intuitive menu setup. It would be different if the Omnia were significantly cheaper, but it’s not – and smartphone buyers have way better options for the same price or less.

Pros:

• Hi-res screen
• Lightweight smartphone
• Much multimedia

Cons:

• Clunky touchscreen
• Awkward keyboard
• Slow Internet if not using Wi-Fi

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