Review: Samsung Omnia

This feels like the start of something big. The Samsung Omnia (also known as the SCH-i910), is a slick touchscreen phone that fits in a pocket, just right for those who want the easy interface of the Apple iPhone, the T-Mobile G1, or the BlackBerry Storm, but also want a smaller shape.

It's hugely appealing, with its 5 megapixel camera and accelerometer, but not quite perfect. The software lacks the downloadable applications that made the iPhone take off, and there are plenty of tone-deaf usability mistakes, as well. A little refining would make the inside as beautiful as the outside.

The Omnia has an elegant, rounded shape that feels great in the hand. It measures 4.4 x 2.24 x 0.52-inches and weighs 4.34 ounces. While larger than many candy bar-style phones, it's still pocketable. It offers fast EV-DO Rev. A support, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth 2.0 (including the stereo headset profile), and 8GB of available memory.

We admire the simple beauty of the Omnia, which bests the iPhone in the looks department. The front offers a 3.2-inch screen and only two button below that (call start and stop) with a small track pad button between them. That's it for the front. The left side includes a charging/headset port (we hate that Verizon phones rarely have standard headset jacks) and the right side holds a camera button, volume controls, and a thumb-positioned button for quickly calling up a large-icon menu.

The top holds the power button and the rear holds the lens for the 5 megapixel camera, including the flash. That's an attractively simple design. There's no stylus built-in, but the one comes in the box, packaged in its own case like a tiny tube of lipstick. You can attach it to a loop in the upper left corner to keep it handy, but you probably won't.

The Omnia runs on Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, but it has Samsung's TouchWiz interface layered over it, so it doesn't feel as much like a Windows phone. The interface offers a slim menu of widgets along the left side of the home screen, and for a few seconds you're liable to think that Samsung has created an attractive and simple way to view applications.

Unfortunately, you can't launch widgets directly from this menu. Instead, you have to choose a few to drag onto your desktop, where they'll take permanent residence. You can't choose more than three or it gets too crowded. It feels like an opportunity missed.

Tapping the lower-right on-screen button calls up a finger-friendly application menu, so that you avoid using the Windows pulldown menu. It's a simple way to get around, and Samsung has added items like visual voicemail, it's own media player, and the Opera browser. Too bad that all the browser's saved bookmarks have to do with Microsoft, Samsung, or Verizon. Would a Google bookmark have been that difficult?

While the phone has GPS capabilities, you'll have to download VZ Navigator ($2.99 per day, $9.99 per month) to get turn-by-turn directions. Try to start it up, though, and you'll get an eight-step series of directions for turning on location awareness in the settings. Why not offer a one-click solution?

It's missteps like that that make us wonder why Apple is the only company that worries about usability. While you're changing settings, be sure to disable the auto-complete feature that tries to guess what word you're typing, even if it means changing many letters you've already typed.

It's a great package, but the Omnia's software isn't quite there, yet. When can we hope for an update?


Microsoft, Samsung, Verizon, Windows Mobile, Samsung Omina