All things to all people?

Recently I got my hands on a Samsung i900, aka the “Omnia” (which is Latin for “all” or “everything”) and I’ll be honest, I had been coveting this device since I first set eyes on it last August.

Looking Good

What’s not to desire? 5MPx camera with flash, Full GPS, replaceable battery (which gives a full day), proper HSDPA, Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP, fantastic high-res screen, yada, yada, yada.

But is it truly the “everything” device?

Well, I do love the camera. The massive 5MPx still camera has great features, like auto-focus, “smile shot,” timers, and a blinding flash. It does allow you to take good photos, with very little shutter lag. More often than not has negated the necessity to bring along a compact camera. You’ll see people with other phones still pulling out their digital camera at the pub, but not with the Omnia.

I Love the “Smile Shot” Aim, focus, and when the subject smiles, the shutter fires. Cute.

Don’t get me wrong, it won’t exactly replace a camera, but will do a decent job of those candid shots.

Whilst on this subject, the video camera is good too. It shoots at a full VGA (640X480), which is better than my previous Samsung i780 (QVGA only). This is fine for quick voxpop style interviews, and posting stuff to the web (see my previous post). Again, it doesn’t replace a camcorder for any serious shooting, but is great in a pinch if you just have to get that “embarrassing cameo.” I can see journo’s doing webcasts or even interview “rushes” with this device. I would say that it’s equal to the best phone cameras in the marketplace today, if not the best.

Interestingly the on-board Video editor only works with 3GP (QVGA) videos and not the MP4 ones the phone will shoot! (You can shoot in 3GP too – but why would you?)

Looking Around

Browsing is catered for natively with Opera, and although I don’t have anything against PocketIE, Opera does a great job. Multiple window tabs are a treat on a phone. Mostly I use this for Twitter, and as those who “Tweet” know, many people link to other content, so being able to render full pages in other tabs is a must on any serious Internet device nowadays.

At First Glance

I removed the native Samsung User Interface for the Today Screen . Personally I found it cluttered, without giving me the information I needed at a glance.

However, PointUI (the same company that has created the new Windows Mobile User Interface for Telstra) has created a great shell for the Omnia. If you’re thinking about getting this phone, or have one, take a look at the PointUI site. Of course you might just like the Samsung shell, but I haven’t found (m)any that do.

Listening In

The phone works as it should. i.e. as a phone. Standard Windows Mobile features, like filtered contacts (just start typing their name to filter the list) are included. Call clarity is good, and of course it just works with Bluetooth headsets and car kits.

As a touch device, there were a couple of niggles I found here:

As you need the screen for any sort of keypad, having this switch off about 20 seconds into a call is frustrating. That’s about the time one needs to enter the passcode for a Conference Call

Note: It’s a great idea to put conference call numbers in the location of a meeting request in the format Tel:+61255551234,,,,,12345# where the “12345” is the conference calling passcode. On WinMo phones this creates a link that people can click and the phone will dial automatically, pausing for the commas, then inserting the Conference Code.

Also, because you need the screen to enter anything into the device, it’s always about 3 clicks before you can start any search/filtering/activity. If you had a keyboard, well, just start typing.

In all though, no complaints from recipients about voice quality, and the phone handles call waiting and transfer with necessary aplomb.

Getting the Message

For me personally, using the Samsung felt like stepping back a decade. Don’t get me wrong, the onscreen keyboard is good. As with the rest of the device, arguably the best in the industry right now, and yes, I have asked my non-MS iPhone owning friends to compare. The haptic feedback genuinely makes it feel like you’re depressing a button. But after having a whole screen, and a whole keyboard with 100% accuracy, I struggled to sacrifice the bulk of the screen to accommodate a keyboard.

As I started with PDA’s back in 1996 with a USRobotics Palm Pilot, it was a simple step to flip back to letter recogniser. My text input accuracy on the Omnia went way up, frustration mostly down, and I got my screen back. But even with years of writing on PDA’s, I found that my accuracy simply doesn’t match that of having a QWERTY keyboard.

It’s a personal thing. If you don’t send emails/sms from your phone much, then you’ll probably love the Omnia. However, if like me, youre a message junky (I have work Exchange, personal Live Mail, and Facebook message inboxes + Twitter a lot) you may want to consider how you’re going to cope with the change in input.

My overall summary is that all current touch based devices (ala iPhone, HTC HD, Touch etc) are great for receiving messages.

Finishing Touches

Like the other Samsung devices (and other vendors in the past) there is a distinct neglect of the “U” in “USB.” It stands for “Universal” and allows everyone to stick with peripherals they like rather than being forced to use a proprietary charger cable (this reduces the # of cables/adapters you need on a trip too), a proprietary headset cable, a proprietary sync cable. To add insult to injury, these proprietary cables aren’t even common across the Samsung WinMo stable either. Different devices use different connectors.

Besides Rog42’s “U” in “USB” rant there are a couple of design wishes I have for the Omnia:

  • Little covers for connector points? Just asking to be broken off. MP3 players don’t have ‘em (not even Samsung ones), neither do other pho
    nes, remove ‘em. Oh and, irrespective of whether it’s proprietary or std USB, shift the connector to the bottom of the phone. Easier to build a sync cradle that way.
  • Please bring the MicroSD slot to the side like on the i780, rather than in behind the battery. Of course with 8 or 16GB on board, you really don’t need further memory (without a serious music collection that is) so no big deal.
  • As it is a touch/stylus based device, stick the stylus in the device, rather than leaving it dangling!
  • Personally I’m not one for the “minimalist” approach. I can handle having an extra button to go home, back, and fire up the start menu.
  • My final wish for this device is to go back to a good old, analogue, D-Pad. The fancy scroll, cursor pad is cute, but just not as accurate or functional given the size.

There are many touches that make this a front runner phone though:

  • The processor and memory are fantastic. Nice to be able to run many programs and not worry about running out of memory. Did I mention multi-tasking? Yes, and seamlessly too. Also, press and hold the menu button to get a “Running Tasks” list to close applications in one click.
  • Full HSDPA – just works, quickly.
  • Fast Bluetooth – enhances the wireless modem capabilities. Need to connect your laptop to the Net? Simple, wireless, liberating.
  • On-board applications. ShoZu is fabulous. Take a photo, one click and it’s at Flickr + backed up to wherever else you want.
  • Business Card scanner really sweet. Snap the Business Card and add the details to your contacts, automatically, in seconds.
  • TV out – I haven’t had the opportunity to play with this (proprietary cables?) but the promise is great
  • Full GPS + Assist. i.e. you don’t need cellular access (as other GPS capable phones) to get a fix, but if you have cellular access you’ll get one quicker.
  • GPS Photo-tagging – love this feature and it works on the video camera as well.

Lasting Impressions

There is no doubting the Samsung i900 Omnia is a thing of beauty. That + the memory, speed, and great photo/video features would make this a very difficult phone to swap. If you are after a touch based device, that has everything the competition has, at better quality + all the enterprise features you need to succeed in today’s corporate world, the Omnia may be “everything” for you.