Friday, March 27, 2009

Samsung Omnia i910 Review

Well, it was time to renew my contract, and I was looking forward to it... my old Motorola KRZR's battery was on the way out, and it was the second battery I had for it, not to mention that it was seriously falling apart. Motorola might have some slick designs, but the QC on their phones definitely leaves something to be desired.

In any case, ever since the iPhone hit the scene, smartphones have become all the rage. You can either get one or two cruddy clamshell phones that look like something you might have bought five years ago, or you can get a slick smartphone with a touchscreen. A cruddy old phone was out, but I still had a decision to make... do I keep Verizon and buy one of their smartphones, or do I jump ship to AT&T and get an iPhone?

Well, I decided to keep Verizon. As slick as the iPhone was, it wasn't doing everything I wanted a smartphone to do (although what the iPhone does do, it does exceptionally well). I was leaning more towards a Windows Mobile phone, and right around the time I wanted to renew my contract, Verizon happened to be heavily subsidizing the Samsung Omnia. I'd owned three Samsung phones in the past, as well as some non-phone Samsung electronics, and I've always been very satisfied with them, so I decided to take the plunge on the Omnia.

I'll start by saying that every gripe I have with the phone is directly linked to Windows Mobile. Windows Mobile 6.1 is still actually Windows CE 5, which means that underneath Samsung's slick TouchWIZ interface, the phone's OS looks ancient and can be difficult to navigate with a finger, as it was meant to be used with a stylus. The Omnia does come with a stylus, BTW, but the only way to carry it with the phone is tie it to the phone (sorta like a Wii wrist strap connects to a Wiimote). The result is that it looks really feminine, so I just leave my stylus at my desk. The touch screen complaints are also due to the fact that phones like the iPhone or any Android phone use capacitive touchscreens, while Windows Mobile only supports resistive ones. That again means that it was designed to be used with a stylus, not a finger, and absolutely no multi-touch (here's hoping that Windows Mobile 7 will be a little more modern). Oh, and the best Windows Mobile web browsers are almost painful to use, and certainly don't come close to the experience that Safari offers on the iPhone.

That said, there are some pros to Windows Mobile. The biggest pro is that it's an open platform. Other phone OSes might do some things better than Windows Mobile, but Windows Mobile is ultimately more versatile. And if you don't like the default applications, chances are you can find a replacement, often for free, on the internet. For example, instead of converting my videos, which are mostly DivX/Xvid avi files, into mp4 files that are a particular resolution, I can just drag and drop the avi files I already have directly to the phone. Also, a big reason I went with Windows Mobile and the reason that I bought a Dell Axim in the past is that I have a very large collection of ebooks in the Microsoft Reader format. To read my books on an iPhone would require me to download an app for the iPhone, download an matching app for the desktop, create an account at the website associated with those apps, download an app to covert my books into a format that the other apps like, use the desktop app to upload the converted books to my web account, then use the app on the iPhone to download the book from the account and read it. With the Omnia, I installed Microsoft Reader, then drag and drop my books in a "My Books" folder on the phone.

Samsung also went out of their way to make the most out of Windows Mobile. They replaced the traditional Windows Mobile Today screen with their TouchWIZ interface. This is basically a "shelf that can be opened or closed (I usually leave mine opened) with a variety of finger-friendly apps on it. To use an app, you slide it off the shelf onto the main area. In some cases, like for Opera, this will just leave an icon on your screen that you can use to open the app (or to open a folder, in the case of the game icon). But in most cases, the icon will expand, giving you two levels of functionality. The phone book app is a great example. On the shelf, it's a box with a picture of a person. Off the shelf, it'll expand so that it says "Phonebook", and under it will be whatever pictures you assigned to four contacts. If you tap the word "Phonebook," it'll take you to a list off all your contacts, but if you touch one of the pictures, it will take you directly to that contact with four options; to call their mobile, to call their work, to call their home, or to send a text message.

As far as the hardware itself, I don't really have any complaints. One great thing is that, in addition to the 8GB of internal memory, there's a microSD slot under the battery cover, and the Omnia supports MicroSDHC cards up to 16GB, so there's plenty of room for media. The camera lacks any zoom, but it takes 5MP pictures on par with my wife's dedicated camera. There's no standard headphone jack, and Samsung had to go and give it a proprietary port instead of mini-USB, but they make up for it by throwing in a data cable, an adapter for using wired headsets, and an adapter for regular headphones that includes an FM antenna. It has an elegant black, gunmetal, and chrome design that's a little taller and thicker than an iPhone, but a little narrower and lighter than my iPod touch. There's the call and end buttons common to cell phones on the front, and on the side there's dedicated volume buttons and two buttons that you can assign different functions to. One I have set to turn on the camera if you press and hold it, or to switch from portrait to landscape mode manually if you just click it. The reason I do that is because the Omnia's motion sensor seems a little flakey and either wouldn't turn the screen when I wanted to, or would turn the screen when I didn't want it to. I don't see this as a huge problem, since most of the apps work best in portrait mode for me, and several apps like the camera or the Core Video Player will automatically switch to landscape. The only other button is a touch-sensitive device. You can either set it to work like a mouse, with a pointer on the screen, or as a button. Swiping your finger along it works as a directional button, and clicking it works as the enter button on other WinMo devices.

One thing that's big for me is that the messaging app can handle both your text messages, your MMS messages, and your email. This is big for me, because I use Yahoo mail, and a lot of apps like Windows Live Mail and Outlook don't play nice with Yahoo, but the Omnia does.

Call quality and battery life are both great. At first I was charging it every day or every other day, but I think that's just because I was playing with it a lot. Once I had it set up the way I wanted it, I'm finding that I charge it probably twice a week. Mind you, that's using it as my sole phone, so that's usually a few short calls every day, a few texts, maybe check my email once or twice, and reading for a half hour to an hour, every day.

Ultimately, it's not perfect, nor is at as user-friendly as, say, an iPhone. You will have to get apps from the net to tweak it until you have everything the way you want it. But once you do, the added versatility that Windows Mobile brings to the phone make up for the problems that Windows Mobile brings, at least in my opinion, and I find myself absolutely loving the Omnia. Unlike my previous mobile, which sat on my desk unless I went out, I carry the Omnia with me everywhere, even around the apartment.

Final score: A-


science412 said...

Considering the fact that you haven't updated your blog in almost a month, you must be LOVING that phone!!!

Mike said...

More like not doing, watching, or playing anything worth reviewing.