I first laid eyes on a Samsung Omnia i900 at the Korean company's booth in CommunicAsia in Singapore last June. It was launched here in October, so I was a bit surprised when the Samsung Electronics Indonesia PR company called me and offered an opportunity to review it.
I immediately accepted the offer. Although it is already a few months old, as far as I can recall it is the first Samsung smartphone I have ever tested.
I was given only one week to put it through its paces, so I had to work fast. By the way, it is not really a surprise that Samsung Electronics Indonesia wants to reinforce in our memory the 3G HSDPA Omnia's image as a premium handset.
First, following its launch in Indonesia in September last year, it did not get as much exposure as it deserved, even though it has just won the Golden Ring Award (GRA) as the most innovative product. Second, at the moment it has to compete against the likes of Apple iPhone 3G, BlackBerry Bold and BlackBerry Storm, HTC Touch Diamond and HTC Touch Pro 2, Nokia 5800 and Sony Ericsson Xperia.
Krusell (www.krusell.se), the Swedish designer and maker of carrying cases, reports that it shipped the largest number of Omnia protective cases for three consecutive months last March. This means that the Omnia, as many have suspected, has been one of the best-selling smartphones worldwide.
Having no real past experience with a Samsung mobile phone, I must confess that, at first, I had some skepticism about the Omnia's popularity. But my first impression about this smartphone was very positive.
To begin with, like its compatriot competitor LG's phones, it has a solid build that shows great craftsmanship.
The features include an autofocus 5 MP camera, GPS, a large 3.2-inch touchscreen with haptic feedback and a comfortable responsiveness to touch, an adjustable accelerometer for auto-rotating display orientation, an FM radio and even a TV-out connector that allows us to connect the gadget to a TV monitor and show off our photos and videos to other people. Samsung has brought only the model with a 16 GB memory into Indonesia. Its list of features is very long, although there are still several items that I wish were included.
All in all, it is its functionality that makes this smartphone stand out. The digital camera, for example, can be used to capture data from business cards. All we have to do is ensure that the card's image falls inside the rectangle frame on the screen. The corners turn green once the position is correct, and the device automatically captures and reads the card.
During my test, it accurately read my name, phone numbers and email address and placed them in the right fields. "If it sees the *@' sign, Omnia knows it is an email address," explains Eric Suryana, product manager for Samsung Electronics Indonesia's mobile division.
The camera itself produces impressive photos. Adjusting the settings is easy with the transparent buttons on both sides of the screen. It has geotagging, face and smile recognition and image stabilization. Samsung still uses an LED flash on the camera instead of the more powerful Xenon flash.
The Xenon is brighter and good for short burst lighting, but the LED flash is better for making videos. On the Omnia, the LED light can be used as a flashlight, too. The battery life, surprisingly, is quite long.
More important perhaps is the possibility of using the smartphone as a modem. The device's HSDPA speed maxes at 7.2 Mbps.
Eric demonstrated the steps that had to be taken to enable Internet sharing between the device and a notebook, and it worked. "You no longer need to carry your 3G or HSDPA dongle around," he said.
The Omnia runs Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, but Samsung has added an overlay on top of Windows Mobile to make the user interface more intuitive and certainly more pleasing.
An important element in Samsung's user interface is the TouchWhiz bar, which accommodates widgets. With our finger, we can drag the widgets into the screen to customize our Today screen - the screen that we get when we first turn on the device. Too bad we cannot add our own widgets, although we can use the widgets that Samsung's programmers create for us.
Available widgets include a stock ticker from Yahoo!, RSS feeds from CNN and AccuWeather for those who need weather forecasts. Chatting is made possible through MSN. Although Microsoft Internet Explorer is available, Samsung has opted to use Opera Browser as the default browser, which is faster and easier for a mobile device.
To invoke Samsung's menu, we can tap on Main Menu, which is located at the bottom right corner of the screen. Or we can press the dedicated menu on the top part of the device's right side.
Turning on and turning off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the phone's radio frequency can be done easily with a widget.
The Omnia does not have a hardware keypad, but there are seven input methods to choose from, including a screen keypad, a Transcriber and a box recognizer. We navigate using our fingers, but if we want to keep the screen smudge-free we can also use the optical mouse under the screen.
We just swipe our finger on the mouse button to move the highlight around, and press it to select. We can also activate the mouse pointer and operate it much like we do on a PC.
Samsung categorizes the Omnia as an Infotainment cellphone, so do not expect to have hardcore business-oriented applications already built in.
However, as it is a Windows Mobile Pro smartphone, it comes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and even OneNote Mobile. OneNote is a dumping ground for all your notes, including meeting minutes, but it is smart enough to organize everything that is thrown into it.
If I could contribute to the design process of the Omnia, I would change a couple of things. First, I would add a lens cover. Second, it would be nice if each key in the virtual keypad automatically enlarged each time it is touched, so our finger cannot stray into the adjacent key.
I would make the fonts a tad bigger. I would also change the proprietary USB jack with a micro-USB jack. A 3.5 mm audio-out for headphones should be added, too.
Currently, we have to use the supplied adaptor for this purpose, and I hate adaptors as they get lost very quickly. A voice recorder would also be a great addition given the amount of memory that this smartphone has.
It always irks me when a cellphone rings during a presentation or an interview. On the Omnia, we can activate the etiquette mode, and the device will remain silent when the handset is placed with the face down.
So, what makes the Omnia such a popular mobile phone? In addition to the sleek design, it has a tanker-load of features. But are you really ready for touchscreen-only texting, folks?
Zatni Arbi - The Jakarta Post