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REVIEW: Samsung SGH-i900 Omnia Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Smartphone [UPDATE]
Posted by Arne Hess - on Friday, 25.07.08 - 16:51:58 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 185856x
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The Samsung SGH-i900 Omnia is Samsung's latest Windows Mobile smartphone, featuring a touchscreen. For a Samsung Windows Mobile smartphone, the Omnia is quite unique because so far, Samsung was pretty focused on keyboard-centric Windows Mobile smartphones like the BlackJack/SGH-i600 or SGH-i780 which featured full QWERTY thumb-keyboards; while the i900 Omnia follows the trend to touchscreen centric smartphones. The i900 Omnia runs on Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional platform and features quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE but only singelband UMTS  at 2100 MHz and HSDPA (up to 7.2 Mbps) while HSUPA isn't supported. Furthermore, the SGH-i900 features Bluetooth 2.0+EDR including support of A2DP as well as WiFi b/g, inbuilt GPS and FM radio with RDS support.

The 3.2" touchscreen supports a quite uncommon resolution of 240 x 400 pixel (WQVGA) and automatically rotates between portrait and landscape mode, thanks to the inbuilt accelerometer. This works in all applications an modes and isn't limited to certain applications. Furthermore it provides a tactile feedback if the screen is touched. On the back side, the i900 Omnia sports a massive 5.0 megapixel autofocus camera with a flash light while the front facing camera supports QCIF only but it's only used for UMTS video telephony. Also massive is the inbuilt memory. In addition to the 128 MB of RAM and 256 MB of ROM which is used my Windows Mobile and the applications, the Omnia offers either 8 GB or 16 GB inbuilt flash memory for storing data; however, this inbuilt memory can be expanded again with microSD/microSDHC cards which are supported up to 16 GB.

At a size of 56.9 x 112 x 12.5 millimeter, the SGH-i900 Omnia weights, including the SIM card and 1440 mAh battery, 122 gram.

The open market version of the Samsung SGH-i900 Omnia comes with the handset, the battery, the charger, a stereo in-ear headset and the USB sync-cable as well as with some PC-software and the manual. A stylus, and this is also unique for Windows Mobile Professional smartphones is left and only available as accessory. Also available as separate accessories are a leather case and a TV-out cable.

The i900 Omnia features a quite minimalistic design. The front around the display is silver polished chrome while the back is black plastic. However, this material-mix neither looks nor feels cheap.
On the front, the device only features the call send/end keys as well as an optical joystick instead of a more traditions D-Pad. The optical joystick works similar to touch-pads and allows to navigate through the menus by sliding a finger on the joystick. In addition it acts as an action button which can be pressed. Above the display the Omnia has the QCIF video telephony camera and the speaker which is also used as a loudspeaker for hands-free calls or media playback. There is now second loudspeaker on the back but on the back the device has the 5 megapixel camera with a supporting photo light:


On the left side, the i900 features a propriety USB port, covered by a flap, which is used to charge the device as well as to synchronize it with a PC. Furthermore this jack holds the stereo headset or the TV-out cable.
On the right side, the Omnia features on the top a menu key which always opens the the Main Menu, the volume up/down keys and the shutter for the main camera:


However, the buttons on the side have further jobs: The Main Menu key also opens a Task Manager, if pressed longer while the volume up key can be used to zoom into the display; the volume down key either zooms out again or activates the photo light on the back to be used as a flash light. Pressing the camera shutter firmly opens the Photo Slides (an application to view stored photos) while pressing longer starts the camera.

The included stereo headset includes two parts. The main part plugs into the device and includes the microphone as well as a volume knurl. However, it's also a 3.5 mm adapter for the stereo headset and while Samsung provides an in-ear stereo headset, this can be replaced with anything better.

As always, the software implementation is something important as well and in the past months, other mobile phones have given a benchmark for followers.
So far, Samsung always did a great job in customizing and adopting Windows Mobile as far as possible and the i900 Omnia isn't anything different. Since it comes without a stylus, the user is forced to use all functions with the thumb and therefore, it's clear that Samsung focused on this user experience.

In addition to the Windows Mobile Professional typical Today screens, Samsung added three completely different Today screens to the Omnia which, more or less, replaces Microsoft's Today screen.
"Samsung Today 1" and "Samsung Today 2" plug-in into Microsoft's Windows Mobile Today screen and Today 1 offers the same information as Today 2 while providing shortcuts to the most important applications, straight from the Today screen. Samsung Today 2 works with tabs on the top:


Completely different to this two Today screen plugins is "Samsung Widget" which is also used on other Samsung mobile phones, independent from the OS and Samsung Widget offers a Today screen which allows to add, remove and freely arrange widgets on a home desktop:

These three different Today screens and the way how the programs list is opened demonstrates quite well how much Samsung thought about making the Omnia user interface experience the best possible one.
While the first level of the Main Menu neither be changed nor resorted, there is a second level available called "Shortcuts" where up to 11 shortcuts to applications can be added and this can be resorted as well. Shortcuts also includes a link to "Programs" which opens a list of all available and installed applications:


All three menu items are large enough to be used with thumbs only and it replaces, more or less, the need to user Windows Mobile's Start menu.

In addition to these GUI enhancements, Samsung also provides a full set of applications. This includes Windows Mobile Processional typical applications like Office Mobile (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) as well as Outlook Mobile, Internet Explorer Mobile, Windows Media Player Mobile, File Explorer, etc. However, Samsung also added Opera Mobile 9.5, ShoZu, a RSS reader and Podcast fetcher as well as a business card scanner software, a FM radio interface and more.
Quite interesting is Samsung's own Touch Player which is - again - thumb-optimized and which is used to playback audio files:

As motioned earlier, the Touch Player can be access from anywhere by pressing and holding the Menu button:

Beside being a great device for listening music, the i900 Omnia also supports a wide variety of video formats which even includes DiVX (certified). And since the Omnia can be connected to a TV, it even allows to watch DiVX movies on TV screens.

The inbuilt FM radio supports RDS (Radio Data System) and therefore shows either the station name or other information, broadcasted by radio stations. Furthermore it allows the receiver to re-tune to a different frequency providing the same station when the first signal becomes too weak:

While the FM radio requires a connected headset which is used as an antenna, the applications also supports the inbuilt loudspeaker.

The inbuilt GPS receiver works perfectly with Google's preinstalled Google Maps. And if the device is out of GPS coverage, Google Maps receives a pretty good location update through Google "My Location" features which uses cell towers instead of the GPS signal:

To improve the time to GPS fix, the Omnia also supports to download a list of GPS information (often referred to as aGPS).
Since the GPS receiver isn't  locked to a dedicated service it also works without problems with GPS navigation software (if the navigation software supports WQVGA screen resolutions):

Nevertheless, even if the i900 Omnia has an inbuilt FM RDS radio, TMC isn't supported at all.

Last but not least the camera which is quite unique for Windows Mobile smartphones. No other Windows Mobile smartphone has crossed the 5 megapixel benchmark so far and the Omnia's 5 megapixel autofocus camera is the first one. It allows to snap photos up to a resolution of 2560 x 1920 pixel and record videos up 640 x 480 pixel. Photos are saved as JPGs while videos are saved as MPEG4 files.
The camera is supported by a very bright white LED. While this is far away from Xenon flashes, as also used by mobile phones, the LED is indeed pretty bright and allows to snap closer photos in a darker environment, let's say on a table in a bar.

But also the camera interface offers so many options, it's hard to list them all. First of all it allows to geo-tag photos with the GPS coordinates and it offers quite a good amount of settings and shooting modes like white balance (auto or different pre-sets), ISO (from auto to 50 - 800), metering (center, spot or matrix) as well as contrast, saturation, sharpness, WDR (Wide Dynamic Range) and even anti-shake.
The different shooting modes include single and continuous shots as well as panorama shots where the camera allows to snap up to eight photos which are automatically pasted as well as a smile detection mode where the camera focuses on a face and as soon as the face smiles, the camera shoots a photo automatically (unbelievable but it really works).

I've hardly ever seen so many features on a mobile phone camera but again it shows that Samsung has a long-tine experience in designing high-quality camera phones.
Talking about quality: While I was first pretty disappointed about the photo quality of the i900, everything changed with the final ROM which I used for this review. With the Beta ROM the photos were yellow tint but now, with the final ROM the photo colors looks richer and more like the original:

It's now safe to say that the i900 Omnia camera might be one of - if not - the best Windows Mobile camera available today.
Also quite good is the implementation of ShoZu (a service which allows to upload photos and videos to many different web services). Unlike the freely available ShoZu client for Windows Mobile, ShoZu doesn't asks after each photo or video if the file should be uploaded now but waits until the camera is closed. Then it notices the user that there are x new photos/videos and asks if these photos should be uploaded now.

Final Conclusion

No, the SamsungSGH-i900 Omnia is neither an iPhone nor a iPhone wannabe but it's a typical Samsung smartphone. But unlike most other Samsung touchscreen phones, this one is running on Windows Mobile and Samsung did its best to enhance, tweak and improve Windows Mobile as much as possible. At the end it'S quite challenging to launch a phone with an operating system, which was design for a stylus-use, and leaving the stylus.
The design might reminds a little bit on the iPhone, on the other hand it also reminds on the Samsung SGH-F480/F490 or Qbowl and not everything is an iPhone copy-cat today. Other manufactures like Samsung have a way longer tradition in making great mobile phones.

And the SGH-i900 Omnia is a great mobile phone. It feels and looks rocking solid and the material mix of silver polished chrome on the front side and high quality black plastic on the backside makes it a good looking phone for everyone - for everyone who is used to use touchscreen phones. Maybe it's not the best messenger device since it's only featuring different soft-keyboards (from a standard QWERTY keyboard to a ShureType kind of keyboard to a phonepad) but as a phone and data device it works simply great. And even as a messenger device for SMS and MMS, the i900 sets new benchmarks with its unified SMS and MMS composer. This allows to write messages in a single interface and every message starts as a SMS text message. However, users are free to add multimedia content like photos or videos and the message composer recognizes that this message cannot be send as a SMS text message anymore but instantly changes to MMS. The user hasn't have to think first about which kind of message he/she wants to send. Everything is about the content, not about the type.

The sound quality is top as well and during some calls I even had to turn the volume to the minimum because the speaker is so loud and clear. With the support for HSDPA up to 7.2 Mbps, the Omnia is also a great mobile data device, doesn't matter if the inbuilt Opera Mobile browser is used or if it's used as a modem for Notebooks.

It's also a great entertainment device and the camera, as mentioned above might be the best you can get with a Windows Mobile device. The 8 GB/16 GB inbuilt memory provides enough storage space for taking photos, recording videos or carrying media files. And if this isn't enough, the Omnia can eat another 16 GB. So basically it can hold quite a good amount of navigation maps plus a good amount of DiVX videos and leaves enough space to store photos and music as well. And as a navigator it's also unbeatable thanks to the inbuilt GPS receiver which isn't locked to a specific service but which can be used with any GPS application.

The screen is quite okay. It's not as sharp and crisp as smaller VGA screens might be and it's also not the brightest one. Nevertheless, it's bright enough to read SMS or E-Mails in direct sunlight or to find a contact. That's not a problem at all. Nevertheless, I wouldn't watch a video in direct sunlight.

Last but not least I'm quite happy and satisfied with the included software and applications. The SGH-i900 Omnia comes pretty complete and out of the box, it's hard to say which application is missing. As with all Windows Mobile phones, again Samsung spent a some time to think about which programs and applications should be either enhanced or added.

It's hard to talk about standby time or talk time but I barely got the phone to 50 % battery after a working day. This is an impressive value for a Windows Mobile device which constantly download E-Mails or is used for web access. No wonder that this time, Samsung doesn't gives a second battery with the Omnia (as Samsung did in the past). It looks like the 1440 mAh battery is strong enough to keep the device running a full day.

So is the Omnia the perfect Windows Mobile smartphone? Far from it, unfortunately. Thankfully Samsung now supports quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE which allows a better use in North America. But unfortunately it only supports singleband UMTS/HSDPA at 2100 MHz which doesn't makes it a true world phone at all. And while HSDPA 7.2 Mbps is great, it lacks HSUPA which is now rolled-out in more and more UMTS networks across the world.
And while I appreciate the whole software integration, the soft-keyboards aren't yet the best one I've seen so far. Sure, on the paper it supports all important soft-keyboard types and also features XT9 but I'm neither a big fan of XT9 nor I like the way the keyboards work. I've seen a better keyboard integration in competitor devices.
And while the touchscreen fulfils it work in 95 %, there are some Windows Mobile features which are better used with a D-Pad. Unfortunately the Omnia hasn't have a D-Pad but again this optical joystick which I'm still not such a big friend of. Indeed, I've heard other voices already from users which love the i780 optical joystick (the i900 optical joystick is the same) but personally I rather prefer traditions D-Pads.
Last but not least the connector for which I blame Samsung in every review. I definitely dislike propriety connecters but either prefer mini USB or - if necessary - micro USB but not Samsung's own connector which - bad enough - always changes between the different handsets. As far as I know the Omnia's connector is compatible to the i780's connector but it's incompatible to the i600/BlackJack connector. I know, there is a good amount of money in the hardware business but please Samsung - change you philosophy away from your connectors to USB.
But anyway - Samsung made the best out of this situation by providing a two parts headset which allows the user to replace the stereo headset part with something better.

All together I can say that I'm quite happy with the Samsung i900 Omnia and it made it to my every day phone now. However I will definitely try 3rd party keyboards to make it nearly the perfect device for me.

UPDATE: I've just received the information that the final sales pack (in certain regions at least) will now include a stylus. Looks like someone at Samsung changed its mind. Nevertheless, the TV-out cable stays as an optional accessory.

Cheers ~ Arne


 
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Comments
Posted by theefman on 25.07.08 - 19:21:28

Nice review Arne, good to see the improvements Samsung have made. I did want to ask something I have forgotten up till now, does your Touch Player play .wma music files and/or WM playlists (.asx) and .wmv video files? My Omnia on FX8 does not and I have to resort to Windows Media player for these.

Also can you please express to Samsung the importance of making rom updates available on the web for users to update their devices, its depressing to see such improvements and have no way to get these upgrades if you cant visit a Samsung service center. They recently released a WM 6.1 upgrade for the i760 so I dont see why the flagship device cant have the same facility. Thanks.

Posted by Arne Hess on 25.07.08 - 19:33:18

No WMA, no playlist, no WMV here.
It doesn't helps if I tell Samsung anything. Samsung is separated in 3 telecommunication units: APAC, EMEA and Americas and for sure I'm talking with EMEA in Europe. So doesn't matter what I tell them, it has no impact on the other two. And therefore, ROM update/upgrade paths are different: EMEA for instance offered a ROM upgrade for the i600 via web download which you guys in Singapore had to get through the service center. It's up to each region how to distribute this stuff but I'm confident Samsung will improve!

Posted by thabronx31 on 25.07.08 - 20:50:19

Wonderful article. I live in the States and will be ordering one of these. I'm not waiting for the release here, I can live without 3g(for now).. Just have a quick question; is the screen flush like the "other product"? I have gen 1, and I hate to say that it is a good phone, it's not complete(I miss Microsoft), but the flushness of the screen is nice. Please let me know, and keep up the good reviewing!!!!!smile

Posted by theefman on 25.07.08 - 20:50:44

Thanks Arne, the info on Samsung operations explains a lot, I still hope Samsung reverses its no-download policy for other regions. Do you have any information on why the Touch player doesnt play MS media files? Seems a big oversight, the TP plays Divx but not WM native media files?

Posted by Arne Hess on 25.07.08 - 21:03:20

@thabronx31: Thanks for the kind words. Yes, the screen is flush, I have absolutely no complains except that I always want more and would love to have a WVGA screen but even with WQVGA only, it's perfect.

@theefman: I thing the Touch Player runs as a separate application, not on top of Windows Mobile. Therefore both players support different files. In a perfect world (which is possible with Window Media Player Mobile) all codecs would be linked into Windows Media Player Mobile and the Touch Player would use the Windows Media Player Mobile as the code base but with its own UI. HTC do it this way. However, it looks like Samsung decided to separate the Touch Player from the Windows Media Player.

Posted by thabronx31 on 25.07.08 - 21:21:17

Arne Hess wrote:

@thabronx31: Thanks for the kind words. Yes, the screen is flush, I have absolutely no complains except that I always want more and would love to have a WVGA screen but even with WQVGA only, it's perfect.

Drinks on the house!!! I cant wait

Posted by cgavula on 26.07.08 - 00:25:05

What's the processor speed?

Posted by Arne Hess on 26.07.08 - 00:41:18

@cgavula: It's a Marvell PXA312 CPU at 624 MHz.

Posted by Fred on 26.07.08 - 12:19:50

Does the integrated Opera Browser support Flash?

Posted by Arne Hess on 26.07.08 - 12:58:42

@Fred: No, so far no Opera Mobile 9.x browser (neither Opera Mobile's public Beta, nor Opera Mobile on HTC smartphones nor Opera Mobile on the Omnia) supports Flash Lite 3 (which you are referring to, I think) to use it with websites like YouTube, etc.
However, Microsoft will make Flash Lite 3 available to Windows Mobile 6.1 with an upcoming AKU. With this AKU (which will also include Internet Explorer Mobile 6), Opera Software will be able to use Flash as a plugin for its Opera Mobile browser.

Posted by deni on 26.07.08 - 19:10:57

By changing the "finger mouse" settings you can use the mouse essentially like a D-pad.

Posted by Chris9675 on 28.07.08 - 16:57:11

Arne: What about programs like PC Anywhere or the Remote Desktop? How will these work or can they be installed?

Posted by Arne Hess on 28.07.08 - 17:05:17

Don't know about PC Anywhere but since it is (still) a Pocket PC Phone Edition you can install whatever you can install on Windows Mobile Professional devices. If there is a PC Anywhere client for Windows Mobile Professional, it should work. Unfortunately, Samsung left Microsoft's Remote Desktop client out of the Omnia.

Posted by pierrelp1 on 28.07.08 - 17:19:49

Thanks for your review.
I do have a very quick question about the FM radio.
How sensitive is it?
thanks in advance

Posted by Arne Hess on 28.07.08 - 17:52:08

@pierrelp1: Don't know how to measure it but here in Munich I get all the stations I expect to get. Might depend on the area.

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