Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

Verizon Samsung Omnia - first impressions

Verizon Samsung Omnia - first impressions

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In the initial first day of use with the Verizon Samsung Omnia, I was pretty frustrated.  Much of that frustration was misplaced and was a hold over of the HTC Touch Pro I now have boxed and ready for return.  What lowered my frustration with the Omnia?  The first is clearly seeing that a device with no keyboard must be used differently.  If it weren't for the ability to assign key commands for two keys, I would have already boxed the Omnia back up as well.  So let me give you a run down on what I've learned and unlearned in the past three days.

VZ Samsung OMNIA The OS and a few tricks

I've been using the Windows Mobile operating system for a pretty long time now.  Now to be perfectly clear, I've always been a Smartphone guy, not a Pocket PC guy.  I prefer single handed operation without a stylus.  So as you might imagine, using Windows Mobile Professional 6.1 on a device with no keyboard, four buttons, and an optical mouse presents a huge challenge for me.  What I realized after using the Omnia for three days is that Windows Mobile really needs a very different UI for devices like this.  Thankfully Samsung did something about that and built an extension to the WinMo Today screen (pictured at left).

As you can see in the screenshot at left, the Samsung Today screen has twelve easy to use icons that allow you to launch an application or take you to another set of panels to run programs or change system settings.  So far with the Omnia I haven't even cracked open the stylus and used it with the device because there's no need for one.  The screenshot at left is doctored.  It's the standard Samsung Omnia pic with the Samsung Today screen (actual) layered over the top of it.  So about the only difference in the pic and the real unit sitting in front of me is the lack of the VZ logo and the fact the VZ unit doesn't have a front facing camera.

I made several subtle changes to the the settings of the device that helped enormously.  There are two buttons on the right side of the Omnia.  One for the Main Menu and one for the Camera.  I decided to change the Main Menu button so that it's press action is actually <OK/Close> instead.  This change is very useful for going back, or closing an email message without exiting Outlook.  It's nearly impossible to press the little X in the top right hand corner of the screen otherwise.  The UI for Windows Mobile will need to be changed in the future to account for difficulties like this. 

Since the Main menu is frequently used, I also changed the Camera button action so that it goes to the Main menu when pressed.  You can still get to the camera functions via this button but you must press the button and hold it to do so.  Now with both of those changes, one handed operation of the device is MUCH easier.

I also decided I like the optical mouse button to act like a mouse.  The default setting is four way navigation but after making the button changes above, I decided having a mouse was more useful for that button. We'll talk about a couple of other matters regarding input in a few minutes when we talk about the soft keyboard.  But first, let's talk about the overall device looks, screen, battery life, etc.

Groundbreaking Looks?

This phone looks familiar to another device on the market.  Hmm.  I wonder which one?  The Samsung Omnia shell is slightly smaller than the iPhone.  Not much smaller though.  The screen on the Omnia is 3.2" while the iPhone is 3.5".  In other words, the form factor is nearly identical.  Coincidence?  I doubt it.

The Omnia is a nice looking phone.  Chrome edges around the screen in the front are a nice touch.  The black back has a slight texture making it pretty easy to hold on to and cut down on fingerprints.  The pic just below is from the Samsung stock of photos and lacks the Verizon logo on my unit.

The screen is nice and bright although it suffers from a relatively low resolution.  It isn't bad.  It just isn't a super high resolution screen.  Regarding the brightness, the screen comes dangerously close to being unusable in bright sunlight.  Regarding the resolution, colors and contrast, I am withholding judgement until I've had a chance to watch some video on it.  More on the video later.

Samsung OMNIA - croppedSo while the unit isn't probably breaking any new ground here, it's a nice looking and feeling phone.  I don't think the screen material is nearly as nice as the iPhone or other phones I've seen and seems to be a common complaint in the reviews I've read before I received mine.  I guess it remains to be seen how well the material will hold up to the wear and tear of a touch screen.

Battery Life

So far the battery has been doing a good job.  I have not really put it though it's paces yet, but it doesn't appear that the usage of the screen sucks the battery as badly as the HTC Touch Pro.  I am running a series of battery tests this week and will have a much better idea in a few days on any shortcomings if they become apparent. 

Regarding the battery testing, I do plan to run some sustained video playback tests with this phone.  I figure if you are going to include DivX decoding support and a large screen, you are certainly inviting folks to use it to watch movies and video from the Internet or your private collections.  So I'll be torturing the little guy this week in your honor and report back on how well it faired, or not.

Until that happens I'll be doing the usual battery tests with Exchange ActiveSync set to check for messages every fifteen minutes during prime time, and every thirty minutes otherwise.  After I get done running some of those tests, I set things to Direct Push always connected and see if it has a material impact.

The Applications

The application mix is pretty much the standard set for a Windows Mobile Pro 6.1 device.  Noticeably absent compared to the Sprint Touch Pro device is the Live Search and GPS apps.  In fact, the GPS capability on the Omnia appears to be locked to the Verizon VZ Navigator GPS application.  The problem I have with the application is the additional $9.99 USD they want per month for using the feature.  It probably isn't a show stopper for me, but I won't be paying the extra money for the feature.

The Omnia comes with two web browsers.  Pocket IE and Opera.  Opera is pretty nice and easy to work with on the screen.  Panning and zooming is straightforward.  I won't be spending hours reading the news on this screen, but it certainly gets the job done in a taxi or train.

With the large screen of the Omnia, reading and responding to email is pretty easy.  Portrait mode is great for looking at the list of messages.  Flipping over to landscape for replies is super easy and the soft keyboard seems to work nicely.  The screen size is also going to come in handy while viewing spreadsheet data with Excel.

The Verizon Omnia also comes with a Touch Player audio/video playback application.  I copied a DivX .AVI video from my Archos 605 WIFI PMP to the Omnia and it would not play.  I am now looking for the precise video specifications the Omnia supports.  I was surprised it didn't play the video.  If someone spots the video specs that are supported, let me know.

The Phone

The phone functions of the Verizon Samsung Omnia are very good.  Call quality and clarity is excellent. I have no problems using the phone in single handed operation with one very big exception.

With my previous phones, finding a contact in my contacts list is very easy.  Press a couple of characters on the keypad to filter the list on last name, or simply scroll the list quickly with a navigation pad.  Neither technique is easy on the Omnia, especially if driving.  If you are driving it's really rather impossible.  I am going to have to investigate voice commands more deliberately as a result.  Or simply don't attempt to use the contact list while driving.

For those of you that like to use headsets, you'll notice there is no 2.5 or 3.5mm jacks on the phone.  You can however use one of the adaptors that came in the box for both sizes of headphones.  The adaptor for 3.5mm also includes a volume adjuster, microphone and mute button.  I thought that was a nice touch.  However, the phone really needs an equalizer.  I could tell by listening to the FM radio with my Omnia it's going to be needed.  Not enough bass for me and my Shure earphones.

The Camera

Finally someone decided to produce a WinMo phone with a decent camera.  The 5 megapixel camera shoots in still or video camera modes, and has a variety of settings.  Two of my favorite still camera modes are the Smile Detection and Panorama options.

Smile detection takes a picture when the subject being shot has gone from their usual bah humbug frown face to a nice fake smile.  This is actually a great mode to use for babies and other subjects that are hard to grab that perfect shot with.  I have no idea how it does with dogs but I can tell you my dog Elvis was not happy when his Mommy put an angel costume on him this weekend.  You weren't going to get a smile outta him.  No way.

I need to go skiing in Colorado or something to put the Panorama mode to the test.  That mode automatically stitches eight pictures into one huge picture.  Really cool stuff.  You don't have to use all eight to create a widescreen shot.  Two or more works.

The Verdict?

The jury is still out right now and deliberations aren't expected to be complete, at least not in this household, for another week.  I am now used to the navigation nuances and have gotten used to using the application mix.  A trusted friend hates the phone but he doesn't have the shipping Verizon version.  I'm liking it more and more.  It's small, light weight and powerful.  It doesn't display any problems with performance and it appears the battery will last a couple of days.

After I figure out what video formats it will accept, I will torture the battery more and report back.  Until then, if you are looking for a Windows Mobile Pro 6.1 device that looks similar to the iPhone and will work well with your corporate Exchange email, look no further.  You'll get used to the software based keyboard in a few days and will be able to peck out short responses to burning email in no time.  Just don't expect to write a novel on the thing and your expectations will be set appropriately.  More later in about a week or so.  By then I'll know if it's a keeper or not.  Happy Holidays.

[Update for 12/2/2008]  I am now using Voice Command very effectively for calling contacts instead of using the soft keyboard.  I am no longer worried about using the device in an automobile.  See http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/en-us/help/more/voice-command-tips.mspx for some great tips. 

clip_image001And on the battery life front, things are looking really good.  So far my Omnia has been unplugged from the charger for two days (about 40 hours) at this point.  I'm pretty confident it's going to pass the 48 hour mark later this morning.  Usage during the past 40 hours has been pretty light but I have made a few calls, read a few articles on msnbc.com off and on during the past couple of days, read a lot of email from the phone, messed around with various properties and settings, etc.  I guess it's been a little heavier than light but it hasn't been a big voice call day, nor have I performed any video playback.  That's coming later this week.

I did spot one bug yesterday morning.  Our corporate EAS policies force PIN protection after fifteen minutes of idle time.  It stopped doing that on my Omnia yesterday morning until I rebooted.  Shhhhh.  Don't tell our IT folks.  Grin.

[Update for 12/3/2008]  After fully charging my phone today, I unplugged it from the charger at 6pm and ran off for dinner with my wife.  After I got back home, I transferred some movies to the phone (.wmv format) and kicked off the sustained video playback test.  For this round, the phone was able to handle 4.5 hours of sustained playback before it started complaining about remaining battery juice.  Basically it has enough juice right now to make a short call and that's about it.  Not bad.  That's better battery life than my Zune 30 or Zune 120.  I'll run another test later today and see if I get the same mileage.  After that I start running Exchange direct push tests to see if that changes any of the times I've observed.

So far the only reasons I've spotted for a return is the fact my contract with Verizon is 24 months.  The lack of a keyboard isn't bothering me and frankly we all need to get used to it.  I have a feeling the voice recognition and control revolution is getting ready to really take off.  Telling your phone what to do seems very natural.  14,000,000 iPhone users can't be wrong, right?  Night.

After sleeping on this overnight, I'm beginning to wonder how important the GPS feature is to me, and the fact I can't use it with Live Search.  The more I think about it, the more I dislike being locked into a phone like that for 24 months.  Is there any such thing as a perfect phone?  My search hasn't turned one up yet.

[Update for 12/5/2008]  Exchange direct push cut the battery life nearly in half on my Verizon Omnia.  I still got well over a work day with it turned on, but it's certainly a consideration.  I have my prime hours set from 7am to 10pm M-F.  When I have ActiveSync set to grab email every 15 minutes during prime hours, and every 30 minutes in off hours, I get a little over 50 hours of battery life.  It was about 27 hours with direct push enabled for prime hours.

[Update for 12/7/2008]  I have good news and bad news.  The good news is it appears after testing fours devices since 10/24 I have reached a decision on what to use as my smartphone for the next 12 months.  The bad news is that it isn't going to be the Omnia.

If you are a regular on my blog you know I started with the Palm Treo Pro on ATT.  I then tested the HTC Touch Pro on Sprint.  After that is was the Samsung Omnia on Verizon.  And now I am testing yet another Palm product, the Treo 800w on Sprint.  All I have to say is that it's good to go home.  The Palm Treo really fits my style very well.  I'll write an article about the 800w so let me wrap this one up.

In the end on the Omnia there were a couple of things I didn't like.  The 24 month contract was the deal killer. I didn't like the contract duration, price for voice and data, and the incremental $9.99 for using VZ Navigator and the GPS chip.  It just added up.  I can use the Sprint Palm Treo 800w for half the price and only lock myself to a 12 month contract. 

Second, I don't think the current version of Windows Mobile does the device justice. The Omnia is simply the best WinMo competitor to the Apple iPhone on the market I've tried but it isn't enough.  A year from now I hope we'll have a better Windows Mobile OS out the door that a screen only device like the Omnia can really take advantage of.  Until the, I am sticking with my keys, buttons and simplicity.  That and real work needs more of my time.

I think a lot of people are going to be very happy with the Omnia.  It has a lot of great features and it taught me to use Voice Command.  A slightly larger, higher resolution screen with an improved UI will make it a very strong competitor.  I figure in 12 months that will be the case.  Cheers.

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  • Great, informative review.  My VZW Omnia is supposed to arrive tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to getting it.  I'm moving from my Treo 700p.  I looked at the Storm but chose the Omnia.  Thanks for all of your info and tips.

  • i just got the htc pro and hate it....thinking about switching to omnia...the htc has less than 1gb internal storage and causes it to lag when using touchflo.....can you tell me what the typing is like on omnia....youtube compatible....and how did you change external buttons

  • Why, why, why lock the gps Verizon?  My location on google maps doesn't even work using cell towers.

  • Do you know if you will be able to use the Omnia to sync music and photos to a MAC using a third party sync such as Sync-Mac.  I use a PC at work for my Outlook but have all my photos and music on my MAC.  

  • I am having problems scrolling in the sms conversation section, in fact the screen is very temperamental on the whole left side, has anyone else experienced problems and is there a sensitivity adjustment for the screen?

    thx

  • I'd like to hear more about the video player equipped with the phone.

    How does it handle MP4 files?  

  • Anyone else have a low-battery indicator beep even when the phone is set to silent?  It's incredibly frustrating.

    If you have seen it, know how to turn it off?

    thanks!

  • Can you please guide me on how to transfer videos to the Omnia? I want to use the phone to watch stuff while working out on the treadmill or eliptical. I'm a NEWBIE big time. Never had a smartphone in my life. Or a touch phone either. Any advice or guidance would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

    Christine

    jayde1498@yahoo.com

  • Same as Trevor: came from a Treo 700P, tried the Touch Pro but coulddn't deal with the battery life ('life', hah!). My VZW Omnia handles the data I need to use and it's fast. I miss having a hard keyboard and the VZ Navigator lock had better get broken soon.

    So far, though, after 15 hours? I like it.

    I tried the Storm; you rally have to push down on that screen- unnerving! I'm looking for a phone, not a workout.

  • Same problem as mentioned previously. THE SCROLLING BUG IN EMAIL AND MESSAGES RENDERS THIS OTHERWISE GOOD PHONE USELESS.

  • What scrolling bug?  You mean when you swipe your finger to scroll and it doesn't stop?  You can stop the scrolling with your finger.  At least that's how I remember it.

  • I have had my Omnia for a week tomorrow, and I like it a lot, but maybe not love it. Typing is really hard to get used to. Just don't use the stylus when calibrating if you use your fingers.

    Scrolling is great, it could scroll faster, but I love that it keeps going til you tap again. Battery life you have reported is a bit longer than mine, but I abuse my phones life harshly. Voice command is handy, once you learn it and call quality is excellent. Coming from the 6800 and its CONSTANT problems I am very happy and have only "broken" my Omnia twice.

    GPS, WHY VERIZON WHY!!

  • I was wondering how you were able to setup the Direct Push. Right now I'm using a Storm and I love the ability to get emails "as they arrive." I think the Omnia's a better phone than the Storm, if it can deliver the same instantaneous email delivery the Storm gives me. Is this easily done on the Omnia? Can it rival the Storm in this regard? Thank you in advance for your help!

  • I forgot to mention that I currently, and will, use my phone for personal use. It is not, nor will be, used as a "corporate" phone.

  • Imran, direct push requires an Exchange server and exchange activesync.  The Omnia does support that.