While the debate surrounding personal computers tends to center on Microsoft vs. Apple, when it comes to smartphones, Windows Mobile is often an afterthought. The mobile debate is far more concerned with Apple's iPhone, Research in Motion's BlackBerrys, and, recently, the Linux-based Android phone system, brought to us by Google.
WinMo needed a homerun to get back in the game. Good thing the Samsung Omnia wields a mighty bat.
Verizon Wireless has carried the phone since late 2008. I tested the Windows Mobile 6.1-powered Omnia and, although the touchscreen version of WinMo took a little getting used to (about a weekend), we found a lot to love about this phone and its operating system.
Obviously imagined as an iPhone competitor, this model is largely navigated through the use of a slick touchscreen. Whichever version is used, the Omnia's interface is impressive. The automatic rotation of the screen from vertical to landscape is snappy. The touchscreen is responsive and the fact there's no keyboard is highly mitigated by a quick vibration whenever you select a program. It makes the experience of using the Omnia surprisingly tactile.
Input options are varied. A QWERTY keyboard, naturally better suited for landscape mode, was our favorite, but several other virtual keypad options (one in which it's two letters per larger button, one that's telephone style) exist.
Then there are the stylus-friendly options. Fans of the older Palm/WinMo devices may enjoy the "Block Recognizer" (a.k.a. "Grafitti") mode. There's a full QWERTY keyboard in miniature, with keys just like your PC keyboard, but well suited to being tapped with the point of your collapsible stylus. Finally, there's a mode that purports to interpret your handwriting. Not mine -- but perhaps it'll benefit someone with better penmanship.
Some of the other hardware choices shine as well. In fact, the 5-megapixel camera with a dedicated flash may be the Omnia's best feature. The photos are crisp and high quality, and the system resets itself rather quickly. There is little waiting around for the image to process before moving on to the next one. The video recording and playback functions are equally impressive. Even sound quality, whether talking on the phone, listening to music, or playing back a video (with or without headphones), is high.
Built-in Wi-Fi is definitely a boon to the business traveler set. We easily got it hooked up to the nearest secure network and were downloading files at speeds faster than the wireless phone service could provide.
Speaking of downloads: Our main problem with the Omnia was lack of an easy-access miniSD slot. There is such a slot, but it's under the battery case, and you need to remove the battery itself to put a miniSD card in. Of course, since the system has 8 gigabytes of internal memory, this may not be an issue for some.
One problem we've had with many smartphones in the past is the ability to read PDFs quickly and accurately -- a business must! The Omnia came through our test with shining colors, successfully navigating PDF documents as diverse as book pages, grad-school theses, and even a couple of comic books.
As always with smartphones, the follow-up support from manufacturers and vendors -- or lack thereof -- can ultimately determine the device's success. Out of the batter's box, we'd rate the Omnia at least a triple. And, should decent apps, new widgets, and other cool add-ons follow, this one could well steal home plate.
$99 with a contract from Verizon Wireless.
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