New Omnia is a ‘smartphone with the lot’ – including several features which Apple left off the iPhone.
The venue for the launch of the new Samsung Omnia during last week’s CommunicAsia 2008 phonefest in Singapore was impressively chic, the background soundtrack suitably modern. But the tune that kept bobbing along in this writer’s mind was Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” (from the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun
, if you must know).
You don’t need to be familiar with the lyrics to get the gist of this duet – the title says it all. So does a glance at the spec sheet of the Omnia, which is due to hit the streets in late August.
While the Omnia and iPhone are almost identical in their shape and key attributes such as the touchscreen, A-GPS (Assisted GPS), a 624MHz processor and the customer’s choice between an 8GB and 16GB flash drive, Samsung ups the ante in just about every other department (except, arguably, the slickness of their software platform -- it's based on Windows Mobile 6.1.)
An externally-accessible MicroSD card slot provides for up to 16GB of additional storage – perfect for quickly loading up a slew of movies or TV shows before your next long trip. And that video content can be in DiVx, XviD or even WMV if you so choose, along with MP4 and H.264.
On the musical side of the equation the Omnia goes beyond the de facto MP3/AAC combo to include WMA and the open-standard OGG, while adding an FM radio for a quick shot of news or some totally random variety in your listening.
Apple’s latest iPhone hits 3.6Mbps on 3G, while the Omnia rockets along at 7.2Mbps on the 2.1GHz 3G band, although on the 850MHz band used by Telstra’s Next G network it’s currently stuck at the more yawnful EDGE and GPRS rates. (The iPhone, by comparison, supports 3.6Mbps on 850MHz because of AT&T’s 850MHz HSDPA services in the US).
Of course, both have 802.11b/g WiFi and Bluetooth 2.0, as if you needed to ask. But the Omnia lets you enjoy stereo Bluetooth, which is one of the iPhone’s most idiotic omissions. Another is MMS, which the Omnia also puts a tick against (the iPhone seems to assume that everyone you're sending a picture or video to has an email capable phone... an obviously flawed assumption).
The new iPhone still sports the same 2.0 megapixel camera as its predecessor, while Samsung slaps on a 5.0 megapixel sensor and not only adds face detection technology but a novel ‘smile shot’ that detects when the subject is smiling and can automatically take the shot at that moment. (We tried all manner of toothless grins, teeth-baring snarls and assorted angry grimaces but our efforts failed to fool the Omnia, although they amused nearby media and Samsung reps).
One area where the iPhone retains the lead is the screen, which is not only slightly larger – 3.5 inches against the Omnia’s 3.2in panel – but enjoys a richer half-VGA resolution of 320 x 480 pixels compared to the 240 x 400 ‘widescreen QVGA’ of the Omnia. Samsung tells us this is a limitation of the Omnia’s Windows Mobile 6.1 OS rather than the hardware itself.
However, we were pleasantly surprised by Samsung’s own addition to the OS in the form of a widget-based overlay called ‘TouchWiz’. This mimics Vista’s gadget-friendly sidebar and desktop by parking a sidebar onto the left of the screen which can hold up to 14 handy widgets – you can see around six at any time, and scroll the sidebar up or down to view the rest. Drag the icon for any widget off the sidebar and onto the phone’s home screen and you’ve got information at a glance.
And if you really want to replicate the desktop experience, a tiny optical trackpad perched between the Send and End keys – the only physical controls on the Omnia’s front panel – lets you nudge the controller around as if it were a mouse.
Samsung has also crafted a colourful iconic iPhone-like main menu, which is all the better for hiding Windows Mobile until you have no choice but to be confronted by it. There’s one more trait which we filed into the ‘unexpected’ basket, and this is the inclusion of the Opera Mobile browser alongside Microsoft’s pocket edition of Internet Explorer -- well, at least Samsung is being realistic: Pocket IE blows.