Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Saga™ Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung Omnia features a spacious touch screen with customizable Home screen, haptic feedback, and accelerometer. The Windows Mobile smartphone also offers Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and EV-DO Rev. A support, as well as a 5-megapixel camera and robust multimedia features.

THE BAD: You're still limited to the preloaded widgets. The onscreen keyboard is a bit cramped, and the Omnia can be sluggish.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Though slightly more expensive, Verizon customers looking for a touch-screen smartphone will get a better user experience and faster performance from the Samsung Omnia than the RIM BlackBerry Storm.

Back in late September 2008, we reviewed the unlocked version of the Samsung Omnia and at the time, we didn't know if it would make it to the United States even with all the demand for the touch-screen smartphone. However, it looks as if Verizon Wireless is making some people's holiday wishes come true as the carrier has picked up the Samsung Omnia (SCH-i910) and will start offering it through business sales channels and online on November 26 and in stores on December 8.

Verizon's Omnia offers a lot of the same great features as the unlocked GSM version of the phone, including a large touch screen with Samsung's customizable TouchWiz user interface, a 5-megapixel camera, integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. In addition, it adds support for the carrier's EV-DO Rev. A network, which allows for faster Web browsing and downloads. Like the RIM BlackBerry Storm, the Omnia is not the best smartphone for those who need a messaging-centric device, since the onscreen keyboard is a bit cramped. However, for Verizon Wireless customers looking for a touch-screen smartphone, you'll get a better user experience and faster performance from the Samsung Omnia than the BlackBerry Storm. While slightly pricier at $249.99 (with a two-year contract and after rebates and discounts), the Omnia is worth the extra $50 and is a respectable competitor to the Apple iPhone.

The highlight of the Samsung Omnia is its touch screen and TouchWiz user interface. It's hard to ignore the 3.2-inch TFT screen that dominates the face of the smartphone, and with a 262,000-color output and 240×400-pixel resolution, the display is quite eye-catching. Admittedly, it's not as sharp as some of the other touch-screen devices out there, such as the HTC Touch Diamond or the BlackBerry Storm, but it's still bright and clear for viewing images and text.

The Samsung Omnia is sleeker and faster than the RIM BlackBerry Storm.

For text entry, you have several options, including a full QWERTY keyboard (called Samsung Keyboard), Block Recognizer, Transcriber, and more. The full QWERTY is fairly cramped in portrait mode, so you might want to switch to the keypad or use the included stylus for more accuracy. Even the full QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode isn't the most spacious, but we managed to get by OK. Obviously, it's not going to be the best device for messaging fanatics, but we were still able to compose short e-mails and text messages with fewer errors than the BlackBerry Storm even though the latter had larger buttons. The Omnia does provide haptic feedback, so you'll feel a slight vibration to confirm your action. You can adjust the intensity of the vibration in the Settings menu.

There is a built-in accelerometer so the screen orientation will rotate from portrait to landscape mode when you turn the phone left or right. We like that you get vibrating feedback when you rotate the phone to let you know it's registered the change. It's also one of the most responsive accelerometer-equipped smartphones we've tested. The screen orientation on the Samsung Omnia was always quick to change whenever we flipped the handset, unlike the Storm and the HTC Touch Pro.

What makes the Omnia unique, however, is Samsung's TouchWiz user interface. TouchWiz lets you customize your Home screen with different "widgets." There is a tray located on the left side with various applications, such as the clock, music player, photo gallery, games, and notepad. You can then drag and drop these widgets to the main screen so they're easily accessible to you every time you fire up your phone. Once you've customized the phone to your liking, you can collapse and hide the tray by tapping the arrow button. Beyond the Home screen, there's also the Main Menu page that organizes the major applications in a nice easy-to-use view–very non-Windows Mobile.

One of the complaints we had about the unlocked Omnia is that you were limited to the widgets that were preloaded on the smartphone. The same is true with the Verizon Omnia, but Samsung and Verizon have at least added a couple more shortcuts for your use, most notably an Internet browser widget. In all, you get 16 widgets to choose from, including messages, wireless manager, contacts, calendar, games, and multimedia. Admittedly, the look doesn't offer the cleanest-looking layout, and if you find you're not a fan of TouchWiz interface or if you're a traditionalist, you can switch back to the standard Windows Today screen or choose from other themes in the Settings > Today menu.

Physically, the rest of the Verizon Samsung Omnia doesn't differ much from the unlocked GSM version. For more information on the smartphone's design, please read our full review of the unlocked Samsung Omnia.

Verizon Wireless packages the Samsung Omnia with an AC adapter, a stylus, a USB cable, a 3.5mm/FM radio antenna, a 2.5mm headset adapter, software CDs, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

The Verizon Samsung Omnia offers many of the same core functions of the unlocked model, though there are some differences and new additions. Starting with the phone features, the CDMA Omnia includes a speakerphone, conference calling, speed dial, voice dialing and commands, and text and multimedia messaging. The smartphone also supports visual voice mail. The address book is limited only by the available memory, and each contact can hold multiple numbers, addresses, birthdays, notes, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can pair an entry with a picture, a group ID, or one of 22 polyphonic ringtones.

Bluetooth 2.0 is onboard for use with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets as well as hands-free kits, object push for vCard, basic imaging, phonebook access profiles, and dial-up networking. If you want to take advantage of the DUN capabilities and use the Omnia as a wireless modem for your laptop, be aware that you will need to sign up for one of Verizon's BroadbandAccess plans, which start at $15 per month.

The Verizon Samsung Omnia work on the carrier's EV-DO Rev. A network so you should enjoy faster Web browsing, e-mail, and downloads. The Rev. A offers an extra boost over regular EV-DO, bringing download speeds up to the 450Kbps-to-800Kbps range versus 400Kbps-to-700Kbps, while upload speeds will average around 300Kpbs to 400Kpbs (compared with EV-DO's 50Kpbs to 70Kbps). Of course, this is all dependent if you live in a coverage area (you can find a coverage map from Verizon's Web site).

In addition to the 3G capabilities, lo and behold, you also get integrated Wi-Fi. We always like having another option for connecting to the Web, especially if you're out of network coverage and it's also faster, so we're glad to see the wireless option on the Omnia. For Web browsing, you can use Internet Explorer Mobile but the Samsung Omnia also ships with the Opera Mobile Web browser. With Opera, you can open numerous tabs, zoom in pages by double-tapping the touch screen, bookmark sites, and much more.

The Omnia offers integrated GPS/A-GPS for navigation capabilities. To get a fix on your location, the smartphone will use both satellites and cellular triangulation but for real-time turn-by-turn directions, traffic data, and more, you will need to subscribe to Verizon's VZ Navigator location-based service, which costs $9.99 per month or $2.99 per day. Unfortunately, VZ Navigator was not activated on your review unit, so we weren't able to truly test the GPS capabilities.

The Omnia runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition with all the usual trimmings, including the Microsoft Office Mobile Suite and support for Microsoft's Direct Push Technology for real-time message delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. The Omnia can also be configured to access your POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts. There are plenty of other PIM tools to keep you on task and organized, including a task list, a task manager and switcher, a smart converter, a calculator, and a PDF reader, among other things. You can also download more programs, games, and utilities from the Verizon AppZone. Some sample titles include Spb Backup, Agenda One, iSS Mine Sweeper, PhatPad, and more.

For fun, the Omnia offers several multimedia features. In addition to the standard Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, Samsung includes something called the Touch Player, which features a nicer user interface and functionality similar to, but not as streamlined, as the iPhone's Cover Flow. Supported music and video formats include MP3, WMA, AAC, eAAC+, MP4, 3GPP, H.264, DivX, and Xvid. Other goodies include podcast support, a streaming media player, and an FM radio, though you have to use the included headset for the latter. While the unlocked version of the Omnia was offered in 16GB and 8GB capacities, Verizon will only offer the 8GB model. Still, that's a lot of memory and you have the microSD/SDHC slot for expansion capabilities (accepts up to 16GB cards).

The Samsung Omnia features a 5-megapixel camera with flash and other advanced features.

The Omnia comes equipped with a 5-megapixel camera with a slew of advanced features. In addition to video recording and digital zoom, you get a flash, auto focus, panorama mode, antishake, face detection, and SmileShot (can detect when someone is smiling and automatically take a picture) just to name a few. For still images, there are three quality settings and six size options. You have a grand total of 15 shooting modes, ranging from sports to sunset to fireworks as well as white balance adjustment, various effects, ISO settings, and much more. You can even geotag your photos with the embedded GPS radio. In video mode, you don't get as many tools, but you still get three size and three quality choices.

The Omnia's camera took high-quality photos.

Picture quality was excellent. The antishake feature really made a difference in getting clear shots as we tried taking photos both ways, and got blurry images when the function was turned off. Colors looked good, and video quality was also pretty good, with just some slight pixelation. Once done, you can, of course, send your photos via e-mail or multimedia message. The Omnia also has a Digital Frame application that displays the time and date, while rotating through your photo gallery in the background. Finally, you get TV-out capabilities, and a video-editing application is included on the device in case you want to make a quick movie on the spot.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900; EV-DO Rev. A) Samsung Omnia in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless service and call quality was good. There was minimal background distraction and voices sounded rich and clear on our end, and we had no problems using an airline's voice-automated response system. On the other end, callers said we sounded mostly clear with just some slight echoing. When we activated the speakerphone, call quality diminished slightly. Voices sounded somewhat robotic and we also had problems finding the perfect volume. To hear our friends, we had to turn the volume up to the second highest level, but then audio sounded blown out. However, if we moved it down one notch, it was too soft. We successfully paired the Omnia with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

On more than one occasion, we saw the little Windows pinwheel spin round and round as we waited for the Samsung Omnia to launch an application. The lag in performance was usually just a matter of a few seconds, but it was noticeable. That said, the device was definitely more responsive than the BlackBerry Storm and the system didn't freeze or crash during our test period. There is also a Task Manager in the Settings menu to help manage your running applications and optimize your smartphone's performance.

Using Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A network, it took the Omnia about 25 seconds to fully load CNET.com in the Opera Web browser while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in about 10 to 15 seconds. Our review unit also had no problem detecting and connecting to our Wi-Fi network. Music playback sounded a bit hollow through the phone's speakers, and unfortunately, the Omnia features a proprietary jack and not a 3.5mm headphone jack. The good news is that there's an audio adapter included in the box, so you can still plug in a nice pair of earbuds or headphones. Video playback was smooth with decent quality.

The Samsung Omnia has a rated talk time of 5.7 hours and up to 19 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get 8 hours on continuous talk time on a single charge. According to the FCC radiation tests, the Omnia has a digital SAR rating of 1.31 watts per kilogram.

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