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Innovation

Samsung Omnia hands-on review, part 2

This is part 2 of my off-the-cuff Omnia review. Here are parts 1 and 3The underlying layers of Windows Mobile seem fine these days:it makes a good fist of the difficult task of co-ordinating the very many different real-time processes of a smartphone in full sail.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor on

This is part 2 of my off-the-cuff Omnia review. Here are parts 1 and 3

The underlying layers of Windows Mobile seem fine these days:it makes a good fist of the difficult task of co-ordinating the very many different real-time processes of a smartphone in full sail. But then there's the Windows 3.1-era interface in a 2008-vintage device. In particular, when you look at Apple's App Store and compare it with the process of installing Windows applications, you may feel like a Polynesian islander confronted with a Chinook full of marines. 'No contest' doesn't begin to describe it.

And then there are the things that continue to frustrate me, even after I've been using them solidly for hours a day. There are seven different input mechanisms – Block Recogniser, Letter Recogniser and Transcriber, all of which offer different sorts of handwritten character recognition, two different sorts of keyboard (fat for fingers, tiny for stylus), a 'keypad' that emulates a phone keypad in text entry mode and a 'phonepad' that does the same in a different way. All of the above obscure different amounts of the screen and present different answers to the compromises demanded of trying to fit rich input onto a tiny screen via a touch device. Some have different sorts of optional predicative text. None of them work particularly well. Any device that has seven different ways of doing the same job is fit to be hung from the gibbet.

I could devote an entire article to this part of the Omnia. How there are unexpected security problems – if you use the character recognition input, you leave a ghostly trace of what you've written in the thin film of grease that inevitably builds up on the surface of touch phones. How there seems to be no way to summon up any input method in Opera at will: if the system doesn't decide you need it, you don't get it (that single fact prevented me from testing out Google Docs properly). How often input fields get hidden beneath the keyboard, and how difficult it can be to sort that out. It's a hard problem.

Bluetooth shouldn't be a hard problem, but it is. I've tried to use it with three different computers for file transfer and wireless bridging (or tethering, as the hip young kids call it these days). No luck; and after I found myself downloading a Windows Mobile registry editor from 2002 (still works!) to change a key that might, rumour had it, enable file sharing I realised that I was back in a very familiar and mutually abusive relationship. Too old for that nonsense now, I muttered. I could list the miseries – the curt, uninformative error messages, the utter lack of diagnostics, no documentation whatsoever – but I can't bear it and you don't care. Gave up.

Video. The Omnia is 'DivX-certified'. It doesn't come with a DivX player, but one is freely available. After trying to play five different DivX videos, though, I'm unsure what certification might actually mean. One didn't play. One played in the wrong aspect ratio. One, amusingly, rotated the screen so that it was always on its side, no matter how you rotated the phone. The other two played OK for the first minute, then lapsed into jolty, staccato, unwatchable pain. I tried stopping all other applications. I tried disabling all the radios. I tried a clean reset. I gave up.

File transfer. If you're lucky, ActiveSync works. If you're not – or if you're trying to use another method, or a non-Windows machine, then give up. At one point, I entered a near-Zen state of existential nothingness over the sheer paradox of having two devices packed to the gunnels with connectivity – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G – and both speaking IP-based protocols in infinite variety, and not being able to move a single music track between them. Even tried FTP. Didn't work. Gave up.

Battery life. Lousy. You'll get a day tops, less if you do much – one four hour train trip with Google Maps running on satellite view for about an hour total did for mine. The battery meter is frequently dropped from the status bar in preference for other icons – including, frequently, one that just says you're on 3G. As the signal strength meter also says that, this is one of those little annoyances for which there is no excuse. I was also unable to find any way to set the Exchange client's polling frequency, which is one of the most effective ways to mollify the lithium ion demon. And remember to always pack the USB converter lead: you won't be able to plug the Omnia into standard USB chargers because of that proprietary connector.

So how about the things that work?

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