Samsung announced just one Windows Phone 7 handset when the operating system launched last month. The Omnia 7 GT-i8700 is available from Three, Orange and T-Mobile, and is also available SIM free. Our review sample came from Three.
The Omnia 7 is a nicely made smartphone, although there's nothing particularly spectacular about the chassis design. However, anyone who appreciates clean lines and solid hardware should find that the Omnia 7 ticking these boxes.
Samsung's Omnia 7 features a 4in. Super AMOLED screen and a 5-megapixel camera
The handset is relatively thin (10.99mm) given its 64.2mm-by-122.4mm footprint. It weighs 138g, which is neither lightweight nor excessively heavy. The screen bezel is plastic at the top and bottom, and is complemented by a metal back — with a removable panel cut into it — that curves to form the left and right edges.
There are three buttons beneath the screen, as with all Windows Phone 7 handsets. The Start button is concave and very clearly marked, making it easy to find both by eye and touch. This is flanked by the Search and Back buttons, which are touch sensitive and hard to distinguish until you make contact with one, at which point they both light up.
The right edge carries a camera button, which is another required feature of all Windows Phone 7 handsets. This allows you to take a photo without removing the phone from lock mode. You can even share your new snap without actually unlocking the handset.
The power button is also on the right edge. At the top there's a 3.5mm headset jack and the micro-USB connector for battery charging and PC connection. The left edge has a volume rocker, while the microphone is on the bottom edge.
Arguably the Omnia 7's key features is its large 4in. screen — currently, the only Windows Phone 7 handset with a bigger screen (4.3in.) is the HTC HD7. The resolution is the standard 480 by 800 pixels, but rather than LCD, the Omnia 7 uses superior Super AMOLED technology. The display is sharp, vibrant and a joy to look at — particularly in indoor conditions, where it delivers extremely vivid colours.
The screen is capacitive, as with all Windows Phone 7 handsets, and is responsive to finger presses and taps. Pinch-to-zoom when web browsing is extremely smooth, and the on-screen keyboards perform well too.
Microsoft has implemented a couple of handy features to make text entry easier. In both portrait and landscape mode, the keyboards have a subtle software tweak that makes the target area for some letters bigger as you type. This changes dynamically depending on letters the software thinks you're most likely to want. There's no visible change to the keyboard as you type and the result does seem to be more accurate typing.
When things do go wrong, the autocorrection system is pretty good at making the right guesses for misspelled words; where it gives up, words are underlined with the familiar red line that Word users will recognise. Tap an underlined word and suggested corrections are offered. You can go back and make these corrections after completing a train of thought, which helps keep the words flowing.
We do have a grumble about text entry, but this relates to the Windows Phone 7 operating system rather than Samsung's handset. There's no press-and-hold for secondary characters or numbers: instead, you have to move into another keyboard for these, and then return to the main keyboard. This makes for additional key taps; there’s also a separate keyboard for emoticons.
The Omnia 7 ships with an AC adapter, a microUSB cable, a stereo headset with ear buds and a printed user manual.
Like all other current Windows Phone 7 handsets, the Samsung Omnia 7 runs on a 1GHz processor (the Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250). It has 8GB of internal storage, and there's no scope to enhance this with microSD cards. Microsoft says this restriction allows it control the speed and quality of the storage used. Most of the first crop of Windows Phone 7 devices have 8GB of internal storage, the exception being HTC's HD7, which has 16GB.
The smartphone connectivity essentials of quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, HSPA (7.2Mbps down, 5.76Mbps up), Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) and GPS are all present.
Bing Maps includes a number of features we expect to see as standard on smarphones these days. There is navigation functionality, the ability to find locations and services, and if you zoom in far enough the view automatically provides a satellite overlay. Press on a location once found, such as a restaurant, and you're taken to a new screen containing address and phone number details that offers to route you there from your current location. You can pin a location to the Start screen too, which could prove useful if you're checking on somewhere you want to visit later.
When we reviewed the HTC 7 Mozart we rather liked the animations that make the screen content swivel as the device is turned in the hand. However, having used Windows Phone 7 for a couple of weeks, we find it tedious to wait for this animation to happen. Over time, users may prefer a swifter reorientation. Again, this is a Microsoft issue rather than a Samsung one, and it affects all Windows Phone 7 handsets.
Windows Phone 7 done not let you synchronise contacts and calendar entries from the desktop. You can synchronise data using the Zune desktop software, but this only covers music, videos, pictures and podcasts. Calendar and contacts have to sync over the air, either from corporate servers or via Windows Live.
Microsoft Office documents can be accessed via SharePoint Server 2010, and OneNote can also sync with SkyDrive — the free 25GB of storage that's available to Windows Live users. For anyone outside of a corporate network the solution is currently piecemeal.
The Omnia 7 has a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash. It's not outstanding, but fine for everyday shots. Other Windows Phone 7 smartphones have better cameras — notably the HTC 7 Mozart's 8-megapixel unit with Xenon flash.
Microsoft has locked down many of the aspects of Windows Phone 7, so handset manufacturers have to think carefully about how to differentiate their products. They can't skin the Windows Phone 7 interface, for example, but can only add their own software features.
Samsung's efforts amount to adding a Daily Briefing feature to the start screen. This provides a weather update and forecast, news from Reuters and stock prices. Mobile operator Three has added its own hub, which accesses a range of web sites, aggregated news from the BBC, Sky Sports and Google News and provides some account management services.
In the absence of compelling software extras, the Omnia 7's standout feature, in our opinion, is its Super AMOLED screen.
Performance & battery life
Apart from the animation issue mentioned above, the Omnia 7 zipped along nicely on its 1GHz processor. Life from the 1,500mAh battery was acceptable too. After day of average use from a full battery — with Wi-Fi on, some GPS usage, streaming internet video, checking email and uploading photos to SkyDrive — we still had enough juice left to power the phone overnight.
On this basis we expect most users will need to charge once a day. Unless you're a heavy user of GPS — a renowned battery hog — you shouldn't have to hunt around for a mains power source in the middle of the afternoon.
The Omnia 7's Super AMOLED screen is a delight to use, and we had no serious issues with everyday smartphone usage. However, Samsung could have done more to differentiate the Omnia 7 as far as software extras are concerned.
Windows Phone 7's utility as a business tool at this early stage is questionable. To get the best from it in terms of document access on the move you need to be a SharePoint Server 2010 user. Small-business users may miss the ability to synchronise contacts and calendar entries from the desktop, and will need to get their data into the cloud before syncing via Windows Live.
There's also the issue of Windows Phone 7's incompatibility with Windows Mobile 6.5 in terms of third-party applications. Looking at the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace while writing this review, we saw a few applications in the Productivity section that may appeal to mobile professionals. However, these largely fall into the task manager, password manager and currency converter-type categories — which we'd class as handy utilities rather than serious productivity applications.
We like the Samsung Omnia 7, but would caution business users to wait for the Windows Phone 7 platform to mature.