It's a great time to buy a smartphone, no matter what your budget. You can find functional and reliable handsets from about $197 to over $1,000.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Samsung was a launch partner for Windows Phone back in October 2010, with its Omnia 7. The 4in.-screen Omnia 7 was something of a flagship device and still retails for close to £400 (ex. VAT) SIM-free. The Omnia W is a less flashy 3.7in. Windows Phone 7.5 handset costing £245 (ex. VAT) from Clove Technology, who supplied our review sample. It doesn't have all the top-end features of its predecessor, but does the Omnia W offer enough to attract Windows Phone fans?
The Samsung Omnia W is a relatively compact smartphone with, at first glance, nothing to mark it out as different from the crowd. Its all-black chassis is almost entirely conventional.
The 3.7in. Omnia W is well built, but does not stand out in terms of physical design
In our view, Samsung could have done more to differentiate the Omnia W from other Windows Phones. Of course, it's compelled by Microsoft to put Search, Back and Home buttons beneath the screen, and a camera shortcut button on the right edge. But it's not compelled to use black for the chassis, or to adopt a rather pedestrian physical design.
The edges are angled ever so slightly inwards towards the black backplate, which makes the handset look a little less chunky than it is. At 10.9mm thick it feels on the blocky side — in fact, it's thicker than a number of tablets.
On the other hand, the Omnia W is relatively compact at 58.8mm wide by 115.97mm deep. We had no trouble stashing it in quite small pockets, and it was easy for our small hands to reach across the screen for one-handed use — when standing while commuting, for example.
The Omnia W's Super AMOLED screen measures 3.7in. across the diagonal and has the standard Windows Phone resolution of 800 by 480 pixels. It's just about large enough for viewing web pages, and colours are vibrant and sharp. Like many other data elements, individual web pages can be pinned to the Windows Mobile Start Screen, making pages you visit regularly extremely easy to get back to. It's unfortunate that Windows Phone 7.5 lacks Flash support, although it does handle HTML5.
Text entry is via on-screen tappable keyboards in both landscape and portrait modes. Windows Phone makes a stab at guessing what letters you're likely to need next, and increases their 'hot' area, thereby reducing the likelihood of typing errors. Microsoft has made a very good job of this, and we were able to use even the relatively cramped portrait-mode keyboard with a high degree of accuracy.
The Samsung Omnia W runs Windows Phone 7.5 out of the box — unlike earlier models, it doesn't need an over-the-air update. It's powered by a 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor, a significant step up from the 1GHz CPU in the more expensive Omnia 7. We found the Omnia W very responsive to screen presses and sweeps, and had no real performance issues during the test period.
The CPU is supported by 512MB of RAM and there's 8GB of internal storage on board. Samsung says 6.34GB of this is available to users; when we checked our review handset it reported 6.2GB available out of the box — we're being very precise about this because there's no external storage available on Windows Phone handsets, so what's on board is all you'll ever get.
Wireless connectivity includes HSPA at 14.4Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1.
The Omnia W only fulfills its potential by being highly connected. It gathers crucial data such as contacts and calendar information over the air: there's no way to refresh such data via desktop synchronisation — this is only possible for media (music, video, photos, podcasts) via Zune.
When serviced over the air, not only contacts and diary data but also documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) are accessible, with edits synchronised via either SharePoint (for corporate users) or SkyDrive (for those without server support). Office 365 is also supported.
The Omnia W has front and rear cameras. The main camera, at the back, is a 5-megapixel unit with LED flash that supports 720p HD video recording. The camera can be activated by pressing its associated side button, even when the handset is in locked mode. Images can be automatically synchronised to a SkyDrive account for backup. There's also a front-facing VGA camera for video calling — something that was absent from Samsung's earlier Omnia 7.
Since Microsoft effectively locks down the Windows Phone experience, Samsung's main route to personalising the Omnia W is via extra software.
Photo Studio is a photo editing and sharing application that lets you post to Facebook, Photobucket and Picasa. Funshot adds effects to photos as you take them, and has a wide array of deformation effects to choose from. MiniDiary is a diary application designed to look like a Windows Phone hub, allowing you to scroll through screens that organise diary entries by location and date. Weather information can automatically be added to an entry, and diary entries can include voice notes, photos and drawings as well as text.
These apps are all rather consumer focused. In similar vein is AllShare, Samsung's DLNA application for sharing photos, video and music over Wi-Fi. There's also a Samsung Zone in the Marketplace, where the company highlights a number of other free applications.
Some aspects of Windows Phone continue to rankle every time we use the operating system, and these gripes affected our experience of the Omnia W. The lack of Flash support is one; the absence of desktop synchronisation for contacts and calendar is another. Out-of-date date information in Local Scout, Microsoft's location-aware service, is also a concern. To be fair, Local Scout is accurate most of the time — but it does throw up the odd error that makes us doubt the integrity of its database. For example, a pub we know well that was renamed two years ago is recorded under its old name, while some other venues are listed twice. We're not sure we'd rely on it in unfamiliar territory.
A third issue we have is the incomplete support for automatic screen rotation. Until you become familiar with the Omnia W, you may be confused as to which screens auto-rotate and which do not.
Performance & battery life
The Omnia W comes with a 1500mAh battery that Samsung says will deliver up to 14 hours of 2G talk, 6.5 hours of 3G talk and up to 490 hours of 2G standby or 380 hours of 3G standby.
We found we were able to get a day's productive use from the battery without recourse to mains power, but stretching this beyond two days is unlikely to be possible for most users. It's a familiar story.
The Samsung Omnia W is attractively priced if you're looking for a SIM-free Windows Phone. The screen is large enough to deliver a decent web browsing (if you can live without Flash), mobile email and document production/editing experience, while the chassis is solid if unspectacular. Elsewhere, Samsung's additional apps are largely consumer oriented, and we're still old-school enough to miss contact and calendar synchronisation via a desktop PC connection.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Caption by: Sandra Vogel