When LG released the GM750, it decided to put its S-Class user interface over the front of Windows Mobile 6.5, with separate menus and applications to keep you from having to endure some of the antiquated features of Microsoft’s ageing OS.
Of course, it’s not like Samsung to copy LG or vice versa, so the Omnia II is probably just a freak coincidence! You see, when you power it up and go beyond the Windows Phone logo (which has a beautiful coloured background that really shows off the OLED screen) you will not see a normal Windows home screen, but rather something resembling a phone using Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface.
TouchWiz replaces the V6.5 home screen with slideable panels that can house a range of widgets dragged around, and a new menu that can be customised and scrolled from left to right, with a similar look to that of the iPhone.
Samsung has even got a ‘cube’ view that lets you rotate the cube to get access to things like images, music, video and the web. Unlike LG’s pre-rendered animated cube, this is actually a live image that shows thumbnails of album covers and the most recently taken photograph.
A touch of wizardry
Only the top of the screen will tell anyone that this isn’t a standard Samsung featurephone, as you still have the Windows logo and ‘Start’ text that brings up the standard Microsoft menu. Although it seems somewhat redundant, given that you can access everything from Samsung’s menu, it does mean that regular WinMo users have a more familiar interface. Larger icons, coupled with the bigger screen, makes it easier to select things with your finger. That’s a good thing because there’s no stylus with this phone.
What isn’t so good is the lack of extra buttons normally present on a Windows Mobile device. There’s no back or home buttons, just a single button that jumps between the menu and the standby screen. There are still many applications that require a fairly precise press on the ‘OK’ icon in the top right-hand corner. That can make the phone awkward to use with just one hand.
The screen is also resistive, which means you not only have to be precise, but need to apply some pressure. In some respects, the inclusion of a stylus might have been favourable here.
To save power, Samsung has included a range of power saving options that can control the speed of the 800MHz processor (the same as used on the Jet). As a result, you can opt to let the phone manage the power automatically, or set it to a fixed mode all the time.
Setting the high speed mode will require you to confirm that the battery is going to be hit hard, but it really makes a difference to the speed of the phone for even simple things like navigating the menu. Be prepared to keep the phone on charge whenever possible, or it will struggle to last a day.
Night at the Opera
For web browsing, Samsung has set Opera as the default browser and this was an excellent move. Page rendering is affected by the power mode, but is never too slow to make it unusable. The phone has access to both 3G and HSPA (7.2Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up, depending on network), plus Wi-Fi. There’s also GPS and on the back of the phone a 5-megapixel autofocus camera with twin-LED flash. Video recording at 720×480 pixels is available (at an impressive 30 frames per second).
As Samsung introduced its latest ‘super’ AM-OLED display technology on the Wave, the Omnia II keeps the older version that lacks the brightness needed to work well on a bright, sunny day. This is one big downside of OLED screens, and is a big issue to be aware of if you’re using a mobile outdoors on a regular basis.
It would be at about this point that I should mention that, sooner or later, you’ll be forced to use Microsoft’s own applications, with tiny text and minute boxes that need clicking.
In the case of the Omnia II, Samsung has managed to hide most of these too; with replacement front-ends for the messaging, email and media player applications. In fact, about the only things that still have the ‘old-school’ Windows Mobile look are applications like Word and Excel.
This greatly improves the usability for the phone, even with the older touchscreen technology. Here’s a phone that doesn’t look like a Windows phone, but can be used with the constantly growing selection of games and applications – as well as the many business apps that aren’t available on other platforms.
You see, while Microsoft has announced Windows Phone 7 Series, apps on 6.5 and 7 won’t be compatible with each other, and Microsoft intends to block the sort of customisation carried out by Samsung. But 6.5 will still be sold and supported for a long time after the successors arrive.
The Omnia II may have had a makeover, but it’s still a phone that is going to be most appealing to a business user that needs Windows Mobile. Otherwise, you could simply buy a phone like the Jet and do away with Windows Mobile altogether.
It seems like a joke when a phone with Windows Mobile is made to look like it runs something else. Microsoft has got the wheels in motion on an all-new replacement, but for now we get handsets that replace as much of the UI as possible. Samsung has done a great job with TouchWiz, rather like HTC uses TouchFLO to great effect. Samsung has customised the apps for email, messages and media, while Opera replaces IE as the default browser. The end result is a phone that doesn’t look like Windows, but can run all of the apps that you might need to be able to run.