Of all the Windows Phone 7 handsets we’ve used, the Samsung Omnia makes the biggest impact. It’s the screen that does it: a 4in, 480 x 800 Super AMOLED beauty, it beams forth more brilliantly than any other phone display we’ve come across to date. There’s a little more graininess than with a TFT screen (so it isn’t quite as refined as the display on the iPhone 4), but its saturated colours and almost perfect contrast more than compensate.
In common with other new Windows handsets, it’s simple to operate. Below that magnificent screen are just three buttons: touch-sensitive Back and Search keys, either side of a mechanical Start button. On the right-hand edge are the power switch and camera shutter button, on the left is a volume rocker switch and on the top is a 3.5mm audio jack and microUSB socket.
The build quality is impressive. The Omnia’s rear panel is made from a lovely matte-finish aluminium, and the plastics used elsewhere all feel top class. It isn’t exciting to look at, however. Next to the HTC HD7, which boasts a larger (but duller) screen, and the slimmer, curvier HTC 7 Mozart, it’s a slab, and measuring 64.2 x 11 x 122.4mm (WDH) it’s a bit of a trouser-bulger too. It can’t hold a candle to the gorgeous lines of the iPhone 4.
Underneath that butch exterior, the specifications are as you’d expect from a flagship device, with a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, GPS, Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi the main highlights. Specific to the Omnia 7 is an FM radio tuner and 8GB of non-upgradeable flash memory (the Omnia has no microSD slot).
The 5-megapixel camera is decent, but less impressive than we’d hoped. It produces crisp, colourful and clean photographs in good light, and the 720p video camera shoots moving images at a similar level of quality. It’s an autofocus camera with electronic image stabilisation, and there’s an LED flash to illuminate subjects in low light conditions. The latter isn’t the boon you might expect, though, and we’d recommend turning it off. It’s overpowerful, can’t be adjusted in any way and tends to bleach out subjects badly at close quarters.
One of the most impressive aspects of Windows Phone 7 is its smooth operation, and the Samsung Omnia 7 makes the most of the interface’s efficiencies. The phone is a pleasure to use, whether browsing the web, reading emails, catching up on your social networking feeds, listening to music or playing games.
Just as important as day-to-day responsiveness, however, is how frequently you’ll end up charging your phone, and on this front we’re pleased to report that Microsoft clearly has avoided the trap that Google fell into with early versions of Android. In our 24-hour test, in which we carry out four key real-world tasks, the Omnia performed admirably.
After a 30-minute phone call, a 50MB podcast download, an hour of playing that podcast back on loop, another hour with the screen on at low brightness, then sitting out the remaining 24 hours idle with email being retrieved on an “as items arrive” basis, 60% capacity remained on the battery gauge. That’s about what we’d expect from a phone with a screen this big.
So the Samsung Omnia 7 is a fine phone for the most part and Windows Phone 7 is a cracking attempt from Microsoft to get itself back in the smartphone race. But there are two big problems. The first is the general lack of apps and games. Microsoft refused to confirm an exact number, but using the Zune desktop application we were only able to find 581 available the day before launch.
The second is the price: available for free from Optus from $79 per month the Omnia 7 is a touch too expensive. Nice though the hardware is, at those prices we’re not yet ready to jump in with both feet.