The Gadget: Samsung Omnia for Verizon, a touchscreen Windows Mobile 6.1 phone that's been slicked up with Samsung's TouchWiz UI and a five-megapixel camera, plus it's that rare Verizon beast that also packs Wi-Fi.
Price: $250 after two-year contract and $70 mail-in rebate.
The Verdict: The Omnia is a Windows Mobile 6.1 phone, so at the basic level, you know what you're getting. The difference between it and basically every other WinMo 6.1 phone lies in the TouchWiz UIcing that's been slathered on top, and the hardware. If you're doing a double-take after peeking Sammy's Behold for T-Mobile, we wouldn't blame you—the Omnia is kinda like the smartphone version of the Behold, since it's got an almost identical industrial design, the same TouchWiz UI and a 5MP camera.
Okay, so what sets this apart from other Windows Mobile offerings is that the hardware is in a fairly tight, if verrrrry familiar form factor. (I don't know why Jesus thought it felt so obese, actually.) It's faster and feels more responsive than most other WinMo phones, too, with a 624MHz processor compared to the more common (for HTC phones, anyway) 528MHz CPU, even though it has a puny 128MB of RAM. (It's still not quite as nimble as I feel like it should be, however.) The five-megapixel camera, like the Behold, is good—better than most phones, anyway—and has similar extensive-for-a-phone software for photo tweaking and editing. It's also got the Verizon equivalent of a unicorn with one testicle—Wi-Fi. Verizon's awesome network plus Wi-Fi gives it a serious network leg-up on most of the competition. And it comes with 8GB of storage, which is handy since it supports a crazy number of video formats natively.
Not so great on the hardware side, I feel like the touchscreen is slightly less responsive than the Behold or Instinct, though that might be Windows Mobile coming through. The resolution is disappointing, just 400x200, which looks markedly crappier stretched across its 3.2-inch screen than the 640x480 pixels HTC crams into the Touch Pro. I really miss a dedicated back button for navigating (or escaping, rather) WinMo's menus. Its optical mouse (in case you don't wanna go the bullshit stylus route to hit tiny, finger-hating Windows icons) is jankier and harder to use than the one on its cousin the Epix. Also, internet standard complaint for not having a 3.5mm jack and a BS proprietary power and USB connector.
UI, Features and Usability
TouchWiz more readily reveals some of its deficiencies here compared to the Behold—like not being able to resize widgets—since you want to do more from the home screen to avoid diving into the WM UI (or at least I do). Love the wireless manager widget for instance, but it's too damn big, covering like half the screen. As I said about the Behold, TouchWiz is really only skin-deep—it's not as deeply integrated as HTC's TouchFlo interface, so after one or two clicks you'll arrive in WinMo land. The plus side, conversely, is that performance is much better than the also fresh-off-the-boat HTC Fuze for AT&T (aka Touch Pro), since there's a lot less overhead from the skin. Still, overall, it does make stuff easier to get to. There are some thoughtful touches here as well, like the haptic feedback letting you know the accelerometer has been tripped, so the screen's about to flip around with a snazzy (albeit slightly gratuitous) animation.
The onscreen keyboard is shockingly worse than the Behold's that I just came off of, with a weird layout (why is space way on the other side of keyboard??) and a thoroughly terrible QWERTY rendition in portrait mode. The VZAppZone is another UI atrocity, which not only looks like crap, but functions really terribly as a browser based app store. Speaking of browsers, the Omnia ships with Opera 9.5, which offers a really pleasant web experience with solid page rendering, nice zoom and tabs, even though WinMo occasionally lags it up. (More on this in an upcoming piece, hint hint.) Finally, on the media front, the Omnia busts down a few barriers, with a built in FM radio (though you have to have the headset connected, since it uses it as an antenna) and support for a ton of audio and video formats from Ogg to Xvid. Too bad the media player UI is plenty bleh.
If you're looking for a Windows Mobile device on Verizon, you don't have a lot of (good) options. Luckily, the Omnia is one of the best choices for WinMo overall, not just on the carrier, though we wouldn't blame you for wanting the actual keyboard of the Touch Pro. However, that'll cost you $100 more, since the Verizon Touch Pro is $350 to the Omnia's $250. And if you're just looking for a standard smartphone on Verizon, you can get cheaper still and go with the $199 BlackBerry Storm, which, despite its flaws, I think is ultimately a more compelling, and usable, device that will only become more so after RIM fixes the bugs. But if you want Verizon, and Windows Mobile, and don't want to pay $350 for it, you've got a new phone.