Sunday, February 6, 2011

Testing Samsung Omnia Running Windows Phone 7

My office is very close to the office of our head of development for OpenText Everywhere. As it turns out, he’s the ultimate gadget man. He gets all kinds of devices to test them. The result will apparently be Everywhere running everywhere - at least that’s his excuse for getting all those gadgets. In any case, I’m keeping him on my good side as I like to play with the gadgets. A few days ago, I got to test the Samsung Omnia 7 for a week. His words were: “I’d like you to test it and blog about it. Just don’t post any pictures of me...”. I'm developing a reputation internally, I guess.

The Omnia 7 is a Windows Phone 7 powered smartphone and since I have never had the opportunity to play with Microsoft’s latest OS, I jumped at it. The Windows Phone 7 OS is Microsoft’s 12th version of their mobile OS - a lineage that started with Pocket PC 2000. It was a road paved with many disappointments and so I was a little skeptical about the Windows Phone 7 operating system.

But first I must comment on the Samsung Omnia 7 phone itself. It is very nice. I was pretty impressed by the Samsung Galaxy tablet a couple of months ago and the Omnia is a similarly cool device. It is sleek, made of a great composite material, and I love its 4" screen. The screen is slightly larger than the iPhone and the device is also thinner than the original iPhone. I don't have iPhone 4 yet and so I could only compare it with the 'old iPhone'. The picture gives you an idea of the two devices side by side.

Samsung's Omnia compared with Apple's iPhone
I also liked that the Omnia has a USB interface, replaceable battery, and a built-in radio. The touchscreen is sharp and worked well.  That said, I struggled a bit with the typing although I struggle with the iPhone too since I got used to the iPad. Talking about typing, I liked how the system provides multiple suggestions for possible words as you type. It worked pretty well.

The typing suggestions work pretty well
I also loved the camera button which is a real 'hardware button' that is placed in the right place when you hold the device sideways to take a picture. That said, the camera is lousy - I failed to take an acceptable picture even after several tries.

The screen didn't always switch automatically when I turned the phone from vertical to horizontal. It worked fine in some applications (i.e. Twitter) but it wouldn't switch in others. Notably, it appeared to never switch in the operating system which was rather annoying. Talking about the operating system, it was well organized - I was able to easily find every function. What was weird was the fact that the screen content often wouldn't fit onto the screen itself and the OS ended up cropping it instead of resizing. That was sometimes looking cool and artsy but often annoying and sometimes even unusable.

Not only does the text not fit on the screen, the screen didn't flip to horizontal either
I liked the big tiles that you can pin on the homepage - they made it easy to customize the device and to simplify its use - very handy while driving (which is of course illegal and I would never do). The tiles allowed me to set up the device in a way that resembled more of a mobile phone rather than a smartphone with simple and straight forward functionality. This cellphone level simplicity will surely appeal to some users.

The biggest drawback of the phone was it's Microsoft centricity. Basically, it wants me to live in a Microsoft world that consists of Windows Live, Hotmail, Zune, MSN, Bing, etc. I was able to connect to my Yahoo! Mail easily but I failed to figure out how to connect to my Exchange-based work email. That was surprising since iPhone makes that task really easy. Unfortunately, the operating system treated the Yahoo users as second-class citizens compared to the few users I have in Hotmail. Same thing happened with the Facebok users. The system asked me to connect with Facebook which didn't lead to any obvious benefit. I have downloaded the Facebook app from the Windows Markeplace and it was great but it didn't connect to the rest of the OS capabilities in any way.

The Marketplace was straight forward but the assortment is far, far behind iTunes. I loved the fact that many applications offered a “try before you buy” option which is something iTunes needs to introduce. The music store is as poorly supplied as the app store and movies are not available at all. The Bing search is omnipresent, in fact, it keeps popping up often to my annoyance when not expected - Microsoft is clearly obsessed with search right now. That said, search in the Marketplace lacks the ability to sort results by content type and I was having a hard time finding anything in the long results list consisting of apps, games, and music. Should Microsoft gain support of the developer community and end up with some 100,000 applications, nobody will be able to find anything.

The device provides promising support for Microsoft Office with the key applications available as part of the operating system. Having Word and Excel is great. That said, I couldn't test the synchronization with my desktop since my desktop happens to be a Mac and Windows Phone 7 doesn't  integrate with a Mac. That's pretty much a K.O. criterion for me.

I was somewhat surprised that Flash isn’t supported. We all understand by now that Steve Jobs hates Flash which is why the iPhone does not support it but I didn’t realize that Steve Balmer hated it too. I tried to download the Flash player from the Adobe web site but the operating system is apparently not supported.

I have tested the actual phone capabilities with a SIM card from my BlackBerry which worked fine. I have liked the three buttons on the phone's face which include the home/menu button (just like the iPhone) and also the 'back' button (awesome) and the 'search' button. The hardware buttons on the side were in the way and I ended up turning the phone off inadvertently several times. That happens to me on a BlackBerry too and I ended up disabling some of the buttons eventually. I did like that camera button, though.

Watching my 7 years old son play a game tells a lot of ease of use and ergonomics
All in all, the Samsung Omnia 7 is an intriguing smartphone. It will not work for anyone who's already hooked into the Apple world through iMac, iTunes, iPod, or AppleTV but I can see how someone who's upgrading from a regular mobile phone could end up with a Windows based phone. If you live in the Microsoft universe, this phone must be great but the only such people I know are Microsoft employees.

I wonder if Samsung provides the Omnia with the Google Android operating system. They probably do. It must be an awesome gadget...

PS: If anyone from RIM is reading this, you should know that I can’t wait to test the PlayBook. I’ll even run across the parking lot to your offices to pick one up ;-)

1 comment:

  1. Good article Lubor: will users move to Windows Phone 7? will be interesting to see.