Review: Samsung Omnia 7 / Windows Phone 7

Hardware Screen Samsung have done a great job on the build quality of the Omnia 7, it’s 4 inch AMOLED screen looks great. Black levels are stunning, so dark...

image

Hardware

Screen
Samsung have done a great job on the build quality of the Omnia 7, it’s 4 inch AMOLED screen looks great. Black levels are stunning, so dark that black areas of the screen blends into the surrounding glossy black hardware. Video playback on the large screen looks amazing, so good that you’ll happily consume a lot of video on the device. The Omnia 7 would really benefit from a solution to watch hands-free video, any device gets awkward to hold after a while.

Most of the time the 1Ghz Qualcomm processor is pretty zippy, those occasional times where lag or delays were experienced, I’d assign to software glitches that’ll be fixed in an OS update (hopefully coming soon). The Omnia 7 actually beats the iPhone 4 in boot time by a number of seconds.

IMG_1526IMG_1702

Hardware Buttons
Required by all WP7 devices, the 3 hardware buttons on the Omnia 7 are a physical home button and 2 capacitive buttons for back and search. Back and Home do as you’d expect, where as the search button is context sensitive. Pressing it in most instances will take you to the Bing search page to search online, from there you can choose from news or web results. In the Marketplace however search allows you to get to apps quickly, at least the ones you know the name of. What’s strange about search is that its not supported my the Zune app. So those of us with large music libraries have to resort to death by scrolling, rather than searching your music collection. Expect this to be fixed soon.

IMG_1678IMG_1681

Storage
Most WP7 devices including the Samsung Omnia 7 has only 8GB of storage. After being used to 16GB on the iPhone for the past 3 years, 8GB feels cramped, very cramped. By the time you add music, photos, video and applications it runs out pretty fast.

Camera
It’s easy to point out that there’s 5 megapixels of camera in this bad boy, but we all know that’s next to meaningless in terms of the final picture quality of photos. There’s a number of options in the settings to adjust quality, image stabilisation, LED flash, ISO, high dynamic range and quite a few more. These differ per WP7 device, so if your considering a device from a different manufacturer, make sure you check out the options here. The also does video, recording up to 1280×720 HD, but is strangely set to VGA by default.

You’ve likely heard about the pocket to picture feature of WP7, allowing photos to be taken even if the device is locked, it does come in handy. One problem with the camera is that none of your settings are saved, not even wether you used the still or video camera last. This increases the time it takes to be able to shoot again, the exact problem pocket to picture was supposed to solve.

IMG_1556WP_000037

Check out the gallery below to see photos and videos taken with the Samsung Omnia 7.

Battery Life
All smart phones need charging each night, that’s a reality of today’s battery technology, so I wasn’t expecting any miracles with the Omnia 7. After around a week’s use, it seems the Omnia 7 has around 1-2 hours less battery life than the iPhone 4. Some of that difference is likely a result of powering a 4” display rather than a 3.5”. Ultimately if under heavy use, it gets you from 8am to around 7pm that’ll be an acceptable battery life for most. Obviously with more casual use, battery will get you through the day no worries. It’s important to remember WP7 was put together reasonably fast and is effectively the first version of an operating system. This means there should be some battery tweaks coming in future updates. To offset those improvements, also remember there’s no background or multi-tasking happening on WP7 yet.

IMG_1548

Keyboard
The WP7 on-screen keyboard is comparable to that of the iPhone, I found I could type just as fast after a couple days of practice. There is a difference in how inevitable mistakes are corrected though, WP7 users are given a number of possible corrections to choose from, tapping the right one replaces the highlighted word. This works incredibly well.

IMG_1612IMG_1614

Headphones
The headphones included with the Omnia 7 are the in-ear type. While I like that they cancel out a large part of the environmental noise around you, the problem is your movement conducts through the head
phones. If your laying down they work great, but if your trying to walk around or workout with them, its really not a great solution. That said the sound quality they produce is great. The headphones also contain the in-line volume and call pickup buttons we’re used to and should expect from smart phones of today. With a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, you can use your favourite headphones, so if your not a fan of the ones that come with, its not really a big issue.

IMG_1738IMG_1745

Software

OS version: 7.0.7004.0 | Firmware version: 2424.10.9.13 | Bootloader version: 4.9.2.9

Live tiles
WP7 Live Tiles are a great way to get new information about what’s been going on with your networks. It’s also great at providing small chunks of info at a glance.. like the weather. Other live tiles are mail, calendar, as well as a number of 3rd party apps. To be honest I found myself prioritising apps with live tiles above those without, just so my phone felt more dynamic, so it’d be a good idea if more developers used this feature.

IMG_1541IMG_1663

Notifications
WP7 notifications from applications, txt messages and emails come via a notifications bar that slides down from the top of the screen. Unlike iPhone notifications that demand your attention and interrupt what your doing, WP7 allows you to continue your task, then deal with the update when you have time. This is how a notification system should work. Android works in a similar way, making iOS the odd one out.

People
The people tile is unique in that it updates with info of what your contacts are doing online. While it has brief updates from Windows Live and Facebook, this really doesn’t replace the need for a Facebook app. There’s so much more that people do than just status updates, so how useful is the People hub ? I basically use it for my Phonebook and that’s it. While we’re on the issue of long lists, Apple’s A-Z shortcuts on the right hand side of longer lists seems like genius compared to WP7s endless scrolling, maybe I just have too many contacts.

Update
Thanks to jinxOZ for pointing out that tapping on the letter square brings up a-z directory to fast-scroll down the contact list.

IMG_1572IMG_1574

Calendar
Works like a calendar should, one nice feature is the ability to open a meeting and hit a single button ‘I’m running late’ to generate an email you can send to attendees. This just makes sense and would like to see this functionality available on all mobile calendaring solutions. Naturally WP7 supports multiple calendars from multiple sources with difference colour to distinguish each calendar. This is another example of WP7 understanding that people have both professional and personal lives all contained within their phone and may wish to access either at any time.

IMG_1747IMG_1748

Sounds and Alarms
One of the coolest aspects of Windows Phone 7 is its alarm system. Most of us start our days by waking up to an alarm, so it is actually a really under-rated aspect of the device. WP7 uses a unique series of tones and vibrations that come in waves to wake you up gently rather than the abrupt screeching your probably used too.

As for ringtones and message tones, there’s actually a decent selection to choose from. The Omnia 7 (and Galaxy S) come with ‘Samsung tune’, after experimenting with all the options, I settled back on their default.

IMG_1729IMG_1730

Lock screen
What a difference a functional lock screen actually makes to a smart phone, no longer restricted to the bare minimum, this is a real strength of WP7. The iPhone lock screen displays your favourite image with date and time, pretty basic. WP7 uses the lock screen to provide that and so much more. Upcoming meetings or calendar items, new unread email, sms or missed calls all display on the lock screen, so you don’t need to go through the unlock code to know if your phone needs attention every 5 minutes. This could be extended even further with select 3rd party app notifications being able to push to the front page. This would need to be done sparingly and with the consistency of the current notifications, but has massive potential.

IMG_1531Samsung Omnia 7 012

Application overload
In testing I attempted to replicate what the phone would be like after a couple of months of use. Typically over time users accumulate applications, some the use daily, some they use once in a while, but still need access to. This brings me to the problem of having a large number of apps installed on the phone. Applications very quickly become a massive long scrolling list that can’t be searched and can’t be put in categories or folders. WP7 needs a solution for this.

IMG_1672IMG_1629

Applications
WP7 may have 3000+ apps, but there’s still some important ones that aren’t available. There’s some applications that I use every single day on the iPhone, these are located on the first home screen and have really become must haves for the phone I carry in my pocket.

What’s there:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Messenger
  • eBay
  • Foursquare
  • Maps
  • World clock
  • Shazam
  • YouTube
  • RSS Feed Reader (gReadie / Flux)

What’s not:

  • TV Guide (Australian)
  • Flickr
  • Windows Live Messenger
  • WordPress
  • Words with friends
  • Angry Birds
  • Lassoo
  • Consume
  • TWiT Live

Office
One of Microsoft’s biggest strengths with the platform, Office integration on WP7 is  without question the best of any mobile platform. It allows for viewing, editing and creation of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents on the go, no matter where business comes calling. Those enterprises running SharePoint will also benefit from running WP7 mobile devices, but unfortunately can only read content from site areas, document libraries or lists. Sadly there is no way to add a new item to a list or contribute a document back to a SharePoint area from the WP7 device. The one nice thing that happens after you define your SharePoint site address is that WP7 picks up your most commonly used sites.

IMG_1606IMG_1613

Games (Xbox Live)
Earning achievements on your phone is a great idea and will be a big feature for some users. Personally I haven’t really been engaged by any games on WP7 so far. Lately I’ve been taken by physics based games like Angry Birds, Cut the rope and social turn-by-turn games like Words with friends. Until those titles come to WP7 and can interact with my friends on other platforms, I’m afraid WP7 gaming won’t light my world on fire. I want to be clear, I’m sure some will love gaming on WP7, I just haven’t so far.

Editing your Xbox Avatar is actually a great experience on WP7, even faster than on the Xbox itself.

IMG_1586IMG_1593

Samsung apps
Not content with leaving all the software up to Microsoft Samsung have thrown a few devs at WP7 and build a number of apps for the platform. The Omnia 7 comes with dual-tile ‘Now’ app pre-installed. This app provides Weather info, Reuters news and Stocks info, its a solid app, but doesn’t have a Live Tile, due to this it ended up lower on my home screen. Remember this is removable like every other tile on WP7, completely customisable.

Samsung even get their own section of the Marketplace called ‘Samsung Zone’. Right now it only has 4 apps, one of those being ‘Now’ that I just discussed. Not sure how active development will be, but lets hope it moves forward based on user feedback like all good companies should.

IMG_1718IMG_1719

Marketplace – Try before you buy
A great option unique to WP7 is the ability to try applications before you buy them. Trial versions come with limited functionality, this can include watermarks on created content, a subset of available levels, or even a time period before your required to pony up the cash for the full version. One RSS reader I tried had a unique take on the limitations, it didn’t save your login credentials, this meant every time you launched the app, you had to login, brilliant! Just enough of an annoyance that you would buy it, but easy enough to try out. Trials really do come in handy, especially with higher priced apps you would otherwise not have bothered with. Only problem is that not all applications offer trial versions, admittedly most do, just not all.

App Updates
Application updates can only be done from the device.. go figure. After having a couple of updates not finishing successfully, my updates available was stuck at 3. I decided to do the typical work around I’m used to with the iPhone of connecting it to the desktop, doing the app update there and syncing across. After connecting the WP7 device, I was informed I needed to disconnect the USB cable to do updates – ridiculous.

IMG_1716IMG_1715

Mail
Support for all the major mail platforms is there, with an obvious tie in with Windows Live Hotmail. If you did what Microsoft suggests and imports your other mail accounts into Hotmail, the mail isn’t immediately accessible through the Mail app. You need to enter folders, then select the appropriate one. This needs to change. If you go to the unread view (most of the time I’m entering the app its to read unread, this should be the default), it should show all unread messages, regardless of which account.

Now if you have defined each account individually you’ll end up with a mail icon for each. This compared to Apple’s unified inbox just seems ridiculous, particularly for those of us with accounts on pretty much every provider. Another issue I found is that HTML email requires you to press ‘download images’ each time, with no setting to load them by default, this gets old fast.

IMG_1600IMG_1603

Audiobooks
Currently WP7 doesn’t support audiobooks in the Zune app, this means you’ll need to resort to 3rd party apps. For some reason Microsoft have decided it’d be a good idea to allow audiobooks to be their own applications. Rather than use the eReader model of separating reader and content, the marketplace contains a number of applications that contain a single audiobook, meaning your downloading a new app for every audiobook you want to listen to. This is ridiculous for a couple of reasons, the first is that it pollutes the marketplace and the second is it needlessly fills up your application list.

This should be integrated into the Zune app, just as music, podcasts and radio are. Due to WP7’s current lack of multitasking, it means you cannot do anything else on the phone while listening to the audiobook, because you need the app to be running. Worse yet is that if you exit out, then your place is not saved, so relaunching the app starts you from the beginning.. this is seriously broken.

From all the things that were influenced (read: copied) from the iPhone, this unfortunately wasn’t one of them. It should have been.

IMG_1673IMG_1674

Zune desktop software
In short, this software is severely lacking in Australia. Locked out of Music, Podcasts and frankly most of the things that make it great, Australians are lefts with a crippled Zune that allows for purchasing videos and that’s pretty much it. Of course you can define local content directories, but if you have to fire up iTunes to buy music, you’ve failed. This is an area Microsoft needs to focus a lot of resources on, getting local content deals done in countries world-wide and compete head-to-head with Apple. Few companies are capable of doing this, Microsoft should be one of them. Right now the experience is just broken for consumers and that’s before we discuss the lack of Zune Pass, arguably Zune’s greatest play. Subscription music is a domain untouched by Apple (for now), bring it here now Microsoft, we’re ready, hesitate and Apple may get our monthly.

For those that have seen the US version, it’s absurd that you can’t create your own playlist of podcasts, nor can you view all unplayed podcast episodes. Add in the lack of audiobooks and its really got some work to go. The sad part is, Zune has so much promise and could be great, unfortunately it is far to hamstrung in Australia to be very useful.

image

Zune on WP7
Naturally there’s playback for Music, Video and Podcasts, but a unique feature of WP7 over the iPhone is that it contains traditional Radio. This isn’t the new fancy digital radio or even internet radio, instead the regular old school type. This means to get reception you need to have headphone connected to act as your antenna. Quality was average at best, if you in a car, use your car stereo, if your at home use your home theatre, this is really only for when you get desperate.

IMG_1577IMG_1585

Voice commands
Voice commands work well on the phone, but don’t support simple things like ‘Play songs by [Artist Name]’. Voice is simply for voice dialling or opening you calendar. I also tried ‘Open Mail’ and to my surprise it somehow picked Google Mail to open rather than Hotmail. Although limited, the accuracy of Voice commands on WP7 seem are pretty accurate.

Gallery

The Verdict
Windows Phone 7 right now is a reasonable competitor in the smart phone market and deserves to be considered. If you do decide to buy a WP7 device, what your really buying a more of a promise of great things to come in the future. I discussed applications at length above and Microsoft have done a great job of getting some A-list developers on board, they just need more second and third tier developers to build for WP7 as well. There was a significant milestone Apple reached and its hard to say what number of apps it was that achieved it. When you think of a use for your phone, search for an app and can download one that allows you to perform a task you previously couldn’t, it’s a transformative user experience.

One key area that Microsoft are getting beaten right now is on fast app switching. The iPhone allows application states to be saved on exit, so when the user returns to a previously open app, it picks up where you left it. This was enabled at an OS level, but has to be support by each application. Over past couple of revisions, we’re seeing a lot of apps now supporting it and for good reason. This single item dramatically affects the perception of the device’s speed. Having to restart every app is painful and pretty inefficient. In my mind, this should be priority number one for Microsoft and Windows Phone 7.1.

Microsoft have announced that copy+paste is on its way, current rumours suggest early January. Also as a reviewer, the lack of a screenshot function made it very difficult to get great images of the UI. Still hope you enjoy the 140+ photo image gallery.

The Samsung Omnia 7 is available exclusively from Optus.

Categories
MobileReviewsWP7

Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.