Despite glowing reviews from critics and a truly innovative design aesthetic, the Windows Phone operating system still lags some way behind both Android and iOS in terms of its popularity with the smartphone buying public. However, manufacturers continue to show belief in the platform with manufacturers including HTC and, of course, Nokia producing several devices built around the OS.
Samsung has dipped its toe into the Windows Phone pool with its range of Omnia devices and is set to expand the selection with the launch of the new Omnia M. Aimed firmly at the mid-range market, the Omnia M could be the handset to open up the WP experience to a whole new audience. We are going to put the handset through its paces in order to see what is has to offer.
- 1 GHz single-core processor
- 4-inch WVGA Super AMOLED display
- 4/8GB internal storage options
- 5 megapixel camera
- VGA front facing camera
- 720p video recording
- 10.5mm thickness
- 120g weight
- Windows Phone 7 Tango OS
- 1500mAh battery
- FM Radio
- People Hub with social network integration
- Xbox Live functionaility
Design and Build
Out of the box the Omnia M comes across as a slightly underwhelming proposition. Its form factor is largely uninspiring with a chassis design that takes no real risks and the gunmetal grey finish is equally unremarkable, though it does add a sophisticated air to the overall aesthetics of the unit.
Despite its pedestrian looks, the Omnia M does have a rather comforting premium feel in the hand. Its 120g weight and 10.5mm thickness combine to give the feel of a device which is light without being overly fragile. Build quality is typical of Samsung, offering a shell that comes across as slightly plasticky without necessarily feeling cheap.
The Omnia’s WVGA Super AMOLED display is a major strong point of the device. The 4-inch screen might not have the headline-grabbing specs of flagship devices such as the Lumia 900 or Galaxy S III, but for a mid-range device its capabilities are extremely impressive. Clarity is excellent and colours are incredibly refined, whether navigating menus or viewing images and video content.
Under the Hood
Built around a 1GHz single-core processor supported by 384MB of RAM, the hardware specification does’nt really offer anything to get overly excited about. That said, during testing we found little noticeable lag when navigating menus or using processor-intensive apps.
A particularly disappointing aspect of the spec list is the fact that internal storage is only available at either 4GB or 8 GB with no slot for external options such as Micro SD. While it is possible to argue that the rise of cloud storage solutions will put paid to the requirement for large internal memory, we would still like to have the option to store content within the device for when access to the cloud is unavailable.
A 1500mAh battery is the power source of choice for the Omnia M and, for the most part, it performed to a high standard in our tests, easily lasting a full day with normal usage. However, during our time with the handset we noticed a huge change in battery longevity when the homescreen background colour was changed to white, reducing battery performance by approximately 20%.
That said, as long as the usual daily charging routine is adhered to and app usage is not excessive then most users will not have any issues with the device.
Operating System and User Interface
Despite standing in the shadows of both iOS and Android, the Windows Phone OS consistently impresses whenever we come across a new handset running the operating system. The Metro UI is simply stunning and makes navigating around the device a real pleasure.
The Live Tile-based home screen is not only visually pleasing but also extremely functional, allowing the user a number of customisation options without ever being overwhelming. When compared to the often busy interface offered by Android, the WP platform is both refreshingly clean and comfortingly easy to navigate around.
WP7 includes a number of apps which offer increased functionality for the user. Particularly impressive is Local Scout which, using location data, gives a one stop shop for places to eat, drink, shop and visit within the local area. Again, the interface is beautifully simple and during our time with the handset it gave accurate, informative results wherever used.
Samsung has thankfully steered clear of overloading the Omnia M with significant amounts of its own bloatware. However, it has included several key apps including the news and weather aggregation service Daily Briefing and Mini Diary, which is a visually attractive but somewhat convoluted personal journal application.
Camera and Video
The onboard 5 megapixel camera provides adequate results, but did very little to really set it apart from other mid-range devices. Colour reproduction is satisfactory but images generally lack the level of sharpness we would hope for from a Samsung device, particularly considering the high standards recently set by the Galaxy S III. That said, the minimalist standardised WP camera interface is pleasant to use and allows the user to stay focused on capturing images rather than having to trawl through menus. Also, the addition of a physical shutter button is a welcome one and makes snapping images quick and easy.
In order to increase camera functionality Samsung has added two photo-specific apps to the handset. FunShot is an incredibly basic image capture application which allows the user to add effects such as ‘bulge’ or ‘twist’, essentially effects to distort the image being taken in order to create supposedly humorous results. The software will probably appeal to children but beyond that we struggled to see who would actually use this app in the real world.
Also included on the device is Photo Studio which, despite its professional sounding moniker, only contains basic editing options such as contrast, as well as gimmicky framing options. That said, the app does allow for Photobucket and Picasa integration, meaning users can efficiently upload images to the cloud via the app.
Video capture is available at 720p resolution and as such yields high quality results. Sharpness in low light situations could be slightly better, but this is really a small gripe with what is otherwise an excellent piece of functionality.
Connectivity and Multimedia
Web browsing is surprisingly swift on the Omnia M, particularly when considering the devices single-core powertrain. Microsoft’s wonderful Internet Explorer enhances the experience greatly, thanks to its incredibly clean and unobtrusive interface.
Social networking connectivity is catered for through the People Hub, and what an absolute revelation it is. The service seamlessly pulls together up to date social feeds, recent activity and personal information, providing an easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing way to stay up to date. Equivalent services found within other platforms – HTC’s Friend Stream for example – do not come close to this level of functionality and for us it is a prominent indicator of the OS’s potential.
Email and text messaging is covered in a straightforward manner, with minimalist menus and monochrome fonts dominating throughout. Facebook Chat integration is included within the messaging environment and is refreshingly novel way of interacting with the social network, although a Wi-Fi connection is required, and this does limit its use somewhat.
Video and music content is accessed via the Music + Video hub which is closely integrated with both Microsoft’s Zune service and the Windows Marketplace. A simple menu structure makes it easy to find content, with the Windows Phone design aesthetic once again taking centre stage.
Similarly, gaming is smooth and immersive, with the Xbox Live hub allowing for an incredibly involved user experience featuring avatar creation and online score sharing.
Performance and Verdict
On initial inspection of the Samsung Omnia M, our expectations were not particularly high. The handset design can be described as utilitarian at best and, on paper, the tech spec leaves a lot to be desired. However, after spending some extended time with the device, we were thoroughly won over with its no frills approach. The limited hardware specification has no discernible effect on performance and the Windows Phone OS is, in our opinion, possibly the most user-friendly mobile platform currently available.
The handset probably won’t appeal to those seeking out cutting edge design and flagship features. However, users looking for a solid, understated Windows Phone device could do much worse than seek out the Samsung Omnia M.