Samsung has been loving its iPhone-style full frontal touch screens of late.
We've had the the F490, which was pretty bad, the Tocco, which was surprisingly good, and now the Omnia, which is easily the best yet, and the first that can seriously measure up to the iPhone it's obviously designed to challenge.
Style-wise it's a sturdily built slab of minimalist cool, with call start and stop buttons flanking a motion-sensitive D-pad beneath the sumptuous 400x280-pixel, 65,000-colour screen. On the sides are volume controls, power/headphone socket, camera shutter button and a programmable shortcut button with a power button on top.
The screen is sensitive enough to be able to use easily and intuitively without becoming a hassle and you can perform most functions with your thumb too, though there is a stylus provided. It's a telescopic one that sheaths into a compact case but it's not enclosed in the case, and instead dangles from a short lanyard. Not great, but fortunately you can do without it most of the time.
It's gesture sensitive too, so you can scroll through menus by rubbing your thumb along the surface, though getting the pressure right so that you don't accidentally activate any features takes a bit of getting used to.
It offers just the right amount of haptic feedback, though you can adjust this if you prefer and even switch it off if you're a haptic-ophobe. But while it looks great indoors, it gave us no end of trouble when we tried using it in direct sunlight.
Samsung's widgets are back and they're definitely a fun aspect of the device. Choose your favourite feature icons (email, music player, calendar, time, FM radio, contacts etc) from a column on the side, drag them onto your home screen and arrange them how you like. It's a lovely piece of personalisation, and practical too.
The Omnia runs Windows Smartphone 6.1, but sensibly, Samsung has chosen to play to that system's strengths by keeping it largely in the background.
You can benefit from all manner of programme downloads, including Pocket Office and the Opera web browser, but most of the navigation is via Samsung's TouchWiz system. Setting up email is a doddle, as is ActiveSync with your PC, and hooking up to a local network using Wi-Fi.
Next to the screen, the 5-megapixel camera is the undoubted star of the Omnia show. It's the first Windows Mobile device we've seen with such a well-specced snapper and Samsung hasn't skimped on the features. There's auto focus, image stabilisation which helps in low light, and smile recognition, which makes the most prominent smile the focus of your shot.
There are 14 pre-shot modes including panorama, which allows you take several shots together and then stitches them into a widescreen view. There's also an averagely (ie not very) powerful LED flash which helps a little in low light if you're close to your subject and you can upload your pics direct to your blog or content sharing website via the ShoZu application.
It's not too quick to get started (about three seconds) and the auto focus will slow you down if you're after quick snaps, but all the finger-operated controls displayed on the screen are very nippy indeed. Pictures are generally pretty good too, though the focus could perhaps be a little sharper as a rule. You can also add geotags with the GPS system onboard (backed up by Google Maps).
The quality drops a bit for video recording, which is only 15fps with a maximum resolution of 640x480, so it won't replace your video camera.
Viewing pictures is all done via finger control with easy zoom and edit options plus the ability to set up slideshows. Viewing video is at least better than shooting it, and unusually, it'll show both DivX and Xvid formats.
Browsing is a mostly sweet experience. The onboard accelerometer automatically flips between portrait and landscape (and you can adjust the sensitivity of this too, which is a nice touch). You can drag the pages around á la the iPhone and you can zoom by running your finger up or down the right-hand side of the screen, or double tap for a quick zoom in or out.
It supports RSS feeds and streaming video too via HSDPA fast 3G connection. And speaking of 3G, there's a pinhole camera on the front for video conferencing.
The onscreen keyboard is a bit too similar to the iPhone's cramped version for our taste, but flipping the phone into landscape mode offers bigger buttons, which is what we found ourselves doing even for text messages.
The music player is decent if not outstanding, with a wide range of formats supported. There's no 3.5mm jack plug, but it comes with an adaptor, so no problem if you want to upgrade the supplied headphones (which aren't bad by supplied ear bud standards).
There's a meaty 8GB of memory on board, which isn't bad at all, though you can also augment this via microSD card.
Battery-wise it seemed to hold up pretty well, delivering around three days of average use (a dozen or so calls a day, plus a half-hour's web browsing and a little bit of music). But with haptic feedback and accelerometer switched on constantly, this depreciated markedly to around two days.
Samsung's touch screen phones are improving all the time and this latest version manages to pack an awful lot into a modestly sized handset, including a very decent camera, fine web browser and music player, plus the rich third party apps available for Windows Mobile.
The iPhone 3G may beat it on looks and nudge ahead on screen, but in almost every other area, the Samsung i900 Omnia can equal or better it.
Network availability: Vodafone, O2, Orange, T-Mobile
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Call quality: 4/5
Value for money: 3.5/5