Samsung i8910 HD review

4.5 out of 5
Dependent on contract

For

Great screen, connectivity, camera performance, great for watching movies

Against

Overall size, battery life, user interface a little convoluted in places

Samsung's Omnia HD was one of the darlings of Mobile World Congress in 2009. Since we first saw the phone it has been officially deemed the i8910 HD, although we suspect that many will continue with the Omnia HD moniker.

The star of the i8910 is the massive 3.7-inch AMOLED display. It is QHD (quarter high definition) or 360 x 640 if you are talking pixels. It is vibrant, crisp, pin sharp, excellent to view movies, browse the internet and maintain your online life. Outdoors it struggles a little, but is bright enough that you can still see what you are doing.

The size of the screen means that it lends itself well to touch control, as there is plenty of space to press on-screen buttons, without obscuring everything else on display. The touch response is also pretty good. It does offer haptic feedback, which in this case is set at the right level, although it does suffer like some other Samsung phones in giving you the haptic buzz without actually triggering the action.

Having a big screen means that the device overall is pretty large: measuring 123 x 58 x 12.9mm it's a proper pocket hog. Yes, it isn't too thick, but the length might put some off: it's bigger than the iPhone or the LG Arena.

It is also pretty well adorned with hard buttons. Three sit across the bottom of the screen to handle calling, with a central menu/home button. Down the right-hand side you have the volume controls; down the left the screen lock and camera button.

In terms of physical connections, there is a covered 3.5mm jack on the top and a Micro-USB on the right, with a slot for a microSD card on the left.

The phone feels solid enough in the hand and is a decent weight at 144g, but some might be deterred by the fully plastic back, which due to the size feels like a huge plastic slab (black brushed aluminium would have been our first choice…).

The back also sports one of the key features of the i8910 – the 8-megapixel camera. It is joined by an LED "flash". The front sees a smaller forward-facing camera, should you be into making video calls.

In terms of connectivity, you'll find the i8910 is fully loaded. You get full fat 7.2Mbps HSDPA (where available), Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Management of the connections is somewhat questionable as we found ourselves constantly confirming the Wi-Fi to use: irritating at times, but mostly painless.

A little declaration here: in the UK, it launches on Orange and this is the handset on review here. As Orange is in the habit of customising handsets before releasing them to customers, some of the software features mentioned below may not apply to the i8910 on a different carrier.

The menus themselves look and feel similar to the Tocco Ultra Edition we saw recently, although in this case Orange has muddied the water slightly by changing things. It's a shame too, as right from the homepage, Orange's customisation doesn't showcase that brilliant screen as well as the default Samsung version did.

There are a number of homepage options. The widget-based offering lacks some of the staples, like weather, but you can drag widgets onto the page from the side bar, so you get a mini music controller, radio or quick access to the browser. More widgets can be added, although we found that our Google search widget vanished when we returned it to the sidebar - something to watch out for.

Other homepage options will give you a customisable shortcut bar, which fortunately will let you dive into pretty much anywhere, so we set it to access some of our downloaded apps: the Gravity Twitter client and Gmail app. From the homepage you can drag the screen over to contacts or the main menu grid, rather like LG's S-Class interface.

The i8910 runs Symbian S60 5th edition, the same operating system as the likes of the Nokia N97. Using this platform does mean that you can customise it to a certain degree, picking up apps online. It isn't as slick as Apple's iPhone OS but it gives you more freedom than that of the LG Arena.

So let's move on to that camera. Packing in 8-megapixels, it competes with the best camera phones from other manufacturers, accepting, of course, the omission of a Xenon flash. If you've ever used a camera phone from Samsung before, then you'll feel at home, with control icons flanking the screen left and right.

There are a selection of shooting and scene modes, although it seemed to cope fairly well in the default auto modes for general snapping. You get to control the "flash" as well as being able to define things like white balance, ISO and metering. You also get exposure control and several focusing modes, including face detection.

Shutter lag isn't too bad and you can turn the shutter noise off too, so it's actually pretty good to use as a camera. One major irritation, however, is the request to do something after every picture you take. So you take your picture and it asks if you want to upload to "Orange album", so you have to press Cancel to get back to what you were doing.

Image quality is very reasonable. Pictures won't withstand being used at full size, but for taking sharper snaps than average - whether they are going online or being printed for an album - then you'll have no problems. Colours look good, exposure is good and the handling of highlights is better than many camera phones. Noise is a real problem in the Auto ISO setting as lighting gets low, however.

Video can be captured at various resolutions, up to the headline HD 720p. You also get exposure compensation and the LED illuminator can be deployed to lighten things up. The video does get very noisy as the light levels drop. Overall video capture is good for a phone, but it doesn't quite perform as well as current batch of pocket camcorders, such as the Vado HD or Kodak Zx1.

Audio capture is mono and sounds a little muted. Audio playback is also good, with stereo speakers on the handset, and Samsung's DNSe 2 technology built-in to improve playback of digital music. Audio file support comes in the form of MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA and RA, which will cater for most, but not all.

In terms of video playback DivX, XviD, H.263, H.264, WMV, MPEG4, RV are all supported and we found that video playback was handled very nicely, with the option to change aspect between 16:9 and 4:3. The handset is also DNLA certified.

We especially like the easy access microSD card in the side, making it a breeze to add and remove content - you can record video straight onto the card making transfer to your PC even easier. There is 8GB of internal memory too.

The bundled headphones leave a little to be desired. They are of the in-ear type, but don't come with a choice of rubbers, so we found them a little loose in fit, but you can simply plug in your own.

Internet browsing is good too and we had no problems heading over to the desktop version of YouTube to watch videos (it's worth avoiding the lower-res YouTube mobile version). The supplied browser works well, with easy touch zooming. The onboard accelerometer handles landscape/portrait switching reliably too.

Orange customers will also find Orange Photo and Music Store hiding in the menus, which if you are a user of those services you'll be happy about, but we tend to avoid them. Likewise the email offering is geared up towards Orange Email, so much so that you'll have to punch in all your details manually to get connected. Hence the reason we downloaded the Gmail app – it saves time, but doesn't give you the integrated experience you'll get if you set up the POP3 mail.

Aside from all this glorious entertainment, you get office support, with QuickOffice and RoadSync (to sync with Microsoft Exchange servers) to name two features.

Text entry is pretty good too. Given plenty of space, the on-screen landscape QWERTY keyboard it good, but we often found ourselves using the predictive text of the 12-key portrait version for messages, which is nice and fast.

Battery life, as you might expect is a shocker. Samsung rate it at 13.5 hours of talk time and 600 hours of standby. That's over-egging it a bit. This is a charge daily device and we managed 24 hours on average, with what we would call normal use. Lots of calling or filming will drain it even faster.

Verdict

But let's get to the crunch. Is this better than the iPhone? No, it isn't. The interface is more convoluted with settings scattered around and not always logically found, and adding apps taking a bit of fiddling around.

Is it more capable? In some areas. The image capture is at the forefront of current mobile phones and the screen makes it a fantastic companion for watching back movies if you have a stack of MPEG4s or DivX files hanging around.

The Samsung i8910 is a very capable and enjoyable entertainment mobile phone. If movie making and watching is one of the things you find yourself doing with your phone, then it is well worth checking it out. We'd prefer the un-Orange version though.