Cubes seem to be what every touchscreen phone wants to have when it grows up. Back in the day, the cube interface of the HTC Touch received pretty positive reviews (ours included) and they've been the fad ever since.
Now Samsung I8000 Omnia II has taken the whole thing to a whole new level by adding a dedicated button for bringing the cube onto the screen. Unlike the original HTC cube however, the one on the I8000 Omnia II is mostly in charge of the multimedia package on the handset.
The Samsung 3D Media gate is an intuitive six-sided cube UI that you flick on screen for quick and easy access to six key features, such as Main menu, Camera, Photo album, Music player, Video player, games or web browser.
Even at these early stages, we have to admit the Cube rolls smoothly and usability is on a very good level indeed, reminding of the responsiveness of the LG S-class user interface.
But if you are not into flipping cubes, all the shortcuts to the content you're looking for are available as small icons at the bottom of the screen.
The music and video player have been nicely revamped. The browser button displays your bookmarks in an innovative way "deck-flipping" manner and starts the Opera web browser once you have made a selection.
The program shortcuts menu brings up nine large on-screen shortcuts to some of the most frequently used applications. We are quite curious whether the assortment of shortcuts will be user customizable in the final version of the handset since our pre-release unit didn't offer this kind of functionality.
You get phonebook, call log, touch player, clock, camera, touch calendar, task switcher, photo album and settings and that's non-configurable at this point.
The Favorite Contacts app allows you to place shortcuts to all your favorite numbers and make them easier and quicker to dial. Yet somehow launching the cube, flipping it to the favorite contacts side and touching a contact doesn't seem all that quick to us.
The Samsung Motion gate a.k.a. Motion UI featured on the Samsung I8000 Omnia II is Samsung's own motion recognition engine which brings you access to your multimedia favorites as well as speed dialing just by tapping, tilting or flipping the handset.
Motion gate is not part of the cube interface but is another novelty brought by the latest TouchWiz interface. A longer press the Cube button starts the customizable Motion UI interface.
Unfortunately Motion Gate didn't work on our early prototype so we are yet to see how the feature works in reality.
Samsung have wisely decided to give users a new touch-friendly media player and spare them the inconvenience of installing a third-party one to substitute for the poor default WMPlayer.
The Samsung Touch Player handles both video and audio files, supports playlists and has the standard album/artist/tracks sections.
There are two main views available in the I8000 Omnia II player. The first one is the Library - at the top you have six tabs: all music, albums, artists, genres, videos plus Now Playing. When you switch into play mode, you see a simple and clean interface. It has the standard music buttons you would expect - volume, next/previous track, play/pause and shuffle, while the album art fills most of the screen above them.
The options menu offers the ability to play the music faster/slower or to set the track as a ringtone.
Playing video is very simple - it's done the same way as an audio file. The player interface looks the same, but tapping twice turns on the fullscreen mode. It has the same control buttons as the standard one, but everything is changed for landscape orientation and there is no taskbar at the top or empty black spaces.
The Touch Player could only handle half of the videos we threw at it due to codec issues, while the third-party paid application Core Player did a perfect job with all of them. Still it's an early version of the software and we're hoping that the retail product will have much wider video support.