Samsung Focus Review

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The Samsung Focus is one of the first Windows Phone 7 devices to go on sale. It’s part of the trio of launch devices hitting AT&T in time for the holiday season of 2010. The Focus’ biggest selling point, besides coming equipped with the all-new Windows Phone 7 operating system, is that it has the same gorgeous four-inch Super AMOLED display made famous by the Samsung Galaxy S series of devices. In this review we’ll cover the hardware, software, and overall experience that the Focus brings so that you can determine if this will be your next device! Read on for more.

BOX CONTENTS

Our Focus didn’t come in the retail box, so we only had the device and the charger. Don’t expect any remarkable accessories to come included with the device, though. The box will most likely include the device, charger, and a quick start guide.

HARDWARE



In terms of specs, the Focus is like a Galaxy S but with a different CPU and less RAM. Like all launch Windows Phone 7 devices, the Focus is equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250 1GHz CPU — but unlike most other launch models sporting 512MB RAM, this one is only supported by 256MB of RAM (update: Samsung confirms that the Focus actually has 512MB of RAM). In terms of memory, you get 8GB of storage internally, and you can combine the onboard storage with microSD expansion to get up to 40GB of space if you use a 32GB microSD card (but the microSD card exhibits some weird behavior. More on that later).

The screen uses Samsung’s proprietary Super AMOLED technology to bring fantastic contrast and great outdoor visibility. It’s four inches diagonal and 480 x 800 resolution, which is the only resolution that Windows Phone 7 Chassis 1 devices support. Connectivity-wise, you’ve got Bluetooth 2.1, WiFi b/g/n, aGPS, and an FM radio. In terms of sensors, it has a proximity sensor, light sensor, and g-sensor. The camera, which has an LED flash, takes photos at five megapixels, and video at 720p resolution. Later in the review we’ll show you some photo and video samples. For syncing and charging, the Focus uses microUSB, and for audio, you have a 3.5mm headphone jack. Powering everything is a 1500mAh battery.

inhand2


Windows Phone 7 is different…very different. You’ll spend a lot of your time here on the Start screen, which acts as a launching point for anything you do on your phone. The Start screen itself is also smart marketing from Microsoft. Several times I’ve had people look over my shoulder and ask “What kind of phone is that?”

To your Start screen you can pin many different things, namely contacts, map locations, websites, programs, albums, songs, and certain photo albums. A big promise of the Start screen comes with live tiles: developers can create tiles that dynamically update. Imagine a live tile for sports scores, or one to feed you the current weather conditions.

glory


The Focus is a rather conservative-looking slab device with a large flush piece of glass on the front panel. The screen, in certain lights, has a blue hue when turned off, which we also found with the Galaxy S devices. Below the Samsung logo we have the required Windows Phone 7 buttons: Back, Start, and Search.

One of the big selling points of the Focus is its weight–at just 110grams, it’s one of the lightest devices out there. You’d think that the light weight plus abundant use of plastic would give it a cheap in-hand feel, but that isn’t the case. The Focus has a high level of build quality.

pnow


The screen is remarkable each and every time you look at it. Windows Phone 7 is a very visually “smooth” operating system…everything from the lock screen to the hubs are meant to be aesthetically pleasing. The fantastic contrast of the Super AMOLED screen really brings the software to life.

outdoor


And in bright outdoor conditions, the Super AMOLED screen is very readable.

side2


At around 10-millimeters thin, the Focus is the thinnest Windows Phone 7 to be released for the launch. Also notice the chrome-looking plastic that adorns the sides. On the right side we have a dedicated camera button (which, if held for about three seconds, will launch the camera even if the phone is in standby), plus the power/standby button. Windows Phone 7 starts up and shuts down in a fraction of what it takes any other smartphone platform.

side1


On the left side of the device, we have the volume up and down rocker.

rear


If we take off the back battery cover, we see the SIM card slot, the microSD card bay (with a warning to consult the user manual before adding a card, because doing so will hard reset your device), plus the 1500mAh battery (which happens to be the same as the Galaxy S devices).

back


The back of the device has a slick tapered design that makes the edges feel thin. Back here you can see the five-megapixel camera sensor, LED flash, and speaker grille.

comp2


Even compared to the HTC Surround, the Focus’ screen is brighter and has greater contrast.

comp1


Speaking of the Surround, here’s a stacked comparison between the two devices. Certainly, with the pop out speakers, the Surround is a thicker phone.

SOFTWARE



You’ve already seen Windows Phone 7, and if you haven’t, be sure to check out our full review. The Focus has the standard Windows Phone 7 apps like Camera, Email, Calendar, and IE, but in addition, there’s some extra stuff from Samsung and AT&T.

The Samsung Hub is much like the HTC Hub. It features three panes that utilize the Metro interface: weather, news and stocks. The idea is that each day you can pop into this application to view bits of information in one place. I think that most people will have separate, more robust applications for weather, news, and stocks, but until the marketplace grows, you can use this particular application.

Then, you have a suite of AT&T applications. Here’s a list of what they do:

– AT&T FamilyMap: This $14.99 per month service allows you to track members of your family on a map with GPS (phone must support it). A free 30 day trial is available.

– AT&T myWireless: This free utility lets you login to your AT&T account to see used minutes, data usage, etc.

– AT&T Navigator: As we demonstrate in the above link, this is a turn-by-turn navigation solution that costs $9.99 per month.

– AT&T Radio: This app allows you to stream free radio.

– AT&T U-verse Mobile: This is a digital TV hub that lets you download content. Using this service costs $8 per month.

Overall, the Windows Phone 7 experience on the Focus is fantastic. Thanks to the super-sensitive display, moving from screen to screen is effortless. The operating system itself is fast and is not prone to the hang-ups and instability that was charactaristic of Windows Mobile. All things combined lead to an overall terrific user experience on the Samsung Focus.

CAMERA



The Focus can record in 720p HD, but there’s an annoying bug that reverts the camera app back to VGA resolution every time you leave the camera app and come back to it. That said, video quality on the Focus is poor. Colors come out pretty undersaturated, and the framerate seems to be a bit low.

For still photography, the Focus shoots at five megapixels and utilizes auto focus and a flash. Like other Windows Phone 7 launch devices, this one does not support tap-to-focus. That said, that Focus does a terrific job with stills. Here are some samples: cloudly day, close up, bright day, dim light using flash. We should note that the Focus has a Wide Dynamic Range setting, which is similar to HDR found on the iPhone. In our tests, this setting didn’t result in improved photos.

PERFORMANCE

As mentioned above, the Focus is a fast device, or at least it feels fast, which is most important at the end of the day. Even with less RAM (update: it has 512MB RAM, which explains the great performance) than other Windows Phone 7 devices, the Focus still shines as a highly stable and snappy-feeling smartphone.

CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED

The Focus has a chip that is supposed to cut down on noise, but in my testing, the Focus really didn’t do too well in noisy environments.

In normal environments, call quality was terrific. The speakerphone was also quite loud, but would distort at very high volumes.

Because there are no network benchmark apps available for Windows Phone 7 yet, we couldn’t test the network speed. Internet browsing over 3G seemed just as fast as any other smartphone.

BATTERY LIFE

We were really curious about battery life in Windows Phone 7. You’d think that the constant screen animations would wear on the CPU and GPU quickly. We’re happy to report that the Focus has battery life that will get you through more than a day with heavy use. It was actually pretty similar to the Galaxy S devices. With heavy use, you’ll get through about a day and quartar. And with moderate use, you’ll go two days without a charge. Very good!

microSD BEHAVIOR

Weird things happen when you use a microSD card with Windows Phone 7. If you insert a storage card and turn on your phone, the phone will only “see” the storage if you hard reset. Then, if you’re using a storage card and you take it out, Windows Phone 7 will revert back to a factory install of the operating system. But then, if you pop the card back in, everything goes back to normal. What happens when you pop out the microSD card and try to read it on a computer after it’s been in your WP7 phone? Nothing. The computer doesn’t recognize the card, which is quite strange (we tried on two computers).

PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY

The Samsung Focus goes on sale November 8 for $199 with a new two-year contract.

PROS

+ Windows Phone 7 software feels fast and is highly stable

+ Gorgeous display

+ Storage expands up to 40GB

+ Thin and light design

+ Terrific battery life

+ Above average photo quality

CONS

– Windows Phone 7 still lacks key features like fast app switching, copy and paste, and more

– microSD storage removal will cause device to hard reset

– Video recording quality is sub-par; camcorder app always reverts to VGA

CONCLUSION

So here we have it: Microsoft’s attempt at making a modern smartphone. What’s the verdict? From a hardware perspective, the Focus is a huge win. It’s fast, has a beautiful screen, and it represents Windows Phone 7 very well.

From a software perspective, Windows Phone 7 is truly a compelling mobile operating system. It’s totally different than any other smartphone platform, and that’s a good thing. It’s incredibly stable, it feels smooth and refined, and it looks like the key apps are going to be there when the marketplace fully launches in October. We just wish that Microsoft had included important features like fast app switching, copy and paste, removable storage, and a whole lot more before going gold with the platform. But Microsoft has designed Windows Phone 7 to make updating the software much easier than previous versions of Windows Phone, so hopefully our wishlist gets checked off in the not too distant future.

I give the Samsung Focus a 4.5/5. If you’re set on Windows Phone 7, the Focus is a really fantastic choice.

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.