Product: Samsung Focus
Price: $349.99/$49.99 with contract
Rating: Strong Recommend*
Like sports and religion, the realm of tech is filled with bias, preferences and downright ignorance. I'll have to fess up to being guilty of all three when discussing the topic of smartphones. You see, I was almost sure I was going to find myself an Android phone user (I waited and waited for the darn Samsung Galaxy SII, but you left me at the altar too long) or perhaps later, no surprise, an Apple iPhone 4s/5/whatever after a 5 year sabbatical. Instead, I'm signing back up with a handset which follows the beat of it's own drum under the power of Windows Phone 7.
The Samsung Focus has been out for awhile now, and you can even get one for pretty much free these days (if you can find one, as some have noted Focus stock in certain channels has dried up, perhaps hinting of a refresh update). It's an older model, but not old by any measure, with plenty to offer if bleeding edge isn't a requirement.
I've already gone into detail about my overall experience using a Windows Phone 7 device and why potential defecting iPhone users should consider Windows Phone 7 over Android (at least for now) . In fact, we've got two WP7 handsets now, with the HTC HD7 also here for testing (which was recently replaced by a slightly upgraded "S" model). Even though the HTC is bigger and offers a slightly nicer feel in the hand, the Samsung Focus in our opinion still reigns supreme as the current go-to model if you're looking for a WP7 phone. And the reason why should sound familiar to Apple fans: it just works.
Unlike its Android cousin, Samsung didn't carbon copy the iPhone design for their WP7 handset here. Instead, the Focus has its own thing going on. The plastic finish all across isn't horrible, but there's a bit of Las Vegas facade about the handset; you think it's going to feel premium, attributed to its svelte profile, the angled back that cradles well in the hand and even smaller details like the MicroUSB slide cover. But then the materials don't quite deliver and you can see where corners were cut. It's a shame, because the truth is the technology within exceeds the material quality encasing it, with a 480 x 800 Super AMOLED capacitive display which even impress jaded iPhone 4 users to concede, "That's a pretty nice screen". Even with the letdown, the phone feels fine, whether browsing online or while being used to call. We'll still be adding one of those scratch proof applications, just in case. I guess you can say we fell in love with the Focus for its personality, not its modestly handsome looks.
In use impressions: What we said before about the out-of-box simplicity has continued to ring true weeks since unboxing. While in New York, under the umbrella of an AT&T 3G fortified network, the Focus delivered online queries like a dim sum cart waitress: fast, efficiently and without much hubbub (more information specifically about the Windows Phone 7 experience here). We've yet to experience a dropped call, credit to both the phone and…gasp…perhaps even AT&T's network upgrades.
The phone hasn't been as perfectly stellar since returning to LA, where our deadzone offers 1-2 bars maximum and online browsing speeds reflect traffic speeds on the 405 freeway: moving, but slow. Note, that's still a lot better than my better half's barely there 1 bar reception iPhone, revealing a better internal antenna design is packed inside the Samsung's design, partnered with a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, 512MB of RAM, 1GB of ROM, and 8GB of flash storage that never left us wanting for a dual core upgrade (yet).
Battery life: good for all day use with moderate online browsing and calls; we we're sometimes able to eke out 2 days of use between charges if we set the screen to low-medium, but it's usually advisable to schedule charges each evening, since the screen looks best when set to high brightness.
Camera: at first we were quite impressed with the Focus' 5 megapixel camera. It's easy to turn on, thanks to an actual dedicated camera button which gives you a more "camera" feel opposed to slower touchscreen modes that hamper other smart phones and often result in a missed opportunity. Photos out in daylight and when shooting still subjects come out lifelike and with a nice pop to them, with lower light conditions and faster moving subjects resulting in hit and miss images. Still, as you can see below, the camera is able in regular Tweet/Facebook update ready opportunities:
You're also given the ability to record 720p video clips using the Focus, but we're more apt to bust out the DSLR for HD video projects. There's still too much of that aperture light shifting common to smart phones.
Overall, the Samsung Focus and Windows Phone 7 has been a nice wakeup call. There's something exciting about being proven wrong and finding yourself utilizing hardware/software that offers a different perspective and design philosophy, but in a way that doesn't compromise the expectations shaped by my experience with iOS devices. Android devices just haven't proven to float my boat (perhaps suited to certain personalities in the same way certain cars appeal to different people), while iOS remain a part of our lives through the iPad experience. The Focus+WP7 tandem is a comfortable inbetween, different enough to feel refreshingly novel, but recognizably easy to just turn on and use.
The Samsung Focus is a fine ambassador for the 1st wave of Windows Phone 7 devices, and with the Mango OS update on the horizon, there's a lot to be excited about. Personally, I can't wait to see the followup, with high hopes the next iteration of the Focus offers not only upgraded specs, but improved material finish which better complements a phone that otherwise has charmed itself into my everyday life and workflow. We'll just have to see if the Windows Phone OS can battle itself into the running in an Android vs. iPhone world...
Pros: Beautiful Super AMOLED display, responsive hardware performance which makes Windows Phone 7 experience shine, very comfortable in-hand ergonomic, clear and loud voice quality with speedy 3G online performance in certain markets (great in NYC, tolerable in LA), 720p video.
Cons: Plasticky, so-so construction mar an otherwise well designed mobile experience; 5 megapixel camera is barely usable in low light, some missing OS related features (no multi-tasking or Twitter integration baked in, Bing Maps+GPS noticeably slower than Google Maps system)
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.