[Review] Samsung Focus S for AT&T [Video]

Focus_S

Windows Phone 7 is growing at a rapid pace, and many new devices are being pumped out. This results in making buying decisions even more difficult for the user, as there are several promising choices. One of Samsung’s latest WP7 offerings is the Focus S for AT&T. Priced at $199 (Amazon; with a new 2-year contract or an upgrade), the Focus S is a very solid smartphone, and is worth a look-over. Check out the full review for more information, and feel free to watch our review video at the bottom of the post.

What’s Included

You also might be wondering what actually comes in the packaging:

  • Samsung Focus S
  • Windows Phone 7 license card
  • Health & safety and warranty guide
  • Quick-start guide
  • Micro-USB cable
  • USB wall charger
  • In-ear headset (w/extra tips of varying sizes)

Design

One of the first things that you’ll notice when holding the Focus S is regarding its weight; it’s very lightweight! This is common throughout Samsung’s modern line of smartphones. Despite having a modest display size of 4.3″, it’s actually not too difficult to hold, and feels pretty decent in the hand. I would, however, recommend getting a case of some sort. The phone feels a bit fragile (due to its weight), and getting a case should add to the amount of grip.

The back cover has a nice-feeling texture to it. Under the cover, you’ll find the 1650 mAh battery and the SIM-card slot. This phone doesn’t feature expendable memory, so you won’t be able to insert your movie-filled microSD card into this device. However, 16GB of storage should be plenty for most users.

Going over the button layout, the left side is where you’ll find the volume rocker, while on the right side, you’ll find the power button and the camera shutter. Being left-handed, I often found myself hitting the camera button by accident and, depending on which application I’m already in, the camera application might open itself. At the bottom of the phone, you’ll find your micro-USB port and the bottom microphone. At the top, you’ll find the 3.5mm headset jack, and the top microphone. On the front, you’ll find the various proximity & light sensors, 1.3MP front-facing camera, 4.3″ display, and the usual set of WP7 touch-sensitive control buttons. Lastly, you’ll find the 8MP rear-facing camera (with flash), and the speaker, which gets quite loud and is rather clear, making it perfect for video calls and normal phone calls.

Display

Remember that this phone has a 4.3″ 480×800 Super AMOLED+ display. While the overall resolution and pixel-density is a bit low, text looks nice, clear, and easily readable from a normal distance. The responsiveness is top-notch, and the glass is quite smooth to the finger. However, with all glass displays, you’ll notice an issue with fingerprints. Because of this, I would easily recommend getting an anti-glare screen protector for this phone. Also, the display is very difficult to view in sunlight. Fortunately, it’s easily viewable indoors and in moderately-lit areas.

Thanks to the Super AMOLED+ technology, colors in photos and apps look very vibrant, although sometimes things will seem a bit oversaturated, which might be annoying to some users (such as myself). In a nutshell, videos and photos might look a bit more red-er than usual.

Fortunately, none of this takes away from the rest of the Windows Phone 7 experience.

Performance

It’s awesome. Everything is very smooth, fluid, and responsive. App loading times might suffer a bit for games, but for general apps, they don’t take too long to launch whatsoever. Web browsing is quite fast in Internet Explorer. 720p video playback is also quite smooth. Overall, performance is just fine, despite this device having a single-core processor.

Call Quality

Simply put, it’s above average. The call receiver reported loud and clear audio, and the same thing happened on the callers’ end. The top earpiece is very clear and, as mentioned earlier, the rear speaker is very loud and clear.

Network Performance

While this phone doesn’t truly support “4G,” which would be LTE, HSPA+ speeds were pretty iffy, but it will all depend on where you live and how well AT&T is supported in your area. For me, HSPA+ is available everywhere. In most of my speed tests, speeds were on par with the usual 3G speeds in the area, which were usually in the 3Mbps (down) mark. The highest speeds received were close to the 10Mbps mark.

For Wi-Fi, I think I may have had a faulty unit. Despite factory-resetting the device twice, Wi-Fi performance would almost immediately drop after it starts to be used. In other words, the Internet would work fine for about 20 seconds, but would immediately stop altogether, even though it would remain connected to the network. Only rebooting the device would get it to work again, but it would just stop after a short period of time. I can’t imagine this being the case with all devices.

Battery Life

It’s also awesome. You can easily get through the entire day with the Focus S. Listening to music, making some calls, browsing the web, using regular apps, playing games, and watching videos… The Focus S can get it all done on a single charge. Battery life seems rather impressive across all Windows Phone 7 devices.

Windows Phone 7

I’ve been a fan of Windows Phone 7 for a long time, as it’s a very fun and easy mobile operating system to use. While it had a rough start, the WP7.5 “Mango” update really improved things immensely while adding some new features. This is one of those few pieces of software that simply doesn’t need an owner’s manual. Most of Windows Phone 7 can’t be explained, so I highly recommend going down to your local cell phone retailer and playing around with it for a while.

Unfortunately, the app marketplace is its weakest point. The overall app selection is very poor. I honestly don’t know why developers aren’t jumping on-board. I strongly feel as though Windows Phone 7 can compete with Android, and possibly iOS. It’s just that, nowadays, it’s all about the application. While the marketplace contains all of the basics, such as Twitter, Foursquare, Angry Birds, and some extras like Newegg and eBay, the rest of it is quite absent. Once Windows Phone 7′s app selection increases (which it is, but very slowly), I truly believe that WP7 can actually compete with Android.

However, for the apps that are available, you’ll love them. The interface makes pretty much any app a fun one to use. I was very impressed by the Foursquare app, and also Newegg’s application.

Syncing

For Windows users, you’ll need Zune for Windows. For Mac OS X users, you’ll need the Windows Phone 7 Connector from the Mac App Store. I’m not a Mac user, so I’ll briefly talk about Zune for Windows: It’s neat and also fun to use. Its interface isn’t as easy or as clean as iTunes, but it still gets the job done, and its full-screen mode (for music listening) is pretty cool to watch for a little while.

When you’re actually syncing over your content, it can be quite slow. If you’re transferring 10GB+ of content, I’d honestly let the process run overnight.

Photo Quality

I was very impressed by how accurate and vibrant the colors are. The 8MP sensor can also capture quite a bit of detail into the photo. Overall, it’s a very good smartphone camera. You’ll find some sample photos below. They’ve been resized quite a bit (for quick web-viewing), but they should still give you a pretty good idea of how the camera performs.

Video Quality

Because of Windows Phone 7′s limitations (which evens out most of the hardware features across devices), the rear-facing camera can only record at a resolution of up to 1280×720. There’s also a VGA option within the camera app. While video quality is pretty good, the audio quality is not. It’s almost as if the audio bitrate is very low, like 64Kbps. You’ll hear it in the review video at about the 07:50 mark. A future software upgrade could potentially unlock 1080p video recording capabilities, but for the time being, 720p is the best that you can get.

Summary

In the end, the Focus S by Samsung is a great Windows Phone 7 device that you may want to consider. It has a nice thin body, a superb camera, and an overall awesome software experience. The latter piece is basically the same across any current Windows Phone 7 device, but I believe that the strong photo quality is this device’s best feature.

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Video Review