Critics' Choice: Roundup Samsung Focus Smartphone Review

Let's give it up for Microsoft. Instead of putting Windows Mobile through yet another nip/tuck, the company gave its mobile device OS a brain transplant. And it was truly, madly, deeply needed. Previous versions of Windows for mobile devices were about as efficient as jogging underwater.

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft started over from scratch. Smart move. The company designed a new mobile OS that, judging from early reviews, puts Microsoft back into the increasingly cutthroat smartphone competition.

Here's what reviewers from CNET, LAPTOP magazine, PC Magazine, and PC World are saying about one of the first Windows Phone 7 smartphones, the Samsung Focus. Check back soon for a roundup of reviews on another new Windows Phone 7 smartphone, the HTC Surround.

For more about the Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system, see "Meet the New Windows Phone 7 Smartphones" and "Windows Phone 7 is Do or Die for Microsoft."

Samsung Focus Specs, Availability, Price

Specs:

4-inch super AMOLED touch screen;

4.9 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick

Weight: 4.2 ounces

Quad-band world roaming

1GHz processor, 8GB of internal memory with expansion slot (up to 16GB)

Availability: Nov. 8, AT&T

Price: $199 (with two-year contract)

Samsung Focus Reviews

* CNET: 4 of 5 stars

Pros: Brilliant screen; camera captures excellent photos and video; fresh, friendly user interface; great multimedia; improved browser.

Cons: No copy and paste; limited landscape mode support; feels "plasticky"; no direct syncing for non-Exchange Outlook accounts.

Overall conclusion: "For those looking for an alternative to the iPhone and want better multimedia features and a more organized user interface than Android offers, the Samsung Focus with Windows Phone 7 offers all that plus solid performance and a sleek design."

Additional comments:

The Focus offers an onscreen keyword in portrait and landscape modes. Despite the keyword's cramped appearance, "we were able to peck away at the keys and compose messages fairly quickly and with minimal errors. We'd say it's on par with the Android keyboard."

Regarding call quality and performance, CNET tested the phone in New York and found "quite good" call quality. "Our callers sounded loud and clear, and we weren't distracted by any background noise or voice distortion. Originally, we had the volume set at the highest level, and the sound was actually too loud and hurt our ears."

* LAPTOP: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Pros: "Eye-popping" screen; attractive interface; nice HD camcorder; loud speaker.

Cons: No third-party app multitasking; just 8GB of built-in memory.

Overall conclusion: "When you're launching a whole new mobile operating system, you want the hardware to put your best face forward. The Samsung Focus does just that. Its Super AMOLED display is so bright, crisp, and rich, it's the ideal complement to the new Windows Phone 7 OS. Everything on this handset--from the customizable tiles on the home screen to Xbox Live games and HD videos--really pops. The Focus…is also ready for productivity, thanks to the revamped versions of Outlook and Office Mobile. Still, this smart phone faces stiff competition from Android and the iPhone."

Additional comments:

Outlook Mobile "looks great" on the Focus' screen, with easy-to-read large text. "You can easily swipe to the right to read unread, flagged, and urgent messages. And with Office Mobile on board, you can view and edit Excel, PowerPoint, and Word files. We encountered an error when trying to open one PDF attachment, but another PDF document loaded fine, complete with landscape and pinch-to-zoom support. While we wish the Outlook search worked faster, it returned accurate results."

Call quality was better compared to the iPhone 4. "We also didn't experience any dropped calls. Other callers said we sounded clear, even when riding on a bus. We also like that the speaker is plenty loud, so you shouldn't have trouble hearing callers or GPS directions in a car."

LAPTOP was also impressed with the phone's battery life. "The 1500 mAh battery powered this smart phone from about 9 in the morning until nearly 7 p.m. When we plugged the Focus back it still had nearly a quarter of its juice left."

* PC Mag: 4 of 5 stars

Pros: Slim, light, gorgeous screen.

Cons: Not many apps or games available yet; software feels very "1.0."

Overall conclusion: "The Samsung Focus delivers the best Windows Phone 7 experience I've seen so far. It's a spare, elegant canvas for a mobile operating system that relies heavily on bold design. The Super AMOLED screen showcases Microsoft's big blocks of color, and Samsung even found ways to subtly downplay Windows Phone 7's weaknesses."

Additional comments:

As a phone, the Focus' reception was "stronger than the competing HTC Surround. Volume was okay, if a bit quiet sometimes. Noise cancellation in the microphone worked very well, though it made my voice sound a bit strangled when it was busy blocking out a loud, passing truck. The speakerphone has great volume and transmissions sound solid."

PC Mag's reviewer compared the Focus to other AT&T smartphones, with an eye toward which model is best. "The Focus strikes hardest at the Samsung Captivate…AT&T's best Android phone--and at Android in general. The Captivate is a terrific phone, but Windows Phone is like a manicured garden where Android is running a little wild." The reviewer says that the Focus and the BlackBerry Torch "don't really compete. You're buying the BlackBerry Torch because your business has a BlackBerry server, or because you want a physical keyboard.

As for that smartphone from Apple? "Apple's iOS is simply a more mature platform. Even though the iPhone 4…has serious trouble making phone calls…it retains our Editor's Choice because it's both refined and flexible."

* PC World: 4 out of 5 stars

Pros: Great camera; beautiful display.

Cons: Mixed call quality; Windows Phone 7 is missing some important features.

Overall conclusion: "The Samsung Focus is an attractive, well-designed phone that has a great camera and a speedy processor. But AT&T customers have a tough choice: The Samsung Captivate, which is also $200 with a two-year contract, has these attributes plus access to the huge Android Market. Windows Phone 7 delivers when it comes to usability and performance, but the amount of content users will have access to remains to be seen. Android already has a proven track record of being a great operating system; Windows Phone 7 will have to work hard to win over consumers."

PC World's reviewer was lukewarm about the Focus as a phone. "While most of the callers on the other end of the line reported positively on the quality, I had a hard time understanding a few of my contacts. One contact sounded a bit garbled and another sounded very distant and tinny. I also experienced one dropped call."

The phone's performance, however, is another story. The Focus is "is really quite fast--a refreshing change from the sluggish (and often frustrating) Windows Mobile 6.5 experience…Web browsing over AT&T's 3G network was also pretty speedy."

James A. Martin has written about mobile technology since the mid 1990s and is the author of Traveler 2.0, a mobile technology blog for travelers.

TAGS:

Microsoft, Windows Phone, smartphone review, Samsung, mobile os

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