Windows Phone

Samsung Focus review: The first great Windows Phone 7 device

We got our hands on the first great Windows Phone 7 smartphone. See why we liked the Samsung Focus a lot more than we expected. We'll also tell you the caveats.

We got our hands on the first great Windows Phone 7 smartphone -- or, at least the first one that's widely available. See why we liked the Samsung Focus a lot more than we expected, and as always, we'll also tell you the caveats.

Rather than a long narrative, TechRepublic product reviews provide IT and business professionals with exactly the information they need to evaluate a product in a concise format. You can find more reviews like this one on our Product Spotlight page.

Photo gallery

Slideshow: Samsung Focus, a Windows Phone 7 powerhouse

Specifications

  • Carrier: AT&T Wireless
  • OS: Windows Phone 7
  • Processor: 1.0GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250
  • RAM: 512MB
  • Storage: 8GB on-board storage; microSD slot (up to 32GB)
  • Display: 4-inch Super AMOLED, 480x800 resolution
  • Battery: 1500mAh lithium-ion
  • Ports: Micro-USB, microphone
  • Weight: 4.07 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4.84(h) x 2.56(w) x 0.39(d) inches
  • Camera: 5.0MP, 4x digital zoom, auto-focus, LED flash
  • Sensors: GPS, accelerometer
  • Keyboard: on-screen portrait and landscape
  • Networks: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz; UMTS/HSDPA 850/1900/2100MHz
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1 EDR; FM radio receiver
  • Tethering: USB (unofficial)
  • Price: $199 (with 2-year contract)

Who is it for?

For professionals and companies that are already invested in Microsoft business technologies -- especially Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Office, and SharePoint -- they will find Windows Phone 7 devices such as the Samsung Focus now offer the best way to access those systems. That makes perfect sense since all of the systems are built by Microsoft, but it's important to remember that Microsoft is a huge company and these technologies are made by different groups that often act like separate businesses. Microsoft deserves kudos for the integration.

What problems does it solve?

Microsoft has cut bait on Windows Mobile and replaced it with a completely new platform in Windows Phone 7, which offers a modern multi-touch experience that can legitimately compete with iPhone, Android, and webOS in terms of ease-of-use. Windows Phone 7 has the same multi-vendor, multi-telecom strategy as Android, but offers a little bit more coherent experience with less fragmentation and less manipulation its partners. It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to stem Android's momentum

Standout features

  • Usable interface - Let's be honest, the Windows Mobile interface was atrocious. It constantly forced you to dig through all sorts of different menus to do basic tasks. When the Zune came out, I said that was the team that should be working on Microsoft's mobile interface because they designed a very elegant and approachable UI. That's exactly what Microsoft has done and the result of adapting the Zune UI to a smartphone is a much friendlier user experience.
  • Solid performance - Part of a good user experience is a UI that responsive and not laggy. When the UI lags, users end up pushing buttons multiple times and throwing themselves into menus and options that they never meant to trigger. The Samsung Focus is very zippy and experienced very little lag in my tests of basic functionality. My only complaint here is that Windows Phone 7 has some fancy animations that take an extra second or two to execute. I wish there was a setting to turn off these extra animations.
  • Great display - The 4-inch Super AMOLED screen has excellent clarity, brightness, and color. It might not be quite at the level of the iPhone 4's "Retina" display, but it's pretty close.
  • Office integration - Windows Phone 7 offers a native experience for working with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. It also offers a mobile version of OneNote and a built-in client for accessing SharePoint.

What's wrong?

  • Virgin ecosystem - By completely rebooting its mobile platform, Microsoft has thrown off the shackles of backward compatibility, but it has also created a new platform with a dearth of software. Android and iPhone have burgeoning application platforms that have attracted most of the attention of developers. Microsoft has been actively recruiting its army of Windows developers to join the mobile ranks and developer for Windows Phone 7. The extent to which they win over these developers will be a major factor in whether WP7 will effectively compete.
  • Lots of plastic - Like some of the Samsung Galaxy S devices, the Samsung Focus feels a little cheap since it's made almost entirely of plastic. It certainly doesn't feel as substantial and high-quality as the Google Nexus One or the Apple iPhone 4. As more Windows Phone 7 devices make it to market we'll see how it compares to them. The Dell Venue Pro and the HTC HD7 certainly appear to have better build quality.
  • Missing features - WP7 is missing copy-and-paste and the ability to take screenshots and a few other basic features. Microsoft has promised a major software update that will be deployed in early 2011.

Bottom line for business

There's a lot to like about the Samsung Focus -- a lot more than I expected. The best feature is the overall user experience, which is smooth, snappy, and easy-to-navigate. This is a good foundation for Windows Phone 7 to build upon. It needs to fill in the gaps of missing features (such as the lack of copy-and-paste) and needs more apps, but those are hurdles that Microsoft can clear.

Both the Dell Venue Pro and the HTC HD7 look like promising WP7 devices, but neither of them are widely available at the time this article is being published. As a result, the Samsung Focus is the first really good Windows Phone 7 device that business users can get their hands on. And, for those professionals that need Exchange syncing, the ability to edit Office files and access SharePoint on a mobile device, WP7 raises the bar on the mobile business experience.

Competitive products

Where to get more info

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

26 comments
rallen
rallen

As a Samsung Focus owner, and simply speaking about the device and not the OS on the device, I agree with 2 standout device features and the 1 "What's wrong?" device feature in the post. However I also believe the power button and the micro USB port are poorly placed. The power button should be where the micro-USB port is and the micro-USB port should be on the bottom of the phone. Quite often I accidentally hit the power button when using the camera in landscape mode and sometimes I like to talk on the phone while it's plugged in, which is very cumbersome with the cord coming out of the top.

Jordon
Jordon

Five blue squares, one red one and one green one? Whoever came up with that home screen should be fired.

levilan
levilan

All WP7 are a fail in the last month. I don't think the the Focus sold more than 20,000 devices around the world in the last month. It seems that all Ten WP7 devices sold a total of 120,000 devices in last month (Android sells 200,000 a day and iPhone sell 300,000 iOS a day).

alastair
alastair

I think the interface is very ugly. Is it designed for people with very large fingers? All those big block buttons loose alot of screen space. I also read that MS really want to lock people in to their ecosystem. People are so used to doing and installing whatever they want; thus will they want to return back to a totally controlled environment? I think not. Unfortunately MS have a big catchup to do with the iPhone, Andriod and even Blackberry having made alot of headway and having ALOT of free apps available. I think MS has lost the plot in the modern computing landscape; I think they will never dominate again like they did before. Lets face it; you don't need an OS anymore; only a compatible web browser/java. Everything is on the web now; no need to install apps locally any more.

sun365
sun365

For me, the screen resolution is not up to par!

gaughed
gaughed

It's nuts that they do not support the advanced enterprise policies of their own mail plat form - see below. yes it is a consumer device but android & iphone have shown that that line buls - see below from MS site: Supported Exchange ActiveSync Policies Its important to note that Windows Phone 7 devices only support a subset of the Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policies available with Exchange 2003, Exchange 2007, and Exchange 2010. Currently, Windows Phone 7 supports the following EAS policies: ?Password Required ?Minimum Password Length ?Idle Timeout Frequency Value ?Device Wipe Threshold ?Allow Simple Password ?Password Expiration ?Password History ?Disable Removable Storage ?Disable IrDA ?Disable Desktop Sync ?Block Remote Desktop ?Block Internet Sharing If you want to use EAS policies not on the above list for other mobile devices in the Exchange organization, you have the following options: ?Create a dedicated Windows Phone 7 EAS policy and associate it with mailbox users that use Windows Phone 7 devices. ?Set the AllowNonProvisionableDevices property to true in the default EAS policy already configured. ?Re-configure the default EAS policy within the Exchange organization, so it only has the policies listed above configured. ?Deploy a third party EAS client on the Windows Phone 7 devices.

QAonCall
QAonCall

I am finding over time, my android is slowing down, and the touch screens are less responsive. I am curious if this is a function of the touch technology, or if there is some other issue. Additionally, I would be curious to see reviews done in two formats: Intitial Follow on. Follow on reviews could be done at 3, 6 and 12 months, since frankly the d@mn carriers make it next to immpossible to not keep a ohone for at least a year. In the follow on series, you could highlight improvements/updates, since i think the major players are now established, and for the most part, the next major things will be true multitasking for some, and then a series of small changes (not much groundbreaking, me thinks!). Also, I did not see anything about 4g compatibility, which I think should be included in any reviews going forward, and the mention should include the type, as I understand there are 2 differing types, but they are mostly similar? Thanks

RhaneColwell
RhaneColwell

I'm loving my samsung focus a lot :) Never want to put it down, the UI is just so awesome.

JulesLt
JulesLt

One thing to consider is that sometimes animation is not the cause of delays, but is used to indicate that something is happening (i.e. using a flip or zoom of a thumbnail while the actual full program or image is being loaded into ram). But I guess the psychology works the other way too (i.e. there are some people who'd rather wait 2 seconds for a sudden transition, than see a slide, and perceieve that to be faster).

scott
scott

Windows 7 phones do not work with Exchange SP2 as advertized. They work well with Exchange 2007 SP2 forward. I am currently working with Microsoft on this issue so I know first hand. The issue is reply and forward flags being set between the mobile device and the Exchange server. This will be interesting to see if they can fix this... IMAP email does not work correctly either. I use IMAP to get around this issue with iPhones.

alistair.k
alistair.k

We are a Microsoft shop and I am slightly nervy about using the Google Android platform for our smart phones, which we are doing now as WinMo was such a bind. Big simple icons look good for our users, most of whom are non-techy. Integration with office and SharePoint is good news. I watch this market develop. Price looks good compared to what you'd pay for a competitive Android handset. Some rough edges MS need to iron out. Availability of apps is not an issue for us. In fact (IT being the department of no fun for users) I prefer that there are less apps. Less chance of users loading malicious apps on their phone connected to my network then...

santeewelding
santeewelding

Was the eighth of your first sentence, preceded by nothing whatsoever of relevant merit.

nafunder
nafunder

I have issues with the Focus (like skips on music in Zune that seems solely occurring on the Focus) and I have issues with the OS (like how search works, how often I have to reboot the device, etc.), but I've more than once thought exactly what you said. Another issue I've had is voice quality on the phone. The iPhone 3GS I had before this device was lots better.

rallen
rallen

Obviously your understanding of mobile devices and business is very limited. EVERY company wants to lock you into their ecosystem, including the beloved Apple and Google. Also, the worst experience on a mobile device is the web browser. I would MUCH rather have a native app than be forced to use a web browser based app on a mobile device. The only sane thing you said was MS having a lot of catchup to do.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

AT&T does not have 4G yet so there is no way to review it on this phone. I believe that there is a WP7 device on T-Mobile or Sprint, but I am not sure what they are. There are two different types of 4G, but only one is operational. Verizon is scheduled to start their 4G this month and they are the first ones in the US to use the LTE 4G. WiMax is the 4G service that is used by Sprint, Clear Wire and Comcast. T-Mobile appears to be using HSPA+ which most people say is not a 4G service. Bill Added additional info about 4G

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Exchange 2003? Thanks for sharing this issue so that others are aware of it.

mjc5
mjc5

Interesting take on the big simple icons. I like them big, but don't think they needed to be so crude. Put this device up beside an Iphone, and it looks a little sad. I'm not sure about the "non-techy thing either. Those people are probably tuned in more to "looks" than tech-types.

Justin James
Justin James

I find myself in agreement here. The title also made it sound like there was something substantially better about this phone than other WP7 phones, but the only time it was compared to other WP7 phones, it was actually in a negative light. J.Ja

mjc5
mjc5

I looked at the pix in the article, and this sums it up. The screen looks like something off a Commodore 64. Looks cheap, both the phone and the GUI.

fanboi
fanboi

Damn it's ugly. Both the handset and the graphics. ?_?

nelsonjgil
nelsonjgil

Somewhere in the realm of cyberspace, the main use for the phone has been forgotten. Although I consider Jason's review very professional and well written, I miss the observations about the phone functionality: how fast does it get through? What?s the voice clarity? How does it handle redial, contact lists, messages, etc? I know quality of service depends mainly on the provider, but there is still a component attached to the hardware used in the phone. Perhaps I'm old school...

scott
scott

Microsoft is working on the problem but no fix is promised.

greenfrm
greenfrm

It also has all the new bluetooth features and syncs with my cars system exceptionally well. All the things my old bluetooth phone did not do this one do. No you do not have to hold it just so. Unlike Apple they did not make the mistake on the Samsung Focus. It also has a better dial pad than the iPhone. Lastly, unlike the iPhone it interfaces with Hotmail and the Hotmail Calendar.

Par-Pro
Par-Pro

you can only get it at ATT. And remember your not holding it right (lol), nothing to do with ATT. I think i'll wait till there is a different carrier.