Microsoft

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 Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

Editor's Picks