Friday, December 31, 2010

Samsung Focus Review

I've had not quite 24 hours to fool around with my new Samsung Focus. I haven't unlocked it or rooted the thing yet, just played around with it like your casual consumer. I'll comment on it's capabilities as a developer phone in a different post.


The primary purpose of the device is to make a phone call. It's clear many smart phone manufacturers forgot about that when they manufactured their devices. The Samsung Focus performs admirably in that regard. I had a 30 minute conversation with my Mom (a fellow technophile) who was impressed by the clarity of my voice. She said that it was almost indistinguishable that I was on speaker phone when I switched over to that setting.


I read about a dozen reviews on the phone before I bought one. One thing people consistently commented on was the plastic construction and how cheap the phone feels as a consequence. I don't wholly disagree with that assessment, however the phone is extremely light and thin. Truly, when the whole of the device is glass, any drop is likely to be catastrophic regardless of the case material.

When you pick yours up make sure the battery cover snaps on and off fitting together properly. Also, get the $5 a month insurance, especially if you're a developer. Rooting the device (of course) invalidates the warranty.


It has physical +/- Volume, Camera, and On/Off Screen lock buttons. It also has the usual WP7 Back, Home, and Search buttons, but these are touch sensitive positions toward the bottom of the handset. The buttons aren't great or bad and they seem to have enough stiffness to resist getting pressed accidentally. The WP7 buttons are responsive even with the inviso-screen protector on the face.

I'm glad they gave the camera a hardware button that's pressure sensitive. Press to focus, then a little harder to actually snap the picture. Software buttons for phone cameras are generally a bad plan. I wish they'd done the opposite with the volume buttons but I understand why they did relative to the WP7 OS.


Yep, it takes a picture and shoots video. I'm not a fan of devices that combine design elements. I don't think the world is a better place as a result of combining cameras with phones, mp3 players, and other devices. Being that I'm largely outvoted in that assessment, I can say with some confidence the Samsung Focus take a crappy picture and shoots similarly unfortunate video as compared to a real camera designed for the purpose.

Charging & Battery Life

I haven't had a chance to put the battery to the test. Getting the thing to charge was an adventure. Even after pulling the battery and a reboot, I can't get it to charge via USB. It seems to take a charge from the wall but it's very slow to charge. Hopefully this is just one of those initial glitches that goes away after a full charge and discharge.

I got the device with half a charge at 11:00 am or so yesterday. That charge allowed me to setup my contacts, install and play games, text and talk until about 9:00pm when I went to sleep. By then the phone was very low on power. When I awoke, the phone had only charged a very small amount off the USB cable plugged into my Mac. It took almost 2 hours to pull a full charge from the wall socket.


It played back my favorite Frank Sinatra tune, downloaded a game and allowed me to surf the Facebook App at the same time without any slowdown. I tried a bunch of different things to get the phone to bog or stutter. The only time it got sluggy was after my first factory reset when it was trying to sync all my email accounts, Live ID, and Facebook contacts at once while I was surfing in the browser.

Windows Phone 7 OS

Every app native to the WP7 operating system is gorgeous, responsive, easy to use and learn. From the perspective of someone who designs visuals for apps, Microsoft's Metro UI scheme is as beautiful as it is minimalist. If you don't like the way the media is displayed, side swiping or tapping the search key generally gives you alternatives. That being said, every app seems to have it's own means of navigating content.

The good thing is that relative to each app, the content is usually displayed in a way that showcases it and allows you to easily browse. The bad is that you have to mess with each app to learn how to use it. I think the benefits generally offset the drawbacks relative to the user interface.

I don't think it is any easier or harder to use than Android, WebOS or iOS. Aesthetically speaking, WP7 is far more attractive than it's competitors. WebOS and Android have the same ease of navigation but they look junkie and clunky by comparison. As a mobile computing OS for tablet style devices, iOS soundly defeats WP7. As a mobile gaming platform and an OS designed for a Cell Phone, WP7 soundly defeats iOS.

I had high hopes for Apple's Game Center, but it pales when compared to WP7's xBox Live game application. All my games are stored and accessed within that app so they aren't cluttering up the UI with icons, and all my achievements are tracked within the same app.

The People App is similarly useful. When I tap one of my contacts it pulls up their phone numbers, email addresses, what they posted on Facebook recently, and similar. I can link their Gmail and Facebook web presences together and add information that is then displayed all on one screen. I don't have to thumb through multiple apps to see what my friends are up to or send them email, text messages or a phone call.

WP7 was designed to run on a cellular device to facilitate it's operation as a means of communicating with others. It performs that task better than any other smartphone in my opinion.

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