Two things strike you on a first glance and then grasp of the new Samsung Focus – its form factor and it’s vibrant SAMOLED display. Whilst the former will divide opinion in many minds, the screen remains a stand-out and significant selling strength in the initial launch range of WP7 handsets.
The gorgeous colour vibrancy and depth has to be seen in the hand to be believed. Digital photo’s (especially those taken from an above average DSLR for instance) absolutely shine on the SAMOLED screen. Videos look rich and almost leap of the screen. Viewing distances are also quite amazing – with negligible visual difference indoors over 90 deg+ of handset rotation. I have seen no colour banding, bleeding or over-saturation in my first few days with the phone – and it’s wow factor for the screen even went as far as being recognised by one of my work colleagues who happens to be a crazy apple fanboi.
As for form factor, the phone can definitely be accused of being “plasticy”. It is certainly very thin, and very light – with the battery being a significant overall % of its weight. The back plate is 100% plastic with an embedded panel type finish (thin bands or stripes running down the phone). It seems to pick up natural oils from your hands and shows up marks far more than the front/screen does. Most worryingly though on the back panel, is that the rear of the phone clicks out all in one piece – and when re-attached to the phone – relies on three small plastic moulded clips at the top of the back plate for securing it in place. I would urge caution in taking the back plate off and on – only do so if you really need to and be gentle. If these little moulded clips were to break, the back plate may become difficult to re-attach or require replacement. Certainly this is the phone’s weakest point.
As for the front of the phone, and overall ergonomics – there are very positive. The Gorilla Glass screen seems very strong, and resistant to basic knocks, impacts and surprisingly far less prone to fingerprints than the back. The buttons are pretty well located around the chrome metallic band running across both sides of the phone and the top.
For right-handers, you will typically grip the phone with your thumb on the left – around or just under the volume up/down button, your index finger on the right side just under the power/sleep button and your middle and third finger being either side of the dedicated camera button on the right side. For lefties, reverse this – with more grip real estate on the left of the phone available – but you may need to lower the phone in your hand slightly so your thumbs is not resting on the power/sleep button.
After my first few days use, I can say the phone is a little slippery to use – and can require some extra care to use features like the camera without risk of the phone slipping from your grip. General phone use is fine in your grip. However, when manipulating the phone into landscape, using the camera or video playback etc, you do need to take care due to a combination of its light weight, it’s thin form factor and the back plate not being quite as “grippy”. I for one do not like the thought of dropping this fine phone – so I will be keeping an eye out for a strong and functional case for the Focus <Blog review to follow>.
A feature I like – and I’m not sure if this is the same for all WP7 handsets. The fixed front buttons on the Focus (back, home and search) are all touch-screen (not raised or depressible panels) – and feature a small vibrate feedback from the handset upon touch (as well as lighting up).
As a phone – the Focus works very well. The proximity sensor is just right, locking out buttons as you talk into the phone – and bringing your screen and phone menu options back to you as the phone moves back to a normal held position. Call quality is great – although I would have liked a separate volume level being selectable for calls vs. general phone use (couldn’t see this in the settings anywhere). The phone book, dialler, call-back functions, people hub etc all integrate nicely – and “just work” with WP7 and the Focus. It connected perfectly with a current model Ford Falcon (with the media pack connectivity / Bluetooth) for effective and easy call handling in-car, with volumes and clarity at the other end of the line reported to be good. In my experience, the larger screen real estate of the dialler and the ease of use of the phone functions make this an excellent working business phone (At least as good a phone as the Blackjack was that my Focus is replacing).
Setup to all the carious mail clients was a cinch. The phone was easily connected to my business exchange server – and picked up the company security policies forcing the creation of a phone lock code on top of the SIM code at startup. Nice. The email app is really beautiful. Well laid out, intuitive – and very easy to use. Other email services like the Windows Live, my ISP mail (Bigpond) and other email services (gmail etc) also connected and setup easily. Given I personally separate my mail services and do not want them integrated into one mail (outlook for work, Hotmail for personal, Bigpond for private, Gmail for eBay etc), the default WP7 style of separate accounts works well for me. I am not aware of the ability to link multiple mail accounts into one live tile launch app – which may frustrate some users.
Marketplace purchases and app/game browsing is handled well from the handset – and XBOX live (download the extras service from the app store to enhance functionality at no extra cost) seems to work fine.
As previously stated, battery life seems on-par with current model premium smartphones. From a full charge (4 hours) – I made it through a full workday for both days of last week I had the phone. It met all my business needs (>20 phone calls, a tele-conference on Bluetooth in the car for around an hour, basic web browsing, some multimedia use – showing off the phone – and regular email use with exchange set to full push). The phone was critically low each day by about 7:00-7:30pm returning home. The addition of the car charger (generic Samsung or Samsung Galaxy S based) will mean no worries for the Sales Rep-on-the-road type user. I have non Outlook mail set to check hourly rather than full push.
FEATURES / PERFORMANCE:
I won’t go into a review of the MS WP& interface – but will say that I love it! It is just a beautiful, modern, natural interface that works fluidly and rationally for what you want to do with the phone. A+++ MS – It really is fantastic. I look forward to the system updates and roll out of extra features, without feeling that the phone I have now is in any way half-baked, limited or even too much of a Generation-1 “basic” model.
For a 5MP camera, the Samsung Focus is probably one of the better of the bunch of similar specc’d launch handsets. Basic use is good – with automatic settings doing a reasonable job of handling various light conditions. Indoor or lower light conditions are not great – but passable. If you think of the camera as being excellent and quick for decent quality social networking shots (FB etc) then you will do well. I for one will not be replacing my wife’s dedicated digital camera or my DSLR for precious family shots or holiday snaps with my phone camera.
Video function defaults to a lower than full (720p) setting – and annoyingly reverts back to the medium quality default if the camera/video function is closed and then returned to. Again, my HD1080 video camera won’t be at any risk of being knocked off by this phone. In my opinion, the video and camera features are good for quick, instantly available basic photo and video access on the go for social networking (Facebook, Skydrive/Live, Twitter etc). Check my Focus thread at Whirlpool for more specific info on these functions and sample videos/pictures.
So in finishing up, there are some areas I haven’t touched on here or am still to configure on my phone. I have not tried SharePoint configuration yet (my business uses this). Apps – there are other online sources and WP threads covering APPS – however I will say the update notification for downloaded Apps works very nicely, and overall I have downloaded about 20-30 apps and games so far and all work well.
I have not seen any speed or performance issues with my Focus. The system is very responsive and in approaching my first week or so I have not had any system freezes, meltdowns or other operating system glitches or issues. One thing to watch out for – if you disable a feature (eg access to Xbox live) in the Options settings – this can go on to stop the functioning of related APPS or Games that use this feature. For example, location access – many apps use the location to tailer results or info for you. Also XBOX live access. If disabled, games using this service won’t even load.
So – wrapping up, I would summarise by saying my experience so far with the Samsung Focus and WP7 is that I am a very happy owner/user. I would rate the phone an 8.5/10 and the WP7 system an 8/10 (hopefully a 9/10 after the JAN update). For a GEN1 handset at launch of WP7 – the only areas I could really mark the Focus down on are build quality – with that plasticy feel of the back plate.