The Samsung Focus is my first experience with Microsoft Windows Phone 7, and the phone made my experience a pleasant one. Even though I wasn’t at all familiar with the new operating system, I felt right at home very quickly.
I of course had to poke into every little corner of every menu to familiarize myself quickly, and the Focus was able to keep up with my every tap and application launch. The only times I had to wait for a task to be completed were when I first set up the device and had to wait for all of my personal information to be synced over.
Call quality is good, but not mind-blowing; a reviewer friend of mine gave the Focus a B+ when it comes to call quality. I had no problems hearing or being heard, but the fidelity just wasn’t quite there. That could be due to overactive noise suppression, as my test callers couldn’t hear any noise at all in the background during our calls, even when I was standing outside in the middle of a busy parking lot.
I was pleasantly surprised by the signal strength; even in my office when I had only one bar, I was still able to make and receive calls. Since I know that my office is basically a dead zone, that was a point in favor of the Focus.
Microsoft has a long list of hardware requirements for devices running its new operating system, and on this is 3G, W-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS.
You find plenty to keep you productive on the go, from calendar and contacts to Microsoft Office Mobile. All of the basics you would expect to find on a modern smartphone are included, such as an alarm clock, a calculator, and basic personal information management apps.
It can sync your personal information with Windows Live or Google, though you have to manually turn on calendar sync (contacts and email are automatic when you set up your Google account).
The Now app may be the first thing you check each morning after grabbing your coffee — it integrates weather, top news stories, and stock updates on one tab, so you can quickly get up to speed each day.
And the AT&T Navigator app can get you where you’re going with turn-by-turn directions. The version on the Samsung Focus is the best one I’ve seen yet, generating routes very quickly. While some of the search results were a little funky (such as suggesting a local bookstore that has been closed for at least three years), the overall navigation experience is excellent.
Microsoft Office Mobile includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. While the editing capabilities are somewhat basic, especially when it comes to formatting text in Word Mobile, the apps are a good start and I’m sure we’ll see improvements in future updates to Windows Phone 7. Currently the only way to get your documents into your phone is through Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 or via email attachment.
Third-party can really increase the usefulness of a smartphone. Finding apps that do some specialized task can be very handy. So be aware, Windows Phone 7 is starting with a clean slate, and there’s just a handful of useful apps so far. But as more software becomes available, it can be easily purchased and installed from the Marketplace apps on the device itself.
Fun and games is one area where the Samsung Focus really shines — there’s a lot going on here, no matter what your interests might be.
Of course my first stop was the Games tab, because I’m truly a gamer at heart. After signing up for an Xbox Live account and customizing my avatar, I was able to download a couple of games and get right to playing them. I chose Bejeweled and de Blob, and my experiences with both were delightful. In each case I got brilliant graphics, good sound effects, and achievements galore.
AT&T Radio was included, and I enjoyed it as well. You can choose from local stations or genre favorites, in addition to sports and talk. Navigation is dead simple and you can use the feature without having to plug in a set of headphones, as was typically required on past devices. While the sound quality left something to be desired, being rather loud but lacking any real richness or depth.
If social networking is your game, you’ll be pleased as punch if Facebook is where you eat, sleep, and breathe. The Facebook integration is great, everything shows up automatically on the People tab, so all of your friend’s status updates are just a tap away. Windows Phone 7 is not integrated with Twitter in the same way, but third-party apps for this service are starting to appear.
The 5-megapixel camera is equipped with auto-focus and an LED flash. It can be a little slow to capture the shot, while you’re waiting for it to focus, but the payoff is in improved results for each picture. The photos I was able to get with the Focus are some of the best I’ve ever been able to achieve with a mobile phone camera, and that includes macro and zoom shots. Of course there is some loss of detail and quality on zoomed-in shots, but they still look good enough to share, and that’s better than passing up the shot because you can’t get close enough.
Low-resolution versions of your photos are automatically uploaded to SkyDrive, where they can be shared with friends or just archived for your own use. They can also be optionally geo-tagged if you want to know where each shot was taken. You can also share photos via email or upload them to Facebook with captions if you want to share full size photos.
I got truly excellent results on the power front — I never did get a low battery warning on the Focus, even though I only charged it up every two or three days, and I used the phone heavily for calling, texting, and (especially) games.
You might be able to get away without the charger on a weekend trip, but even better, you don’t have to worry about running out of juice when you’re surfing the web during your evening commute home.