If you want a Windows phone, Samsung's Focus 2 is the best bang for your buck -- it's a flawed device, but it's cheap and runs on AT&T's 4G LTE service.
The super-glossy white body is fancy, almost shellacked, while a hard-mold silver-accented plastic gives a distinct look. It has fairly average-sized dimensions, but not the slimmest profile. Regardless, it's easy to tuck into a pocket or a purse. I had a problem with how glossy it was -- it's like a baby seal glazed with lubricant. I know Samsung loves shiny plastic, and while it looks a great deal better than some Galaxy devices, it's not a sensible finish. Just be careful you don't drop it. The capacitive buttons at the bottom look elegant when backlit though, so it is charming, even if it's impractical.
If you manage to keep your mitts around it, the 4-inch display makes the most of the 800-by-480 resolution, and gives you sharply defined text and images. The clarity and density isn't as good as the iPhone or Lumia 900, but for a mid-range phone it's on par with most Windows devices. The viewing angles are wide, so you'll clearly see what's going on even if you hold the phone in an odd way. But the saturation is almost too much. Colors are certainly vibrant, but they're almost glowing. So if you like the Technicolor radiance of the Land of Oz, you'll dig the hyper-saturation. The screen is very responsive to the touch, so if you send marathon messages, you'll appreciate the easy-to-use onscreen keyboard. The PenTile layout, though, causes slight blurring at the edges of text, but you really have to hunker in to notice it.
I liked the 5-megapixel camera -- it took impressively sharp shots, nearly comparable to some lesser 8-megapixel lenses. But the color contrast can be a little whack, which makes the pictures exceptionally bright and saturated. You can manually adjust it to look more true-to-life, but otherwise, photos were clear -- even in low lighting. The physical camera button is nice, and I appreciate Microsoft's auto-fix feature, which takes a photo from so-so to worth sharing. It does an excellent job smoothing out little problems in the photos.
You can record 720p video, which are detailed and vibrant -- the quality is like stills. But I was annoyed how it defaults to VGA resolution, so you have to change it every time if you want to record a clip. The audio is disappointingly noisy and tinny too, so it's really only good if you want to capture a tableau, not dialogue.
The Focus is AT&T's fourth Windows phone, and runs on Mango 7.5 for a distinctive "tile" layout that's intuitive and easy-to-use. I find it simpler to use than Android, since the tiles are cleaner and you don't need to deal with countless widgets or tiny app menus. But Windows lacks the apps on iOS and Android, so if you like the download obscure programs, you'll be out of luck. That's especially true here, because there's no telling when updates will be pushed out. Samsung and AT&T made included apps of their own, but the results are mixed. Some are undeniably bloatware, while others like AT&T's Slacker Radio are genuinely useful.
Desktop webpages look great when you use the browser, but you'll run into trouble with WebKit versions. Internet Explorer is far from my favorite browser, and I had problems trying to open mobile pages -- it's just fusty and stale. You'll have a better time downloading a third-party browser.
Tragically, Samsung lost focus when it came to storage. Your heart will break if you like to download movies, music and multimedia -- it only comes with 8-gigabytes of storage, without a memory slot. So if you have big plans to watch the Godfather trilogy, you won't have room for much more. You can get creative using cloud -- you'll get 7-gigabytes of free SkyDrive.
The 1.4-gigahertz chip is smooth. I wouldn't call it blazing, but it'll suffice. The performance limitation is really with the software, and until Microsoft releases Windows 8, that's as good as it'll gets. To sweeten the deal, the 1,750 mAh battery is solid -- I squeezed out a day's worth of power -- so if you hate charging, it's a solid option. Note: it does drain a lot quicker when you have 4G on, so if you know you won't be near a charger, switch it off to extend the battery life.
The Focus has positives, but your reaction will really depend on your feelings for Windows. If you like the software, you'll look past the slippery body and paltry memory. But really, the best part is that it's cheap -- it's a good deal with the flaws and all. If you can't wait for Windows 8, I'll recommend it. But it's not the best choice to lock into a multi-year contract. It'll be worth the wait. ♦
I decided to take a chance on a Windows smartphone. And so far I've been pretty satisfied. The 5-megapixel camera is excellent. Photos come out sharp and vibrant. The LTE speeds are fast too. Nothing like loading webpages in a blink. In addition, the basics are solid -- call quality, audio, long battery life. Great.
The only disappointment I have is the expandable memory. Or rather, the lack of a slot. It comes with 8-gigabyes, but it'd be nice to install more. On my old phone, I had a 32-gigabyte card. Wish I could use it again.Was this review helpful to you?
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