Samsung Focus S Review: Great Display and Not Much More
Even though the Samsung Focus S doesn't have any obvious flaws, it's an average phone at a premium price. If it were cheaper, I'd recommend it for budget buyers. But it's not, and it's not remotely good enough to compete against the Galaxy S2 or iPhone 4S. So unless it goes on sale, take a pass.
If you still want to buy it, and if you squint hard enough, you'll think you have a Galaxy S2. Both come with a glossy plastic body, and like the S2, the shiny, slippery material makes it look cheap. The matte, dimpled battery cover gives it a grippy texture, similar to the Skyrocket. As the thinnest and lightest Windows 7.5 phone, the Focus measure just 0.3-inches thick and weighs less than four ounces. The feather-like quality, combined with the cheap plastic, though, makes it feel flimsy. I suppose there's nothing wrong with the body, besides the material, but the design is bland and uninspiring. You've seen it before and you'll see it again, probably on other Galaxy phones.
The 4.3-inch display shines as the best feature and the only one in the same class as the S2 -- probably because it's the exact same display. The 800-by-480 resolution is sharp so you'll see all the details, and the AMOLED technology is vivid, even in harsh sunlight, and at wide viewing angles. Unfortunately, I found the colors, though vibrant, to be oversaturated -- almost to the point of looking like a children's fantasyland. Still, it's better than the HTC Titan, another Windows phone with similar specs, but tends to show pixels.
The 8-megapixel camera is -- surprise -- also the same module found in the S2. In natural light, photos are crisp and defined. Photos will look like they've been washed in Technicolor, but don't despair -- that's just the display, once you look at them on a PC, you'll see the colors are true-to-life. Unfortunately, the LED flash isn't powerful enough to fight off low-lighting, so don't take it out for a night on the town. Your photos will look too dark -- and it'll be full of graininess and disappointment. There's a feature called "wide dynamic range" that I found particularly helpful. It basically evens out the light when certain areas are too bright, so it's perfect for days at the beach or forays onto hiking paths.
One complaint that I had was how the lens sticks out of the back. I scratched it up in short time, and if you're not careful, you will too. The dedicated camera button is nice though, you can snap a photo quickly, so you don't miss those unexpected moments. Lastly, the 1.3-megapixel front-facing lens is suitable for video chat, but it's unexceptional.
If you like Windows 7.5, dubbed "Mango," you'll love this phone. Microsoft uses a "live tile" layout for a simpler interface than Android. Rather than clogging up the homescreen with tiny icons and widgets, you "pin" or arrange customizable tiles -- they come in three sizes for a convenient and clean way to check what's important to you. In addition, the software organizes your life around "hubs." I enjoy the people hub the most -- it cobbles contacts, e-mail and social media in one place to give you a simple conversation-style view of your correspondence -- without being overwhelming. That's a big accomplishment.
You can clearly separate work contacts from your true-blue friends too, so, for example, there's no risk of accidentally uploading an inappropriate picture to LinkedIn instead of a Facebook group. The messaging hub integrates threads from social networks and texts, so you can see a message you sent through Facebook chat next to a text, so you can easily continue the conversation after you logout off Facebook.
Microsoft added Internet Explorer 9, which is a step up from older versions, but still very flawed. I'd recommend you download a third-party browser since it supports HTML5, but lacks Flash. In addition, Bing is the default search engine, which is annoying. Oh, and when you transfer multimedia, you need to use Zune software to add songs, photos and videos -- that's extra annoying. Of course, I have to mention the elephant in the room: the missing apps. Windows Market isn't an absolute graveyard -- there are tens of thousands of apps -- but the choices, well... are lacking. Comparing it to iOS and Android is like comparing a small grocery store in Bethel, Alaska with a mega-Wal-Mart in Texas.
Meanwhile, the 1.4-gigahertz single-core chip is painfully slow -- you'll notice the difference when you open apps and load games. Sure, not all Windows devices need a hearty dual-core processor, but I really noticed the difference after going back to the S2. The Focus is considerably slower. But it does have one advantage: the slow chip means it doesn't drain the battery as fast. The 1,650 mAh battery seems a little on the puny side, but you'll last well through the day on one charge.
If you turn on AT&T's 3.5G service, you'll run out by the end of the workday, but HSPA-plus connection won't drain as quickly as the faster LTE network, which the Focus doesn't run on. Slow processor, slow Internet. Fortunately, it comes with a plentiful 16-gigabytes of storage -- and that's it. For most, that should be enough, just don't load up on movies.
Overall, the Focus S has a great screen, but for everything else, it's about average. I'd rank it near the bottom of the top-tier devices, at best. So it's ridiculous Samsung would charge a premium. Unless it goes on sale, you're better off going with a rival phone with better specs. But at the right price, it's a Windows phone to be considered. ♦
Super AMOLED Plus (Accelerometer / Proximity Sensor / Ambient Light Sensor)
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