Samsung’s Focus S marks the first of three new AT&T Windows Phone 7.5 devices this holiday season. The handset is available exclusively on AT&T in the U.S. and features Samsung’s typical thin and lightweight styling. The Focus S is nearly identical in looks to the Galaxy S II Android handset and benefits from the company’s AMOLED display. Has Samsung done enough with the Focus S to make Windows Phone 7.5 shine? Read on to find out.
Samsung’s hardware is typically lightweight but well built. The Samsung Focus is no exception here. The Focus S features a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED plus display and ultra thin design. The Focus S measures 4.96 x 2.63 x 0.33 inches and weighs just 3.90 ounces. In comparison, the iPhone 4S weighs 4.9 ounces and the HTC TITAN weighs in at 5.6 ounces. It’s difficult to describe just how thin and lightweight this device is. The Focus S feels like it has no battery attached but the lightweight feel is a welcome addition to the Windows Phone family.
The Focus S feels great in the hand despite the large 4.3-inch screen. The Focus S features an AMOLED display and the result is is a gorgeous large display that handles colors and blacks very well. The Focus S doesn’t feature the clear black curved glass display of the Nokia Lumia 800 but the screen is comparable thanks to its size. The only criticism here would be the level of automatic dimming on the screen. The low brightness appears to be set too low and the screen appears dim a number of times using automatic brightness. To combat this you can set the screen brightness to medium, however this will obviously impact battery life.
The rounded corners of the device make it comfortable to hold and use and the 4.3-inch display does not feel too big. In fact, 4.3-inch feels like the ideal size for Windows Phone devices. The rear of the device features an 8-megapixel camera, speaker and battery cover. The Focus S battery cover is paper thin and feels fragile when pulled off. The cover holds the battery and SIM slot for the device. Unlike the original Samsung Focus, there’s no micro-SD card slot on the Focus S. Despite the thinness of the battery cover, it holds in place and is a snug and secure fit to the back of the device with no annoying creaky sounds or opportunities for dust to gather around the display or device.
Samsung has also opted to include a 1.3 megapixel forward facing camera and gyroscope, two new Windows Phone 7.5 hardware features. The combination of a fast 1.4GHz processor and 16GB storage make it one of the more desirable Windows Phone 7.5 handsets available today. Some may be put off by the plastic feel of the device but the trade off is a super lightweight device and large screen.
Samsung’s Focus S features Windows Phone 7.5 and the company has thrown in a few improvements of its own. The standard Now application is present and provides weather, news and stocks information in one handy application. AT&T has also installed its FamilyMap, myWireless, Navigator, Radio and U-verse Mobile apps. Yellow Pages mobile is also installed by default. The real changes come with the settings on the device. Samsung has provided some unique alert tones and two new setting menus. The “extra setting” menu allows Windows Phone users to enable auto display intensity, key vibration and echo cancellation. Auto display intensity allows the device to automatically adjust the white color theme to reduce power consumption. The key vibration feedback makes it easy to switch off the vibration feedback on the capacitive back, windows and search buttons. Finally, the echo cancellation improves phone voice quality on calls.
Samsung has also added in a high fidelity position option. Focus S users can enable sensor aiding to help with pedestrian positioning, especially where GPS signals are less accurate. The setting will use other sensors such as an accelerometer and compass to aid in navigation. Samsung has also included support for the GLONASS Satellite system. GLONASS is a navigation system operated by the Russian Space Forces for the Russian government. The system compliments the traditional U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).
Samsung has largely left the rest of the device untouched. There’s no extra camera settings for panoramic or burst shots mode in the camera and no additional apps. Internet Sharing is enabled on the Focus S but requires activation from AT&T. Similarly, if you’re purchasing this device contract free from AT&T then the feature is disabled regardless of what SIM you use. Samsung appears to have done the bare minimum to support Windows Phone with the Focus S, unlike HTC’s offerings that include a number of useful attentive phone features and camera options. One criticism of the software aspect to the device is an apparent bug in the keyboard of the Focus S. The default setting of Windows Phone 7.5 has the keyboard sounds enabled. These sounds appear to cause a lag and delay in typing on the Focus S. The delay is noticeable both audibly and on the screen. It appears to be a software issue and one that we’re keen to see Samsung or Microsoft address with a software update in future. It’s not a huge issue as the sounds can be disabled as a fix but we have checked with other Samsung Focus S owners and it appears to be widespread (see video demo here).
Samsung’s Focus S features an 8-megapixel rear camera. The camera features an LED flash to help with nighttime shots. Samsung’s camera support is fairly basic with the Focus S. The camera allows users to change the white balance, sharpness, ISO, contrast, saturation, quality and metering modes. Samsung has included an anti-shaking mode to capture clear images. The camera shoots 8-megapixel images, providing a 3264×2448 image. The image results are what you’d expect from the type of camera supplied. Daylight images came out well in our tests and the dual-LED flash more than made up for the lack of light during nighttime snaps.
Samsung’s lack of extra camera features puts it behind the rival HTC TITAN device. HTC’s TITAN and Radar devices both feature face tracking, panorama shot and burst shot modes. The features improve the ability to capture a range of different images and the face tracking in HTC’s devices is key for a well focused head shot. Samsung’s Focus S also captures HD 720p video and the output is decent in daylight or low light conditions. Microsoft’s own Windows Phone 7.5 improvements also allow users to tap to auto-focus and take a picture instead of using the dedicated hardware button. The zoom provides average quality images but like any digital zoom, it’s often better not to use it if possible.
The results of the Samsung Focus S camera can be found below using default settings on the image side and 720p for video capture. We’ve also included some comparison shots between the HTC TITAN and Lumia 800. Click on them all to see the original image.
Performance and battery life
The performance of the Samsung Focus S is on par with its competitors. The snappy user interface of Windows Phone 7.5 works very well on the Focus S. Samsung has packed in a 1.4GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 processor alongside 512MB RAM. The same processor can be found on the HTC TITAN and Nokia Lumia 800 devices. Samsung has opted, like Nokia, to underclock the processor to 1.4GHz, possibly to save battery life. The processor in the Samsung Focus S is single core but it handles tasks and Windows Phone beautifully. We tested a number of applications and games and the majority performed identical to the HTC TITAN and Nokia Lumia 800.
Battery life is the key part of any smartphone review and we found that the Focus S battery life was capable of handling a days use. The 1650mAh battery is slightly larger than rivals devices but it made little difference in terms of battery life. The Samsung Focus S is capable of an average talk time of up to 6.5 hours and standby of 300 hours. In our tests the battery life is slightly less than the HTC TITAN and Nokia Lumia 800. During an average days use the battery lasts nearly a full day. Microsoft has also included a battery life saver feature inside Windows Phone 7.5 that helps preserve battery life when the device reaches the low threshold. We ran the WP bench battery drain test and it took 2 hours and 55 mins to fully drain the battery at full stress. Comparatively, the HTC TITAN took 3 hours and 2 mins to fully drain the battery at full stress and the Nokia Lumia 800 took 3 hours and 10 mins. All devices were running at medium screen display during the tests.
WP Bench results, lower ms on CPU/Data tests better. Higher F/s on GPU tests better:
Samsung Focus S:
CPU – 14,937 ms
Data – 20,251 ms
GPU – 1255 frames, avg: 41 F/s
Nokia Lumia 800:
CPU – 14,791 ms
Data – 23,394 ms
GPU – 1208 frames, avg: 40 F/s
CPU – 13,919 ms
Data – 20,469 ms
GPU – 1234 frames, avg: 41 F/s
Overview and conclusion
Overall the Samsung Focus S is one of the best U.S. Windows Phone 7.5 devices available today. The slim and sleek design and super AMOLED 4.3-inch display make it a must for any U.S. Windows Phone fans. Those outside the U.S. will likely be disappointed to know that the device is not available elsewhere (yet). The Focus S is super fast and has a more than capable camera. The performance jump from the original Samsung Focus is noticeable and the screen size bump is welcome. The screen size doesn’t make the device difficult to use one handedly either. The 4.3-inch form factor appears to be the sweet spot for Windows Phone users looking to upgrade to a bigger display but not hit the usage issues associated with HTC TITAN’s giant 4.7-inch display.
The Samsung Focus S is Samsung’s flagship Windows Phone 7.5 device and is exclusive to AT&T right now. If you’re an AT&T customer and you want the best Windows Phone on the market then you won’t be disappointed with a Focus S or HTC TITAN. Samsung also offers a Focus Flash device on AT&T which features a smaller screen and 5 megapixel camera. We’ll be reviewing the Focus Flash in the coming days.