Review: Samsung Focus S Windows Phone

By Tom Warren, on 15th Nov 11 6:48 pm with 36 Comments

Samsung Focus S

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.

Hardware

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.

Samsung Focus S

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 Focus S

Software

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 Focus S

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).

HTC TITAN and Samsung Focus S

Camera

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.

Some of the latest Windows Phone 7.5 devices

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

HTC TITAN:

CPU – 13,919 ms
Data – 20,469 ms
GPU – 1234 frames, avg: 41 F/s

Samsung Focus vs Samsung Focus 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.

  • http://adrielsonlinedomain.com/technology Adriel Dennis Mingo

    This is the review I’ve been waiting for! I played with the SFS at the Windows Phone Inner Circle event last night. It was awesome, crazy light, gorgeous screen, smooth and slick experience and a nice camera. Hard choice for some people between SFS and Titan, but this would be mine.

  • Zam

    WOW, what happened to Lumias Camera? Isn’t Nokia known for their good Cameras in their Phones? I Thought it would be the Best, since it got an Carl zeiss lens

    • http://twitter.com/Pieter_Kroon Pieter Kroon

      Did you miss the whole… “Nokia Lumia 800 has a bad camera” discussion? Well, there’s a software update on the way.. but the Titan seems to be the phone with the best camera at the moment. I wonder if Nokia’s camera update could fix this, or not. But at the moment their colors are colder and it just isn’t as good.

    • Zam

      Yep, seems like is missed that.
      Sadly the Focus S is a US only Phone…

    • http://twitter.com/epidemike EpidemikE

      Is the panoramic shooting on the Titan an HTC only feature? That would be a really killer feature to have on the WP7 platform.

    • http://twitter.com/Pieter_Kroon Pieter Kroon

      Well, Samsung and HTC both have their own panorama feature, and Nokia doesn’t have one yet. But I don’t doubt there will be apps made to get a panorama feature in there….

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HOKQSWPW34HSO7G6IUTT74VVGQ Manu Narayan

      Right?  The Nokia camera appears to really be subpar compared to the Titan and Focus S.

  • Anonymous

    I wish Samsung and others would stop branding the front of the devices.

    • Anonymous

      Actually I feel pride in owning a samsung and don’t mind the branding front or rear. Its the operator logo that drives me nuts. F-you ATT!

    • Anonymous

      The operator logo is the worse of the two. However both logos are generally stupid if you asked me. As if I didn’t know what phone it is I’m holding.

      It ruins the aesthetics of the phone. Samsung should take note of their own Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus line.

    • Anonymous

       Funny Apple sees no need to put their logo up front.

    • http://twitter.com/hammeredpizza Louis Sandiford

      Funny Samsung sees no need to put their logo on the back.

      PS: GTFO troll.

    • http://twitter.com/brandnewfunk Brandon

      Sandiford, he doesn’t necessarily have to be a “troll” just because he likes Apple anti-branding on the face of the device. Therefore, watch your mouth with that GTFO talk. And that “troll” word is old and bothersome. Just type put on which points you disagree. 

    • http://twitter.com/hammeredpizza Louis Sandiford

      @twitter-52383866:disqus He comes onto a (what is essentially) a Microsoft fansite, criticising anything and everything they come up with. He is trying to provoke a reaction – I just got in before the next guy.

      If that’s not trolling, then please, enlighten me as to what is.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah. Imagine buying a car from Honda, and having EXXON MOBILE on the back of the car because that is where your gasoline comes from.

    • http://www.TheGuruReview.net TGR

      I agree, Apple may use other companies processors, provider (AT&T) etc., but you will never see co-branding anywhere.

  • WindowsIsMyFriend

    I got this when it was released a week ago, and I love it! My only qualm right now is that the battery drains faster than my 2.5yr old iPhone 3GS.

    • Guest

      Upgrade to iOS 5 and then battery life between the two will be the same. ;-)

    • Anonymous

      I have the same experience! Everything is better with Windows Phone, but battery life is still problematic. Sad :(

    • Anonymous

      Does it last through the day on average use? I have the 3gs too and it last about a day. The Focus S seems like the best option right now for my next upgrade. I like Nokia’s design, but I want the larger screen and would prefer to have the features Nokia decided to leave out. Even though I won’t use the FFC much, I still want to have the option. I still have about 5 months to go. Hopefully, the rumored Nokia Ace will come out with a larger screen and improved hardware.

    • WindowsIsMyFriend

      Yes, the Focus S is a worthwhile option. I almost got the iPhone 4S because I was getting tired of waiting for a good windows phone. I upgraded to the iOS 5 on my iPhone 3gs, but the windows phone OS is far superior. The integration with social networks, calendar and contacts is fantastic.  iPhone iOS 5 is still very isolated.  Glad I made the switch. 

  • Anonymous

    Good device overall i like the Galaxy S 2 hardware so this would be just as awesome
    I hate the At&t Logo

  • Ironnmetal

    I am merely waiting for the price to come down before hopping on the SFS wagon. I’ve had the original Focus since launch and haven’t loved a phone more. It’s the first time where I’m eligible for an upgrade and I’m willing to wait. That didn’t happen with the iPhone I used to have, so I think that says something about both MS and Samsung. Well done, and I cannot wait for the next chapter!

    • Anonymous

      You could buy it for a $100 from AT&T website. Just bing AT&T discounts

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HOKQSWPW34HSO7G6IUTT74VVGQ Manu Narayan

    I really hope Verizon gets on the WP7 bandwagon.  I got an HD7 when it came out but AT&T seems to have the best Windows Phones.  I’d love a Titan or Focus S, but I cannot bear to move to AT&T (nor can I really stay on the horrible T-Mobile). 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YHH4U6NYK2QCJBABR6APWKGNTE Aidan

    SPEED test REVIEW!!!!

  • http://www.philipturnbull.com Phil Turnbull

    A thin, rectangular device that makes phone calls, takes pictures can access the internet, made by Samsung!

    Cue Apple lawsuit…

    • http://twitter.com/epidemike EpidemikE

      How about queue troll attack?

  • http://twitter.com/epidemike EpidemikE

    I dunno about the rest of you but as a corporate kid, Im just salivating to see when they decide to incorporate enterprise functionality. Windows has a huge corporate presence and leveraging functionality with already existing enterprise applications would bring a huge boost.

    I know its off topic but I keep wondering what are they waiting for!

    MS has a communication platform called LYNC, think of it as a corporate version of skype. Imagine unifed messaging including IMs and providing your presence while your on your mobile device. Its a double edged sword but some of the pros are very interesting.

  • sgtspeare

    I’ve had it for a week and love it so far. I bounced between an iPhone 4/4s or this for the last couple of weeks now, and took the plunge to the Focus S.

    Overall, the iPhone 4s’s camera responded a bit better, but I wanted the dedicated hardware button for the Focus S’s. Pictures have been clear, and clean. The sound is good ( moving up from an iPhone 3Gs) and the speakerphone is better than i had for the old phone too.

    Battery life is what i expected. Light web browsing, email and messaging through the day, Bluetooth connection to the car for 90 minutes of commuting and a 45 minute Netflix episode gives me full use for the day.

  • Mike Wilson

    How long does the battery take to actually charge?  I love my original Focus, but the battery charge time is painful.  It takes over 8 hours to charge for me, using a USB cabled plugged into the wall.  The same charger will charge my original Droid from dead to full in an hour or so, so I don’t think it’s an issue with the charger.

  • ElektroDragon

    Wait for the Titan.

  • http://twitter.com/Zarniw0Op Philip Gould

    I have a Focus S in the UK, it’s awesome, I love it. The screen can flicker when you are looking at all white backgrounds, this us due to the Auto Dimming Samsung have incorporated and I hope there’s a software update to sort this. But you can turn the feature off in Settings under Extra Settings, mind you, you will have to do this every time you power on the phone as it defaults to On.Also, in the UK I can’t get the Samsung Video call working, the app says this is not a supported device. I can only attribute this to being a US device and downloading the Samsung Video app in the UK ad the app not recognising the Focus S and thinking it’s just a Focus.

    Although I have unlocked my phone through http://fastgsm.com (Thanks Tom for the site) under Settings and About it still thinks it’s an AT&T carrier phone. I can’t wait to get hold of a Retail ROM and blow the phone away and stick a non branded neutral ROM on it. Also, I really would like a full list of the Diagnostic codes, so Tom if you got a good relationship with Samsung I’d appreciate you asking them for me :-)

    Other than this, it’s a worthy upgrade from my trusty Omnia 7, I love it ;-)

    • Entegy

      Which service did you choose from FastGSM? Unlocking via IMEI or over USB cable?

    • http://twitter.com/Zarniw0Op Philip Gould

      IMEI 7unlock

    • http://twitter.com/futilediversion Bryan Campbell

      If you developer unlock and follow the instructions at http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1334248 then you can enable the internet sharing function without ATT, the diagnostic codes appear to be the same as the original focus and can also be found at XDA.