Samsung Focus Review: The First Windows Phone That Matters

Put bluntly, the Samsung Focus is the first Windows Phone that matters. But how good is it?

Samsung Focus Review: The First Windows Phone That Matters

Specs
Samsung Focus i917 specs
Price: $199 w/ a 2-year contract on AT&T
Screen: 4-inch Super AMOLED, 800x480 resolution
Processor and RAM: 1GHZ Snapdragon QSD8250
Storage: 8GB internal (expandable, sort of)
Camera: 5 megapixel stills, 720p video recording, LED flash

Nine phones are impregnated with Windows Phone 7 at launch, and they're a remarkably uniform bunch. Most are recycled, reconfigured hand-me-down iterations of past models. It borders on inbreeding. Microsoft's tight control of Windows Phone hardware and virtual obliteration of custom software means it's that much harder for phones to stand out. But Samsung's Focus is the most eye-catching. It's the thinnest and lightest Windows Phone, and its Super AMOLED display is the best screen too. If you're going to get a Windows Phone, this is the one to stare at the hardest (even though we hear they're going to be in short supply).

Samsung Focus Review: The First Windows Phone That Matters

Samsung Focus Review: The First Windows Phone That Matters

Samsung's incredibly rich, deeply contrast-y and saturated Super AMOLED screen is a perfect visual delivery mechanism for Windows Phone 7's black backgrounds and loud, basic colors. The size—4 inches—and resolution—800x480—are just right, even if it doesn't match the titanic 4.3-inch HD7 or the iPhone's 960x640 display. The touch response, tuned by Microsoft's deep testing for Windows Phone hardware, is top notch, especially paired with the WP7's second-to-iPhone keyboard.

The five-megapixel camera is good, particularly when there's a decent amount of light. It's quick fast to boot with the dedicated hardware button—but the image results are mildly unpredictable. Microsoft allows phone makers to expose a fairly lengthy number of settings in the app, which Samsung has chosen to do—everything from sharpness to ISO to contrast—but all of the settings, except for resolution, reset every time the camera app's closed. The 720p video fares less well. It's grainy and a bit choppy with motion. (You can catch full res photos and a video here.)

It chugs through Windows Phone 7's graphics and intense games stutter free, once things are running. With frequent reloads as apps aggressively put themselves to sleep, it's hard to know how much the software is limiting itself at this point instead of letting the hardware push it all the way. On the same token, without truly comparing it to a handful of other Windows Phones, it's hard to know how much things like battery life are in the realm of hardware. (It was less than I liked, well under a day's use, with push email and data turned on.)

Samsung Focus Review: The First Windows Phone That Matters

I really can't tell you frantically enough how magically the Super AMOLED screen complements Windows Phone 7's interface. It's like dark chocolate peanut butter cups topped with blowjobs.

It's fast. The Windows Phone 7 interface, as frenetically flippy as it can be, never chugs. Same goes for more graphically intense games, even if the load times are longish, bordering on angst-inducing.

The subtly angled back, which echoes a Nighthawk stealth bomber, hints at more daring design ambitions lurking at Samsung. I'd like to see what the crazy engineers at Samsung could really do.

Samsung and AT&T's added apps, while both minimal and blissfully uninstallable, are actually good, thanks to the solid framework Windows Phone has provided them. A pretty nice U-Verse app for AT&T customers, and Samsung's Now news & weather app fills a hole in the default Windows Phone app lineup.

It does what it's supposed to: Humbly bends over on its hands and knees to serve as an altar holding up the largely fantastic software, Windows Phone 7.

Samsung Focus Review: The First Windows Phone That Matters

The glossy plastic and fake chrome isn't just tacky, it makes a phone loaded with high-end technology feel cheap, like a high-end call girl wearing pleather pants. Unfortunately, it's something of an pandemic for Samsung phones, which I would love 10,000x more if they just felt nicer.

The GPS lock on Maps was indecisive and bouncy. Normally it'd be hard to tell if it's a software or hardware problem, but it's not the first Samsung phone of this ilk to have GPS problems. Was never really thrilled with the call quality, either.

Capacitive buttons for the Windows, back and search key are a terrible idea. I can't tell you how many times I was flung out of a game of Rocket Riot to the home screen by accidentally tapping the Windows key.

Samsung Focus Review: The First Windows Phone That Matters

Samsung Focus Review: The First Windows Phone That Matters

If you're going to get a Windows Phone that isn't the HD7, this is the one to get, thanks to the display, if nothing else.

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