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Samsung Focus Review

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The Samsung Focus will bring the most advanced Samsung display technology to Windows Phone 7: the 4-inch Super AMOLED screen was first launched with the Bada-based Samsung Wave at MWC last February, and was featured a bit later in the Android Galaxy S announced in March. The phone’s second noticeable competitive advantage is its super light weight and its thin and elegant form factor. Last, but not least, the hardware platform is fast and with Windows Phone 7 graphics optimizations, it enables the display frame rate to be seemingly faster than the iPhone.Thanks to Windows Phone 7′s great user interface and graphic design, it’s been a blast to review, although some areas still need improvements.

Context

People use mobile devices very differently depending on their lifestyle and needs. That’s why it is important to give a short overview of my personal usage patterns first so that you can figure out what will be useful for yourself.

I used the Samsung Focus as my main phone for a couple of weeks, comparing it along the way with my iPhone 4 as both of them are on the AT&T network. I connected it to my Exchange account so my calendar, work email and contacts were synchronized over the air. On the go, I used the calendar and the maps to find directions and phone number related to business meetings, and I was checking emails continuously but not replying that much, since I am more of a physical keyboard person (the only thing I miss about my Blackberry Bold). I do not call much, only a few minutes per day, but I glance at my Facebook friends status updates frequently, I check in Foursquare often and I browse the web to search for random information. I always prefer to read the news on my iPad or on the computer, except when I am out of the office for the whole day carrying only my phone, which rarely happens.

Quick Access

Technical highlights (versus iPhone4)

Ghz

Samsung Focus iPhone 4
Windows Phone 7 iOS 4.x
Super AMOLED 4″ 480×800 LCD IPS 640×960
Snapdragon QSD 8250 Apple A4 [unknown frequency]
512MB RAM 512MB RAM
8GB-32GB (optional) 16GB-32GB
8 Megapixel camera 5 Megapixel camera
Wifi, BT, aGPS Wifi b/g/n, BT 2.1+EDR, aGPS
Composite AV Cable N/A
AT&T AT&T
4.82″ x 2.53″ x 0.43″”, 110g 4.5 x 2.31 x 0.37″, 137g

Physical Design


Here’s what the Samsung Focus looks like in the real world

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The Samsung Focus is light for its size!
The Samsung Focus has a form factor very similar to the Galaxy S Series, the front face shape looks identical to the Samsung Epic 4G. The form factor is sleek and thin, its large 4-inch display makes it a bit wider and larger (4.84″x 2.56″ x 0.39″) than the iPhone 4 (3.5-inch Retina display – 4.5″x 2.31″x 0.37″) however, its weight feels (surprisingly) significantly lighter.(4.2 ounces vs. 4.8 ounces for the iPhone)

The curved back side of the phone fits the hand well. Additionally, its slightly larger size allows me to operate the touch UI (user interface) using my thumb better than with the iPhone 4.The back side of the Focus has a “cheaper” look than the classy front face, even the logos (Samsung, Windows Phone – back) are not as discreet (at&t, Samsung – front).

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The width and the curved back fits the hand well…
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The form factor and the font size make it easy to browse directions with the thumb
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The Samsung Focus display provides more saturated colors than the iPhone 4
Display: I am going to praise the 4-inch Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen (480×800) except for its lack of readability in direct sunlight. In the dark, I can clearly see that the iPhone4 Retina aka IPS LCD is brighter than the Samsung Focus display, which is not a bad thing per say. The colors however, are more saturated and bright on the Super AMOLED (see picture above). Watching videos on this screen is really a treat!

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The iPhone 4 IPS LCD display is more readable in direct sunlight

The display is very sensitive to light touches like most phones that have been released recently. The touchscreen is super responsive, which is probably due to the phone’s hardware coupled together with the operating system’s (OS) graphics optimization.

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Back, Home and Search buttons

Windows 7 buttons: All Windows Phone 7 devices will come with three hardware buttons: Back/Home/Search. Back, really brings you to whatever screen you were on before, it is the cousin of the “Done” icon on iOS. The operating s
ystem (OS) keeps a fairly long history, so you can have fun going back several apps behind. The Search button will activate a search query that is (mostly) relevant to the context, when you are in the contact section it will search in your contact list, and if you are on the home page it will go to Bing. Unlike Android and the iPhone, there is no universal search, for now.

Basics

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By default, the phone app goes to the Call History

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The numeric pad is comfortable to use, thanks to the large virtual keys

Dialing (two taps minimum): by default, the phone app goes to the call history instead of the last section used, unlike the iPhone. When I go directly to the phone app without searching for a contact, I usually use the call history, but some people may prefer to go back to the last thing they did. From the phone app, you’re one tap away from the contacts, dialing pad and voice messages. One great feature of WP7 is the ability to pin any app or contact card to the home page, and having the most-dialed numbers at hand directly on the start screen is very practical. There’s no direct dialing shortcut, so it takes at least *two taps* to call someone.

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Cool feature: you can pin a Contact on the Start Screen (here: Hubert Nguyen)

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The contact profile page – you can even go to the Facebook news feed of that contact

Searching for a contact: You need to go to the People screen to search for a contact: simply press the Search button and type a name, it is fast and easy. If you have few contacts, you might get away with going into the People screen and scrolling a little. As I suggested in the previous paragraph, you can also add (“pin”) contact thumbnails to the homepage.

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Searching for a contact name from the People HUB is fast and easy

Call audio quality (regular): I called from my office where the at&t reception is not that good and from my car (parked). The audio quality is regular, the sound was clear and loud enough, however the volume had to be turned up. I’m not sure how that would work in a noisy environment but, other than that, you should hear things decently.

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The virtual keyboard is very good

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Virtual keyboard comparison iPhone4 vs Samsung Focus running WP7 The word suggestion feature is way better in Windows Phone 7.
See: I had to disable it in iOS4

Virtual Keyboard (good): I am not a virtual keyboard fan, as I stated earlier, I deeply miss my Blackberry Bold keyboard since the day I started to use the iPhone as my main phone. Similarly to the overall user interface, the keyboard is very responsive. I find it comfortable to use and my error rate is low. When I tested it against the iPhone, I could not decide which one is the best, however, other people may have a different opinion. My preference goes to the Windows Phone 7 word suggestion feature, because it does not try to be smarter than the user, instead, it lets me choose whether I want to use its suggestion or not. I had to disable this feature in my iPhone because I regularly type in two languages (plus tech slang) and the Apple implementation that forces you to use a word it suggests (unless you actively reject it) was driving me crazy.

Windows Live ID: WP7 is a Microsoft product that is connected to many Microsoft web services. Because of that, you will need to create a Windows Live ID. Note that you don’t have to get a new email on live.com or hotmail.com. I’ve created a Live ID using an existing email.

Windows Phone 7 User Interface (very good)


This video shows the Samsung Focus running various WP7 apps

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Beautiful start screen… with fast scrolling!

By now you would have probably figured out that I like the Windows Phone 7 user interface and elegant graphic design very much. Having a background in design might explain my enthusiasm: one mobile company other than Apple has finally built a user experience with great aesthetics that matches the technology beneath it. However, there is room for improvement, in many instances, the interface could use more icons to access various sections faster or simply to avoid confusion (i.e. the absence of a refresh icon in the People Hub is annoying).

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Font usage in my personal Facebook News Feed integrated in the “Me section

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People Hub, recent contacts who called, look at the typography

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People Hub, Facebook Feed, look at the typography
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Typography usage in the Zune Music Player
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Typography in the App MarketPlace

Font and its impact on the user experience: Great graphic design requires strict consistency and the brilliant usage of the typography ac
ross all Windows Phone 7 applications ensures it. The font used is theSegoe UI Light (font history), it is a highly readable elegant sans serif with a unique personality. The large 4-inch display allowed the designers to often use the font in larger sizes than the standard size that we see in current smart phones, which provides readability (for older people too) and gives a great look and feel. (see comparative pictures below)

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The type is bigger, more readable and finger friendly
in the Samsung Focus (right)

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Another typography comparison with the iPhone 4, this time in the Calendar

In addition to a better readability, the larger font size enhances the usability in many instances: it is easier to tap on the right name from the contact list than on the iPhone, the advantage becomes even more significant when using the directions feature in the maps application.

Microsoft has been known in the past to have custom-built font for its Operating Systems, according to Wikipedia, “the Segoe UI family of fonts are utilized by numerous Microsoft applications (see link a couple of paragraphs above), and may be installed by applications (such as Microsoft Office 2007 and Windows Live Messenger 2009) or bundled with certain operating systems (including Windows Vista and Windows 7)”… and now Windows Phone 7.

Customization: In the application list you can change the tiles color scheme and select a dark or light background from the Theme section.

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You can customize the tiles, font and background colors – that’s great.

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The color list (for customization)

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See the result: the start screen looks different now: magenta tiles on white background.
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Windows Phone7 core concept: the “Live” Tiles. You can pin new tiles and move them around on the start screen
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Windows Phone7 core concept: Tiles – Tiles in the People Hub

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Windows Phone7 core concept: Tiles – Tiles in the MarketPlace

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Windows Phone7 core concept: Tiles – Tiles in the Pictures Hub

Home screen: the “Live” Tiles is the core concept of Microsoft’s new mobile user interface and the visual result is great: sleek, clean, elegant, and relaxing compared to the overused “shiny icons” style that we all know. The tiles are present throughout the multiple Windows Phone 7 features and applications such as the People Hub, the settings, in the layout of the Pictures Hub and some parts of Zune and the Market Place (album covers and apps “tiles”). The word “Live” refers to the Tiles’ ability to display dynamic information so that you might not have to launch the app, for example to know how many new emails you got. It’s up to the developers to find compelling usages for those. At the moment, they are more like fancy icons that mostly display thumbnails. However, they are big enough to hold real information, and have true potential.

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Apps list: accessible from the secondary screen when you click on the arrow from the home screen
Apps: the apps are accessible from the second screen, sorted by alphabetical order in a long list. You can “pin” the apps you use the most to your home screen by tapping and holding its tile then select “pin” in the pop up menu. If the app list becomes really big, I am not sure if the alphabetical list would be the best organization structure. Microsoft might be betting on the fact that regular users do not download that many apps.

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You can pin your favorite apps tiles on the start screen
Apps history: WP7 keeps a history the apps and app screens that you have visited. Whatever you did, you can step back (almost) exactly in the same way, using the Back button. Stops at the home page are not recorded.

Copy/Paste (none): Windows phone 7 does not have copy/paste. What a shame! To be fair, copy/paste doesn’t work properly on most Android phones (except for HTC – to their credit), and we need to remember that we waited several OS iterations before seeing Apple implementing the feature.

The good news is that Microsoft will release a copy/paste operating system (OS) update early next year. It will be up to each carrier to test and release the update to their customers. Let’s hope that this will be faster than the Android 2.2 update that is still missing for so many handsets.

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It is very easy to position the cursor precisely between two letters.
Cursor: you can press and hold while editing text if you want to place the cursor precisely in between two letters. A text cursor will appear and you will be able to place it easily where you want in the text. It’s pretty accurate and a good substitute to the “lens” used by Apple.

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Bing search – the background photo randomly changes often.

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You can search the Web, the news or based on the location

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The News search results for the query “windows phone 7″

Bing Search: the integration of Bing Search to the small screen is well done, you can swipe to the left or the right to change the type of search from Web to News, for example. Unfortunately, it is not possible to select a different search engine to use, so if, like me, you prefer the efficiency of Google, you will be disappointed.

Wish list

  1. Copy and paste
  2. Refresh icon in the People Hub
  3. More icons to navigate and access sections faster especially in Zune and MarketPlace
  4. Offer the ability to remove the transition animations in between screens. Windows has the option for a reason: it’s more productive without the animations.
  5. A universal search, or at least, a quick search for my contacts
  6. Arrows or swipe to navigate previous and next day in the calendar
  7. Consistent Search command in Bing Maps
  8. A better physical button for the camera

Web Browsing (very good)

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Ubergizmo.com displayed in the browser
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Testing the zoom: very fluid and fast

The new Internet Explorer Mobile is finally providing a web experience that is comparable (but not better) to what you would get with Android and the iPhone although the iPhone keeps the lead because it has better image filtering (there are no “jaggies” when a big image is reduced) and its higher-resolution display makes the smallest font readable. The 4-inch display offers more real estate for browsing inside the web page than the iPhone, the faster responsiveness makes the experience even more enjoyable. Trying the Yanko Design mobile site for iPhone against the desktop version with IE mobile, I preferred to use the latter because Yanko redirects me to a mobile site on iPhone, while IE gets the “real” site.

Flash: at the moment there is no support for Flash, but Microsoft made it clear that it has nothing against Flash and that it is working with Adobe to address this. We could not get any more information, but at least, something seems to be hapenning. Flash content is designed for PC and, in my opinion, its usefulness on mobile phones (Android 2.2 supports it) is limited, although with the recent increase of mobile display size we could reach a point where it would make sense.

Google Docs: just like with virtually every other mobile platform, Goodle Docs is read-only.

Email / Account Sync (email/contacts)

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Email accounts list
Microsoft Exchange & Outlook Mobile: For once, configuring my Exchange email server on a mobile phone was not a nightmare, we could not expect any less from a Microsoft phone, right?… Exchange and Mobile Outlook integration is well done, except that you still cannot use categories and “flags” are only local and won’t sync back to the Exchange server. You can sort your emails by All, Unread, Flagged and Urgent, switching from one screen to the other is fast, and you can collapse your multiple sub-inboxes which is not possible with the iPhone.

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Inbox: very readable
Email user interface (very good): the UI is very clean and readable, as mentioned in a previous paragraph the font size used for email titles is larger than in other smartphones, making email reading more comfortable especially for older people. Some people would argue that they prefer a smaller font to see more emails listed in the same screen, but fortunately, it work just fine for me. In my opinion, the super fast scrolling makes up for the longer list.

Another thing that’s unique to Windows Phone 7 is the ability to batch email actions. Let’s say you want to move or delete a bunch of emails. on iPhone, you would need to slide+delete once per email. On WP7, you can select many emails at once, then hit Delete.

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Unlike the iPhone4 email client, Outlook Mobile allows users to batch-process emails
Popular email services: Microsoft Live, GMail, Yahoo Mail are services that are supported out of the box. It was very easy to add my GMail account to my inbox, after entering my user ID and password it took about 15 seconds to sync.

GMail is incomplete: if your life revolves around GMail, it won’t be fun on WP7. Sure, you can access GMail, but many of the coveted functions like stars, labels and so on are missing. Do you think that Google will create a decent GMail app on Windows Phone 7? Maybe not anytime soon, but who knows?

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Calendar day screen

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Click on an event to go to the details screen
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Calendar: Details screen and attendees screen
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By pressing on an event from the day screen, you can access the menu.
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The calendar with a black background – I personally love this version.
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Calendar: the day screen in different colors
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Calendar: the event details screen in different colors

Calendar: I really like the look of the Calendar app. It would be almost perfect, except for its lack of
arrows to navigate from previous to next day without having to go to the month page. You can directly access a meeting location on the map from the meeting details page by clicking the address written in the title, which is not possible with the iPhone – unless you wrote the address in the Notes section of the meeting page, the title is not clickable.

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“I am late” icon (on the right in the menu).
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Accessing a location on the map directly from the event details screen by clicking on the address in the title.
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Accessing a location on the map directly from the event details screen.

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In the Iphone 4 Calendar, it is not possible to click on the same address in the event details title.

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When clicking on the “I am late” icon, an email is automatically written and ready to be sent to the meetings’ attendees

One-tap “I’m late”: that’s a key feature for me, when I have back-to-back meetings, I am often running late. With the “late” button I can send a message to all meeting attendees with an “I’m late” message using only 2 taps… It would be very suitable for the upcoming CES!

Social Networks

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Great integration of the Facebook News Feed directly in the People Hub.
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Integration of my personal Facebook feed in the “Me” Hub

Facebook News Feed: it has been integrated directly into Windows Phone 7, and just by entering your account login and password, WP7 can retrieve and sync your contacts. I love the way my Facebook friends updates are displayed in the People Hub and my updates in my personal section accessible from the “me” Tile. You can like (or unlike) and comment directly from Windows Phone 7 and your Facebook photo albums are displayed in the Pictures Hub — no Facebook app required.

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Facebook News Feed in the Facebook App
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Facebook App: home screen
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Facebook App: I personally prefer to check my news feed directly from the People Hub rather than launching the Facebook app, same thing for my Facebook photo albums, they are accessible from the Picture gallery app (read Entertainement paragraph). The Facebook app is also slow to load: it needs 14 seconds against 6 seconds for the iPhone, and when you go back to the start screen and you re-launch the Facebook app it takes the same amount of time to load. It looks like the iPhone has a cache, so, the next time you go back to the Facebook app there is no loading time, you are back to where you were at instantly, if you want to go to another section of the app, then Facebook needs the laoding time.However I prefer to browse the Facebook app on the Samsung Focus, overall, it is a more fluid and enjoyable experience. Unlike the iPhone version, I could access all the pictures of myself taken by other people, but, navigating back to the photo gallery from the picture viewer was not possible without using the back button (please, give us access back to the app sections home without using this button!)

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Twitter App

Twitter: the Twitter integration is more traditional, you’ll get the application pre-installed in the Samsung Focus and it takes about 5 seconds to load at launch, which is fairly normal. (see picture).

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Foursquare in WP7 (left):
the check in screen allows to access directions to the location

Foursquare: the Foursquare app for Windows Phone 7 looks better than the Iphone 4, thanks to the WP7 UI guidelines, and you are able to access directions to a place directly from the check in page (see picture).

Computer Sync (files/content)

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Zune Desktop Homepage
Syncing your phone to your computer will be done using the Zune software, which is the equivalent of Apple’s iTunes. It will allow you to sync your media files. Unlike previous Windows Phone 6.x with Active Sync, contacts and emails will be now synchronized only over the air. People using offline email clients such as Outlook Express with no cloud-based email service will not be able to synchronize emails and contacts between the PC and the phone.

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Zune Desktop syncing with the phone

Zune Software (WP7′s iTunes): Zune software is the main interface between your WP7 phone and your computer to manage your media files (photo, video, podcast, music). Additionally, Zune is a subscription-based music service (unlike iTunes) where you can “rent” your music. You can search for new artists and songs to listen to, from the phone or the computer. I really like the user interface beautiful design since it was launched with the Zune portable music player, however, it could be more intuitive. The navigation can get a bit confusing a
t times. I would like to see a few more icons or a way to give users a quick access to different sections, the back button is currently the main browsing command.

That said, iTunes isn’t that great either, but it’s “good enough”. Synchronizing is just a difficult thing to do in general, and there are a lot of corner cases, so it’s hard to make it super-simple. In my opinion, Zune gets the job done.

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Zune desktop: access to marketplace to browse Music

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Zune Music app on the Samsung Focus

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Zune Music app on the Samsung Focus

No USB mass-storage: the phone will not appear as a USB Flash drive, and I was hoping to get this feature when I got an error message while trying to transfer the photos from the Samsung Focus to my computer. It’s a bummer, USB mass storage is very convenient and I do not see why it would be difficult for the Zune software to let us access files in read-only mode and be able to copy files without removing them from the phone? The iPhone does it.

Sync to the cloud

Windows Phones users have access to web services paired to their handsets: on the windowsphone.live.com users can browse the photos they uploaded for their phones, to do so they have to enable the feature “Auto upload to SkyDrive” from the menu Settings> Applications>pictures+camera, since additional charges may apply when only the 3G network is on. This is well explained on the website home page and within the settings menu.

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SkyDrive; Microsoft Cloud service to upload photos from Windows Phone 7 and other Windows devices
Cloud User Interface (bad): Please give us the KIN Cloud Service! The user interface on the windowsphone.live.com and SkyDrive service is very basic and look dull compared to the WP7/Zune UI. I am guessing that Microsoft might switch it to the cloud service they built for the defunct KIN that looked so beautiful and consistent to the Zune environment.

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The Kin Cloud interface is just *so* much better than Live…

The navigation across services can be confusing at times, because you go from windowsphone.live, to SkyDrive, to Windows Live and sometimes you do not understand exactly where you are any more.

Bing Maps (very good)

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Bing Map: displays directions and map on the same screen, great

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Bing Map: by tapping the map it expands to offer a larger view.

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Bing Map: browsing each turn, the map moves accordingly
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Bing Map compared to Google Map on the iPhone 4: you cannot get the map and the directions directly on the same screen, on the iPhone you need to switch from one to the other.
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Bing Map compared to Google Map on the iPhone 4: switching to the map view on Google map (right)
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Bing Map compared to Google Map on the iPhone 4: the directions are less legible on the iPhone 4.
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On the iPhone4, after re-switching from directions to map, you can access directions on top of the map, only by browsing with the arrows (photo top right)

Fast Location Search – Tested against the Google maps on the iPhone, it got a current location fix at the same speed with a similar accuracy (number 42 instead of 99 in the right street). However, when I searched for a restaurant address in San Francisco, the Samsung Focus returned the results faster than the iPhone, I was indoors (in my office) when I performed this test.

Search command is not consistent: The “Search” button mostly does the right thing, but it’s not consistent. The Map application has its own “Search” icon, and of you use the hardware Search button, you will be directed to Bing.

Street names need to be more visible: There’s one thing that Google Maps does clearly better: display street names. If you zoom out a little, Bing quickly removes the names of the “small” streets. It seems like a good idea, but it’s not. It might be that small street that I’m looking for. Microsoft needs to fix this.

Directions and Map on the same screen (very good): Displaying the directions with the map on the same screen is a brilliant idea, it lets users easily click on each direction using one hand and the thumb- no need to flip from one page to the other like you have to do with Google maps! You just have to tap on the map to expand it to full screen. Overall the user interface is very fluid, and the only wait time is caused by the map tiles or directions download.

Geo-Location information at hand

Pin geo-location to the start screen (great): You will be able to pin a location to your start screen as well, if it is a restaurant you have direct access to ratings, website and phone number

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Pin a geo-location on the start screen: from the menu at the bottom click on the pin (left picture), a geo-location tile appear on the home screen (right picture)
Access Bing map directly from a meeting location in the Calendar: You can directly access a meeting location on the map from the meeting details page by clicking the address written in the title. I tried it with the same meeting (thanks to Exchange) in my iPhone 4 and the address in the meeting title was
not clickable, you have to copy the address in the Calendar’s Notes section to access the Google Maps from it.

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Apps / Marketplace (small, for now)

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MarketPlace home
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MarketPlace: Apps Section
There are not that many apps in the Windows Market place right now, but we’ve seen quality apps like Netflix or Foursquare, and the Marketplace is currently getting hundreds of submissions daily. The fact that a ton of developers are very familiar with Visual Studio and that the SDK is excellent can only help. On the other hand, there is more incentive now to distribute an app in a store carrying few competitive products rather than trying to get it noticed among 300,000 other ones in the Apple App store. Top developers such as Facebook, Foursquare or Netflix have the extra resources to develop a Windows Phone version of their product, the majority of people usually go for the top apps and use only a few of them (unlike the tech aficionados). Microsoft could benefit from that: fewer apps in the store to be discovered, mostly the successful ones. It would be just right for the majority of their customers.

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MarketPlace, browsing by swiping horizontally: featured apps screen

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MarketPlace, browsing by swiping horizontally: top apps screen

I love the MarketPlace user interface, it has a beautiful look and feel, consistent with the rest of the OS, however, just like in the Zune Music player, it is sometimes confusing to navigate. Also, the discoverability of apps doesn’t seem as good as in the Apple App Store.

Photo (very good but prone to shaking) and Video capture (good)

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A photo shot with the Samsung Focus in downtown San Francisco


Look at how you can switch from camera roll to camera app

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Camera viewfinder

Camera user interface: the camera user interface is easy to figure out and all the settings are accessible by taping on the “Gear” icon. It allows you to select a different image or video resolution, change flash settings, and more. The iPhone does not let users select the image resolution except when emailing. By default the anti-shaking option is off: it should be the opposite, in my opinion. Unlike the iPhone, the shutter is operated by a physical button that triggers the auto-focus as well when half pressed. Pressing on the camera button is a bit hard and often makes you shake the phone, sometime resulting in blurry pictures.(see pictures below)

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Camera Settings

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Camera shutter button
Camera, photo quality: The Samsung Focus has a good 5 MP camera, however the auto focus speed is not as good as the iPhone’s. I tested the camera against the iPhone and my DSLR, in broad daylight (plant picture) and in darker conditions (street picture with dark and light areas) The iPhone camera is a bit better, the images are always slightly sharper and with better contrast (without using the iPhone HDR feature). Note that the anti-shaking option was off in the Samsung when I shot most of the images. Right now, I think that the iPhone 4 leads the way in terms of photo quality, even if the Samsung Focus is one of the best camera smartphones out there.

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Photo taken with the Samsung Focus

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Photo taken with the iPhone 4

Apple got it right: most people want to shoot pictures or videos without touching the settings at all… With the Samsung Focus, for some odd reasons, the anti-shaking feature is “off” by default and the sharpness is set to “medium”… It’s nice to be able to select the photo resolution from the easy to use Windows Phone 7 camera menu, the iPhone 4 allows you to shoot without having to set anything.

Video: With the Samsung Focus you can choose from shooting in low resolution (VGA, 640×480) at 30 Fps or in HD 720p at 30 fps.The iPhone shoots only in HD 720p at 30 frames per seconds.

Samples: we’ve uploadedSamsung Focus photo/video samples to our Flickr account. We’ll try to add more later. iPhone 4 samples are here.

Performance

User interface: in any kind of touch-enabled device, the speed at which the user interface reacts is the first form of perceived performance. As human beings we are used to the fact that things react immediately to touch, we expect the same from a tactile display.

Microsoft delivers a great deal of performance here. The user interface is amazingly responsive. It never slows down and everything moves at 60 frames per second (or more) at the touch of your finger. We’ve been impressed by this type of speed ever since we played with the Zune HD. Fortunately, it looks like all Windows Phone 7 device (so far) exhibits the same responsiveness. It is great and I would even say that Windows Phone 7 is more responsive than iOS who held the title – until now.

Multitasking (none): Windows Phone 7 does not allow 3rd party (non operating system) applications run in the background. When you leave an app, you actually shut it down and exit it. That’s my definition of “multitasking” in this review. Of course, the OS itself can multi-task and do several things at once (they all do), for example play music while you browse your emails and display the music controls o
n top of the start screen.

It’s clear that being able to multitask is a great thing. You can use an internet radio app while sending emails, or you can track your GPS location. Those are two basic examples that are obvious. However, despite being fairly geeky, I don’t really use multitasking that often. The reason is simple: leaving stuff running in the background depletes my battery, slows down my system and I am very careful with that. Now, it would be great to have the option to use multitasking, but tell me, do you consider this omission a death sentence for WP7? Drop a comment.

Mac compatibility (minimal)

Windows Phone 7 will work with Mac computers at launch. However, Windows Phone Connector for Mac will only be in (public) beta stage at the end of this year. It will allow Apple computers to synchronize select content like non-DRM mp3 files, but contacts and emails seem out of reach for now. Actually, even on the PC, the contact and email synchronization happens over-the-air. If they choose to, Mac users can buy music from the Zune Marketplace, directly from their phones.

Entertainment

Photo gallery and syncing pictures: the photo gallery is easy to use and displays photos like other smartphones. I had trouble syncing the photos taken from the phone with Zune on my computer (it returned an error message) but it was fine to sync from another computer… both run Windows Vista 64 and the review unit I have is not the final product as well.

Facebook photo albums are accessible – slow download over 3G: I like the fact that the gallery gives access to the user’s Facebook photo albums (photos are still hosted on FB), once the Facebook account info is entered in the phone, from the email&accounts option in the settings menu. Over 3G, the photos from Facebook were slow to download, it took about 10 seconds for all the thumbnails to appear on screen, and then I had to wait 8 to 15 second for the first picture to download (meaning appearing not blurred),the phone download a batch of 5 pictures that i could browse quickly, then I had to wait again. The process was faster over WiFi, it took roughly two to three seconds.

The iPhone4 – slow download over Wi-Fi: Tested against the iPhone4, with both phones’ Wi-Fi on, with a Facebook album I never downloaded to the phones before, it took 8.5 seconds for the iPhone to download the album’s thumbnails, the Focus needed only 5 seconds to perform the same task. Downloading pictures was even slower for the iPhone4, it required 13 to 20 seconds, while the Samsung was done in 2 seconds. Additionally, the Facebook photo galleries are only accessible from the Facebook app in the iPhone4.

Some impatient people may think 10 seconds is too slow, however, I personally prefer to have access to my Facebook albums no matter what. The cool thing with FB pictures: you can like/comment/share directly from the gallery.

Music player – beautiful, UI sometimes confusing: Windows Phone 7 music player got the same interface as the Zune HD (link). Basically, the Zune HD user interface was the inspiration for WP7, the graphic design is beautiful, and consistent across the new mobile OS and its applications, the music player included. However, the navigation is not that intuitive sometimes, some controls are hidden: you have to tap onto the album photo to see the Repeat, Like and Shuffle icons. When you are playing songs from an album, you have to tap what looks like a Fast Forward go to the next song, and press on it to actually fast forward within the soundtrack. You can also change song by flicking your finger horizontally on the album cover, since this gesture is used in many instances for browsing the phone, it might be easier to figure out for a first time user.

When you are playing an album, there is no quick access back to the main menu to go to another album, the physical back button seems the only way to do it. The screen real estate would allow to display a few more icons for better navigation, hopefully the design team will improve it. Directly from the phone lock screen, you can go to the next/previous song and fast forward/backward without unlocking the phone.

Buy music – Zune Pass $15/month: With Zune pass you will be able to access all the Zune library (download or streaming) for $15/month with a two weeks free trial option. http://www.zune.net/en-us/products/zunepass/default.htm

Sound quality (good): The Samsung Focus sound is very good, I tested it against my computer and the iPhone using the same headphone (JBL-Roxy), it is better than the computer and slightly better than the iPhone.

eBooks: At the moment, there’s not much to use, but Microsoft expects Amazon’s Kindle app to be available by the end of the year.

NetFlix: The Netflix app is good and it is great to watch videos on this phone, thanks to the large display. Netflix is certainly a must have app for the Samsung Focus.

Battery Life (regular)

Battery life highly depends on the tasks performed with a device. Without the Wi-Fi connected, the Samsung Focus lasted almost 3 days, then, on average, this phone got me through the day (with my usage pattern described in the “Context” paragraph). My Blackberry Bold lasted almost 2 days and it is the best smartphone battery life that I have seen so far. Most smartphones users have to charge daily, so it is not the best, but it is fairly normal. Charging the phone takes more time than the iPhone4, I need to perform more tests to make sure. Again, please note that our Samsung Focus is a pre-production unit.

Conclusion

The Samsung Focus with Windows Phone 7 is the first smartphone that make me want to replace my iPhone 4, I love the beautiful user interface (even with the few flaws that need to be fixed), the Facebook feed direct integration, the map application, the large display and the great performance (fast scrolling makes this phone a joy to use) Sometime, I have fun just watching photos of (rock)bands in the music player while listening to their albums… I have to admit that may not be the most common usage.

Most people who bought tons of music from iTunes told me that they would have a hard time to replace their iPhone -even for a better device- just for one reason: they feel locked in the Apple Music store and do not want to lose the money they have already invested. I am only using subscription- based music services, so, I do not have that problem. Additionally, since 2008, Apple began offering music that was not locked or DRMed, and by April 2009 most songs were unlocked, and according to Pocket PC Central, it is possible to transfer the non-DRM audio files to an Android smartphone, I guess the same could be possible with a WP7 device, but you will have to check for yourself.

But not everything is rosy: some people could argue that the Super Amoled display is so-so in direct sunlight, that Bing is not the best search engine on the planet, that Copy/Paste is a vital feature (I agree), that Marketplace needs more apps with an efficient user interface, and finally – that the device look is a bit less stylish than the iPhone 4.

Nevertheless, the Windows Phone 7 user experience is great, overall. It is really a breakthrough in terms of mobile device usage, and the Samsung Focus hardware quality and performance serves it very well.

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