16 December, 2010

Samsung Focus Windows Phone 7 Review

I hate to go "techie" in this blog, but I cannot resist the need to review this phone here. I am doing it for two reasons: (1) to vent my frustrations and (2) to counterbalance the overly positive reviews that seem to be appearing elsewhere online.

I've been using the Focus for about 1 month now. This is my second Samsung Focus, because I had to return the first one due to problems with the device.

Industrial Design

The Focus does not look as expensive as an iPhone and it does not feel as substantial as most other phones in its class, including T-Mobile's HTC HD7. The reasons for this are its light weight, rounded soft corners, and the lack of any metal on the body of the device. It just feels and looks flimsy. In the first week or two of ownership, I dropped the phone several times (which interestingly never happened with my iPhone in years of ownership). Each time, the cheap plastic back of the phone fell off, and the battery fell out. Cheap.

Continuing on with the ID flaws, perhaps the biggest problem is the button placement on this phone. Windows Phone 7 already (in my opinion) made some bad decisions by using all softkeys for the main controls on the face. I constantly find myself accidentally pressing the back button or launching Bing, because of my hands resting on the phone. While this is likely an issue with all WP7 devices, I suspect it's exacerbated on the Focus because of the extreme rounding of corners and positioning of the buttons very low. But the softkeys are not the worst problem. It's all of the other buttons. If you look at other WP7 devices (or the iPhone, or most Androids), the Power button is positioned on the top of the phone. And there's a really good reason for that: So you don't accidentally shut off your phone when you don't mean to. But Samsung messed this up. They put the Power button on the right side, opposite the Volume controls. Consequence? When you're trying to increase or decrease volume while gripping the phone, you're likely to press the Power button. Even worse, is that the Power button is on the same side as the Camera shutter button. Consequence? When you're holding your phone in various orientations and you want to activate the camera, it's easy to get confused and accidentally shut off your phone instead of launching the camera application. This was a completely unnecessary problem, and it was introduced because Samsung decided to do things differently than most of the other manufacturers.

Performance and Experience

The phone has great headphones. I will tell you that. Compared to the HTC HD7 or the MyTouch 4g Android (which my girlfriend just got), these are really good quality. The phone also has very good sound quality for calls and for music.

The camera in the Focus is great - from what I can tell, it takes better pictures than the iPhone 4. Of course, there is no front-facing camera, which deprives you of the self-portrait capability, but if you only have your phone with you for picture taking, you probably won't be disappointed with the Samsung Focus. Even when zooming in, the images do not become pixelated. And, comparing this phone with the other WP7 models that I've seen, it has far more features and controls in the camera settings menu, including some very useful things that make it a bona fide digital camera.

Now for the negatives... some of which may be WP7 issues, and some may be Focus-specific.

Facebook is painfully slow (usually 15 seconds to load, and then continues slowly loading pages after that). The internet browsing experience is absolutely abysmal. Sometimes pages don't even load, it just times out and sits there. If this is an indication of what we can expect the application experience to be, I think that WP7 is in for some big challenges, since they don't come close to competing with iPhone or Android at this point.

Maps are slow, awkward, and the GPS can be horribly inaccurate. With the iPhone, I always found that the "Current Location" parameter worked quite well for obtaining directions, and it would update incrementally with decent precision. In contrast, the Focus' GPS is routinely off by over 1 mile in a major urban area, resulting in the "My Location" parameter being useless for obtaining directions, since it will give you directions from somewhere other than where you are. If you are on Wi-Fi, this problem goes away, but I don't think we can rely on Wi-Fi connection for mobile mapping applications, nor should we be expected to do so. Final comment on maps is that Bing Maps are far behind Google in terms of quality, and for some reason they are not privy to the same data that Google has for satellite views - but that's a WP7 issue, not specific to Samsung Focus, of course.

Problems, Glitches, Defects

I had to return my first Focus because of an audio problem. I am not sure if it was hardware or software, but almost every day it was necessary to reboot the phone in order to listen to music. It seems like some other application (Bluetooth? YouTube? Other?) was stealing the audio path, such that when I played Zune, the counter would indicate that music was playing, but no sound would emit. Reboot solved the problem, but it was a daily occurrence.

My second Focus does not have the audio problem, but it does suffer from a number of freeze-ups and glitches, where the screen goes black, or flickers, or applications become unresponsive. Another frequent occurrence is that I will try to launch an application, and after about 5-10 seconds delay, it will return me to the home screen without launching. This has happened for Zune and Marketplace.


I'm stuck with a Windows Phone 7. That's the bottom line. I'm stuck for X amount of time with a Beta-quality phone, when I had a fully-functional, application-rich, fast iPhone 4.

I've thought about bringing this Samsung back and swapping for the HTC Surround, but I'm not sure it's worth it. From what I've seen, I'll be sacrificing in camera quality, and getting crappier headphones. The Surround does have a sturdier design, but it also has a smaller screen. There just aren't many good choices.

The phone will receive updates in January and February, we're told. Features will be added. But will the glitchiness and poor performance be addressed in any of these patches? That remains to be seen.

I don't think I'll ever get over my frustration with the button placement, both of WP7 (softkeys) and the Samsung Focus (Power button). Likely, I will "suck it up" and live with this for a year, until AT&T decides I'm eligible for an upgrade. At that point, I'm not sure what I'll do. I've never been a fan of AT&T as a company, and now that I've hopped off the iPhone bandwagon, perhaps Android is next? And if that's the case, I'll probably go to either T-Mobile or Sprint.


  1. Wow you are a puss bag.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for sharing your well-thought-out feedback on my review. It gives me great satisfaction to know that I have thoughtful, articulate readers, who appreciate what I do on here. I encourage you to keep reading, as I'm sure there will be plenty of material on here catered to people like you.

    Dr. Mick Feeble

  3. I have the exact same phone as you and the only problem I agree with you on is the soft buttons at the bottom. I too currently have the same issue of hitting the buttons when I am trying to do something on accident. However.. your review of the phone seems to come off as a "I wanted to hate this phone right off the bat so this is me finding reasons to hate it" type of review. I for one have no problem accidentally turning my phone off because I hit the power button. In my opinion the button is in the same place as my old razer.... plus you have to HOLD it down for it to go off. I fail to see how accidentally powering it off is a problem. All in all the Samsung Focus is THE best phone i've ever had and I would gladly choose this phone over an Iphone anyday.

  4. CTA, thanks for comment. Honestly, I did *not* want to hate this phone off the bat. I was excited to get it and, as you can obviously see, I was one of the first people using it - got one within a week of its release. I had high hopes.

    If I had been using a Razer phone, I would agree, WP7 would have been the best phone I'd ever owned. As it stands, WP7 Samsung Focus was the SECOND best phone I'd ever owned (if we consider all three iPhones to be "one phone). But, at this point in time, it is not an iPhone killer.

    Regarding comment about holding down power - you are correct. The reason that I was holding down power was when I was trying to activate camera from lock mode, and got the orientation mixed up. This *is* user error. I agree 100%. But I just feel (and still do) that the button placements on iPhone, especially the HARD KEY for "Home", make much more sense.

    If WP7 had better performance, and better app selection at the starting gate, I would have kept using it, and *learned* to get used to the button positions. Given the quality of phones available in the market know (Android, iPhone, etc.) I just didn't think it made sense to *wait* for software updates to bring it up to par.

  5. Has anyone else had a problem with the headphone jack? Mine is terrible. You have to plug in the headphones just right, too far in and they don't work. And if you jostle the wire at all, they stop working. Also, when trying to plug in external speakers, say computer speakers, to listen to music, the volume is very low, even with both the phone and speakers turned way up. I really like all of the other features of the phone, but this is really a deal breaker for me, as I want to be able to use it for music as well.

  6. Im glad that i am not the only one who accidently hits the power button while trying to change the volume level and accidently hit the back or search button.

  7. Dear Sir,
    I got the Samsung Focus just over a week ago (April 9) and have not explored it much and landed on your blog page as the result of a Google search for my problem. Thanks for the great review.
    I saw bad problem with the focus last weekend when it showed an odd symbol in the place where it would normally show the signal bars and I could not make calls. I powered it off/on, no change. I took the back cover and reseated the battery, no change, then I stuck it on the charger and after that it rebooted and came up fine and showed signal. But the next day it did the same thing (no signal) two times even when I was not in a remote area or anything and my friends had signal (AT&T). I am going back to Costco to ask them about this but thought that I would also ask you.
    Thanks for any insights.

  8. This is old, but just as a note. The three buttons at the bottom of the screen being soft-buttons is not a WP7 decision, it's a manufacturer decision. WP7 specifications states that those buttons must be present on the device, but where on the device, and if they are soft or hard buttons is up to the manufacturer.

    Haven't used a focus, but have an android phone with the three soft-buttons and haven't had any issues with accidentally hitting them.

  9. I was at DevConnections in November, when Microsoft and AT&T were really pitching the new WP7 phones ahead of the release. I was able to play with the phones before they were released, and really liked the screen on the Focus. So as soon as they came out, I bought one. Fast forward 6 months and I have a phone that won't sync, goes spastic with chiming noises. Despite the fact that the phone has never been subjected to anything but normal use, AT&T claims the phone has moisture damage. The indicator on the back of the phone doesn't show any damage. But the tech says the USB port is discolored. She said more than likely it's from perspiration. The person in front of me in the line to talk to the tech, and the person behind me both had a Focus. And the tech used the same excuse (water damage) for all three of us, and gave us the number to make a claim on our insurance on the phone.

  10. My problem is sometimes my phone stop slowing texts to be sent and a reboot is required it usually happens when the WiFi is on but there has been cases where it just stops and u can't recive messages to

  11. I have had the Samsung focus since April of this year. I have had many problems with this phone. I have never owned an iPhone or an Android. Within two and a half weeks of owning said phone it started making a horrible "dee-da-dee" noise. If you own this phone plug it onto your charger same noise. Okay so this wouldn't be bad if it made said noise only when plugged in or taken off charger. My phone started making this noise constantly, repeatedly and without pause. I turned my phone off and waited 10 seconds this worked the first time, within 20 minutes of being on "dee-da-dee,dee-da-dee,dee-da-dee...". Then turning off, taking battery out, waiting putting battery back in the turning back on phone. It worked... Not... Okay so turn phone all the way down no noise, no problem, except it drained my fully charged battery within three hours of NO usage. It was fun to share this noise with my coworkers and then the at&t store and their newest customers. Had to go back to store I purchased from. Switched out my phone without being able to transfer any of my apps, contacts, pictures or music. Okay no noise... Now that just over a month and a half later I have really no noise unless I'm using speakerphone, no alarms, music, phone calls, movies, ringtones. It was scratchy on phone calls through my earpiece before but now there is nothing.

    I too have been upset about the accidental page switching when I rest my finger and it lands on the "bing search button". Or the "back arrow button."

    I work full time and don't have the time to keep going back to our friendly store who forgot waiving our activation fees and our employer discount program papers, and sold us their insurance versus the At&t insurance, to get my phone replaced. Learning that I'm not the only person upset about my smart phone having not so smart technologies and equipment and key placement is slightly comforting. Our other phone on our plan is the HTC surround. None of these problems. My phone is slow even on wi-fi and I delete my cookies and browsing history. This phone that when dropped from any height the back flies off and battery falls out. The screen sticks at some points. I'm growing more and more frustrated.

  12. I have a friend that just got her phone in June of this year and just last night it decided it was going to turn itself off and not charge. She tried another charger and it worked for a short while but is now back to being shut off and not turning back on! Frustrating! What is the point of having a phone that you can't use?!

  13. Hello, I stay in India and I am getting an AT&T Samsung focus. this phone will come to me as unloacked so that I can put any local(Indian) sim card here.
    Now my only concern is..
    1. Would all features be accessible in India, or are there any features whcih are region based on this mobile?
    2. Is Windows 7 better than android for mobiles?

  14. My phone did the same thing, making the beep noises like when u plug it in. After a few weeks it finally stopped. I also have problems hitting the back button, it loading slow, and the worst is that nothing will update. Says I have 10 updates but it won't when I try. Also it says my live id that is required to have this phone is not working. I hate this phone and would take my razor back in a sec. When I bright it in att gave me a web site and phone number that I need to try a master reset that would cause all my photos n contacts to be deleted.

  15. Dead on for me! Thumbs up on the display and light-weight. 10 thumbs down for the horrible buttons!! It took me almost 10 google search queries to find a page that talks about my pain points with the Focus. I'm still bewildered that these button issues don't seem universal. Few times every week I get the urge to burn this phone. Turn volume, *surprise* turn off the screen. Hold the phone landscape with both hands to watch a video, *bam* Back button or Bing. Put down phone on table to watch a video on YouTube, *surprise* hit a soft button. Hand the phone to friend to show off something, *surprise* they hit the home button. Let your toddler play a game, *bam* soft button hit, hit BACK to reload that game..... Flammmmmmeeeeeeee!!!!! SHAME ON YOU SAMSUNG.

    I need to get rid of the phone. I haven't loaded Mango, it's nice i can finally copy/paste and type chinese, I still freaking can't upload videos to Facebook or anywhere including email. Unlike pics you can send or upload anywhere, videos taken on the phone has one and only one place to go, sync back to PC. Right, can't upload to SkyDrive. iPhone3 lets you do it, Mango cannot. I'm a busy parent, got no time to sync my phone, sit down at the PC to find my uploaded videos. I only get a few minute break between chores to do something on the phone, check email, take pics, fb. Again, i don't hear nobody else screams about the same things so i don't think MSFT is going to fix this on Apollo. I'm going to get an iPhone4S.

  16. My Focus completely froze on the Samsung screen when installing a recent update. Samsung recommended a "hard reset," which was supposed to restore the phone to factory settings. It didn't work. Stayed frozen on the Samsung screen. I had to use the warranty to replace the phone through AT&T.

    1. i had that problem with one of myn than the other just sat on that screen i did not update that one and the one i have now has so many issues i am not even going to start naming them

  17. K so I was wondering what i can do for my windows phone , i droped it in a inch of water and cleaned it out good , & the water damage sticker it still white . when i try turn it on it says its dead, & when i do plug it in it says that i have to pulg it in a computer ? i tryed plugging it in to the computer but it doesnt work .

  18. I have had this phone for almost a year...10 months and counting.
    I read your review hoping for some help actually.
    I dont agree with some of your thoughts...I have to hold the power button down and then slide down on the screen to actually power the phone off...but I think that was a *fix* to answer your issue with the button placement...
    The soft keys to randomly select functions I dont wish to use, but those to me are minor trivialities.
    My issue comes from a bug that continually wants to reboot the phone...the internet constantly shuts it into a reboot phase that sometimes locks the phone up...Sometimes for no reason at all...phone sitting quietly minding its own business and just decideds to reboot. Often that reboot just jams...
    This issue is a batterey burner...I set it down thisafternoon with 3/4 batt life...It never fully rebooted and burned the batterey down to nothing.

    I dont want to be a follower with the iPhone. Apple has done nothing to make the camera app better. That was one of the reasons I wanted the Focus WP. The camera is superior to anything else Ive tried. I have actually published Camera Phone Art albums on a few Social Networking sites.
    Having said that, I was hoping for at least average useability as a phone and miniature computer. When it does work, it works well. But the bugs just destroy the usabiltiy. I find constant complaints online about this...
    Do you have any thoughts about that?
    BTW...I too am an audiophile. I was also suprised byt the quality of the headphones. Using other brands too...the phone rocks in that department as well....Now if I could just keep the thing actually on....

    (expecting a replacement in two days...)

  19. Wow. I'm late to this post. Found it doing a search on my many, many problems with the focus. I've had to buy 3 chargers for it (the third is now not working on it, but it charges my Kindle Fire just fine...), it decided to go crazy tonight and schedule a bunch of appointments throughout the day, silent mode will ring, ring mode won't, sometimes it doesn't charge, sometimes it says it doesn't and it does...and it won't send MMS. After a year of this, I'm buying a new phone tomorrow.