Samsung Focus S (AT&T) review:

Samsung Focus S (AT&T)

Samsung has added a few extras as well, like a Photo Studio app with some basic editing tools. It'd be even better to see these things within the native camera app.

Microsoft continues to win points for its Music+Videos hub with Zune and Zune Pass integration, and great music-mixing DJ features. Bing's new Mango features with music identification and optical scan-search (called Bing Vision) also worked well on this real-world device.

At 16GB, the device memory doubles that of AT&T's Samsung Focus Flash. Without a microSD card slot, that's the upper limit for all local storage, but Microsoft has softened the blow by giving Windows Phone users 25GB of free online file storage through SkyDrive. It's one method for saving photos, videos, and other documents.

Samsung has a knack for making some pretty nice cameras, and the Focus S is the lucky recipient of an 8-megapixel lens and a 1.3-megapixel front-facer. I really like Microsoft's take on the app itself, which wakes up when you press and hold the camera button, even in locked mode. Switching among cameras and video mode is simple, as is accessing the multiple settings for white balance, image effect contrast, sharpness, ISO, photo resolution, and so on. Simply swipe toward the top of the phone to view the photo gallery.

Set to maximum sharpness, the Focus S' 8-megapixel camera captured the texture and color of the flower petals.

Photos themselves were very good. Sharpness is set to medium by default, which is too bad, because amping the sharpness up to high or maximum sharpness can really define the photo. If you don't save the settings, they'll return to the default. Colors were usually vibrant, though at times the Focus S has been known to overdo it with tones that appear candied, especially reds and greens. I witnessed some weird ghosting on one indoor photo. There is a bit of shutter lag, but not so much it gets annoying.

The color was spot-on in this outdoor shot, but set to the default medium sharpness, it could have been sharper.

The front-facing camera took decent pictures, all things considered, though they were often washed-out and less distinct (which might be a good thing when it comes to such close-range face photography). Video played back smoothly, without any jitters or skipping, though it sometimes washed out the scene and in general looks best when viewed on a slightly smaller screen. See even more photos taken with the Focus S in this gallery.

This indoor shot, with mixed lighting, is at maximum sharpness. If you don't save your settings, you'll default back to medium.

Here's our studio shot, taken with the Focus S' default settings (medium sharpness).

I tested the quad-band (GSM 8500/900/1800/1900) Samsung Focus S in San Francisco on AT&T's network. Call quality was acceptable, but not quite ideal. Volume was nice and loud to my ears, and voices sounded rich and natural, though a little scratchy. While the line was clear, without any background noise, I did notice some garbling and audio blips. Callers on the other end of the line reported volume a bit on the low side, and a little echo, though they said I sounded like me and there wasn't any background fuzz.

Samsung Focus S call quality sample Listen now:

To test speakerphone, I held the phone at waist level. Volume was acceptable, pretty loud for the feature, while managing to keep the buzzing that often accompanies higher-volume speakerphones in check. I'll note that voices did sound tinny, but not echoey. On the other end of the line, callers said I sounded hollow and distant, and that call volume plunged. Sounds began running together, but there was no signal disruption.

Data speeds are important, of course, and while there aren't any Windows Phones that support 4G LTE yet, a couple are greenlit for the "4G" HSPA+ network. These speeds aren't as blazing as LTE phones in absolute terms, but I will say that browsing felt comfortably normal. Using the Focus S' Internet Explorer browser, CNET's mobile-optimized site finished loading in about 14 seconds, with the full, graphically rich site loading in about 27 seconds. IE drew up the New York Times' desktop site--without redirecting to mobile--in about 15 seconds. Internal speeds felt fast on the phone's 1.4GHz processor.

The Focus S has a rated talk time of up to 6.5 hours, and up to 10 days of standby time on its 1,650mAh battery. According to FCC's radio frequency tests, the Focus S has a digital SAR of 0.33 watt per kilogram.

Samsung has definitely led the way with Windows Phones, from the original Samsung Focus to the loosely related Focus Flash and Focus S we see now. Any way you look at it, the Focus S, with its clean, attractive, powerful minimalism, is easy to use and lets Windows Phone shine. There are few overt flaws, and the device brings Microsoft's mobile platform the closest it's ever been to being in direct competition with Android and iOS superphones. However, as much as I recommend the device for day-to-day use, the analytical part of me can't help but feel like Samsung is cheating just a little bit by reusing the widespread Galaxy S II design that's become its Android flagship. As heartily as I approve of recycling, I'd love to see Samsung create a Windows Phone that introduces a style all its own. The device is about neck-and-neck with the huge HTC Titan, which does have a more polished, though hefty design, and it will still face competition when the U.S. version of the Nokia Lumia 800 lands on our shores. Yet, not everyone wants a screen as large as the Titan's, or a body as unwieldy, and I suspect that the phone will have an overall wider appeal. Until then, the Focus S and the Titan are battling it out for the Windows Phone crown.

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