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Samsung Focus (AT&T) review: Samsung Focus (AT&T)

Office support
Similar to Exchange, we expect good integration between the Microsoft Office Suite and Windows Phone 7, and the elements are certainly there. You can view, edit, and create Word and Excel documents, while PowerPoint files are limited to just view and edit. We downloaded Word and Excel attachments from our e-mail and were quite happy with how documents were displayed with original formatting. However, editing options are pretty much limited to formatting, highlighting and changing font color. What's even worse, Windows Phone 7 doesn't offer copy/paste--yet. Microsoft is working on bringing this basic functionality to Windows Phone in the near future, but at launch, you'll be without.

A new addition to the Mobile Suite is OneNote Mobile. The note-taking app is quite useful; you can add photos and recorded audio clips, as well as bulleted or numbered lists to notes. You can pin notes to the Start page, e-mail them, or sync them to your Windows Live account, so you can access it via Web later on.

Finally, if your company uses SharePoint Server 2010 for storing documents to share and edit, you can access them by entering the URL.

Web browser
Mobile Web is such a huge part of smartphones nowadays, and fortunately, Windows Phone 7 provides a relatively good browsing experience, certainly much improved from Windows Mobile. The Internet Explorer browser offers support for up to six windows and thumbnail views of all open pages, so you can easily toggle back and forth. You can also bookmark sites, and if you feel like it, you can pin pages to the Start screen for easier access.

Zooming can be handled either by using the pinch-to-zoom gesture or by double-tapping the screen. Both are smooth and zippy, but there's a slight delay when rerendering text and images. Other available tools and settings include keyword search, the ability to share links, and page suggestions by Bing.

Page load times were fairly quick. Using AT&T's 3G network, CNET's full page loaded in 21 seconds, while mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 11 seconds and 9 seconds, respectively.

Now, for the bad news. As of right now, there's no support for Flash, Silverlight, or HTML5, so despite taking several steps forward, Windows Phone 7's also several steps behind the competitors. There's some consolation in the fact that Adobe did say at Mobile World Congress that it's working with Microsoft to bring Flash to the browser, but it just won't be in time for the holiday launch.

Music and video
If there's one area where Windows Phone 7 really excels and gives the competition a run for its money, it's the music experience. Windows Phone 7 now includes full Zune integration, so anyone who has used a Zune HD will be familiar with the interface of the Music + Videos hub. If you're new to Zune, there's a slight learning curve, but the interface is fresh and fun. The player offers simple controls and displays both the album art and an artist picture in the background. That said, it'd be nice to have better player control when multitasking.

When working in another app while listening to music, nowhere on the screen do you see your current track or any type of controls for advancing or rewinding tracks. It was only when we pressed the volume rocker by accident that a small toolbar dropped down from the top of the screen to expose the media buttons. This treatment is fine and we can learn to live with it, but we just wish it was more apparent from the get-go.

To get music, videos, and photos onto your phone, you will now be required to use Zune desktop software, and it's not just for multimedia. All synchronization and content management between your device and your computer will be handled through the Zune software; there's no more Exchange ActiveSync, and we can't that we're sad about that fact.

The Zune desktop client is much more attractive and easy to use. We dragged and dropped songs, videos, and podcasts with no problem (note that there is no drag-and-drop mass storage, however), and playback was fine. Windows Phone 7 also allows for Wi-Fi syncing, so you can drag and drop files to the phone icon on the desktop client, then the next time you plug the phone in for a charge and it detects your preferred Wi-Fi network, it will wirelessly sync the new files.

One other very important feature to call out here: . Yes, you read right.

Microsoft will release a beta version of Windows Phone Connect to Mac later this year that will allow you to sync non-DRM content from iTunes and iPhoto via USB. However, it's quite limited in capabilities. For example, you can only choose to sync by playlist, artist, or genre; you can't pick individual songs. The same holds true for photos--you sync entire albums but not individual photos. At launch, it also won't support contact syncing.

The Windows Phone Connect to Mac desktop client is pretty bare-bones, but at least it provides you a way to sync iTunes and iPhoto with your phone.

Still, we'll take the limited capabilities over nothing. We received an early version of the software to try out, and we were able to sync albums and photos just fine. However, we weren't able to play our selected songs on the Samsung Focus. We could see the album art and full track list and received the following error message: "Can't play. Try signing in with your Windows Live ID or try syncing again." Meanwhile, we repeated the process on the HTC Surround and it had no problem playing back the tracks. Obviously, there are some kinks that need to be worked out.

We dragged and dropped songs, videos, and podcasts with no problem, and playback was fine. You can, of course, purchase and download new music and video from the Zune Marketplace, directly from the phone or from your PC. However, with a Zune Pass subscription, you'll also be able to stream unlimited music to your phone. The catch is that this feature costs an additional $14.99 per month, but we absolutely loved having it as a way to discover new music. Even if you opt not to get Zune Pass, the good news is that Windows Phone 7 handsets will all have FM radios and support third-party streaming services, such as Slacker, which is already available in the Marketplace.

Camera and photos
The Samsung Focus is equipped with a 5-megapixel camera and flash and HD video capture. It offers more editing options than the HTC Surround, including settings for contrast, saturation, and metering but more importantly, it delivered better picture quality. Objects appeared sharper in images, and with or without the flash, colors were more vibrant. Recorded video also looked crisp and didn't have any of that haziness that we've often experienced on other camera phones.

We were quite impressed with the picture quality.

Any photos you take with the camera will show up in the Photo hub under the Camera roll. With any photos, you can do a long press on an image to share it either via e-mail, MMS, or Facebook, or you can upload it to SkyDrive, Windows Live's online storage system.

Along with your camera photos, the Picture hub will also display any images synced from your computer, Facebook albums, and mobile uploads. You can filter images by date or favorites, as well as check out a timeline of photos that your friends have uploaded to Facebook.

Curiously, there isn't a slide show option built into the Picture hub, so you have to manually swipe through your photos if you feel like taking a trip down memory lane--a shame, particularly for those handsets with built-in kickstands. Also, unfortunately, right now you can't upload or share any videos directly from the phone. You'll have to transfer the file to your computer if you want to do so.

Apps and Windows Marketplace
One of the big questions surrounding Windows Phone 7 is its Windows Phone Marketplace. Apps have become integral part of smartphones and are a key differentiator among platforms. So how will Windows Phone 7 fit into the landscape? Will developers take to the platform? Will the quality of apps be on par with iOS and Android? It will be some time before we know the answer to some of those questions, but from what we've seen so far, the outlook is promising.

Microsoft says it's confident that the Windows Phone Marketplace with launch with more than 1,000 apps and games when the first phones ship in the U.S. on November 8 and expect to release several hundred apps per week till the end of 2010. As an example, scheduled releases for the month of December include SlingPlayer, AP Mobile, ESPN, Amazon Kindle, Direct TV, Ustream, Weather Channel, Cheeseburger Network, Seesmic, Photobucket, Zagat, and MySpace Local Concerts.

During our review period, there were about 450 apps available, including some of the more major and mainstream apps such as Twitter, Slacker, Foursquare, OpenTable, and Fandango. Our concern wasn't so much with the quantity of apps (the apps will come) but with the quality. However, we were heartened by what we saw when we checked out some of the available titles.

Many of the apps, such as Twitter, Slacker, and IMDb have adopted the same type of panoramic interface found in the hubs, so you already get a familiar feel as you're using the apps. They're also quite eye-catching and full-featured. For example, in Fandango, you can watch movie trailers within the app and purchase tickets. Meanwhile, the eBay app allows you to search and buy/bid on items, as well as share links, read descriptions and watch product video.

If this first wave of titles is any indication as to type and quality of apps coming to Windows Phone 7, then we're not too worried. You can check out more Windows Phone 7 apps here.

Of course, as an AT&T phone, the Samsung Focus also comes preloaded with a number of carrier services, including AT&T Navigator, AT&T Radio, and AT&T U-verse Mobile, which allows you to download TV shows via Wi-Fi onto the phone. For a limited time, AT&T will actually offer customers who purchase a Windows Phone 7 device a free Entertainment Pack, which includes a 30-day trial to U-Verse Mobile (normally $9.99 per month), a 30-day Zune Pass, the "ilomilo" Xbox Live Arcade game. Pretty sweet freebie if you ask us.

However, here's another sweet thing about Windows Phone 7. Unlike the carrier's other smartphones, you can actually uninstall any of the unwanted carrier apps from the phone--not just remove them from the Start menu but actually uninstall them. This is great news if you don't like all that bloatware tying up precious resources. Just note that if you hard reset the phone, the apps will reinstall after the reboot.

Call quality and performance
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Focus in New York using AT&T service and call quality was quite good. Our callers sounded loud and clear, and we weren't distracted by any background noise or voice distortion. Originally, we had the volume set at the highest level, and the sound was actually too loud and hurt our ears.

Samsung Focus call quality sample
Listen now:

Though not as loud, the speakerphone provided enough volume that we could carry on conversations in a noisier environment. The sound quality was slightly hollow on our end, and callers said there was a bit of an echo on their side but nothing that prevented us from carrying on with the conversation. We paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones with no problem.

The Samsung Focus comes with a 1GHz processor and 8GB of internal memory with expansion slot (up to 16GB). Generally speaking, the phone was responsive and was able to keep up with most of our tasks. The turnstile animations kind of disguise it, but there were slight delays as we waited for some apps to launch. The most significant lag occurred when starting up a couple of Xbox Live games but beyond that, we didn't encounter any debilitating delays. Game play was smooth, as was video and music playback.

The Samsung Focus ships with a 1,500mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6.5 hours and up to 12.5 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, the Focus provided 6 hours on continuous talk time before needing to be recharged. Anecdotally, with moderate to heavy use, we got a full day's use out of the phone before needing to recharge.

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