Phone, Smartphone, Notebook and Gadget Reviews and buyers guide
Phone Notebooks & Tablets Gaming Gadgets iPhone & iPad Shop Forum


Home > Windows Phone Reviews > Samsung Focus


Samsung Focus

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star
Carrier: AT&T
Manufacturer: Samsung
Discuss this product
Where to Buy

What's hot: Gorgeous Super AMOLED display, thin and light, good camera.

What's not: Glossy plastics may turn off those who like chic materials.


Reviewed November 11, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

The Samsung Focus is arguably the hottest Windows 7 phone at launch. It's slim, it's light and it has Samsung's simply amazing Super AMOLED display that's the perfect mate to Microsoft's brightly colored tile interface. It has removable storage, a sharp camera and ample speed. Like Samsung's Galaxy S Android smartphones (the Captivate on AT&T), Samsung seems to have gotten the special sauce down that makes a smartphone desirable. The only possible complaint? Samsung loves gloss plastics that embrace plastic rather than try to hide that material under faux finishes and more elegant surfaces. Don't get me wrong: we think the Focus is an attractive phone that doesn't look cheap, and we like it just fine other than its slipperiness. But it doesn't have the cachet of the Motorola Droid X or the HTC HD7 that look like metal (even if they've got plenty of plastic too).

Samsung Focus

The Focus SGH-917 is offered by AT&T in the US, and it shares the same Microsoft-mandated basic specs as the rest of the launch crowd: a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU (no Samsung Hummingbird here), 512 megs of RAM, 8 gigs of internal storage, a 5 megapixel autofocus camera with flash, GPS, WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth and a GPS. At launch, Samsung is the only Windows Phone 7 manufacturer to go with removable storage. The phone's Super AMOLED display really stands out among Windows Phones with standard LCDs: it's much more color saturated, vibrant and viewable outdoors.

There's a microSD card slot under the back cover, and you can insert a card up to 32 gigs for a total of 40 gigs of storage (minus a few gigs after formatting). That's a strong selling point for the Focus, but there's a caveat: Microsoft didn't design their new OS with removable storage in mind. The OS formats internal and microSD card memory as one virtual partition or drive. That means you'll need to format the card and hard reset the phone after inserting a brand new card, and you'll need to hard reset (wipe out) the phone if you want to upgrade to a larger card later. Moral of the story: start with a large card and follow the instructions in the box on how to do the initial hard reset and format or your phone will be wonky.

The short version is:
1. Format the microSD card to FAT32 using a Windows computer.
2. Insert the microSD card into your Focus.
3. Turn on the Focus while holding the volume down, camera and power buttons. You'll see a warning triangle and an option to erase the phone and card. Do it.

You won't have to do this again unless you decide to use a different card in the phone. Don't put the card in a camera or another phone that may write files to the card or alter the directory structure. Really, don't do it.

Furthermore, Microsoft has released a support document stating that some cards may not be compatible and it doesn't simply boil down to the speed class number printed on the card. We've tested our Focus with two 16 gig cards: a Sandisk class 2 card and a Samsung class 2 card, both of which work fine with the phone. Note that class 2 is a low speed rating and you can get faster rated class 4 and 6 cards that might not work well. Microsoft state that random read/write operations per second is important, and that rating isn't indicated by the class rating. Microsoft intends to certify cards in the future, so you'll know which ones are "safe". That said, we've had no trouble with our commonly available non-cutting edge 16 gig cards.

Samsung Focus


Deals and Shopping:




Some things are set in the chassis spec for Windows Phone 7 and you'll find them on every phone: 3 front buttons for back, Windows Start (aka "home") and search. There must be a hardware camera button, a 3.5mm stereo jack and of course a USB port for syncing and charging. The Focus has touch-sensitive buttons that are faintly masked in gray and are a bit hard to see, just as with the Galaxy S phones. Thankfully they're large and there are only 3 (in the same location on every Windows 7 phone), so you'll remember where they are even if you can't see them in dim light until you activate their backlighting by touching them.

The camera button is on the right lower side, just where a camera button should be. With Windows Phone 7, you need not unlock the phone to activate the camera: press and hold the camera button and the phone will wake out of sleep and start the camera app. This requires a long enough press that you probably won't accidentally take photos of the interior of your pocket or purse. Like the Galaxy S phones, the power button is on the upper right side diametrically opposed to the volume controls on the left side. This means it's easy to hit the volume key when gripping the phone with one hand to hit the power key. The micro USB port is up top, again like the Galaxy S line, and that's not terribly convenient if you wish to use the phone via built-in earpiece while charging the phone.

The speaker is on the back as is the camera and LED flash. The microSD card slot lives under the back cover next to the SIM card slot and has a warning sticker that reminds you to read the getting started guide before inserting a card (we outlined the required procedure above, but you should always read those brief quick start guides before using a new phone).

The Samsung Focus is very close in size to the Samsung Captivate, and it's noticeably smaller than the HTC HD7. It's 2 ounces lighter than the heavyweight HTC Surround and it's thinner too since the Focus has no slider mechanism. At launch, this is the lightest and thinnest Windows 7 phone. The looks? We love the way the phone looks and the back has a sculpted look and pinstripe pattern in the gloss plastic that lends a touch of class. The front is clean and modern, and like many touch screen phones is reminiscent of the iPhone 3GS. The Focus feels solid and the straight sides help keep it in hand despite slick plastics.

Phone and Data

The Samsung Focus SGH-i917 has very good call quality and solid reception. In fact it has better reception than average among Samsung's GSM phones and manages more bars and better call quality than our iPhone 4 (yes, bars aren't a scientific measurement but they're all we have on iOS 4 and Windows Phone 7). Samsung's new noise reduction technology works well and we transmitted little background noise when in malls, parking lots and big box stores. Call recipients commented on how clear and loud we sounded, and we noted good volume and very good incoming voice quality.

The phone has call history, a large on-screen dialer, contacts integration with the dialer and a speakerphone. You can use voice command (standard to Windows Phone 7) to initiate a call, and the phone works with Bluetooth headsets and car kits including A2DP stereo headsets.

3G download speeds are good, and web browsing speeds are good but not as fast as the iPhone and the quicker Android smartphones yet. The Focus is a quad band GSM world phone with 3G HSDPA 7.2Mbps on AT&T's 850/1900MHz bands and 2100MHz for Europe and parts of Asia. There's no official tethering feature on Windows Phone 7 yet, but some clever folks on the Net have already discovered how to enable USB tethering on the Focus.

As with other Windows 7 phones, the web browser handles full HTML sites well, does portrait and landscape mode browsing and it has the fastest pinch-zoom on the planet. The platform doesn't yet support HTML5 or Flash 10.1, and we hope to see that soon, lest Windows Phones lag behind Android and the iPhone for too long.

Samsung Focus


Samsung Focus


Samsung Focus

The Samsung Vibrant (Galaxy S), HTC HD7 and Samsung Focus.

Video Review

Here's our video review of the Samsung Focus:


If you want to learn more about Windows Phone 7 in general and haven't watched our two videos covering that smartphone OS, here are our videos:


Windows Phone 7 and Software

This is obviously a review of the Samsung Focus rather than Windows Phone 7. That said, this is a brand new OS, so we'll cover the basics.

Windows Phone 7 isn't at all like prior Microsoft mobile operating systems found on smartphones and handhelds. There is absolutely nothing in common in terms of user interface and target market. Windows Phone 7 has more in common with the iPhone than Windows Mobile of old, and it bears no similarity to Android. We don't mean that Microsoft copied the iPhone's look and feel (though Microsoft is known to borrow liberally at times from competitors). Rather, the phone software is gorgeous, intuitive and user friendly. The device lives in a sandboxed world where apps come from the Windows Phone Marketplace and tunes sync with Zune on the desktop. It's also consumer oriented rather than corporate in terms of features.

There's the excellent Zune Player for music and video (totally sweet, totally like the Zune HD experience), there's XBOX Live with some very good looking games, but no support for USB file transfer of anything beyond music and video. You'll use the Zune Windows desktop software to sync music, photos and video to and from the phone, just as you'd use iTunes with an iPhone. Mac users, yes there's an OS X Windows Phone 7 Connector app and it worked fine on my Mac to sync non-DRM iTunes library music and video to and from the phone. You can even select individual playlists from your iTunes library for syncing. Shocking, ain't it?

The MS Office Mobile suite is capable and attractive, and it does support SharePoint for you business types. But there's currently no USB loading of Office documents or PDFs. You can upload your photos to Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service but there's no way to get at Office files on SkyDrive short of emailing document URLs to the phone or downloading docs from other websites. MS Exchange support is of course very robust, though Windows Phone 7 doesn't yet support all Exchange policies (the most commonly used are supported). The OS seems very secure, and apps are vetted on the Marketplace. The drawback: that's the only place to get apps, not even corporate apps can be installed-- chalk up one for the iPhone and BlackBerry. So Windows Phone 7 is business-friendly in terms of robust MS Exchange support and security (it even has remote wipe and find my phone features), but it lacks features heavy business users crave.

The home screen is comprised of tiles and the UI is named "Metro". These tiles can be live and provide info on the number of new emails and missed calls and rotate images from your photo collection. Apps include IE Mobile (based on IE 7) and a fantastic email client that looks even nicer than Android's. It supports POP3, IMAP and Exchange accounts as well as Hotmail and Google mail. Bing search and maps are on board, as is MS Office Mobile and OneNote (view PowerPoint files and view/create/edit Word, OneNote and Excel files).

The Marketplace is where you'll download free and paid apps (there are approximately 1,000 titles as of this writing and we expect the number to rise quickly). The usual suspects from iTunes and the Android Market are here: Netflix streaming movie player, Weather Channel, Weather Bug, AP News, BBC News and Kindle is coming. There are also plenty of fluff apps including more unit converters than anyone would want to consider. XBOX Live is your gaming hub and there's a photo viewer, calculator and alarms integrated into the OS as well as an excellent Facebook client that's a part of the People hub.

What's missing at launch? There's no copy and paste, though that should be coming soon via an update. Only the built-in apps can multi-task. There's no mass storage mode. Since 3rd party apps can't multi-task, there's no background updating for Twitter, and games don't always save state if you're in the middle of a level and exit the app or turn off the phone. You can sync over WiFi with a Windows desktop but there's no Bluetooth file transfer.

Multimedia and Camera

The Zune player looks every bit as good as it does on the Zune HD, in fact it's better. It makes iTunes on the iPhone look a bit dated and it certainly blows away even custom music and media players on Android. The side-scrolling panorama view is filled with eye candy, album art and useful stuff like a history of what you've recently played. The music player can run in the background and the lock screen has access to playback controls. You'll get your songs and videos onto the device using the Zune desktop software on Windows or the Mac utility on OS X (a free download from Microsoft). You don't have to buy Zune music, though it's hard to resist the Zune Pass plan: for $15/month you get subscription music (download and stream all that you want as long as your Pass plan is active) and you get to download and keep 10 mostly DRM-free songs each month. You can use the Zune desktop player to rip songs from CDs and import tunes already on your hard drive. Also on-board and standard for Windows Phone 7 is an FM radio that uses the included stereo earbud headset as the antenna. Like the Zune, you can bring up playback controls by hitting a volume key when the phone is in the sleep screen.

The video player is capable, and if your video isn't in a Zune player-friendly format like MPEG4, the desktop app will convert it for you. The built-in rear-firing speaker sounds surprisingly full for a phone and there's plenty of volume. That said, the HTC Surround with its slide-out speaker bar, is considerably louder (it can easily fill a small room with sound), and a bit fuller when Dolby Mobile is on.

Like the Galaxy S phones, the Focus has a solid 5 megapixel camera that focuses quickly (much more quickly than the HTC HD7 and quicker than the HTC Surround) and takes sharp, colorful shots. The Samsung can't compete with the Nokia N8 (few phones can) for video and photo quality, but it is one of the better cameras on the US market. The LED flash helps with low light shots and standard autofocus and macro focus modes. The Focus can shoot 720p video that's not quite as good as the iPhone 4, but it's better than the Surround and many other phones on AT&T.

Battery Life and GPS

The Samsung Focus ships with a 1500 mAh Lithium Ion battery, and that's more capacity than the HD7 and Surround which have 1230 mAh batteries. Those extra milliamps and the more power-frugal Super AMOLED display make for longer runtimes. The first gen Snapdragon CPU isn't shy about using power and the Focus still requires nightly charging with moderate to heavy use, but it will make it through the day in most cases. With light use, it can go two days on a charge.

Despite troubles with the Galaxy S GPS, the Focus has no problems and it in fact uses a different chipset. The GPS works with both Bing Maps and AT&T Navigator powered by TeleNav. Bing Maps offers excellent POIs and satellite views while the $10/month Navigator offers spoken turn-by-turn directions.


The Samsung Focus is our favorite Windows 7 Phone launch device. The Dell Venue Pro might offer some serious competition but it's not available as of this writing and is destined for T-Mobile rather than AT&T. The Focus has an absolutely wonderful 4" Super AMOLED display, and the competition literally fades in comparison. It's also more sensitive to touch, even more sensitive than the iPhone 4. The Focus is attractive and solidly built, though it doesn't hide its plastics. We love the user-accessible microSD card slot, though it's a pain that one must follow strict procedures to change cards thanks to Microsoft's software design. Still, it's nice to start out with 40 gigs of total storage if you go with a 32 gig card. Finally, the camera takes very nice shots and has fast autofocus, particularly outdoors.

Pro: Wonderful display that stands out from the crowd. Attractive, slim and light. Good performance, very good camera and solid battery life. Only Windows 7 phone with a user-accessible microSD card slot.

Con: Piano gloss plastics are slippery and won't appeal to the metal and soft touch surface crowd. Must hard reset and wipe the phone if you want to upgrade microSD cards (due to Windows Phone 7 architecture, not a Samsung flaw).

Price: $199 with a 2 year contract, $499 without contract.


Samsung Focus

The HTC Surround and Samsung Focus.



Samsung Focus



Display: 4.0" TFT Super AMOLED capacitive display. Resolution: WVGA, 800 x 480. Supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer, has ambient light sensor and proximity sensor.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1500 mAh. Claimed talk time: up to 6.5 hours.

Performance: 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250 processor. 512 MB built-in RAM. 8 gigs flash storage.

Size: 4.84 x 2.56 x 0.39 inches. Weight: 4.2 ounces.

Phone: GSM quad band with 3G HSDPA 7.2MBps on 850/1900/2100MHz bands.

Camera: 5 megapixel with autofocus lens and LED flash. Can shoot 720p video.

GPS: Has aGPS that works with AT&T Navigator and Bing Maps.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice command software integrated into OS. Has FM radio.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 EDR with headset, handsfree and A2DP stereo profiles.

Software: Windows Phone 7 OS. Standard apps include IE, MS Office Mobile, email client, Marketplace, Bing Maps and Search, Zune music and video player, alarms, calculator, XBOX Live Games, People (contacts, Windows Live and Facebook), Pictures and Settings. AT&T software: AT&T Navigator, AT&T Family Maps, AT&T account manager, U-verse Mobile, and downloadable IloMilo XBOX game. Samsung software: Daily Briefing (aka "Now"), other apps are available for download from the Marketplace.

Expansion: SDHC microSD card slot.


All Phone Reviews
Smartphone Reviews
Android Phone Reviews
Windows Phone Reviews
HTC Phone Reviews
LG Phone Reviews
Motorola Phone Reviews
Nokia Phone Reviews
Samsung Phone Reviews
Sony Phone Reviews
AT&T Phone Reviews
Sprint Phone Reviews
T-Mobile Phone Reviews
Verizon Phone Reviews
Unlocked GSM Phone Reviews


All Tablet Reviews
Android Tablet Reviews
Tablet Comparisons
Android Tablet Comparisons



Laptop Reviews
Ultrabook Reviews
Laptop Comparisons
Best Ultrabooks



Bluetooth Headsets
iPhone and iPad Accessories
eBook Readers

iPhone Game Reviews
iPad Game Reviews

iPhone Case Reviews
iPad Case Reviews


RSS News Feed

About Us

Contact Us


Site Map