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Samsung Focus Flash Review: 4G Comes To Windows Phone 7

At a Glance
  • Samsung Focus Flash

    PCWorld Rating

    One of the best Windows Phone 7 phones you can currently buy, the Flash makes up for its disappointing camera with 4G speeds and beefy processor.

I have mixed feelings when it comes to the Samsung Focus Flash. Retailing for $50 (with a new 2-year contract on AT&T as of 11/7/2011), the Focus Flash is unlike most other Windows Phone 7 (WP7) devices we have seen to date. It's one of the first 4G WP7 phones available, and a 1.4GHz processor keeps it speedy. But while the Focus Flash is currently one of the better WP7 phones, it has a few small shortcomings that prevent it from being the best.

Design

Small in stature, the Flash measures only 4.57 by 2.31 by 0.43 inches. With its sharp corners, it slightly resembles a miniature version of Samsung’s Captivate. The phone is largely plastic and has a good-looking 3.7-inch Super AMOLED display. Its black plasticky body helps reduce its overall weight, but that also means the Flash will collect fingerprints and grease the more you use it.

While the overall build feels quite solid, the various buttons on the Focus Flash were overly spongy, detracting a bit from the user experience. The camera button was the worst offender—it would collapse down at the slightest touch.

The Super AMOLED display was surprisingly readable outdoors and was very responsive to my input. This is a PenTile screen, though it doesn’t look as bad as the qHD ones we have previously seen on Motorola’s Android phones. While it would have been nice to have a Super AMOLED Plus display, I can understand Samsung not including one to save on costs.

The back cover comes off with ease, giving you quick access to the battery and the SIM card.

Mango

The Focus Flash ships with Windows Phone 7.5, also known as Mango. With the Mango update, Microsoft added a ton of functionality to WP7: You can now multitask using supported third-party apps, and Hubs have been enhanced with a few new features. The Me Hub can now connect to social networks like Twitter and Facebook, so you can update your status or check on any new notifications, all from one place. The People Hub can now put contacts into groups for better organization, and if you have a specific contact you want to keep an eye on, you can pin them onto the Start screen for easy access to updates.

The biggest improvements that Mango brings are the updates to Bing search as well as the mobile version of Internet Explorer 9. Bing now has a visual search that, much like Google Goggles, lets you scan text and barcodes and perform a search with that data. So if you scan a business card, you can copy the name and number from the card and create a contact from that information. Though it still doesn’t support Flash (and probably never will), IE9 is now better equipped to handle HTML 5 Web pages and content. The HTML 5 videos I watched played smoothly, though they did take a bit of time to load.

See our full write-up of what's new and changed in Mango.

Performance

Powered by a single-core 1.4GHz processor, the Focus Flash has a considerable amount of extra oomph in comparison to other WP7 phones. In everyday tasks, the Flash’s performance was close to flawless. The phone never slowed down, stuttered, or froze—even while running multiple applications at once. Although the Flash is a 4G phone, apps took a while to download, and Web pages (especially image-heavy ones) would take close to 2 minutes to fully load. This was in an area with strong reception, but I’m willing to chalk up the network speeds I experienced to problems on AT&T’s end. Call quality here in San Francisco was clear and even, though the people I called did say that the microphone would occasionally let in some background noise.

Battery life on the Flash was about in line with what we see from other smartphones: Under light to medium usage (that is, you use your phone sparingly or only to browse the Web once in a while), you should be able to go through an entire day on a single charge. If you use your phone to play a lot of games or watch a ton of movies, you’ll probably want to carry a spare charger with you to avoid completely draining your phone.

Media

While WP7 doesn’t have nearly as many games as Android or iOS, it does let you connect to your Xbox Live account and access features like your avatar directly on your device. And playing certain games can earn you achievements that increase your overall gamerscore on Xbox Live and Games for Windows Live.

The rear speaker on the Focus is nice and loud (even at half volume), but it tends to distort audio at higher levels. Samsung includes a pair of cheap earbuds with the Focus Flash. You’ll probably want to swap these out for your own pair, however: The included earbuds have poor sound quality, and they hurt my ears after only a few minutes.

Also, you get only 8GB of included storage, so this isn't the best phone for those with massive music or video collections.

When using the Netflix app to stream HD video online, I was disappointed to see a lot of blockiness and other digital artifacts in the Mad Men episode I was watching. This indicates a slow connection--something I would expect from a 3G phone, not a 4G one, though the video was not unwatchable. Again, this may be a network congestion issue more than a problem with the phone itself.

Camera

Example image
The Focus Flash comes with two cameras: a front-facing VGA camera and a rear-facing 5-megapixel camera with flash. Overall, neither camera really impressed. The rear-facing camera had issues with focus (oddly enough) and would take photos that were slightly blurry. Videos were also slightly out of focus and would stutter whenever a new object came into the frame. The phone also had trouble picking up sounds, even on the corner of a busy intersection.

The inclusion of a front-facing camera is always appreciated, but I’ve yet to see an application that truly puts it to good use. For now, I’ll chalk it up as an alternative way of taking (very grainy) self-portraits.

Bottom Line

Although I’m pleased with Samsung for breaking away from the mold that so many other Windows Phone 7 phones have fallen into, I still think the company could have done a bit more with the hardware. It’s disappointing to see a great Windows Phone being held back by such a mediocre camera. While I understand that the camera's limitations may have been part of an effort to keep device costs down, I would not recommend this phone to anyone who is an avid mobile photographer.

That said, this is one of the best (and most affordable) Windows Phone 7 devices you can buy. If you have been looking for a good smartphone on a budget then this is the phone for you.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    One of the best Windows Phone 7 phones you can currently buy, the Flash makes up for its disappointing camera with 4G speeds and beefy processor.

    Pros

    • 4G connectivity
    • Faster than average processor for a WP7 phone

    Cons

    • Poor camera
    • Spongy buttons
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