Samsung Focus Flash review

Samsung’s Focus Flash will soon join the Samsung Focus S on AT&T’s shelves as the South Korea-based company’s second and third Windows Phone devices in the United States. The Focus Flash is a budget-friendly $50 handset and, despite its low price point, it offers a number of enhancements over the original Focus. Is the Focus Flash a worthy successor to the Focus? Can Mango tango with other entry-level handsets in the sub-$50 smartphone space? Hit the break for my full Focus Flash review to find out.

Hardware

The Focus Flash is smaller and more compact than the original Focus. The phone’s corners also are sharper, and it offers a physical button for returning to the home screen. The overall size of the phone is very similar to the iPhone 4S. I really like the sharp black accents on the back of the phone and the faux-metal battery cover. I would prefer real metal, of course, but for $49.99 I can’t really complain. There’s also a 5-megapixel camera and flash on the rear of the device. The power button is in easy reach on the right-hand side of the phone, just above a camera quick launch key. The volume controls are opposite the power button on the left side of the phone.

For the time being, the Samsung Focus Flash is the only phone you can currently buy at such a budget-friendly price point with a 1.4GHz processor. That’s a decent bump over the 1GHz chip in the original Focus and the performance boost is noticeable. I opened up and closed a number of applications with the Focus and Focus Flash side by side, and the Focus Flash almost always won the race. You’re also likely future-proofing yourself a bit with the 1.4GHz processor. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft deploy its next Windows Phone update (code-named Windows Phone Apollo) to the current batch of new Windows Phone Mango handsets, given their high specs.

My biggest gripe with the hardware of the Focus Flash is that it doesn’t offer a microSD card slot. I have a 32GB microSD card loaded with videos, photos and music that I like to move from device to device, and I was upset to learn I had to stick with the roughly 6GB of available internal storage on the Focus Flash.

Software


As I noted earlier, the Focus Flash runs Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) operating system. I enjoyed using Windows Phone 7 but Mango has really boosted my excitement for the platform. I had originally used the Focus with Mango and the Focus Flash’s better hardware makes it that much more enjoyable. Everything was very quick and I never found myself waiting for a command to be executed.

My biggest gripe, just like BGR’s Zach Epstein noticed with the HTC Titan in his review, is that applications can take a while to load new data. For example, foursquare takes about 7-9 seconds from the second I tap the icon to the time it has fully loaded all of the places nearby that I can check into. It’s a bit frustrating and it’s one of my only real issues with Mango.

Mango introduces tons of new features and we’ve already covered a number of them so I won’t go into too much detail. I love that developers can build their own live tiles, which bring the home screen to life. When I put three phones on my desk, one Android phone, one iPhone and the Focus Flash, the Windows Phone feels and looks so much more inviting. I love that foursquare presents a tile that shows the current leaderboard in real time, that my Groups icon (another new feature in Mango) constantly circulates pictures of my closest friends and family, and that I can see my Xbox Live Avatar jumping around in a little square Window. I can also get weather forecasts, unread message counts and so much more without having to open a single app.

I’m falling for the Windows Phone platform as a whole, both on the Focus Flash and on other phones, and if you haven’t given it a shot recently you really owe it to yourself to check it out on the new batch of devices.

Call Quality /  Data

Call quality on the Focus Flash was just fine. I wasn’t blown away by the clarity but I was able to hear callers just fine during a few test calls in New York City, either. The speakerphone was loud enough though, as with most phones, the person on the other end of my call could clearly tell I was using speakerphone.

I tested the data using http://dslreports.com/mspeed and received my download speed hovered around 1Mbps, which isn’t great considering AT&T bills this as a “4G” phone. In general use, however, data seemed to move pretty quickly over AT&T’s network. My biggest gripe was with the mobile hotspot feature. Even though the phone was reporting thee bars of signal strength, I wasn’t able to connect to the Internet at all. Using the ATRIX 2 in the same spot, also on AT&T, I connected without an issue.

Camera

The 5-megapixel camera on the Focus Flash was a bit of a letdown. Shots looked nearly identical to those taken with the original Focus, but I noticed that many of them were actually blurrier. I found the culprit to be the camera quick-launch key, which also doubles as a shutter button. It requires a bit more force than the one on the Focus and, as such, it shakes the phone a bit when you take a photo. If I was deliberate and stood very, very still I could pull off a clear shot, but otherwise they were blurry. The on-screen shutter button eliminates this issue, but it’s less comfortable to use.

The Focus Flash can record 720p HD video but it defaults to a VGA resolution. That’s probably good, given its relatively low amount of storage. Videos captured with the phone were reasonably good given its low price tag.

Finally, there’s a 1.3-megapixel camera for video chats on the front of the phone. Windows Phone still doesn’t ship with a video chat client pre-installed, and Samsung’s third-party option isn’t really worth looking at. I’m looking forward to Skype integration on future builds of Microsoft’s mobile OS.

Battery Life

The battery life on the Focus Flash was very solid. I was easily able to get through a full day using the phone as my primary device with moderate to heavy usage. Most people should have no problem getting through a full day and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if light users are able to get a day and a half or even two days out of the battery on a single charge.

Conclusion

I’m very impressed with Windows Phone 7.5, and the Focus Flash is a great, affordable vessel for the new OS. Everything is fluid, the experience is unique and alive, and I never really found myself complaining about any aspect of the user interface. Windows Phone aside, the Focus Flash is a great device at the $49.99 price point.

There are plenty of phones to choose from at AT&T for $50 or less, including the iPhone 3GS and a variety of Android handsets. As a result, you may have overlooked the Windows Phone in the corner of your local AT&T store in the past. Now that devices like the Samsung Flash are hitting store shelves, however, it’s time to think twice before passing up Microsoft’s mobile OS for Android or iOS.

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