Samsung Focus

Two Weeks With a
Windows Phone

Yes, you read that post title correctly. For the past two weeks my primary phone has been a Samsung Focus running Windows Phone 7. So how did a four year iPhone user end up in such a predicament? The long and the short of it; I sold my iPhone 4 via eBay’s Instant Sale reseller buy back program. To capitalize on the highest cash offer I had to commit to the sale and ship the iPhone 4 before the release of the 4S. I tried to reactivate an original iPhone with little success*. See my plan was to upgrade to the 4S without putting a $200 hold on my account. Apparently my backup gadgets have reached the end of their lives (damn that was fast). During my second trip to the local AT&T store, the customer service member suggested I could take advantage of another phone line’s upgrade. My father-in-law was more than happy with his simple flip phone and would never use the upgrade. Lucky me!

Obviously this post does not qualify as a product review like the big tech sites but, I thought it would not hurt to share my impressions of another mobile platform. Possibly offer more of a real world take on switching mobile platforms.

 

Samsung Focus from AT&T

 

Device:
The Samsung Focus [SGH-i917 v1.3] is a nicely designed device. Large sharp screen. The body is thin and lightweight while still feeling solid. However, if I was going to use it long-term I would definitely need to get a case. Now the first part of my WinPhone learning curve was powering on the device. And I was not the only one. While showing it to my geek friends (owners of iPhones and Android devices) we laughed as each of us tried to turn on the phone. Hint – the power button is on the right side. I guess the muscle memory of pressing a button at the top was kicking in.

A dedicated photo button is also on the right side. While the left side only has volume controls. One single rear camera with flash for this device. Photo quality is pretty good, but would not replace a point and shoot. There are three dedicated touch buttons on the face of the phone – back, home and search. Odd thing about these touch areas, they are prone to accidental touches since they can be activated through clothing. Unlike Android and iOS touch screens which need direct contact between screen and finger tips.

Reception is good. On par with other devices running on the AT&T network. Call audio is solid, sometimes louder than an iPhone when both callers have strong reception. Battery life was really lacking during my use. Under normal use of email, text, twitter – most on wifi – it would only make it until the late afternoon. I felt the time needed to recharge the battery took too long. Between two and three hours to recharge from dead to full. As I remember, the iPhone 4 would fully recharge in under an hour. This difference kept me close to power sources.

 

Software:
The Samsung Focus came out of the box running Windows Phone (V 7.0). This was my first hands on with a WinPhone device. It took me a few moments to figure out how to navigate the new OS. During my use I found the dedicated ‘back’ touch button on the phone’s face to be cumbersome. Blame it on years of iOS use, but having to leave an app’s display to navigate said app was clunky. Oh, and the ‘search’ button was an annoying miss-touch I wish I could deactivate all together.

While core navigation was frustrating, there are a lot of things I liked about Windows Phone 7. The tiled home screen with active app faces made the home screen very useful for quick glances. I really liked the fact that I could delete the carrier installed apps like AT&T Uverse and Navigator. You can tell Microsoft understood the importance of OS design. The dark and light themes were both fun to use and a refreshing break from iOS. After a few days of downloading all the free apps I could find in the Marketplace, I learned that Win7 would not have managed the 200+ apps I kept on my iPhone. With 20 apps ‘pinned’ to the home screen and dozens more listed in the app tree, I found myself scrolling forever. Where was a folder feature when you needed it?

One big feature of Windows Phone is the integration with Xbox Live. Now I like to think that I am a gamer, but for me the XBL integration was just… meh. Sure I can see which friends are online, send text messages and accept game invites, but the headlining feature of playing XBL Arcade games on the go was lost on me. Take Fruit Ninja for example. After paying $10 for the XBLA console version (which is a steal for one of my favorite Kinect games) they want $3 more for the mobile version. Does it hurt that I have already invested in this game with iPhone and iPad versions? Sure. Maybe I was naïvely under the impressions that XBLA games would be playable for free if you purchased the console version. Maybe I am just not in a hurry to repurchase all the games and apps that I have spent hundreds on under iOS. Whatever the reason, I never launched the Xbox Live app again.

Most third-party apps like Twitter and Facebook felt less like native apps and more like web apps ported through phone gap or something. Every time you launch then you are welcomed with a blank load screen. Even the Twitter timeline that I viewed ten minutes earlier was starting fresh. Unlike iOS twitter apps that save a local cache of the timeline that could viewed offline between syncs.

After a day of use I received a notification on the device that a software update was available. I was a little surprised that I could not update over the air, even on wifi. So why is Apple getting all this shit about iOS 5 finally getting over the air updates? They are not the only ones requiring a computer. Anyways… I installed the Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac to start updating the device. After a few incremental updates I was greeted by a prompt to install Win Phone 7.5 Mango. The few articles I read about this OS update actually had me a little excited.

Wow. Mango was a big improvement in usability and speed. The phone and the desktop device manager client were much smoother, even thought the Mac client did not receive an update itself. Along with overall system speed jump, Mango brought two minor features I really liked – unified inbox and ability to join non broadcasted wifi networks. 7.5 also added the ability to ‘freeze state’ multitasking similar to iOS. Even before the Mango update the OS was very stable. I only remember the device freezing up once or twice. Mango alone improved my review rating of this device by a few points. Glad to see Microsoft is committed – for now – to making Win Mobile a viable contender. I actually hope they do not pull a HP/WebOS dump any time soon.

The Marketplace as a fair number of apps including iOS and Android favorites like Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Gowalla, Pulse, Amazon Kindle and others. Of course this includes more games than you could play. Yet, like I mentioned before, switching mobile platforms gets even more expensive when you tack on the cost of getting multiple copies of the same apps. Now that I am aware of the cost, I might be too entrenched in the iOS  platform to ever leave.

 

Wrap up:
So the million dollar question – has Windows converted an iPhone user? Honestly, no. But I will give them kudos for making a very nice platform. The time away from iOS made me realize that at the core iOS design needs a refresh. Sure iOS 5 features like an improved notification center and Siri are great additions. But I now have experienced the competitions offering and am now looking to Apple to innovate again. My buddy Carl summed up my feelings towards Windows Phone pretty well, “they are making pretty awesome products, but they are too late to the party. Apple and Android dominate the mobile scene. So no one is even thinking about giving Windows mobile a chance”. To his point, when offered the chance to get a free ‘hold me over’ phone I asked for a iPhone 3GS (sold-out and second guessing old tech after 1st gen mess) or an Android device (no models available for free). Other small things like the quick selection of emails for deletion or filing and the reliance on horizontal swipes to navigate within apps are things I wish would come to iOS.

So unless a Windows fanboy offers me some cash for the device, I will be keeping it has a wifi only mobile browser testing device. Maybe in time I will find more uses for it. And with it being a fairly recent release it should get software updates for some time. If you are curious about other aspects that I did not cover in this entirely too long post feel free to ask in the comments.

 

 

 

*While iTunes will let you go through the process, AT&T requires some special approval to reinstate the unlimited data plans for the silver iPhone. If someone else knows otherwise please let me know.

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