The Windows Phone OS has arrived on a number of good handsets, but none of the manufacturers has yet been able to produce a killer Windows Phone for the U.S. market...until now. The Samsung Focus S, introduced by AT&T, is a beautiful device: it's thin, it's light (maybe too light), and it sports a gorgeous 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen, a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, and a quite good 8-megapixel rear-facing camera.
Does it sound familiar? It should, and that's its only catch. The Focus S is essentially the same shell as AT&T's excellent Samsung Galaxy S II phone, minus the Android operating system (and a few other internals), and plus a physical camera button. The recipe does make for a very smooth Windows Phone experience, if you can push past the mildly creepy sense of déjà vu.
The Samsung Focus S costs a reasonable $199.99 with a new, two-year service agreement, but at the time of this review, I saw it on sale online for $99.99, so check around for discounts before you buy.
Classy, sleek, and open are three words I'd use to describe the Samsung Galaxy S II phones, and the same can be said of the Focus S. The all-black phone has rounded corners and flat sides. As with AT&T's Galaxy S II and slightly larger (and LTE-capable) Skyrocket, the handset has a slightly dimpled back cover and a slight rise where the cover snaps into place at the bottom of the phone. A larger handset, the Focus S measures nearly 5 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by a svelte 0.3 inch thick. With its slimness and scant 3.9-ounce weight, it feels a little insubstantial, and I'm unconvinced of its ability to sustain casualties from butterfingers' repeated drops.
The Focus S has a gorgeous 4.3-inch Super AMOLED display with a WVGA resolution of 800x480 pixels, and support for 16 million colors. As with other phones with this screen technology, colors are vivid and stand out from the screen; it may make photos and video look more saturated on the screen than they are when viewed from your computer, so beware!
Running Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, the Focus S' interface is simply a single start screen populated with dynamic live tiles, many of which update with new information (this page is customizable to a degree--you can determine color and app order, and pin and unpin tiles). There's a second screen that shows your apps.
Above the display is the 1.3-megapixel camera. Below it are three touch-sensitive buttons that correspond to the back button, home, and search. Pressing and holding the back button also lets you switch among tasks. The same motion on the home key launches voice actions.
Windows Phones tend to have a few more physical buttons than phones on other platforms. Unfortunately, these buttons are rather cheap-looking lumps of plastic on the Focus S, and lack the polish found on the rest of the design. On the left is the volume rocker, and on the right spine you'll find the power and camera shutter buttons. The Micro-USB charging port is down below, and up top there's the 3.5mm headset jack. Flip the phone over to locate the 8-megapixel camera lens and LED flash.
Since this is a Windows phone, all memory is internal; there's no microSD card slot for expandable memory.
Editors' note: Due to their similarity, much of this section is taken from the review of the Samsung Focus Flash, also for AT&T.
Microsoft keeps the Windows Phone OS pretty locked down, so the features are similar from phone to phone. One of the most important features is that the Focus Flash runs on AT&T's "4G" HSPA+ network, which is speedier than the 3G network, but it isn't 4G LTE.
Like other smartphones, the Focus Flash supports Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and multimedia messaging. You get e-mail and social networking integration through account log-ins in the settings, an option for linking inboxes together, and support for group messaging. Your address book is limited only by your available memory. There's also a neat ability to thread messages sent between IM and traditional texting in the same thread, and support for task-switching. (For even more detail about what's new in Mango, read the full Windows Phone 7.5 review.)
There's also good stuff like speakerphone, conference calling, and voice prompts for things like voice dialing. Essentials include your clock, your calendar, a calculator, Internet Explorer 9 (with HTML5 support but no Flash), and podcast subscriptions. There's also a Bing Maps app, with turn-by-turn directions for walking and driving. Microsoft offers Xbox Live integration through the Games hub.
Although there's not a lot of variation, there is a bit of wiggle room for manufacturers and carriers to add some of their own apps, and we see that here. With AT&T, you get branded apps for a bar code and QR code scanner, AT&T Navigator with turn-by-turn directions, AT&T Radio, MyWireless, and AT&T U-verse Mobile, which is the mobile version of U-verse TV for streaming shows (this service costs $9.99 per month if you sign up from the phone).