On June 29th, 2007, I went down to the Apple store in Tampa, FL, and purchased a brand new iPhone. I had previously only owned feature phones, and had never had a Blackberry or any other smart phone. I had used some PDA-style devices, such as an iPaq. The iPhone was, in my opinion, a revolutionary step forward for smart phones.
On November 8th, 2010, I went down to an AT&T store in Clearwater, FL, and purchased a new phone, a Samsung Focus, running the brand new Windows Phone 7 operating system. Would this be the same revolutionary step forward?
I’ve been running this phone for only about week now, so my experience is somewhat limited – I might have missed getting to really test out key features, and I definitely haven’t used the phone enough to be able to publish a comprehensive report. Most of my comparisons are coming from having used an iPhone 3GS for a lengthy period of time.
Overall, my impression of the the Samsung Focus is that it is a very good piece of hardware. The screen (AMOLED) is quite striking, especially compared to the iPhone 3GS screen – it’s brighter, sharper, and has the same level of touch sensitivity from what I can tell.
The camera is top notch – and it’s nice to finally have a flash – much better experience than my iPhone 3GS. The dedicated camera button on the side is a great feature too – except for me not being able to figure out to take a picture, you press the hardware button. I’m so trained to use the software button that it took me a while to figure out how to actually take a picture! 720 HD video recording is a nice feature too.
I’m also having to retrain myself that the “lock” key is on the side, not on the top.
What’s missing from this hardware is a dedicated “mute” button. This is an awesome hardware feature of the iPhone that is overlooked – a toggle switch next to the volume buttons turns all sounds on or off in one quick move.
The speaker on the device is nice and loud too, and calls in speaker mode work just fine.
The 3 dedicated hardware buttons at the bottom of the device are very sensitive – almost too sensitive. I frequently find myself accidentally touching them and getting out of the application I want to be in.
Overall performance is very good though – everything feels snappy, which is should knowing the horsepower that is under the hood.
I haven’t used it enough to have a good statistical set, but as best I can tell, battery life is better. Of course, it’s a fresh battery too, but I seem to be able to make it all day no problem.
Using the OS
I’m honestly still getting used to the home screen, but I have to say the notifications on the lock screen, and the Live Tiles concept is really neat. I wish more apps would take advantage of Live Tiles – I can see weather radar updates, sports scores, more social media updates – anywhere where you might have constantly updating data.
I love the implementation of the Calendar tile – it simply tells you your next appointment.
I’m torn on the Outlook Live Tile – it says how many messages you haven’t looked at since the last time you opened Outlook, not your unread mail count. So if you have 10 unread messages, open Outlook, and then go back to the Home screen, your Outlook indicator is reset back to zero. I understand the functionality, but I’m still getting used to it.
The “My Phone” is also really cool – it’s found on Windows Live and has “Find your phone”, and remote lock/wipe functionality.
I’m also getting used to the Back hardware button, but I think this is well implemented – it simply takes you back to the place you were just at, even if it’s a different app. This allows you to switch apps very quickly, without needed to jump back to the home screen to switch.
The core apps are useful enough. I haven’t found anything earth-shattering in terms of new functionality. A few minor annoyances such as not being able to email a video (you can email a picture) hopefully will get added in future releases.
The People app is interesting – it did a good job of automatically associating my Outlook contacts with my Facebook friends. I’m interested to see what other contact bases it will integrate in the future (Twitter? LinkedIn?)
The Calendar app has a nice feature that makes perfect sense. Instead of telling it the start/end time for a calendar entry, you tell it the start time and duration (15 min, 30 min, 1 hr, etc). Saves the annoyance of picking a time.
I haven’t used the browser much (IE), but it seems to work better than it’s predecessors.
Here’s the biggest area lacking right now. I’m sorely missing a few key apps, namely a sports score app, like ESPN Mobile on iPhone. What a great opportunity, especially with the concept of Live Tiles. I’d love to have Seminoles, Bucs, and Rays tiles on my home screen. I might even add a Gators tile just to keep up with their latest SEC loss!
That said, the few apps and games I have gotten thus far have been relatively high quality. Hopefully app developers and content providers find this platform appealing, and we’ll see more top-notch apps for it.
A minor annoyance with the Marketplace – you can’t search just for apps or just for music – a search searches everything. This is something I’d expect to see in an OS update soon.
I don’t have a lot to report here yet. The Pictures and Zune features work like you would expect them to.
So this thing apparently also makes calls. So far, good call quality from the hardware. I’m really, really, really missing visual voicemail though. This was a key feature of iPhone – someone please build this for Windows Phone 7.
So back to my original question: Would this be the same revolutionary step forward? The answer to that right now is “no – it’s not revolutionary”. It is definitely evolutionary though. There isn’t anything you can do on this phone that you can’t do on iPhone or Android today. Concepts like LiveTiles are an excellent example of the evolution of the smart phone device, and I’m sure we’ll see this copied sooner or later. This is a good first step. Actually, this product is very good for a v1.0 operating system, but there is much work left to do. I hope that the WP7 team inside Microsoft is moving forward at a rapid pace to crank out new features. To continue to compete, they will have to keep the pedal to the metal and deliver often.
I will likely post another review in the future after I have more time to spend with the phone.