Samsung Focus S: Slick Windows Phone -- for consumers only

The sleek smartphone's Windows Phone 7.5 'Mango' OS has real appeal, but it can't work in most businesses

Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango," Microsoft's answer to Apple's iOS and Google's Android, has attracted its own fanboys -- a marked improvement from the unhappy reception that last year's half-baked initial version received. Several smartphone makers are offering "Mango" devices, and of these the Samsung Focus S has the most appeal, thanks to its slim, sleek, simple design.

Unfortunately, as nice as the Focus S is, Windows Phone 7.5 can't be used in most businesses because it lacks security features such as support for essential Microsoft Exchange ActveSync (EAS) policies, on-device encryption, and VPN support. Its Office suite is also primitive, with bare-bones capabilities far exceeded by apps available for other mobile OSes.

[ See all of InfoWorld's mobile deathmatch comparisons and personalize the scores to your needs. | Discover what Microsoft has in store for tablets in its forthcoming Windows 8. | Compare the security and management capabilities of iOS, Windows Phone 7, Android, and more in InfoWorld's Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF report. ]

But as a personal-only messaging device, the Samsung Focus S bears consideration. It costs $600 without a contract and $200 with a two-year contract with AT&T.

HardwareAs thin and light as an iPhone but a tad wider and taller (0.25 inch in each direction), the Focus S makes room for a nice-size screen without taking up much more space in your pocket. Its screen is 4.3 inches in diameter versus the iPhone's 3.5 inches. It's the size an iPhone should be.

The Focus S screen is crisp, thanks to its Super AMOLED display. The screen is also not overly bright, so text doesn't get blown out as with the Android-based Samsung Galaxy Nexus. However, the Focus S autobrightness controls tend to cause image jitter in areas with variable lighting.

The Focus S sports a 1.4GHz ARM dual-core processor -- a fast CPU -- and an 8-megapixel rear camera with autofocus and LED flash, though without the high-quality optics and image sensors of the iPhone 4S. The rest of the Focus S hardware is unremarkable: The bezel is plastic but pleasant to hold, and there are the usual volume rocker, audio jack, MicroUSB jack, camera button, front camera (1.3 megapixels), and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 3G cellular radios. Battery life is good, lasting a full workday with ongoing use of the Internet and lasting several days in standby mode. There's no video-out capability, so forget about using it to make presentations via an HDTV or projector as you can with iPhones and many Android smartphones.

Beyond the hardware, the Samsung Focus S offers no alterations to the Windows Phone 7.5 OS or its bundled apps, so you get the standard "Mango" experience.

Email, calendars, contacts, and social networkingWindows Phone 7.5 can connect to Exchange, IMAP, POP, and Gmail accounts; make and synchronize appointments; and manage contacts. For Exchange access, "Mango" supports "push" synchronization, and for both Exchange and IMAP, it preserves your Exchange and IMAP folder hierarchy for mail. But the lack of meaningful EAS policy support in Windows Phone means you likely won't be able to access your corporate email, as any company concerned with even basic security will impose EAS policies beyond the few that "Mango" supports, as I detail later in this review.

Email. Although "Mango" displays nice, big text for your messages' From addresses, it suffers from the use of tiny, thin, gray fonts in the message itself, so it's very hard to read. And there are no controls over text size. It's clearly designed for the eyes of teenagers and 20-somethings.

I like Windows Phone's way of handling message groups such as unread and flagged messages: Just swipe to the right to see lists of unread messages; repeat to see flagged messages. "Mango" also implements a color highlight on the subject of unread messages in the All message list, but the Unread list is simpler to use. Windows Phone normally provides a separate tile on its Start screen for each email account, but you can use its linking feature to get a unified inbox both in the mail client and on the Start screen. If you look carefully at the tiny To text, you can see which account the message was intended.

Unfortunately, "Mango" doesn't handle mail folders well. When viewing your mail list in Windows Phone, you have to press the More button (the ... icon) to get the Folders menu, which you then use to see messages in a specific folder. The good news is that Windows Phone 7.5 supports message threading, which you (counterintuitively) have to set up in the Settings app's Applications section, under Messaging, not in the mail client. Selecting multiple messages in Windows Phone 7.5 is easy -- once you realize you need to tap the left side of the screen to open the selection bubbles.

Windows Phone 7 isn't so savvy about opening attachments. It can open Office documents in its mobile versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, though PowerPoint is strangely restricted to version 2007 and later (.pptx) files. It also can open zip files, unlike the iPhone. But to open PDFs, you'll need a separate PDF viewer, such as the free Adobe Reader. Also, Windows Phone doesn't automatically download attachments, which saves on 3G data usage. You must tap an attachment to download it, then tap it again to open it.

You can easily search for mail, as well as reply to, forward, delete, and select multiple messages, though you can't select or deselect all messages.

Composing messages is straightforward in Windows Phone, though it doesn't support rich text formatting as iOS 5 does. However, "Mango" looks up names as you enter them, drawing on your address book and previous email history to speed data entry.

Calendars. Windows Phone 7.5 lets you view and update your calendars, as well as sync to Exchange and Google calendars. You can also send invites to other users, and any .ics invitation attachments received show up in your calendar automatically.

Windows Phone 7's day and agenda views are pretty, but the tiny colored text for your appointments is very hard to read on the black background. The month view is all but useless; the supertiny text for each appointment in each date is easily overlooked.

Contacts. "Mango" has a capable contacts app, called People. One blemish is its unintuitive way to quickly jump to sections of your contacts list: Tap the # icon button near the top to get a list of letters that you then tap to jump to. It's not slick, but it works.

Windows Phone doesn't offer a Favorites feature for contacts, but it does let you "pin" an individual to the Start screen for easy access, such as to click an email address or phone number to initiate a message or call. That can quickly clutter your Start screen, though, making it overly long to scroll through. Windows Phone 7.5 lets you create groups of contacts, as well as link contact cards to create virtual groups. For example, if you have separate entries for a couple, you can link their cards so that each person's contact information appears in both of their cards.

Social networking. Windows Phone's People app provides a convenient location to monitor your social feeds -- Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others -- and engage in any conversations. You use the Me tile to initiate a message to all your networks simultaneously. The app is not as full-featured as the social networking services' own apps, so you still need to use them to do more sophisticated actions, including sending a direct message. A bizarre implementation issue on Windows Phone is that if you install the separate Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn apps, you have to sign in separately -- the sign-in you provided for the People app to use isn't shared with the social networking apps themselves.

These social networking capabillities are where "Mango" shines brightest.

ApplicationsIf running applications is your thing, get an iPhone. Nothing else comes close in terms of rich application options that in some cases can do much of what a computer can do. Windows Phone 7.5 is more suited for lightweight widgets.

Apps. Windows Phone's big app is Office, a collection of rudimentary touchup tools using the Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote labels. Word is barely more capable than a typical note-taking app, and PowerPoint only lets you edit text, not adjust graphics -- and forget about creating slides. Excel can't edit cell contents, so it's good only for viewing and searching spreadsheets. Windows Phone 7.5 comes with a SharePoint client, but it's hard to imagine, given the OS's lack of security, that any significant business would let users into such corporate assets through a Windows Phone. OneNote -- Microsoft's basic, cloud-synced note-taking app -- is a basic app even on a PC, so its "Mango" version doesn't feel as compromised as the rest of the Office suite.

The truth is, you can do more with Google Docs than Office on Windows Phone 7 -- and that's a sad comment considering how poorly Google Docs works on mobile clients, even on Google's own Android OS.

Windows Phone has no way to present PowerPoint or other slide presentations to a projector or TV, as iOS easily does on an iPhone via a cable or over the air through an Apple TV -- another reason not to consider a "Mango" device for business use.

The Windows Phone Marketplace has mainly lightweight, data-feed-oriented widgets like stock tickers, weather checkers, and bill reminders. Widgets are the perfect fit for the Windows Phone tile metaphor, where the app "icons" are usually live tiles that can show status, such as current stock price or current weather. Opening a tile shows more of that data feed, but rarely lets you manipulate it in any deep way.

But even nonfeed apps tend to be more simplistic on Windows Phone; a survey of newsreader apps showed they contained less information generally than their Android and iOS counterparts. An exception is the USA Today app; despite Windows Phone 7's markedly different presentation style, the USA Today app proves an information app doesn't have to compromise on depth.

When it comes to games, "Mango" has a good selection, including modern standbys such as Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. Otherwise, there are few apps as yet in the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Microsoft's Windows Phone Marketplace is curated, like Apple's App Store, so it's much less likely to hold malware such as the phishing apps that plague the Android Market.

App management. A key addition to "Mango" is multitasking: Applications can now run in the background. To switch apps, you go to the Start screen, swipe to the left to see all your apps, and tap an app to open it. You can also pin apps to the Start screen so that their tiles are available for easy access. Long-tap the Back button to get thumbnails of all running apps so that you can switch among them easily.

Windows Phone uses its Start screen as the equivalent of iOS's and Android's home screen. But "Mango" becomes more difficult to navigate the more apps and tiles you have, as you need to scroll further and further to access them. The end result is that Windows Phone becomes harder to use as you accumulate more apps.

"Mango" does not support app folders to help manage a growing collection of apps, as iOS and Android 4 do. Windows Phone 7.5 also lacks a notification feature like that in Android and iOS; instead, it expects you to check your Start screen's tiles periodically to see what's happening. But like competing OSes, Windows Phone alerts you to app updates and lets you download them wirelessly.

Location support. Like any modern smartphone, Windows Phone supports GPS location and can triangulate location based on Wi-Fi signals. You also get a maps app that works like those in iOS and Android, providing your current location, directions to your destination, and navigation assistance.

Developers can integrate location information in their apps, so location is just another native feature in "Mango." But you get only gross-level location privacy controls: disabling or enabling the GPS and Wi-Fi location services for the entire device. Windows Phone apps can ask if it's OK to use your location, but there's no central way to manage these location permissions as there is in iOS.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
How to supercharge Slack with ‘action’ apps
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon