Samsung Focus S–Software and Camera

Following up on our review of the hardware of the Samsung Focus S (read that here), here is a look at the software and camera.


Now we get to the most important part of the phone.  Hardware can be great but if the software isn’t, then it is all for naught.  With Windows Phone the difference between the software used on individual phones isn’t that great.  With the limited amount of modifications or additions that Microsoft allows OEM’s to make the software is very similar from phone to phone.  But with their Mango phones Samsung has added some settings that do not appear in other Windows Phones so we will look at them.


There are two sections that Samsung has added to the Settings menu.  First off is the high fidelity position menu.  There isn’t much to say about this menu because it is very difficult to test its usefulness.  The menu adds the ability for the Focus S to also use what it calls Use Sensor Aiding.  This is supposed to use other sensors such as the accelerometer and compass in areas in which GPS isn’t as useful.

Also this menu adds the ability to use Russia’s GLONASS system which is their competitor to GPS.  I guess in circumstances where a GPS lock doesn’t happen, the Focus S will fall back on GLONASS.  Both of these settings seem to have some use on the surface, and I will report that I get quicker and more accurate location locks on the Focus S than I ever got on the Focus.  I don’t know if that is just because of Samsung’s issues in the location department or the improvement from these settings.


Another settings menu is that of Extra Settings.  Here is where there are some interesting settings.  First off we have key vibration feedback.  In basic terms this lets you turn on or off the vibration that occurs when you hit the menu buttons—back, home, and search.  The Focus S has excellent keys and spacing on its keys, plus the amount of vibration is perfect.  I have used all the Windows Phones, and I think that Samsung nailed this better on the Focus S than any other phone; the spacing is so good you don’t even need to look at the keys.

Echo Cancellation is more of a mixed bag.  If you are using your phone for speakerphone calls this is an excellent feature.  The microphone on the top pulls down the audio to compare against the microphone on the bottom.  When making calls in this mode those people I called were almost always unaware they were on speaker.  And I will tell you that this is quite a feat since almost always, including the Focus, it is obvious to people on the other side of the call that phone is not against your ear.  While this setting says echo cancellation it also seems to have the added benefit of noise cancellation.  When making a call with the phone to your ear I had some issues.  I am someone who lets the bottom microphone swing away from my mouth during the call.  When I did this on the Focus S without an exception the people on the other line would think I had dropped the call because they could no longer hear me almost at all.  What I think is happening is the phone believes that because your voice is pretty soft that you are background noise, so it removes you from the call.  In a busy airport this is a great feature; otherwise it may be a problem based on how you use your phone.  I am turning this feature off.


The auto display intensity is a very interesting feature.  Simply put it slightly dims the screen when there is a large amount of white on the screen.  This is great for battery life and for your eyes as whiteout on the screen can be very powerful.  My hesitation comes from the fact that Focus S has very aggressive autodimming.  And the update of the Extra settings “app” seems to affect the autodimming feature.  A few things need to be said first of all to be fair to Samsung.  While reviewing the Focus S I went back to my Focus to see how it used autodimming.  Unless both of my Focuses have an issue I found out that using autodimming the Focus never dims to low…ever.  Well for the sake of battery life Samsung seems to have wanted to change this.  What we get is a phone that before its first Extra Settings update (yes these Samsung Settings menus update like apps) is kind of manic.  After the first update it seems like the problem has been mostly fixed.  I will say, however, that there is still some heavy handed dimming going on and it can take some getting used to.  Though after a few weeks with the phone it is not a problem for me.

The difference that the faster processor makes can be a subtle thing on the phone.  With the focus I had a problem when I put many, many tiles on the home screen that they would not be able to draw with my scrolling.  I would scroll down the list and after perhaps a second or two they would load in.  This could have had to do with the fact that the memory was SD card based both in the onboard one and the 16 gb one I added or to do with the slower processor.  Whatever the reason, the Nand memory and the 1.4 Ghz processor has gotten rid of this problem.  Only very rarely does this happen and most of the time the load in is seamless.

Some other sites (props to Tom Warren) have noticed that the big difference between the new and the old processor is the scrolling behavior on 3rd party apps.  While there has never been a problem on 1st party apps, the scrolling behavior on 3rd party apps has never been that smooth.  Nodo in particular improved the scrolling performance.  Have that extra bit of horsepower does seem to do the job; Even those apps that have been particularly problematic (looking at you IGN).

Well with all the good news out the way I have to talk about the big stain on this phone.  I will start off by saying that this bug annoys me a lot less now than it did when I first got the phone.  There is a very strange bug that messes up the typing experience.  Instead of the normal typing sound when a key is hit, when typing the sounds are syncopated.  I shot some video because of the difficulty of explaining the problem and I hope it demonstrates it.


Overall the Focus S has an Excellent Camera.  It is a great improvement from the camera on the Focus.  I find the pictures to have a lower lever of noise especially in very sunny shots.  The autofocus seems to be more accurate than the focus, but macro mode is still disappointing to me.  Those really close up shots still seem to not have the focus you expect.  Here are some examples of the beautiful shots the Focus S can achieve.


The weakness of the Focus S is still low light shots.  While its larger brother on At&t, the Titan, is excellent for low light shots, the Focus S is pretty weak in this area.  To exacerbate its weakness the single flash on the phone usually washes out any shot in which it is used.  I think for the most part this is a symptom of a camera being on a smartphone.  Phones like the IPhone 4s and the HTC Titan do not have this problem and I hope that Samsung ups their game with their next Windows Phones.


Battery Life

Battery life on the Samsung Focus S is excellent.  Using WP Bench and doing a full battery drain from full to empty took 4 hours and ten minutes.  If you are like me, however, that sort of test tells you absolutely nothing.  I am a heavy, heavy phone user and on my heavy days I cannot get any phone, including an iPhone 4 before IOS 5, to get through an entire heavy, heavy day.  On normal days the Focus S works excellently for me giving me about 15-20 percent battery left at the end of the day with battery saver off.  I usually am up and using my phone for 17 hours so from my estimation that is excellent battery life.  Comparing this to the original focus, there would be many times on similar days that I would end the day with 5 percent or less battery or even have to charge when I got home from work.  With Mango I have not noticed that big of a difference in battery life but the Battery saver for the last few hours of the day can really extend the battery life.


Overall the Samsung Focus is excellent.  The only real problem of the phone is the bug with typing sounds.  If Samsung patches this problem I will have no problem recommending this phone with no reservations.  As it stands this is an excellent phone that anyone who has a contract on AT&T or even some underserved carriers (looking at you Verizon and Sprint) should consider strongly.  Well done Samsung and AT&T.