The Samsung Focus Flash is Samsung's entry-level WP7 phone. Available on AT&T, it's possible to get it for free, after two-year commitment. The off contract price is $399.
The Flash is very closely related to its name sharing sibling, the Focus S. The two phones share a lot of similarities, to the point that they're very nearly the same device, save for a few key differences. Instead reviewing features we've already seen in the Focus S, our goal with this Focus Flash review is to point out those key distinctions.
Just like the Focus S (and essentially all current WP7 phones), the Flash has a single core 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor and 512MB of RAM, so it will perform identically to its WP7 brethren. Considering how much cheaper it is, the Flash is a very good value.
While its internal hardware is the same, its overall form factor and design is very different. The Flash is much smaller, sporting a 3.7-inch display, though it's still 800x480 and Super AMOLED Plus.
The sacrifices in screen size results in a nice compact device, and Samsung's decision to stick with the Super AMOLED Plus and WVGA resolution makes for an excellent experience.
Despite the smaller screen, the Focus Flash weight 116.2g, nearly 6g more than the Focus S. At 116.1 x 58.7 x 11mm, it's also about 2.5mm thicker, but it's still a very compact and relatively lightweight device.
The extra weight and compact size gives the Flash a very solid feel; however, the battery cover can creak slightly when light torque is applied. The cover itself is a rigid piece of plastic with an accent across the middle made to look like brushed metal.
The Flash also has a 5MP rear camera with LED flash (a significant step down from the 8MP offering of the Focus S) as well as a VGA quality front facing camera (also a step down from 1.3MP). The Focus Flash does benefit in that its rear camera does not protrude from the back of the phone, protecting the lens from scratches.
The buttons and ports layout is very similar to the Focus S: MicroUSB bottom middle, 3.5mm audio top left, Power/Lock and Camera buttons on the right, and Volume rocker on the left.
The Back, Start, and Search keys are on the face of the phone, under the display. Unlike the S, the Focus Flash has a physical Start button, though Back and Search remain capacitive.
Like its big brother, the Flash has multiple microphones for active noise cancellation. The loud speaker is next to the rear camera lens.
Removing the batter cover reveals the SIM slot and 1500mAh battery, nearly the same size found in the Focus S, so battery life is nearly the same. Sadly, there is no MicroSD slot, a disappointment we've had with all WP7 phones.
You're limited to just 8GB of internal storage (only about 6.6GB of which is user accessible). Compared to the Focus S, this is about half, and for many people, this could be a deal breaker.
Overall, the Focus Flash makes for a solid smartphone for anyone looking for something on the more compact side. It's arguably the best valued WP7 device available for AT&T, though the Nokia Lumia 900 makes a compelling argument there as well.
Interface, contacts, and messaging
As a WP7 device, the Samsung Focus Flash's interface is basically identical to most every other WP7 device. Except for the Device Info text in the About section of the Settings, we're certain anyone would be hard pressed to spot any differences whatsoever between the Flash's interface and that of the Focus S.
You get the same "Metro" themed, tile-based UI and system-wide integration Microsoft is striving for in its WP7 line. It was all covered in detail on the Interface page of our Focus S review.
Contacts and calling
As far as the contacts and calling interface is concerned, the Samsung Focus Flash is no different from the Focus S. You can grab those details on the Contacts and calling page of the Focus S review.
Your contact list, social networking buddies, and e-mail contacts are all lumped together in the People Tile. The Flash even has the same smart dialer for making calls.
However, there are two aspects that are slightly different when it comes to making calls.
Firstly, the Focus S has Wide-Band AMR capability, which can help increase audio quality during a call.
The Focus S does not have this feature, though call quality does not seem to suffer much without it.
Secondly – and this is slightly more serious – the Focus S appears to have a marginally weaker antenna. In areas with strong coverage, this doesn't make any difference, but if you're ever on the cusp of cell coverage, you'll find the Focus S will maintain a connection a little better than the Focus Flash. The antenna strength issue is fairly minor and should really only affect people who live in or frequent areas with poor cell coverage.
The Samsung Focus Flash offers very nearly the same messaging experience you'd get with the Focus S. The Texting app, Windows Live Messenger, and e-mail apps are exactly the same. Even Facebook chat has the same short labyrinth to navigate before you can use it.
Just like the Focus S, E-mail has a tile that incorporates all of your E-mail accounts, and everything else is taken care of by the Messaging tile.
While the options are exactly the same, the act of inputting and manipulating text is where the experience differs.
For anyone coming from a larger device, like the Focus S, the Focus Flash will pose a bit of a learning curve when it comes to typing. The smaller screen makes it slightly more prone to typing errors.
Where the Focus S offers plenty of space to type comfortably in portrait mode, people using the Focus Flash may prefer the added space of typing in landscape mode. Nonetheless, after a week or two, your average texter will adjust well to the keyboard size.
Selecting and highlighting text also gets a bit more complicated due to the smaller screen size. You'll find that your finger obscures even more of the text you're trying to highlight, and fine tuning cursor placements takes some practice.
Internet, camera, and video
Even with its lower price tag, the Samsung Focus Flash is still a 4G HSPA+ device, meaning it's capable of up to 21Mbps download speeds; however, our main complaint is against AT&T's network.
As with all of AT&T's HSPA+ devices, 4G speeds just aren't realistically achievable where we've been testing – which is throughout most of the San Francisco Bay Area.
In all of our speed tests, we had only one result in excess of 4Mbps, and an average of 1.8Mbps.
1.8Mbps is still a decent result when it comes to basic web browsing, but don't expect to do much video streaming.
Web browsing, search, and navigation are exactly as they are in the Focus S.
We're still very happy with the Internet Explorer browser, the integrated Bing search features are just as effective, and navigation still has a lot of room for improvement.
Apart from the screen size, the camera is one of the biggest differences between the Samsung Focus Flash and the Focus S.
Compared to the Focus S' top tier 8MP camera module, the 5MP sensor found in the Flash may seem a little dinky.
Despite the weaker specs, the Focus Flash can still take a decent picture, high enough quality for use as a text message or uploading to your Facebook account, which is the primary use for a smartphone camera anyway.
Side-by-side, the Flash's photos do pale a bit in comparison to the Focus S' photos. Overall, the Flash's photos don't come out quite as crisp and the color temperature tends to lean on the cooler side. Going into the camera settings reveals even more differences between the two models. The Focus S has a handful of extra options, such as additional Image Effects, Anti-shaking, and Wide Dynamic Range.
Both cameras have trouble performing well in low light, but where the Focus S would seem to wash out details with its flash, the Focus Flash doesn't quite flash bright enough to adequately light the scene.
Like all WP7 devices, the Focus Flash has a two-stage dedicated camera button – half press for focus, full press to snap a photo. Holding the camera button also acts as a shortcut to the camera app. The front facing camera is also a step down from what the Focus S has to offer.
The Focus Flash is only capable of VGA resolution photos (about 0.3MP), while the S has a 1.3MP sensor, though the actual quality difference between the two is hard to distinguish – both being pretty low quality.
Without Wide Dynamic Range, you have no manual control over details in shots like this.
The Focus Flash's macro shots don't seem to show as much depth as the Focus S.
Even with good lighting, images come out slightly grainy.
Using the flash helps in low light, but it won't fill the entire scene.
Even though the image sensor is significantly lower resolution, the Samsung Focus Flash is just as capable at shooting 720p video as the Focus S.
As long as you have adequate natural lighting, the Focus Flash has no trouble keeping up with its high-end brother in terms of quality. Its only real fault is a slightly cold shifted color production.
Once lighting starts to fade, you'll find that the Focus Flash starts to get a bit grainy. The same happens with the Focus S, but it's slightly more tolerant of low light.
The Flash also suffers from the same oddities in that it doesn't allow zooming while recording and it defaults to VGA resolution instead of 720p. This behavior seems to be standard amongst WP7 devices.
As an entry-level smartphone with 720p recording, the Focus Flash stands out as a solid contender against other WP7 phones.
Media, Battery, and Maps and Apps
Apart from its smaller screen, the Samsung Focus Flash is a very capable multimedia device. Compared to the Focus S, it offers all of the same apps and features for video and music playback.
Most of the multimedia function is handled through the Microsoft Zune platform which offers a music store, FM radio, and of course Zune Music Pass for MP3 streaming.
The Flash's smaller size makes it well suited as an MP3 player; however, its 8GB of total storage does not.
You'll likely want some sort of streaming service if you plan on getting series with your tunes.
The Flash also has SmartDJ for building quick playlists and Bing Music Search for easily identifying and purchasing songs, both function just as they do with the Focus S.
As for video playback, the Flash supports the same limited list of file formats as its big brother, accompanied with the same headache associated with the Zune software, but it also excels just as well at HD playback of supported formats.
The Super AMOLED Plus display is vivid and features great contrast ratios, but if watching videos is your thing, you'll probably want to consider a larger device.
Battery life and connectivity
While the 1500mAh battery in the Samsung Focus Flash is a tiny bit smaller than the battery in the Focus S, the smaller display allows for very similar battery life.
At first, we were surprised that we were getting roughly 14 hours of battery life while the phone was primarily left in standby mode – pretty appalling. We eventually found that the culprit was a poor cell connection.
Because the antenna is slightly weaker and we were using the phone on the edge of a coverage zone, the connection constantly had to be reestablished, quickly draining the battery.
Simply moving the phone a few feet was enough to keep a solid connection, allowing us to achieve battery life pretty much identical to the Focus S.
Apart from the minor reception issue, overall connectivity is similar to the Focus S. Bluetooth 2.1, A-GPS, FM radio (using the stereo cable as an antenna), and Wireless B/G/N are all included. WiFi sharing is also possible.
Our WiFi test maxed out the speed test server.
Unlike the Focus S, however, the Flash only has a 2.4GHz wireless radio. The 5.0GHz band certainly isn't a requirement these days, but considering the growing congestion on 2.4GHz connections, it could be very useful in the not so distant future.
Bluetooth file sharing is still an impossibility with WP7, which is unfortunate, but the Zune software does allow for syncing over your wireless network to make up for the inconvenience.
One of the biggest disappointments is, once again, AT&T's network. While the Focus Flash is a 4G HSPA+ device capable of 21Mbps (just like the Focus S), we only averaged 1.8Mbps in our speed tests.
The max speed we reached was 4.2Mbps – the only time we broke 2Mbps.
AT&T is known to be problematic in the San Francisco Bay Area, so these speed issues may not be relevant in your area. 4G LTE, though harder on the battery, could be the remedy we're looking for. If only the Flash were an LTE device.
Maps and apps
For apps, the Samsung Focus Flash makes use of the WP7 Marketplace, which really hasn't changed at all since our Focus S review. Since that review, the market has grown by about 10,000 apps, putting it at a total of 83,000.
Microsoft Office comes included, of course, and Xbox Live offers a slowly growing game library. This is something that will be consistent among all WP7 devices.
The same holds true for maps and navigation. Microsoft has done very well in getting it half right, and half wrong.
Location searches and even directions are a breeze thanks to Local Scout, but navigation is still a mess. Unless you have a passenger to help you navigate the navigation app, it's best not to rely solely on the Flash for turn-by-turn directions.
The Samsung Focus Flash is essentially a Focus S in a smaller package. It represents an excellent value (Free with two-year agreement) amongst AT&T WP7 phones and brings high-end performance to an entry-level device.
Of course the Flash does cut a few corners to keep its costs down. It features only 8GB of storage instead of 16GB, and the 5MP camera lacks many of the options found with the 8MP module on the Focus S.
The 1.4GHz processor is the same Snapdragon processor found in high-end WP7 phones.
Though on the smaller side, the display is still WVGA and Super AMOLED Plus which gives a crisp, vivid image.
It is compact yet manages to stay relatively feature packed. If cost is a concern, it's tough to argue with Free!
8GB of storage (with only 6.6GB user accessible) is a travesty that's made worse by the lack of an expandable storage slot.
Cellular signal strength appears slightly weaker than other smartphones.
HSPA+ 4G is underwhelming on AT&T's network and made worse by the fact that AT&T is switching to LTE.
The 5MP camera isn't exactly bad, but don't expect to be impressed.
If you absolutely have to have a WP7 phone, and it has to be free, the Focus Flash is the best AT&T has to offer. Just know that you'll be limited in storage space, and don't expect it to replace a real digital camera.
The Flash is also a great MP3 device, so long as you don't plan on carrying more than 6GB of music. It's not a great choice for video, though. There just isn't enough storage space for HD content, and you'd likely prefer a larger screen.
As great of a value as the Flash is, the Nokia Lumia 900 certainly challenges that spot. It costs a bit more, but doesn't cut any corners.