Samsung's latest Windows Phone device has two key things going for it: slick looks and a low $50 price tag. Photo by Ariel Zambelich/Wired
Nokia has committed wholly to the Windows Phone platform with its flagship Lumia line, but it isn’t the only manufacturer investing in Microsoft’s mobile OS. Samsung’s new Focus 2 is the company’s fourth Windows Phone device, and it’s a smartphone worth your attention.
Unlike the company’s Android devices, Samsung’s latest Windows Phone isn’t aimed at the upper echelons of the smartphone market. It’s the kind of device that will appeal to first-time buyers and seasoned consumers looking for a good deal.
And this is a really good deal. At $50 with a two-year AT&T contract, the Focus 2 is a bargain. That’s only half the price of the Lumia 900, and a third of the cost of HTC’s Titan II, even though all three phones run on the same AT&T 4G LTE network. And since the Windows Phone platform is consistent across the devices — you’ll see a few pre-loaded manufacturer and carrier apps, but not much else — you’re not sacrificing much software experience with the low price tag. The Samsung Focus 2 was just as quick and responsive as any other Windows Phone Mango device I’ve used.
Having access to AT&T’s 4G network is also a big plus. While I was using it in the downtown San Francisco area, I consistently had between three and five out of five bars. And all of my calls sounded clear and and sharp.
Of course, just because the software is consistent, that doesn’t mean all Windows Phone devices are alike. The hardware design, camera quality, display, and battery life are just a few of the important features where these smartphones can dramatically differ.
Dangerous curves. Photo by Ariel Zambelich/Wired
If you’ve ever seen or used the Samsung Focus, then the Focus 2 will look familiar. Instead of the hard edges Samsung employed in its last Windows Phone, the Focus Flash, the company has returned to the rounded corners of the original Focus and opted to further smooth and round out its edges. The curves on the back of the device are reminiscent of the iPhone 3GS. I got into the habit of turning the phone over again and again in my hand, just because I liked the smoothness of it.
The Samsung Focus 2 gets you access to AT&T’s 4G LTE in a compact, appealing, and most importantly, cheap device.
In terms of size, the Focus 2 is the tiniest bit shorter and narrower than the original Focus, but also a little thicker — it’s 4.79 x 2.47 x 0.43 inches, while the original Samsung Focus measures 4.84 x 2.56 x 0.39 inches. The extra thickness gives the Focus 2 some weight over the Focus, at 4.3 ounces compared to 4.1 ounces. It’s not much of a difference, but one of the first things I noticed when I picked up the Focus 2 was that it felt heavier than its predecessor — and in a good way.
Still, regular plastic just isn’t as strong or sturdy as polycarbonate, so the Samsung Focus 2 does feel rather cheap when compared to the Nokia Lumia 900. But it’s a tradeoff that might be worth it for those who want a compact and light phone that can easily fit in a skinny jean pocket.
As for camera quality, the Focus 2 is just average. You get a camera shutter button — standard, but much appreciated, in Windows Phone devices. The phone sports a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash on the back, and a front-facing VGA-quality camera (a feature missing from the original Focus). Photos are easy to take in daylight, and if you play around with the settings — adjusting the sharpness, saturation level, white balance, ISO, and contrast just right — you can get a decent low-light shot as well. Still, results are not even close to as nice as iPhone 4S shots, and aren’t quite as good as photos taken with the Nokia Lumia 900′s 8-megapixel camera.
The camera isn't fantastic, but it's actually pretty good for an entry-level phone. Photo by Ariel Zambelich/Wired
The phone’s 4-inch 800- by 480-pixel Super AMOLED display is on par with other Windows Phone devices. My only complaint is that it never got quite bright enough. Even the highest brightness option looked lackluster, and was noticeably less bright next to the original Focus and the Nokia Lumia 900.
A few other drawbacks with the Samsung Focus 2: It comes only in white with silver trim, it has just 8GB of storage and no MicroSD card slot for extra storage, and it comes with a single-core Qualcomm MSM8255 1.4GHz processor — something that didn’t noticeably affect the phone’s performance, but is behind the dual-core times.
The Samsung Focus 2 gets you access to AT&T’s 4G LTE in a compact, appealing, and most importantly, cheap device. Don’t get me wrong, this definitely isn’t a better phone than the Nokia Lumia 900. It doesn’t have the same curb appeal and falls short in comparative specs like the onboard camera and available storage. But if you’re looking for an affordable, entry-level smartphone and are curious about the Windows Phone platform, the Samsung Focus 2 is a good choice.
WIRED Very affordable. Slick and compact design. Good call quality. Camera is not bad for a $50 phone.
TIRED Display doesn’t get bright enough. Only 8GB of storage without the option to expand. Comes only in white.