2011-11-17-171

Samsung Focus Flash/Omnia W Review

When many people see Windows Phone devices, the first thing they say is Wow that’s a nice phone but it looks really expensive. To assuage that belief, Microsoft promised to release Windows Phones devices at diverse price points to broaden the Windows Phone experience (aka cheap and expensive phones on major carriers). One of the devices apart of Microsoft’s new strategy is the Samsung Focus Flash, the third Samsung device offered on AT&T and other networks worldwide. But in exchange for that cheaper price, is the customer getting shafted with an inferior experience to the likes of Mr. Green Roboto? We hope to answer that question in our review of the Samsung Focus Flash, the little brother to the gigantic Samsung Focus and the Samsung Focus S.

Hardware

Would not know the phone is made of plastic on first glance
As strange as this is about to sound, the Samsung Focus Flash is built like a very old HTC/Sony collaboration (does the Sony Xperia X1 ring a bell). The device, while made of plastic, has a very professional feel to it. In part, this is due to the brushed back, which may not be metallic, gives the device a premium feeling. Uniquely, the sides of the device, in comparison to the Samsung Focus S, are less rounded in appearance and have a square-like shape. The design choice may be a catch 22; while it definitely makes the device stand out, the edges can be a bit painful after prolonged holding in a horizontal orientation. Still, one must be impressed with how the phone has a premium feel to it, despite its plastic chassis.

The front of the device sports a front facing camera to the upper right corner of the device. To the bottom of the front lies the three standard Windows Phone buttons. Unlike the other Samsung Focus brethren, the Samsung Focus Flash has an actual start button made of clear plastic that is also recessed to minimize accidental keypresses. In addition, pressing the start button turns on the device, which can be a good thing if you don’t feel like pressing the on button. On the left of the device lies a pretty sturdy volume rocker, which takes a bit more pressure to increase/decrease volume versus the Samsung Focus S. To the top of the device lies the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack. To the bottom of the device lies the standard micro-usb port for charging and syncing with Zune. On the right of the device lies the power button and the dedicated camera button. Much like the volume rocker, the power and camera buttons require a bit more force to enable or disable in comparison to the Samsung Focus S. The buttons aren’t necessarily as recessed and are easily spotted for many users. One thing that we enjoyed was the buttons weren’t cheap feeling like the Samsung Focus S or recessed like the Samsung Focus.

Turning the device on the back reveals the speaker and the 5 MP camera with a single led flash. The 5 MP camera, which was once considered the "premium" option for Windows Phones, is relegated to a cheaper status in the current Windows chassis specifications. Now what is interesting about the Sammy Flash is the quality of the back cover. Unlike the Samsung Focus S that has a relatively cheap back cover with a raised bump design, the Focus Flash offers a long piece of plastic that surrounds a considerable amount of the back. The back cover does not curve around to surround the volume rocker like in the HTC Titan, but still the Samsung Focus Flash back cover takes a lot of room and engulfs a considerable portion of the back. The brush finish definitely makes the device look nice.

The device is a lot of things, but it is not a light device in any stretch of the imagination. The Samsung Focus Flash feels considerably heavier than the Samsung Focus S despite the Samsung Focus S being considerably larger. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At times, the Samsung Focus S was so light, I forgot I even had it. But with the Samsung Focus Flash, you feel the bump in the pocket and you won’t freak frantically looking for the device. The heft and design of the device makes it stand out; almost demanding that a user pays attention to the Samsung Focus Flash. Typing with such a uniquely designed device is an interesting experience for a variety of reasons. Unlike the ergonomically designed Samsung Focus S, the edges of the Focus Flash will become a bit bothersome after a while. Unless you’re typing a paper of amazing proportions or a very long text message, chances are you may not really feel the corners of the device hitting you unless you are holding on to the device for dear life.

Display

Super AMOLED never looked so bright
Unlike previous Samsung Windows Phone devices, the Samsung Focus Flash sports a 3.7 inch Super AMOLED display with a 800×480 screen resolution. Unfortunately, the screen offers a pentile matrix subpixel arrangement. For those of you that don’t know, a pentile matrix offers about 768,000 subpixels while the Super AMOLED Plus display offers 1,152,000 subpixels. While the color banding issue has been solved in Mango and requires developers to update their programs to disable strange color banding issues, users won’t get the wild array of colors that the Samsung Focus S offers.

Despite not getting the wide array of color depth and pixel density that the Focus S offers, the Focus Flash is no slouch because it is using Super AMOLED. Where it beats the Samsung Focus S is in its brightness. Enabling or disabling auto display intensity in the extra settings on the Samsung Focus S does very little for the device to catch up to the automatic brightness of the Samsung Focus Flash. It made us scratch our heads to ponder why the "runt" of Samsung’s family shines ever so bright compared to its more expensive brother.

If a user has an issue with pentile matrix subpixel arrangement, then chances are this device won’t be in your future because of the limitations of the Super AMOLED display. But if viewing angles matter, as does a bright screen, this device is the one for you. Plain and simple, the viewing angles, brightness of the screen, and the overall size (at 3.7 inches) is very natural. Coming from a 4.3, 4.1, or 4.7 inch screen didn’t decrease the experience. Typing is a breeze, viewing content is a breeze due to the great viewing angles. The Flash also has a better pixel density versus the Samsung Focus S, giving some very sharp results. The screen technology may not be a spectacular, but it is something I would recommend in a heartbeat!

Camera

Images should never be this cold and lifeless
The Samsung Focus Flash offers a 5 MP camera and a front facing camera. I won’t mince words here. If there is ever a reason why the Focus Flash is considerably cheaper, one reason lies in the camera. Before explaining the quality of the camera, there are some good things the camera performed well at versus the Samsung Focus S. The major aspect that the Flash outperforms the S in is the white balance. Indoors or out, the white balance on automatic is almost top of the class in several shots. The flash on the Focus Flash didn’t result in many issues or over exposure in indoor settings like the Samsung Focus S, which is also a good thing. Finally, the same tap to focus on many Windows Phones taps on a specific object in the image and the focus isn’t just center weighted. All of these aspects were a joy to use.

What we didn’t enjoy was the lackluster performance of the camera. Samsung cut out a few key features that made the Samsung Focus and the Samsung Focus S a fantastic camera. One of those features include the anti-shake. With no anti-shake, the user is required to hold the camera a certain way, without shaking, to take a non blurry image. For many aficionados, that’s not an issue, but for some it can present a few issues. One of the largest complaints about Windows Phone was the camera, and the Samsung Focus saved many from those woes by providing antishake. It definitely makes a big difference in taking an image under optimum conditions.

So, how did the images fare? Surprisingly lackluster. The colors looked washed out and unnatural, the antishake feature that yields a sharper and more precise image was missing, resulting in blurry images. Unlike the Samsung Focus S which took great photos in natural settings, the Flash just doesn’t have that quality in imaging. Which is a shame considering the emphasis on camera performance Samsung prides itself on.

The Focus Flash has 2 recording settings: 720P and VGA. The VGA recording on the Focus Flash was not bad, often with much sharper video and adequate moment without jerkiness in playback. Despite the sharper video, the quality wasn’t that great. The 720P video recording was sadly worse often the quality of the video being extremely grainy. If that weren’t enough, the playback is absolutely horrible and in many ways beating the Dell Venue Pro for worst 720P video recording and rendering. In a head to head, the VGA output performed better than 720P, but in terms of video quality, you may want to keep your dedicated camera on hand. The Focus Flash is a camera you should avoid because of the lackluster shots and mediocre recording versus the Focus S and the original Focus.

Performance

Fast, but aching for more than 8 GB of storage
If you’ve taken a look at our review of the Focus S, there isn’t much more to say. You get the same next gen 1.4 GHz snapdragon single core processor, but it runs smooth as butter in performing tasks. Period. This is where Windows Phone will always shine and I don’t think anyone would argue that. Metro is stylish, pleasing and definitely something users should try.

Despite the buttery smooth performance, if you expect to perform a lot of tasks on the device, don’t. In part, this is due to the storage limitations of 8 GB. Samsung undoubtedly had to make another concession to drive the price point. Unlike Mr. Green Roboto, there is no option to expand the storage. So users are stuck with 8 GB of onboard storage, and that’s it. Don’t expect to take your full audio/video catalog or to load several different mapping solutions. But for not so memory heavy tasks and light music listening, any user should be alright with that.

Battery

One night charge, two days later, back on the charger it went
The Samsung Focus Flash offers a Super AMOLED display that is extremely bright. We expected the device battery to be relatively short given its price point and brightness of the display. But color us shocked, for the power that the Focus Flash provided, we got almost 2 and a half days over wifi with heavy usage, and about a day and 10 hours after heavy usage and automatic brightness. For any smart phone, that’s impressive! Samsung, excellent job on the battery life.

Wireless

While call quality could be improved, wifi connection was great
Unlike the Samsung Focus S, the Samsung Focus Flash had mediocre call quality. On the plus side, not a single dropped call. But on the negative side, the volume seemed extremely low, the phone had a humming noise that were heard on both ends of the conversation, and there was a high pitched sound to some calls. The faux g speeds that are touted to bring speeds up to 14.4 MBPS didn’t get above 2.5 MBPS in a 4g area in Chicago. Understandably, the issues can be attributed to AT&T and not indicative of the phone itself. But the experience on cellular radio was mediocre; almost bordering on horrible.

But the Focus Flash had one of the most consistent wifi connections I’ve ever used in a Windows Phone. No matter where I walked in my home, the connection didn’t drop. A few meters away from my house, and I was still connected to my wifi. This is something I couldn’t do with the Samsung Focus S and that was considered the "premium". Go fig.

Final Thoughts

It’s not a premium smartphone, but I would definitely consider it
Throughout the review, constant comparisons were made between the Samsung Focus Flash and the Samsung Focus/S line of devices. In many ways, it is almost impossible not to compare the Focus family of devices. But that quality hurts the Focus Flash because it makes the device lack a unique identity in comparison to its 4-inch brethren. But that couldn’t be any further from the truth. There were a lot of things we enjoyed about the device that makes it one of the better Windows Phones out there. Yes, there is a 3.7 inch screen and it’s only Super AMOLED, and yes there is only 8GB of onboard storage. Topped that with the mediocre camera performance, what makes the device special?

One thing that makes the device special is the pixel density. The pixel density makes for a sharp viewing experience. In my eyes, it makes metro really look fascinating and on par with the Super AMOLED plus display without the foibles the Samsung Focus S had. There is no concession for performance because the device is clocked at 1.4 GHz, like the Samsung Focus S. And the price is fantastic – $49.99 on a new 2 year contract with AT&T and a penny on Amazon Wireless! If anything, this is the best priced device you can get on the market. If camera and storage isn’t what you need in a smart phone, consider this being the top of the proverbial heap. Definitely try this device out. We were far more excited about this than the Samsung Focus S. I suppose pricing is a huge reason, but you decide.

What we loved

  • Design
  • Performance
  • Viewing angles
  • Battery life

What we hated

  • Mediocre camera with subpar 720p recording
  • Storage

Bottom line

If you are on a budget and need a phone that just works, get the Focus Flash if you’re on AT&T. It’s hard to be disappointed with the device even with its shortcoings

7.0/10