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Review: Samsung Focus i917

I recently received a Samsung Focus i917 handset shipped from overseas (it’s not available through official Samsung distribution channels in NZ at this time). I’d heard lots about this handset at it had been talked up by a lot of Windows Phone enthusiasts in the U.S. – with some picking it out as the best smartphone on the market today. In short, I have to agree – this is a stunning phone with expansion up to 40gb storage.

The phone carries AT&T branding and is only available in NZ via parallel import and mail order type channels.

 Samsung Focus i917-Cetus

Features include:

  • 4" Display
  • 5mp Still Camera
  • 720p HD Video Camera
  • LED Flash
  • 8gb Storage (expandable to 40gb), 1024mb ROM, 512mb RAM
  • 1ghz CPU
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n)
  • 3.5mm stereo audio jack
  • MicroUSB connector
  • Weight: 115 grams (4.05 ounces)
  • Size: 64.3mm x 10mm x 124mm (2.53" x 0.39" x 4.88")
  • Standard Windows Phone 7 hardware features: GPS, G-Sensor, Digital compass, Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor
  • Standard Windows Phone 7 software features: Synchronisation of email/contacts/calendar (Exchange, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, etc), Zune Music/Video/Podcast Hub, Xbox Live, Internet Explorer, Maps app, Facebook Integration, Pictures Hub, People Hub, fully upgradable OS.
  • Bundled Samsung Exclusive Apps: Samsung Now, Samsung Photo Sharing, Photogram, Photo Studio, DioDict with Collins Dictionary, Network Profile. Note there are also some AT&T specific Apps such as AT&T Navigator (full turn-by-turn GPS navigation with voice prompting) however this is not usable outside North America.
  • Chassis Type: 1

This is truly a stunning handset, with decent battery life. Thanks to the new Windows Phone 7 software and fast CPU it is very easy to use and feels smooth and slick, and the home screen with 'Live Tiles' and hub access is outstanding. When compared with competitive offerings featuring Google Android or Apple iOS (iPhone) it represents extremely good value for money.

The key areas where the Samsung Focus stands out compared to other Windows Phone 7 handsets in NZ is the storage expandability (great for loads of photos, music, podcasts, video), the deliciously bright AMOLED screen and the thickness/weight (or lack thereof).

Like the iPhone – Windows Phone 7 was designed with fixed storage in mind. I have upgraded my handset to 24gb and it seems reliable to-date however I would prefer to be running an official ‘Windows Phone 7 certified’ storage upgrade. Refer to my article on the topic of Windows Phone 7 MicroSD storage upgrades.

On the topic of data usage and running costs – that is one area where the Windows Phone 7 has a few advantages to other platforms. When used for business email (Exchange Server) compared to Blackberry and iPhone we have found it to be considerably cheaper to operate – in my office environment 3mb/day or around $10/month is common. There is less flexibility in data sync settings when compared to Windows Mobile 6.5 so roaming costs can be higher than Blackberry or Windows Mobile 6.5, but lower than iPhone. I am in the process of preparing an article about this topic due to be published soon.

There are a number of software improvements that would be great to see - however we expect to see an update from Microsoft within the next few weeks that will address some complaints such as the lack of copy and paste. Overall however, this is my favourite smartphone currently (it’s taken the place of the HTC HD7 which was favourite until this arrived). The main downside is that you can’t just walk into an NZ Telco or major retailer and grab one. In addition I'm that there is no way to configure MMS for the local NZ networks so far (thanks to @tech_whizard for the tipoff).

Official Network: None

Best Network: Telecom NZ (XT Network)

Compatible Networks: Telecom NZ (XT Network), Vodafone NZ, 2degrees

NZ Price: approx $840 - $1040

Rating (as at 31 January 2011): 5/5

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