Samsung Focus 2 review: Taking it easy
Windows Phone Mango behind the wheel
The Samsung Focus 2 runs Windows Phone Mango - the proverbial puberty of an OS that feels more mature now but not quite there yet.
Check out our short video demonstration of the Samsung Focus 2 user interface.
Pushing the unlock button reveals the lock screen, which displays the current time and date and shows calendar events, emails and missed calls. The background of the lock screen can be changed from either the settings menu or the picture gallery.
Swiping the lockscreen up unlocks the device and reveals the live-tile Metro user interface. It's a very stylish vertical grid of Live tiles that can be rearranged as you like. You can place almost anything in the grid by selecting the Pin to start option.
It's a clean and simple interface. The Live tiles display information such as the current date, pending calendar events, missed calls, unread emails and more, all without the need to open up any of the respective applications. The Pictures tile shows an animated slideshow of your images. The Group tile lists friend updates. You can look at them as homescreen widgets of sorts. But that's oversimplifying them.
A swipe to the left on the main homescreen opens up the application list or main menu. It offers a virtual Search button, which makes finding apps easier for those with many apps installed. Alternatively, you can just swipe the screen up and down to find what you're looking for. Tapping and holding on any of the apps lets you pin the selected item to the homescreen.
To open up the task manager on Windows Phone you have to hold the back button. Currently the WP7 task manager is nothing more than an app switcher displaying all of your currently opened apps. Visually it looks similar to that of Symbian or WebOS: thumbnail snapshots of the apps, ordered chronologically left to right. You can swipe through them and pick whichever you're looking for. You can't directly close apps but by opening an app and then hitting the back button you'll affectively achieve just that.
There are always around 5-6 recent apps in the app switcher. Opening new ones clears out the old, so you'll practically never find yourself in a situation where you'll need to scroll through pages to find your desired app.
Much like on iOS some apps have multitasking support and other don't, meaning that if an app supports it, once reopened it will continue from where you've paused it. If it doesn't support multitasking it will restart or reset itself and start from the beginning. Many people dislike this way of doing things but the main focus of the method is improved battery life and UI performance, which seems logical on an OS that supports single core chips only.
Multitasking can be disabled from the settings to save battery. There you'll also find a list of all installed apps that support multitasking.
Opening the settings menu reveals two sets of options - system and applications. System covers all the settings you can think of like sounds, color theme, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Accounts, etc. The Applications settings enables you to configure individual settings for each app installed on the device - the People hub, Phone, Maps and more.
As you can't set wallpapers on Windows Phone the only visual setting that is configurable is the color theme of your UI. There are around 7 preloaded colors and two themes - dark and light. Some manufacturers have created their own theme, like the HTC green for example. We advise to keep the theme dark as it does provide better battery life due to the fact that Super AMOLED's don't require battery juice to display blacks.
Windows Phone can be controlled through voice only - you can dictate a text, have the phone read out the reply, you can initiate searches and so on. Other OSes are doing it too (*cough*Android*cough*) but voice commands via Siri is a big bragging right of iOS (and a loudly touted one at that), so WP7.5 can brag about them too.
People Hub as a phonebook
The People hub on Windows Phone acts as a one stop shop for your contacts and social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You have a scrollable list of all your contacts as well as a dedicated grid of letters for quick jump to any of your contacts. The What's new tab that aggregates status updates from all contacts and the Recent tab lists only recently viewed contacts.
When viewing a contact's profile, you get everything from call, text, send email, write on wall, mention on Twitter and so on. The contact photo, along with its latest status update is visible on top. You also get specific contact's Facebook albums if you've linked it.
The most interesting addition is the new History tab. The complete history of exchange with a contact is in one place listed by day. Everything but status updates is listed here - calls, texts (actually threads from the Messaging hub) and emails.
One of the new features of the hub is Groups, a handy way to organize your contacts, with "text everyone" and "email everyone" features. All the status updates from the grouped contacts are pulled in from their various social networks, and you get access to their online photo albums too. Adding contacts to any group, renaming a group and so forth is enabled too.
The Me card is your own profile. From here you can post status updates, set chat status, check into locations (there's more location goodness coming on later). You can also change your profile picture (only for Facebook and Live though, not Twitter).
Another tab in the Me card lets you view notifications (e.g. Twitter mentions) and, finally, What's new lets you view your own status updates.
The People hub is present in the Phone app too. It takes the form of a contacts tab but only instead of contacts, you have people with profiles - a term taken right out of social networking.
The first screen of the People hub shows you a list of all your contacts (phone contacts, social network friends, email pen friends - everything), with a search shortcut and an add contact button.
Contacts are ordered alphabetically, indexed with colored squares with a letter. You can tap any one of those letters boxes and the screen shows you the whole alphabet highlighting the letters actually in use. You can tap a letter to scroll to that part of the list.
Contacts can be sorted by either first name or last and they can be displayed as "First Last" or "Last, First" (the two settings are separate), you can also include or exclude Facebook friends, import only Facebook contacts that have a phone number and add several accounts to sync with.
Swiping to the side shows only new events from all contacts from social networks. Another swipe shows the recently called contacts. Instead of favorites, you can pin a contact to the homescreen.
Viewing a contact's profile shows the contact photo. Below that there are actions - "call mobile", "text mobile", "write on wall", "view website" and so on. Below each actions, in smaller type and grey or blue letters, are the target for the action (e.g. phone number, email, site URL) and where that info came from (Google, Facebook, etc.).