Samsung Focus 2

The Samsung Focus 2 is a cheaper alternative to range-topping Windows phones like the Nokia Lumia 900. It sports the same Mango 7.5 operating system and high-concept Metro user interface, but is available in the US for free on a 24-month $49.99 contract - that’s half the price of the Lumia 900.

And to be honest, there are areas in which it falls short of the Nokia. While the Lumia 900 is clad in a beautiful polycarbonate unibody shell, the Focus 2 features a standard white plastic body that screams “seen it before”; the Nokia features 16GB of storage to the Samsung’s 8GB, and an 8-megapixel camera to its 5-megapixel snapper.

Giving the Lumia 900 a run for its money

After stepping aside from design and specs for a moment and actually using the Focus 2, we found it to be a truly impressive performer. For starters, it features the same 1.4GHz processor and the same Adreno GPU as the Lumia 900, which enable it to zip through Metro’s menu screens and display 3D visuals with nary a stutter.

And the screen, while a tiny bit smaller than the 900’s - 4- as opposed to 4.3-inches - sports the same 800 x 480 resolution and similar AMOLED technology. It’s a lovely display, bursting with rich colour, deep blacks and fine detail. Angry Birds looks a glorious treat here, as do videos and, well, just the general Metro interface in general, with its colourful live tiles constantly changing.

The Focus 2 also supports LTE data (aka “proper 4G”) in selected cities in the US, just like the Nokia Lumia 900. This gives it download speeds, at least in theory, of up to 10 times faster than 3G.

Music playback is also above average. Hooking up a pair of B&W C5 headphones, we liked the Focus 2’s Zune Player performance with both quiet, acoustic material and bass-heavy hip hop.

Camera

The camera features a 5-megapixel sensor, LED flash and autofocus, and is able to capture 720p HD videos. While it delivers some good results when the conditions are fine (outdoors, sunny day etc.) we were a tad disappointed overall with the slightly muted colours in both stills and video, weak flash and grainy noise in lower light conditions.

There’s also a front-facing camera for video calls, as well as a dedicated camera button on the side - which is always a welcome touch.

Windows Phone 7

We won’t go into too much detail about the Windows Phone OS as, well, we’ve done so on other Windows Phone reviews and the Samsung Focus 2’s implementation is pretty much identical to those. The OS is stable, attractive and easy to use - but lacks the customisable nature of Android and the sheer number of apps available to iOS.

Battery life

Finally, a word about the battery. Unlike the sealed-in battery of the Lumia 900, the Focus 2’s battery is fully accessible by prying off the back cover. It’s 1750mAh and will provide up to six hours of talk time, which is great - but as with most smartphones you’ll probably find yourself needing to top it up on a daily basis, particularly if like us you’re an avid app user.

Verdict

While the Samsung Focus 2 may appear to be just another mid-to-high level smartphone, it’s actually an impressive Windows Phone 7 handset that gives the pricier Nokia Lumia 900 a run for its money.

Don’t take that to mean it’s as good as the 900 - the 8GB of non-upgradeable storage is disappointing, the design is dull and the camera is distinctly average here - but if you want the Windows 7 OS alongside a great screen and speedy performance, the Focus 2 delivers.

LTE is a huge draw too - provided you live somewhere where it works! In short, we like what Samsung has done with the Focus 2, and it’s a worthy alternative to Nokia’s Windows smartphones.