Windows Phone 7 Showdown: LG Quantum vs Samsung Focus

Microsoft is in the middle of a comeback in the mobile world, and it’s on fire. The tech giant has committed to throwing enough money and effort at its brand new Windows Phone 7 OS until something sticks, hopefully taking enough market share away from Apple and Google to make it worth it. And it’s got help, too, having recruited a few willing companies to be the heavy-hitting introductory chapter in Microsoft’s newest book. The question is, do they hit grounders, doubles, or home runs? Also, which ones should you put your hard-earned money into?

As of this writing, only 5 phones in the US run on Windows Phone 7: 3 on AT&T, and 2 on T-Mobile. I’ve had the opportunity to review 2 of these, the Samsung Focus and LG Quantum. I concluded that both were excellent phones in various ways, and both are the same cost. So it’s natural to wonder which one is the best.

So let the showdown begin: the full keyboard-packing LG Quantum vs. the Super AMOLED screen real estate king, the Samsung Focus. In this showdown I will go through several categories, deciding on a victor in each one. Since Microsoft has enforced several limitations and restrictions on what can and can’t be done with its OS, these two phones have had to differentiate themselves in other ways, so I will be judging those categories in which they have power to be different in. These will mainly be related to hardware, design, and apps. So let the games begin, and let’s see which phone will win the most categories!

Hardware

Screen Size/Type

The Quantum features a 3.5” capacitive TFT screen that has a WVGA resolution of 480×800 pixels. The screen, at its brightest setting, is very easy to see and read, even in direct sunlight. It’s also one of the most responsive screens we’ve used in a smartphone. A screen of this size is not huge, but is not small either. It seems to fit well with the overall feel and design of the phone, because if the phone were built any larger than it already is, it would be too bulky to handle comfortably. My only frustration was that due to the size of the screen, the on-screen keyboard was too compact for me to use without numerous typing errors. While it’s true the Quantum has a full landscape QWERTY keyboard, there are just some times when it’s easier to use the portrait on-screen keyboard without sliding open the physical one.

The Focus doesn’t have a physical keyboard, so it makes up for the loss in terms of overall screen size and tech. Featuring a top of the line 4” Super AMOLED screen with incredibly rich and deep vibrant colors, it really is hard to beat. It uses the same WVGA resolution as the Quantum and expounds on it with the Super AMOLED’s ability to provide superb visual quality in pictures and videos, as well as the simple stuff like apps and messages. It also uses ultra-thin parts and is battery efficient, helping the Focus become one of the thinnest phones with the best battery life you’ll find on a smartphone. You can even view the Focus at virtually any angle you want without the image becoming fuzzy or distorted.

Winner: Focus. While both screens are incredibly responsive and bright enough to see without incident, it’s hard to beat the exclusive technology Samsung has brought to some of its top of the line phones with the Super AMOLED.

Phone Dimensions and Materials

There are pros and cons for each phone. On the Quantum, the biggest concern is weight at 6.21 oz, compared to the Focus at 4.07. It’s also thicker due to the keyboard, at 15 mm vs. 10 mm on the Focus. However, the Quantum is also a much more solid phone with its soft rubbery exterior and metallic back, making you feel like it’s a lot more durable and robust than the plasticky material on the Focus.

Winner: It’s a tie. While the Focus is a much sleeker and sexier looking phone that happens to be thinner and lightweight, it’s also fragile and you don’t feel like you can carry it around unless you use a protective case, thus making it thicker and defeating the purpose of having a super thin phone.

CPU/RAM

This one is a hard one to disagree with; both phones have 1 GHz CPU built in, but the Focus has 512 MB RAM inside, compared to the 256 MB RAM in the Quantum.

Winner: The Focus, by a slight margin.

Memory

Another area in which the two phones differ largely is in internal storage space. The Focus offers a mere 8 GB space, whereas the Quantum gives you 16 GB. If it were limited to just internal memory alone (that’s how Microsoft would want it as well), the Quantum wins by a landslide. But there’s the sneaky issue with the Focus and the weird MicroSD card slot. It’s technically usable, but is strongly discouraged by AT&T, Samsung and Microsoft together because no MicroSD currently in production can support the technical speeds that the WP7 OS requires. As it appears, some incompatible cards being used have been known to crash the Focus or cause a significant loss in responsiveness and productivity. New cards are supposedly on the way, but until this happens, use only the 8 GB that it comes with.

Winner: The Quantum, at least for now (and maybe for a long time). This may depend greatly on whether proper Microsoft-certified MicroSD cards can be made for the Focus, and if so, when this will occur.

Battery Size

Both phones have the same battery size and type, both Lithium Ion batteries using 1500 mAh.

The Winner: It’s a tie. Battery life, however, is a different story that will covered in a later category in this showdown.

Hearing Aid

It may be a more obscure category, but a very important one to many. The Focus is rated for hearing compatibility at M3 and T3 ratings, whereas the Quantum does not have any compatibility as of this writing.

Winner: Focus.

Keyboard


When comparing virtual keyboard against virtual keyboard, the winner will always be the Samsung Focus only because it has a larger screen size. Large screen size means larger key size, and each key becomes much easier to press at that point. I’ve noticed that from using the Quantum, the keys on the screen itself are just a slight bit too tiny to text fast. However, is it worth getting the full physical slide-out landscape QWERTY keyboard as a substitute?

The physical keyboard on the Quantum feels very solid, like it will not fall apart in your hands when sliding open or closed. The keys are slightly raised and spaced out, a great combination to look for when choosing a phone with keyboard. There are two buttons of interest on this keyboard: Fn and Sym. Traditionally, pressing the sym button on most phones will trigger the alternate symbols or characters found in the blue lettering on each individual key. On the Quantum, that’s what the Fn button is for; and it’s in a very confusing spot, just to the left of the A. When doing speed typing, it just slows me down. The other button is the Sym. This button will bring up a touchscreen selection of the different symbols that can be used in your text or email. The mixup in roles of each button will most likely cause some confusion at first, depending on what you’re used to using right now. There is also a dedicated emoticon button and comma button.

Keys on the Focus are much taller and wider than the Quantum, mainly because it has more screen space to use up and needs to use it up to keep consumers happy with not having a full-sized physical keyboard to take advantage of. It’s more reminiscient of an iPhone on-screen keyboard, only the keys are even larger than that.

Winner: Quantum. While the Focus on-screen keyboard is a great experience, the LG Quantum has it beat by offering two options: both a smaller keyboard and a full physical keyboard that feels very comfortable to type on.

Design

Physical/touch-sensitive buttons

Even though I am a right-handed person, I use my left hand primarily when handling phones. As silly as it sounds, the placement of the buttons is very important to me. If buttons are in a place that’s completely unnatural, it throws me off and it takes longer to retrain my brain to just instinctively go to those buttons, no matter where they are.

The Focus has an advantage for button placement. The volume button is at a perfect spot for my thumb, and the screen lock/power button is ideally placed right where my index finger can push it with no problems. On the Quantum, the volume buttons are at a great spot for my index finger, but the screen lock is on the top left, tucked a little too far to the back. It’s not too far out of my way to press the screen lock, but it’s certainly not located in a place that my thumbs or fingers can reach naturally.

In the design of the buttons, the two phones have a slightly different approach. Every WP7 phone must have 3 buttons at the bottom of the screen, and only these three: back, Windows, and search. Samsung made the Focus buttons all touch-sensitive, which works great for the phone in keeping the sleek look and feel. Having a physical button just would make the Focus look tacky. But on the Quantum, 2 out of 3 buttons are touch, while the Windows button in the middle is a physical button that is tucked a little further below the other buttons (to make room for the LG logo between the back and search buttons, of course). But since the Quantum isn’t designed to look sleek or sexy, the physical button works great, especially since it’s the one that will likely be pressed the most.

Winner: Focus, because it has a more natural feel in my hands, and the touch-sensitive buttons on front easily add to the elegant and sleek look of the phone.

Comfort

While the Focus is lighter and sleeker, the larger screen also makes it feel wider than the Quantum. Both phones are rather comfortable to hold, but the Quantum’s weightier yet smaller approach means that it’s more grippable compared to the wider and flatter Focus.

In my pockets, it’s a different story. The extra weight does make a difference when I put the Quantum in my pants pockets, and I can barely feel the Focus in my pockets at all. If you are a phone in your pockets person, this can play a significant factor. However, if you put your phone in a purse or a belt clip, this will not make a difference at all in the decision.

Winner: Quantum in my hands, Focus in my pockets

Interaction with OS

Exclusive features

Another area of intrigue for WP7 is the Marketplace, because there are a few Marketplace stores within a Marketplace store. For instance, LG has its own app store in Marketplace called “LG Apps Store”, and Samsung has one called “Samsung Zone”.

And this category has a clear winner, hands-down, no competition whatsoever. Samsung’s involvement in the “Zone” has been pathetically limited to just 4 apps, and 2 of those apps aren’t even relevant to anyone using the Focus in the US and not traveling internationally. Blah. The LG Apps Store, on the other hand, started with 7-8 apps at launch, and in the last 2-3 weeks has expanded out to 13. While some of these apps are niche (such as a Caddy app that will assist any avid golfer), most of them can be used and enjoyed by anyone.

It’s wonderful to see LG taking such an active role in adding exclusive apps that will be of interest to the consumer, not just riding on what other developers have done in the Marketplace. This leads me to believe that LG has more plans to continue expanding its Apps Store.

The most interesting and satisfying exclusive app I found on the LG Quantum was the Voice to Text app. It’s exactly what you would expect it to be: it gives you the ability to speak your message and attach it to a tweet, email, memo or text message. This is great for driving safely and for simply being lazy. In my tests, the app could understand almost everything I said, and I easily inserted punctuation just by saying which punctuation mark I wanted to put in (for instance, I can say “I’m great, how are you?” by saying the words “i’m great comma how are you question mark”). Spelling out words worked sometimes, but I learned it’s much easier just to say the full word unless for some reason the app can’t understand what you’re saying. Once you’re satisfied that the message you spoke has been clearly transcribed the way you like it, just save the message and it transfers you into the app of choice where the message gets pasted in.

Honestly, I think this app should be included by default with every WP7 phone at launch. With such a heavy emphasis on safety, Voice to Text is an absolute must-have. I also hope LG continues to update this app with additional features and extra services.  I would love to see a way to speak my Facebook status updates, for example.

Winner is: Quantum, by a large margin. The LG Apps Store offers a lot of great exclusive content that Samsung doesn’t have.

Camera/Camcorder

Both phones use 5 MP cameras, and both have 720p HD quality available. So I took identical pictures from each phone and will show them head-to-head, so you can see an accurate comparison.

Here are a couple pictures, one in medium lighting and one in brighter lighting. The ones on the left are the Focus, the ones on the right are Quantum.

For HD comparison, watch this video. To make sure the differences weren’t caused by the camcorder settings, I changed them around so they would be identical.

Winner: Focus. On both the still pictures and HD video, the Samsung Focus seemed to have higher clarity, the colors weren’t as washed out, and the videos weren’t as choppy.

Performance

CPU
Both Quantum and Focus have top-notch processors and touchscreens that cause very little, if any, delay or lag in scrolling, going to programs, or any other everyday activity on the phone. Even the animations when going back and forth through applications are quick and painless. A very slight edge goes to the Focus on this one, however, due to the higher amount of RAM. When dealing with multiple apps and push notifications, the Focus will be much more likely to handle an increased workload.

Winner: Focus

Call quality

Neither phone gave me any concerns in call quality. Both phones’ speakers were sufficiently loud for normal conversations, and I didn’t experience any dropped calls during my testing.

Winner: It’s a tie!

Speed Tests

On WP7, I could only find one speed test app, so I downloaded it onto both phones. There wasn’t a large difference between the two phones, but I did notice that the Quantum seemed to consistently get faster download speeds on both 3G and WiFi.

Winner: Quantum

Battery life

Both batteries have the same size and type of battery, but both have different rated talk times. The Quantum’s battery is rated for 6 hours talk time, shorter than the 6.5 hours found on the Focus (primarily due to the battery-saving Super AMOLED screen on the Focus, it’s assumed), but the Quantum wins the battle for standby time, offering 350 hours compared to the 300 on the Focus. Perhaps it’s longer on the Quantum because standby time doesn’t have to rely on what kind of battery-efficient screen the phone has.

Either way, both phones have the BEST battery life I have ever seen on a smartphone, by a rather large margin. This is interesting to me simply because the rated talk times are similar to what can be found on competing Android phones, but none of those actually last quite as long in tests as the WP7 phones do. We wonder if there is a certain battery efficiency that comes with WP7 that isn’t overly mentioned.

Winner: Quantum, but it’s practically a tie. I know that both phones will last the entire day for me, even with my heavy usage on text, data, email and other things. This impresses me a lot. So since both phones have roughly the same talk time, the big difference maker is the standby time. A whole extra 50 hours — more than 2 full days — longer than the Focus helps the Quantum be the winner in this head-to-head battle.

Conclusion

There you have it, everyone: an ultimate showdown between two very good and powerful phones. The difficult thing is finding a real winner between the two, because as you can tell, both phones won almost the same number of categories. It’s been a wonderful experience to play with both phones and would be happy using either one. What I hoped to accomplish in this comparison, though, is to help you determine which one is a better fit for you based on a blow-by-blow breakdown of each relevant category. Also, visit my reviews on both the Samsung Focus and LG Quantum to help determine which one is the better choice for your needs.

Based on what you have seen, which one is the best?

Author: Brad Molen

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