The race between Samsung and HTC concerning their major smartphones is really heating up, with the advent of their two new Window Phone 7 OS flagship phones. Both phones come running on AT&T and both have an almost identical set of features, so we are here to help you figure out which phone offers better value for you.
HTC Surround Design (4 out of 5)
HTC have a very good reputation when it comes to the build quality of their phones, and with the HTC Surround they have truly outdone themselves.
It is built entirely out of aluminum, every part. The back parts are covered in soft matte rubber to minimize slip and provide a comfortable grip. The front has a Gorrila Glass 3.8 inch SUPER LCD screen, capable of supporting 16 million colors in WVGA at 480 x 800 pixels. It is no real match for the SUPER AMOLED display on the Samsung Focus, but build wise the SUPER AMOLED display is the only advantage the Samsung Focus has over the HTC Surround.
The HTC Surround weighs a hefty 165 g and has dimensions of 119.7 x 61.5 x 13 mm, the aluminum build does not really help in the weight department. One thing to note about the HTC Surround, is that it is technically a slide phone. Sliding the phone upwards in landscape mode reveals a loudspeaker grill with a physical button that allows the user to cycle through various sound options.
Now for peripheral buttons and slots, beneath the screen there are the touch sensitive Back, Home and Search buttons. The left side is empty, on the right we have the long but thin volume rocker and camera shutter key, beneath the phone is the open microUSB slot and on top we have the 3.5 mm jack and power button.
At the back we have the round 5 MP camera lens and single LED flash, with a tiny small speaker grill so common on modern HTC phones, when the phone is slid up a kick stand is revealed, so if watching videos is something you do often on your phone, the HTC Surround is definitely the choice phone for you.
The back of the HTC Surround is the same as the HTC Freestyle, which means it is not easy to open or close, oh and you better have the finger strength of a body builder. Having said that it is very secure indeed, which is what HTC were aiming for all along, under the battery cover you find the battery and the SIM card slot.
Samsung Focus Design (3 out of 5)
Samsung, unlike HTC, are infamous for having a relatively poor build quality, and they have done nothing to address the problem with the Samsung Focus.
The Samsung Focus is overall more rounded than the HTC Surround with more corners, it is also much lighter at 119 g, and perhaps more palm friendly with dimensions of 124.7 x 64.3 x 9.9 mm. It is made out of a relatively good, if not strong plastic, however, it is also very glossy and attracts finger prints like a flame attracts moths. It is also not a slide phone in any way.
The screen is a 4 inch Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen in WVGA supporting 16 million colors, with a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels. Compared to the HTC Surround you get a slightly bigger Super AMOLED screen, however, it is not made of Gorilla Glass. Beneath the screen we have the same touch sensitive buttons as the HTC Surround, Back, Home and Search. On the left we have the short and slightly difficult to press volume rocker, to the right we have the camera shutter and power key, above we have the microUSB port which is protected by a snappy snap cover (the HTC Surround has a naked microUSB port) and the 3.5 mm jack.
The back is occupied by the 5 MP camera with a single LED flash, with small notches alongside the LED flash that serve as the loudspeaker grill. The SIM card slot is behind the battery cover, which fortunately is a doddle to open compared to the HTC Surround.
HTC Surround User Interface (3 out of 5)
The HTC Surround comes running the initial version of Windows Phone 7, not the NoDo update. However, most observations in this review of the Windows 7 UI are rendered useless by the update, unfortunately the update itself is not widely available, so you might find yourself stuck with the older Windows Phone 7.
However, there are some problems with the OS that are summarized as follows; lack of customization, lack of proper in-built Twitter support, e-mail attachment problem, no common in-box for differing accounts, thick fingered people may find the keyboard small (even in landscape mode), SkyDrive not stable, Zune has issues and finally users of Android or iOS may find the entire UI too simple for their tastes, though this is a subjective matter.
Keeping the above mentioned issues in mind, the user experience is razor sharp and silky smooth, there is no hint of lag or stutter throughout the interface, the only real advantage between the two is the central HTC Hub. Bing Maps support is rather flimsy compared to Google Maps, so for the best navigational experience you have to use the non-free AT&T Navigation.
Samsung Focus User Interface (3 out of 5)
Everything about the HTC Surround UI applies to the Samsung Focus, with the only exception being the lack of HTC Hub, instead the Focus uses a feature named Daily Briefing, which does the exact same thing the HTC Hub does, however, the HTC Hub is far superior in terms of design and visualization.
This is not a review of the Windows Phone 7 OS, suffice it to say that if you are familiar with the HTC Hub or have already decided to buy an HTC phone, then the Surround might appeal to you more. Here is a full review of Windows Phone 7, for a more detailed inspection of the UI please read my review of the HTC Arrive, which is identical, if not superior to the capabilities and UI of both the Samsung Focus and HTC Surround.
User Interface Winner
Features (Both Phones) (5 out of 5)
The HTC Surround and Samsung Focus come with an almost identical set of features, the only real differences are in the camera settings, 720P HD video FPS and internal storage.
So let us begin, both phones have the following international 2G GSM frequencies; 850, 900, 1800, and 1900. 3G is also identical at HSDPA; 850, 1900 and 2100. Local connectivity is served by Bluetooth 2.1 with AD2P, microUSB 2.0 and Wi-Fi 802.11 b,g,n, on both phones.
Now internal storage and CPU specs on the HTC Surround are as follows: 1 GHz Scorpion processor, Adreno 200 GPU, Qualcomm QSD8250 Snapdragon chipset, internal memory is 16 GB, there is 448 MB of RAM and 512 MB ROM.
Internal CPU power on the Samsung Focus is; 1 GHz Scorpion processor, Adreno 200 GPU, Qualcomm QSD8250 Snapdragon chipset, internal memory is 8 GB, 512 MB of RAM and a 512 MB ROM.
So as you can see the only significant difference is the internal storage, with the HTC taking the prize at twice the storage capacity of the Samsung Focus.
Now for the camera, and here is where the Samsung Focus finally starts to take the lead, although both phones feature the same 5 MP auto focus camera with 2592 x 1944 pixel support, and 720 P HD recording, the Samsung Focus takes far better pictures than the HTC Surround. For starters the HTC only offers a mediocre set of shooting features such as Scenes, Resolution, Effects and Flicker Adjustment. There are no macro or night shooting modes at all, pictures tend have a very strong rate of noise suppression, they look soft and close up shots tend to become fuzzy. While the LED flash is rather weak and night time pictures seem like they were shot in candle light.
The same specs and camera on the Samsung Focus perform very differently, there is a full set of features such as ISO adjustment, macro shots, night time shooting plus resolution alignment. Pictures tend to be sharp and focused, while up close shots show a clear range of background items with minimal blurring. Pictures taken in the dark seem like they were taken in torch light, so it also has a stronger LED flash.
The HD recording on the HTC is at 30 FPS, and on the Samsung it is 24 FPS. However, while shooting in the dark the HTC FPS rate falls down drastically to only 8 FPS, while the Samsung remains relatively steady at 16 FPS in the dark.
So the Samsung Focus takes away the cinematography trophy, now unfortunately this presents a problematic choice, should you go with the larger Internal memory of the HTC, or go with the better camera of the Samsung? Ultimately, it depends on your preference.
Features (Both Phones) Continued (3 out of 5)
Now, as for the media galleries, they are exactly the same on both phones, but for music or movie lovers the HTC Surround is a better choice, as that slide up loud speaker has Dolby Mobile and SRS sound enhancements, while the Samsung Focus has neither. Supported audio formats on the Samsung Focus are slightly more varied with; MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, WAV and AMR than the HTC Surround, which only supports; MP3, WMA, M4A , eAAC+, M4B and WAV.
Video formats on both phones are rather limited, you can only play MP4 (H.264 or H.263 encoded), WMV, 3GP and 3G2 on either phone. As long as the videos are not 1080p HD, all videos play without any hiccups whatsoever. Both phones only play videos in landscape view, which makes sense on the HTC due to the stereo speaker and kick stand, but serves no real purpose on the Samsung Focus.
The following is a list of miscellaneous but important features; Accelerometer, Proximity sensor, Geo-tagging, GPS with A-GPS (Bing Maps), JAVA MIDP 2.0, Digital compass, YouTube client, Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, PDF viewer), Voice memo, predictive text input, AT&T U-verse Mobile, AT&T NavigatorSM, FamilyMap, AT&T Radio and myWireless.
The only big difference is that the Samsung Focus has an FM Radio with RDS and song recording, while the HTC Surround relies on the AT&T Radio app.
For camera enthusiast: Samsung Focus.
For multimedia enthusiasts: HTC Surround.
HTC Surround Performance (3 out of 5)
Now we have arrived at the crowning moment of our review, where we take a look at the call quality, web browser and battery life of each phone. Let’s start with the HTC Surround.
Call quality in the HTC Surround leaves a lot to be desired, calls tend to sound both muffled and crackly, it cannot hold signals very well in low coverage areas and call drops tend to occur in dead zones. The only way to improve call quality is to slide up the loud speaker, which improves the overall quality somewhat, but at the expense of privacy. So overall, if calling is something you do often on your phone, then the HTC Surround is the wrong choice.
The web browser on the other hand is a complete joy to use, the WAP 2.0/ HTML/xHTML web browser has seamless Pinch-to-Zoom capabilities, with pages loading generally fast and what’s more…there is Flash support, including video Flash support.
The battery life is decidedly average, but since this is a comparison review, the battery is significantly less powerful than the Samsung Focus. The battery is a measly Li-Ion 1230 mAh, which can barely pull off 4 hours of talk time on 3G and has a middling talk time of 6 hours on 2G. Stand by is 14 days. Heavy users will be recharging the HTC Surround once every 8 hours, average users will be charging it once every 24 hours and light users once every two days.
Samsung Focus Performance (4 out of 5)
The Samsung Focus is the complete opposite of the HTC Surround in terms of call quality, calls tend to sound clear and crisp, but there is a very slight hissing noise if you’re talking in a low coverage area. Signals tend to hold on very well even in low covered areas, though at the expense of a slight drop in call quality.
The web browser experience and capabilities are identical to the HTC Surround, which means it is wonderful.
Now, as for battery life, the Samsung Focus takes a giant leap ahead of the HTC Surround, it has Li-Ion 1500 mAh battery, which has nearly 8 hours of talk time on 2G and 6 hours of talk time on 3G. Standby time is 18 days. On average heavy users will be charging it once every 24 hours, medium users will be charging it once every 2 days and light users once every 5 days.
Verdict (Both Phones) (4 out of 5)
The HTC Surround and Samsung Focus are almost like identical twins, You have to notice the subtle differences in order to differentiate them.
Since they both cost the same, have the same OS and same carrier, here is basic breakdown of which to buy.
If build quality and multimedia playback is an important to you, then go for the HTC Surround, as the cool loud speaker grill and kick stand almost turn it into a mini theater. The HTC also has a slightly better UI due to the HTC Hub.
However, if you are more into basic phone functions and enjoy a good camera, then the Samsung Focus is definitely the better choice. Choosing between these two phones is like choosing between an apple and an orange, both are similar but completely different in their own unique ways.