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Samsung Ativ S hands-on review

The INQUIRER gets its mitts on Samsung's first Windows Phone 8 handset
Thu Oct 25 2012, 14:39

KOREAN PHONE MAKER Samsung hasn't given up on Windows Phone yet, having announced its first Windows Phone 8 handset, the Samsung Ativ S at IFA in Berlin earlier this year.

The INQUIRER has managed to get its mitts on the Samsung Ativ S ahead of the launch of Windows Phone 8 on 29 October to see whether Samsung's decision to stick with Microsoft was the right one.

Design
Visually the Ativ S is close to identical to the Samsung Galaxy S3, featuring the same ergonomic, slightly curved chassis. This means that in the hand the Ativ S is all but indistinguishable from the Galaxy S3. It is practically the same size, measuring 137x70x8.7mm. The Samsung Galaxy S3 by comparison measures a slightly tweaked 131x71x8.6mm.

Samsung Ativ S Windows Phone 8 side

The same is true of the Ativ S' weight, with it being only two grams heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S3, weighing a featherweight 135g. So similar are the two that were it not for the placement of the Windows logo on the Ativ S' physical home button, when turned off it would be all too easy to mistake the Ativ S for the Galaxy S3.

Sadly, while the Samsung Ativ S is comfortable in hand, its similarity to the Galaxy S3 left us feeling concerned about its durability. The Galaxy S3, while a fantastic phone, is prone to picking up marks and scratches, particularly on its removable backplate. Featuring a close to identical design to the Galaxy S3, we're worried the Ativ S might suffer the same problem.

Screen
The Ativ S has the same 4.8in 720x1,280, 306ppi pixel density super AMOLED touchscreen display as the Galaxy S3. Though we only got to test the device in an very dimly lit showroom, we were very impressed with the screen.

Like the Galaxy S3, the Ativ S' display is quite bright, so much so that when we turned it up to maximum brightness we were left dazzled. The same was true of the display's clarity, with images, icons and videos all appearing crystal clear with no fuzziness around their edges or colour balance issues.

Windows Phone 8
Since unveiling its new mobile operating system (OS), Microsoft has proclaimed Windows Phone 8 (WP8) as its best mobile offering to date.

The OS features the same tiled user interface as Windows Phone 7, but this time it adds the ability to resize tiles. While this is nothing new to Android smartphone users, the ability is a welcome one as it allows users to create a user interface (UI) that truly meets their needs.

During our test run of the Ativ S we attempted to create our own UI. Being avid social media users we started our endeavour by increasing the size of our People tile to make it easier to check our Twitter and Facebook feeds more quickly. To make room for the new UI we shrunk our less used Hotmail and Netflix tiles.

Samsung Ativ S Windows 8 apps

While we didn't get very far in our attempt to create a custom UI given time restrictions, we found the tile size manipulation feature a pleasant one that we think will prove useful.

Like the Lumia 920, the Ativ S is blazingly fast. Playing with the Ativ S we found that navigating its menus and opening apps was a seamless, chug and glitch free experience. So impressed were we with the Ativ S' performance that if we were to go off our opening impressions alone, we'd say that the device is just as smooth and fast as Apple's Iphone 5.

Another key addition to the Windows Phone experience in WP8 is the inclusion of dual-core processor support. Previously, Microsoft had insisted that there was no need for multi-core processors on a mobile device. Yet, having tested the Ativ S and its dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon processor, we have to say Microsoft was wrong.

That said, the Ativ S we had on show didn't come loaded with any particularly power hungry apps. That meant we didn't get the chance to see how it performed on more demanding tasks.

Not content with Microsoft's core offering, Samsung has loaded the device with several custom apps. These include things like its Music Hub and Chat On. While we didn't get a chance to try out the services, we're not convinced these additions are necessary. Most of the added services we saw are simply duplicate versions of Microsoft apps already preloaded onto the device.

This means that, unless you're one of the few people to sign up to Samsung's services, we're not convinced the apps are really necessary. Would you really pick the Samsung Music Hub over Microsoft's infinitely more complete Xbox Music service?

Camera and storage
The Ativ S boasts an 8MP rear-facing camera and 1.9MP front-facing camera. Though we only got to see a few sample shots previously taken on the device, with a software block stopping us taking any of our own, the sample shots did look decent, boasting decent colour, light levels and picture clarity.

Samsung Ativ S Windows Phone 8 back

Considering the fact the Ativ S' rear camera features the same autofocus, LED flash geotagging and image stabilisation features as the Galaxy S3, we have high hopes for its camera and are looking forward to getting a more thorough go with it.

Prospects
Though our opening impressions of the Ativ S are positive, with it featuring many of the strengths that made the Galaxy S3 great, we're still unsure of its chances.

By running Windows Phone 8, Samsung is going to be competing against Nokia, a company with far more experience developing for the Microsoft WP8 ecosystem.

This means that where Samsung has added a few apps previously seen on its Android handsets to its flagship Windows Phone, Nokia has created a host of truly interesting services for its flagship Lumia 920 smartphone.

These include upgrades to its already popular Nokia Maps and Drive services and the addition of its new City Lens feature. For this reason alone we're thinking that the Ativ S might struggle to stand out in the Windows Phone 8 market.

Check back later for a full review of the Samsung Ativ S. µ

 

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