The Samsung Ativ S Review - The Most Balanced Windows Phone 8 Device
Everyone is talking about the Nokia Lumia 920 but very few know and talk about the Samsung Ativ S - the first Windows Phone 8 device offered by Samsung. After using it for a month, I have plenty of positive things to say about it and I consider it the most underrated high-end phone with Windows Phone 8. Here's why:
Hardware Specifications & Packaging
Samsung Ativ S is similar to its main competitors, especially in terms of hardware. It uses a 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, it has 1GB of RAM, 16 or 32 GB of storage space (depending on the model and the country where it is sold), an 8 megapixel rear camera and a 1.9 megapixel front camera. There are a few areas where this phone stands out. Unlike its competitors, it has a 4.8" Super AMOLED display and a very good 2300 mAh Li-ion battery. Also, the Samsung Ativ S is only 8.7mm thick, which makes it the thinnest high end phone with Windows Phone 8. Also, it weighs 135g, which makes it much lighter than the Nokia Lumia 920 but slightly heavier than the HTC 8X. Last but not least, this is the only high-end Windows Phone 8 device with a microSD card slot. Many users will appreciate this feature because the operating system has the tendency to eat up a lot of space, quite fast. When you have lots of pictures and apps on your phone, a microSD memory card will make a difference. Its complete hardware specifications can be found here: Samsung Ativ S Specifications. As you would expect from a high end phone, the packaging looks good.
Inside its box you will find: the phone, the battery, the USB cable, the USB charger, its headphones, a quick start guide plus product & safety information documentation.
Design & Build Quality
When looking at the Samsung Ativ S and using it for the first time, I could not help feel that it is very similar to the famous Samsung Galaxy S3 with Android. And that's a very good thing, at least in my view. Apparently, I am not the only one thinking the same. Some people even made detailed comparisons, like the one below, which further shows how similar these phones really are.
Unlike many other Windows Phone 8 devices, the Samsung Ativ S has a hardware Windows button. After using it for a month, I found it better than a software button. This is because the hardware button can also be used to unlock the phone. That's very useful in unlocking the phone faster.
In terms of button placement, the power button is on the top right of the phone and the volume buttons on the top left. This is a problem because, when you hold the phone in your hand and press the power button, you tend to also press the bottom volume button. Then, when you press the top volume button, you also press the power button. This is annoying and unfortunate. It seems that only Nokia has got the button placement right. Both HTC and Samsung need to improve the placement of buttons, in future phone models. The Super AMOLED is the best display you'll find on a high end Windows Phone 8 device. It has very good black levels and the operating system looks a lot better on it than on the displays of its competitors. The only drawback is the lack of the Sensitive Touch feature, present on the Nokia Lumia 920. This means you cannot use the phone while wearing gloves, for example. However, this is not a big issue.
The Phone Experience on the Samsung Ativ S
The pure phone experience on the Samsung Ativ S is the best out of all the high-end devices with Windows Phone 8. First of all, the signal strength is a lot better than on the Nokia Lumia 920 and so is the clarity of your phone conversations. The display does a good job when used outdoors, in natural light conditions. The experience of watching videos is better than on other phones due to the quality of the display. Listening to music is just as good in terms of audio quality as with other high-end devices. The rear camera though is not amazing. It's just a standard camera delivering average pictures. In low light conditions, it does a poor job. Pictures are generally noisy and lacking in detail, even when compared to the HTC 8X. Overall, the front camera does not stand a chance when compared to the Nokia Lumia 920. The Pureview technology is much better than what Samsung offers on this phone. The phone records 1080p video and again, the quality is decent - inline with other phones but not spectacular by any means.
The 1.9 megapixel front camera is rather poor but that's to be expected. You won't be using it for anything else except doing quick video calls, so that you don't use too much bandwidth. Last but not least, I would like to mention the great battery time. In normal use scenarios, Samsung Ativ S can easily last up to a day and half. In light use scenarios, it lasts two days. No other high-end Windows Phone 8 device can pull this off.
Samsung Apps for Windows Phone 8
The Samsung apps are generally low quality and don't provide much value to their users:
- The Now apps is very similar to the HTC app on the HTC 8X. It shares the weather forecast, stocks and currency information, as well as news from a few sources. In my four weeks of use, I used it very rarely.
- Photo Editor is a basic photo editing tool that doesn't have any special features. You can easily find better alternatives on the Windows Phone Store. The same can be said by all the other Samsung apps: ChatON, MiniDiary, Live Wallpaper, Music Hub, Beauty (a portrait photo editing tool), RSS Times, Photogram and Colins Advanced Dictionary.
It feels like Samsung has very little interest in contributing to the Windows Phone app ecosystem. This is very unfortunate because the Samsung Ativ S is a very good phone.
Performance in Benchmarks
As always, I ran a couple of tests, using the MultiBench 2 and WP Bench benchmarks, in order to compare the performance of this phone with other models from other manufacturers. MultiBench 2 revealed that the Samsung Ativ S is slightly behind in terms of raw performance, when compared to the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC 8X. But, the performance difference is small enough not to be noticed in real use scenarios. For example, the biggest difference was revealed in the graphics test, where HTC 8X was the best. Samsung Ativ S was the third best performing phone, with a 4.6% lower score. In other tests, the performance difference between the Samsung Ativ S and HTC 8X or Nokia Lumia 920 was of only 3%.
WP Bench revealed a similar picture. In the CPU test, Samsung Ativ S was 6% slower than Nokia Lumia 920 - the fastest phone in this test.
The other WP Bench tests revealed smaller differences in performance, as you can see below.
Next, I used Sunspider benchmark to learn how fast is the Interner browsing experience. The Samsung Ativ S was only 4% slower than the HTC 8X, the best Windows Phone 8 device in terms of browsing speed.
Again, all these tests confirm that the Samsung Ativ S is not the best in terms of raw performance. However, the performance difference is so small you notice, when compared to the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC 8X. Next, I measured how much time it takes for the phone to boot and launch the operating system. In this test, the Samsung Ativ S was a clear winner, by a very high margin. It loaded Windows Phone 8 in 35 seconds, 5 seconds faster than the Nokia Lumia 920 and 16 seconds faster than the HTC 8X. A great result!
The boot speed was one of the first things I noticed and appreciated about this phone. Next, I wanted to put the battery to the test. In normal daily use, its 2300 mAh battery easily outperformed that of its main competitors. But what about synthetic tests?
WP Bench revealed that, when stressed to the maximum, the Samsung Ativ S's battery lasts about 2 hours and 30 minutes. This time beats all the other high-end Windows Phone 8 devices existing so far on the market. Again, a great result from Samsung.
Using the Samsung Ativ S is a bittersweet experience. First of all, this is a very good phone, hardware-wise. In my view, it is the most balanced high-end device with Windows Phone 8. It delivers all the important basics: fast boot time, great display, really good battery time, very good performance, a microSD card slot to extend the available storage space and a decent camera. However, Samsung has made no investment in terms of marketing this phone and neither have the major telecom providers in US and Europe. Also, Samsung has done nothing to provide a good app selection, comparable to that offered by Nokia. All-in-all, this phone is worth buying and it will please many users. Also, its price tends to be lower than that of its competitors (in most countries) making it a very appealing choice. The only reason not to buy it is because you want access to the Nokia apps. If those apps are not important to you, then this is the high-end Windows Phone 8 device you should buy.