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Samsung ATIV S -- Looks like a Galaxy S III but is Windows Phone 8
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Samsung ATIV S — Looks like a Galaxy S III but is Windows Phone 8

Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 3.35.19 PMAlthough it was a bit late to the party the Samsung ATIV S was actually the first Windows Phone 8 device announced…perhaps that is why it doesn’t have that signature sharp rectangular shape and bright colours common to most Windows Phone 8 devices. Instead it could easily pass as a silver Galaxy S III.

 

samsung_ativ_sThis huge phone still has the plasticky feel typical of Samsung devices but it does look good. The rear of the device is adorned with a faux brushed aluminium effect,  it’s the usual thin piece of plastic that covers the battery. A dark grey plastic at the front of the device wraps around the 4.8-inch 1280 x 720 pixels Super Amoled display, with a 1.9-megapixel forward facing camera up the top. The usual capacitive Windows Phone buttons are located at the bottom, but Samsung has chosen to make the Windows key a physical button rather than a capacitive one. It’s nice to be able to wake the device using the button where your thumb comfortably sits rather than having to hunt for the power button.

Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 3.29.28 PMThe back of the phone is clean save for the camera and flash at the top and the speaker at the bottom. The plastic back  peels off to reveal a removable battery and the microSD and Micro SIM slots. It’s unusual to see a microSD slot on a high-end Windows Phone, but it’s certainly a welcome addition to the Ativ S’s 16GB of built-in storage. Microsoft doesn’t allow you to install Windows Phone apps to the microSD, but you can store music, pictures, and videos there.

Under the hood the Ativ S uses the same dual-core 1.5GHz S4 processor as the Lumia 920 and HTC 8X. It’s equipped with 1GB of RAM, which is fine because  Windows Phone 8 doesn’t demand too much from the hardware. Windows Phone handles multitasking well although it doesn’t seem to manage fast resume as well as other Windows Phone 8 devices. Battery life is fairly standard here for a modern smartphone even though Samsung has packed in a 2300 mAh battery it still needs a charge every day.

wp_ss_20130120_0002Windows Phone 8 is Windows Phone 8 and not much else..Microsoft doesn’t allow the kind of customizing seen on Android phones. Samsung however, has added a few of its own apps: You get a WhatsApp-style messaging app called ChatOn, a journal app called Mini Diary, a news aggregator called Now and an NFC wallet app. Pretty meagre when compared to the mapping, navigation and traffic apps Nokia preloads on its Windows Phones. Samsung has a subsidiary app store within the Windows Phone Store where you can download these and a few more equally pedestrian apps. On my Telus phone there is also a Telus store offering Optik TV, a cool remote control app for subscribers to Telus’ Optik TV package.

Samsung lifted the cameras from the Galaxy S III and Note II the front facing 1.9MP camera is great for video calls and shoots fine self portraits in a pinch..it is nowhere near as good as the camera on the HTC 8X.   The 8MP rear facing camera takes excellent excellent daytime images. Photos are sharp and detailed with no signs of blurriness. The ATIV S suffers the same shortcomings as the S III such as limited dynamic range but it delivers satisfactory pictures under most conditions even indoors with flash…not quite as good however as the competition.

Samsung ATIV S_20130117_001

Samsung ATIV S_20130120_002

wp_ss_20130120_0004Camera settings are pretty basic, you can set ISO, white balance, and exposure, but Windows Phone doesn’t make it particularly easy — forcing you to swap in and out of menus each time. Disappointingly there aren’t any any additional modes like burst or panorama. You can download a variety of third party apps called lenses to enhance the camera. Samsung’s near-zero shutter lag is gone. Shot-to-shot times are still quick but, transition animations render them less than instant and there’s no continuous shooting mode.

The video camera shoots really good HD videos outdoors in the daytime and unlike most cameras the default setting is 1080p. As you can see in this video it copes with drastic exposure differences well. Low light situations is another kettle of fish…I wouldn’t count on getting decent videos at a club or party.

 

This is a pretty good phone that looks like the Samsung Galaxy S III but with nowhere near the features…A limitation of Windows Phone 8…It performs very well for both voice and data on Telus’ LTE network. So, if you like the look and feel of Samsung Smartphones then this could be the Windows Phone 8 device for you. However, in my opinion the HTC Windows Phone 8 X or the Nokia Lumia 920 are much better phones.

The Samsung ATIV S is available from Telus, Bell, Rogers and coming soon on SaskTel. The price ranges from $129 with a three year contract to $650 with no plan.

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Bob Benedetti

Former RCAF Fighter Pilot Bob worked for CTV Montreal as a Reporter, Producer and Executive producer for 35 years retiring in 2004. Bob started reporting on personal technology in 1995 at CTV and continues today at Home Technology Montreal

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