Samsung Ativ S review: First look
We managed to grab some time with the Samsung Ativ S at Microsoft's launch event. Read on for our first impressions
We have to get this out of the way first of all – the Ativ S isn’t what we thought it would be.
We’d previously heard numerous reports that Samsung’s first Windows Phone 8 handset was made from aluminium and all the photos of it seemed to support the idea too.
This writer even talked at length about his anticipation for the phone based in no-small part on the idea of Samsung ditching its questionable plastics in favour of machined metals.
So, having had hands-on time with the device at Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 launch event, it’s slightly embarrassing to admit that we were mistaken.
The Ativ S is not metal, it’s convincingly brushed and coated plastic made to look very much like metal, but it is a case of Samsung being up to its old tricks.
And that’s disappointing. Sure, the Ativ S is a nice shape, we’d previously commented on the fact that it looks very Galaxy S3-esque and that’s actually more true than we realised. It’s virtually the same device, right down to the positioning of the SIM and SD card slots under the battery cover.
The only major difference, other than the processor and software, is the addition of a sporty-looking grille on the lower back panel.
As we’ve said before, the use of a metallic effect does compliment this overall shape far better than the Galaxy S3’s gloss white or brushed blue tones, but that’s all well and good when the handset is resting on a table, get it into your hand and the illusion shatters as it’s still as slippery and tacky as its Android lookalike.
But, as with the Galaxy S3, this is our only criticism. It certainly ticks all the other boxes, as we’ve outlined before.
You’ve got a choice of 16GB or 32GB of onboard storage and MicroSD capability (which none of the other premium flagships have), plus the huge 4.8-inch Super AMOLED display from the Galaxy S3, which clocks a pixel density of 306 pixels-per-inch and delivers some seriously sharp visuals.
There’s also the svelte 8.7mm chassis which weighs a mere 135g – the second lightest Windows Phone 8 flagship so far, just 5g heavier than HTC’s 8X.
We didn’t actually get a chance to try out the cameras, but they’ve been yanked straight out of the Galaxy S3 so it should be an identical experience.
The primary is an 8-megapixel back-illuminated sensor while the front-facer is 2-megapixels. Picture and video quality should be very good, though perhaps not quite as good as the iPhone and certainly not as good as Nokia’s Lumia 920.
The internal hardware is up there with the cream of the crop, it’s a very similar spec to the other premium Windows Phone 8 models and works very well with the carefully optimised Windows Phone software.
It has a 1.5GHz Qualcomm S4 MSM8960 dual core chip with 1GB of RAM and an Adreno 225 graphics processor (GPU).
This runs things smoothly and efficiently, in our brief time with the device we found it performed similarly to our experience of the HTC 8X in our full review.
That means it can load apps in no time at all, something single core Windows Phone 7 devices struggled with, and it has excellent multitasking. Scrolling around the homescreen, browser or app interface is slick and touch control is responsive. It’s easily on a par with iOS and Android Jelly Bean’s Butter UI.
As we’ve reported elsewhere about the Windows Phone 8 interface, it’s now more vibrant and dynamic. You’ve got a wider range of choices for customising your experience as you can set certain apps to feed information, photos and content to the lock screen, while Live Tiles now have a range of up to three sizes.
There’s also a more varied range of theme colours to choose from. Personalisation was something we found lacking on Windows Phone 7 but Microsoft has really stepped things up here.
But, as we’ve said before, the app ecosystem is a little underwhelming right now, and how things progress from here onwards is really going to determine the validity of the platform.
As things stand currently we reckon the Windows Phone 8 experience is compelling enough and well-furnished enough (app wise) to work well for the average user – that is, a user without particularly demanding app requirements.
However, for people who ask a lot of their smartphones, particularly in app variety, it may be found wanting, for now at least.
Our impression of the Ativ S wasn’t great, but then it couldn’t possibly have been given that our expectations had been tempered by the idea of a metal chassis.
As is the case with most of the premium Windows Phone 8 crowd, the internal spec is much the same, meaning the performance, as well as the software experience, is virtually identical across the board.
Thus, once we established the external build quality was squiffy - the main distinguishing element between the various Windows Phone 8 models - the whole appeal of the handset went out the window.
Our current line of thought is we’re more interested in Nokia and HTC’s offerings.
We’ll have more in a full review as soon as possible.