Samsung is adding to the line-up of Windows Phone 8 devices with its new handset, the ATIV S – a large and powerful smartphone which sees the Korean manufacturer implement own take on Microsoft’s new mobile platform.
Can Samsung follow the record-breaking success of its Galaxy S III and Note II devices with a move into a platform it has not dominated before? We’ve tested the ATIV S’ features and performance to see if it has the pedigree to stand out amongst the range of WP8 handsets currently emerging.
- Dual-core, 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor
- 4.8-inch super AMOLED display
- 16GB or 32GB of internal storage
- 8 megapixel camera
- 1080p video recording at 30fps
- 8.7mm thick
- 135g weight
- Windows Phone 8
- 2300mAh battery
Design and Build
The ATIV S bears a resemblance to the Galaxy S III, although its edges are slightly less rounded. Gone is the white backplate seen on many recent Samsung handsets though, replaced with a brushed aluminium-effect rear cover surrounded by a chrome edge. However, the backplate itself is made from plastic and feels quite flimsy and delicate.
Although the front fascia is dominated by the 4.8-inch super AMOLED display, there is room for a gunmetal grey edging which looks great in contrast to the metallic back.
The location of physical buttons is divided between each side of the handset, a significant difference to Nokia’s two recent Lumias which crammed all the tactile controls on to one edge. Lock and camera buttons are mounted on the right of the device whilst the volume rocker is on the left, something that makes them easier to operate while holding the device in one hand.
Unusually for a Windows phone, the is a physical home key where many other such devices feature capacitive buttons. However, the key itself is flanked by Back and Search buttons which are touch sensitive.
The design of the ATIV S is also interesting since the unibody form factor of Nokia’s Lumia range had become almost synonymous with Windows Phone handsets. Having taken a different approach to design, Samsung has found a good alternative and demonstrated that the competition now opening up between WP8 manufacturers could inspire further innovation.
Samsung makes excellent displays, as evident in its recent high-end devices such as the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II. The manufacturer has continued this rich lineage here too and the 4.8-inch, 720×480 pixel screen is of an excellent quality and impressively shows off the new operating system.
Despite having a ppi of only 306, notably lower than the 332ppi of the Lumia 920, the ATIV S’ screen performs well. Windows Phone 8’s colourful user interface looks bold and bright with a great deal of contrast between its light and dark colours, and photographs also appear with much clarity and definition..
The touchscreen itself is also incredibly responsive, adding to the flowing feel that WP’s user interface has.
Under the Hood
Inside the ATIV S is a dual-core, 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor with 1GB of RAM. One of the major innovations of Windows Phone 8 is support for multi-core devices, possibly as a result of the software itself being more demanding in terms of processing power.
Previous versions of Windows Phone have never felt as if they put too much pressure on CPUs and the latest iteration is no different, feeling fluid and free of any hold-ups.
Alongside the dual-core CPU is an Adreno 225 GPU which handles the visual elements of the operating system and user interface. Ensuring something of a level playing field in terms of the graphical capabilities of each device running the new platform, this same Adreno chip features in both of Nokia’s WP8 devices and is a move which was possibly made on the insistence of Microsoft.
However, one particular area where the ATIV S stands head and shoulders above its Windows Phone 8 competitors is internal storage. Available in 16GB and 32GB versions, the handset also supports microSD cards up to 32GB in capacity, outclassing any other WP8.
Microsoft’s cloud-storage service, SkyDrive also offers 7GB of free space which is upgradeable to 25GB on a paid plan. Overall, the amount of storage that ATIV S users potentially have access to is incredible and should be a major selling point for Samsung.
Samsung has included a 2300mAh battery which is amongst the largest available on any smartphone and bigger than the 2100mAh power cell seen on the Galaxy S III. The inclusion of such a large battery may have something to do with the expansive display sported by the ATIV S as it is usually the screen that can be the biggest single drain on power sources.
Nevertheless, we found the ATIV S’ battery to perform very well indeed, lasting a day of moderate use – including web browsing, downloading apps and extensive use of the phone’s camera – from the one charge.
Operating System and User Interface
Windows Phone 8 is a fantastic upgrade on earlier versions and, in our opinion, has prepared the platform to take on Android and iOS. There are changes to both the way the software looks and works, although enough of the familiar interface and layout remains to make it recognisable.
The distinctive Live Tiles can now be resized, vastly increasing the number that can be included on the homescreen. Tiles can be reduced to a small size which allows them to act like app icons, or expanded across the screen to show a greater amount of information.
One of the most notable features of past versions of Windows Phone was the People Hub, which has since been expanded to include a ‘Rooms’ feature which allows you to group certain contacts together and share messages, photos and calendars events between them. Windows Phone has always put a focus on social networking and the People Hub works better than any comparable iOS or Android feature in bringing together contacts, messages and social updates in one place.
Beyond the user interface, the software has been completely rebuilt so that the code on which it runs is more in line with the desktop and tablet versions of Windows 8.
This ‘common core’, as the Microsoft has called it, will make it easier for a Windows Phone 8 smartphone to work in conjunction with other Windows devices and allow apps to be reconfigured across different devices easily. Another result of this change in coding is that apps are now written in the C++ coding language which is widely used amongst developers working on iOS and Android.
With WP8 using the same programming language it will be easier for these developers to create versions of their apps for Microsoft’s mobile platform, hopefully bringing criticisms relating to the lack of available apps to an end.
In the same way that Nokia has put its own stamp on Windows Phone 8 with apps such as Nokia Drive, Samsung has included several of its own creations with the ATIV S whilst avoiding weighing the handset down with branded-apps of limited use.
Chat On, the firm’s messaging app that can be found on a variety of its devices, makes an appearance here. So too does Music Hub, the iTunes-like service which allows user to buy tracks and download them straight to the device.
Camera and Video
Along with brilliant displays Samsung also produces excellent cameras and the 8 megapixel lens on the ATIV S is no exception. Nokia has taken many of the Window Phone 8 headlines in terms of photography with the inclusion of its PureView technology in the Lumia 920, but Samsung’s offering is also of a very high quality, producing images which are clear and detailed.
WP8’s camera app is very easy to use and follows the ergonomic design scheme which runs throughout the platform and allows users to easily control several technical elements such as ISO and white balance.
A new innovation brought in with WP8 is a series of ‘Lenses’ which can be added to the camera app to extend its functionality. These ‘Lenses’ are capable of a variety of things ranging from capturing panoramic images to scanning barcodes and searching for a product’s details online, and are an interesting feature that extends the capabilities of the device even further.
Samsung has also included its own Photo Editor app with the ATIV S, giving post-production control over such things as image exposure and brightness while also allowing for Instagram-style effects to be applied.
Video is also of an excellent quality with a range of capture options which, at their highest, can record in 1080p at 30fps. Footage is smooth and fluid and the camera performs just as well with moving images as it does with stills.
Connectivity and Multimedia
Windows Phone 8 introduces NFC support to the platform for the first time so it’s no surprise to see it crop up here. While certainly not a disadvantage the use of this technology has yet to be widely adopted by consumers and we doubt its inclusion will be a major selling point for Samsung.
Multimedia performance is also excellent on the ATIV S and the big, bright display is great for viewing videos. The Xbox Music app, while certainly not exclusive to this device, is very easy to use and gives uncomplicated access to your tracks whilst the audio performance offered by the ATIV S is outstanding and impressively loud, even through the device’s inbuilt speaker.
Performance and Verdict
The ATIVS is an excellent handset which has some distinctive features to set it apart from the pack. It’s the biggest Windows Phone 8 handset we’ve seen so far and Microsoft’s new platform looks outstanding on a 4.8-inch display.
Whilst manufacturers are still constrained from making too many alterations to the new platform, Samsung has managed to make its mark on the ATIV S software in a subtle and positive way. Photo Editor makes up for the lack of decent image-manipulation software available for Windows Phone, and the camera itself performs brilliantly.
What also really stands out is the amount of storage space avaialable. Adding up the full 32GB version of the phone, a 32GB microSD card and 25GB of (paid for) SkyDrive space, there is potentially 89GB of storage space on offer – an enormous amount for a mobile device.
Samsung’s first Windows Phone 8 device can stand up to Nokia and HTC’s offerings, as well as firm’s Android devices such as the Galaxy S III. The Korean firm’s experience as a leading smartphone manufacturer shows and the ATIV S is a high-spec and high-performance device that provides the perfect platform for the excellent Windows Phone 8.