Samsung unveiled its first ever Windows Phone 8 handset, the Ativ S, at IFA in Berlin earlier this year. At Samsung's Windows 8 launch this week, V3 got a chance to put the Ativ S through its paces. We have to say, despite Samsung's Android focus, our opening impressions of its first WP8 phone are positive.
Visually the Ativ S is close to identical to the Galaxy S3, featuring the same ergonomic, slightly curved chassis. This means that in hand, the Ativ S is all but indistinguishable from the S3; it is practically the same size, measuring in at 137x70x8.7mm. The Galaxy S3 by comparison measures in at a slightly tweaked 131x71x8.6mm.
The same is true of the Ativ S' weight, with it being only two grams heavier than the 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 S3.
Sadly, while meaning the Ativ S is comfortable in hand, its similarity to the 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 back plate. Featuring a close to identical design to the S3, we're worried the Ativ S may suffer the same problem.
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 incredibly dimly lit showroom, we were very impressed with the Ativ S' screen.
Like the S3, the Ativ S' display is incredibly 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 operating system, Microsoft has touted Windows Phone 8 as its best mobile offering to date.
The OS features the same tiled user interface as Windows Phone 7, but this time 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 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.
Like the Lumia 920, the Ativ S is blazingly fast. Playing with the Ativ S we found 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 the device is just as smooth and fast as Apple's iPhone 5.
Another key addition to the Windows Phone platform in WP8 is the inclusion of dual-core processor support. Previously, Microsoft had insisted 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 the additions are necessary. Most off the added services we saw are simply duplicate versions of Microsoft made 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 and 1.9MP front-facing camera. Though we only got to see a few sample shots pre-taken on the device, with a software block stopping us taking any of our own, the sample shots did look decent, boasting decent colour and light levels and picture clarity.
Considering the fact the Ativ S' rear camera features the same autofocus, LED flash Geo-tagging and image stabilisation features as the S3, we have high hopes for its camera and are looking forward to getting a more thorough go with it.
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 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 the Ativ S may struggle.
Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Ativ S.
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