Samsung Ativ Odyssey review

As Samsung's first Windows Phone 8 smartphone, the Ativ Odyssey for Verizon Wireless is a surprisingly underwhelming showing.
Photo of Samsung Ativ Odyssey

Windows Phone 8 hasn’t exactly transformed the smartphone space, and the Samsung Ativ Odyssey for Verizon Wireless probably won’t change that. The $49.99 Ativ Odyssey is Samsung’s first U.S. smartphone to run Windows 8, so it’s surprising that it’s a generic, middle-of-the-road handset. It’s small and comfy, and Windows Phone 8 is as slick and speedy as ever, but the Ativ Odyssey doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It’s a decent phone, it just isn’t exciting.

Design and Call Quality
One of my favorite traits about the current crop of Windows Phones is their fun, playful design. The Nokia Lumia 920, for instance, comes clad in a number of different gorgeous polycarbonate colors. Ditto the HTC Windows Phone 8X, which also stands out thanks to its “pyramid” design. Even the inexpensive Nokia Lumia 822 creates some visual interest with its white, rounded form. The Samsung Ativ Odyssey, on the other hand, can pass for any number of faceless, nameless smartphones out there.

The phone is made from the same shiny, cheap-feeling plastic you’ll find on most Samsung smartphones, with the same faux-textured back panel as the Samsung Galaxy S III. On the bright side, the phone is relatively small and comfortable to hold, especially when compared with monsters like the 6.53-ounce Lumia 920. By comparison, the Odyssey weighs just 4.38 ounces and measures 4.82 by 2.52 by 0.44 inches (HWD). There’s a Camera and Power button on the right side of the phone, a 3.5mm headphone jack on top, and a volume rocker and microSD card slot on the left.

The Ativ Odyssey has a 4-inch Super AMOLED display with 800-by-480-pixel resolution. That makes it look a little tighter than the Lumia 822, which has the same resolution spread out over 4.3 inches, but it still fails to impress. While Super AMOLED makes for very rich, vibrant colors, the PenTile pixel arrangement lends a fuzzy, pixelated look to everything, especially brighter colors. There are three backlit touch buttons below the display, and typing onscreen feels fine, despite the relatively small screen size.

The Odyssey is a world phone that supports dual-band EV-DO Rev. A (850/1900 MHz), quad-band GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz), and quad-band UMTS (850/900/1900/2100MHz), as well as 4G LTE and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi on the 2.4 and faster 5GHz bands. 4G LTE data speeds were fine in Manhattan, though unimpressive. The Phone averaged 3.1Mbps down and 2.5Mbps up, which have become pretty typical results for the network in this part of the city.

Reception is merely average, but voice quality is quite strong, especially through the phone’s earpiece. Volume gets extremely loud, and can sound harsh at top volume, but if you keep it set to a more listenable level voices sounds excellent—crisp, clear, and natural. Calls made with the phone sound rather rich and bass-y, though background noise cancellation isn’t great. The speakerphone is loud enough to use outside, and calls sounded fine over a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset; I had no trouble using the headset to control voice dialing.

You get a big 2100mAh battery, which was good for a solid 13 hours and 39 minutes of talk time in my tests. It’s also removable, so you can always bring a spare.

WP8 and Apps
There are still relatively few phones running Windows Phone 8 out on the market—this is only Verizon’s third. Windows Phone 8 is a spare, fast OS, built around a series of live tiles on your home screen. These tiles continuously pull information from social networks, the Internet, messages, and local content stored on your phone, which is both useful and fun. In WP8, live tiles come in different sizes, which lends even more configurability.

Unlike Google’s Android, Microsoft keeps pretty close tabs on the OS, so you’re guaranteed a similar experience no matter which phone you use. For a closer look at WP8, you can read our full review.

Windows Phone is very fast in general, but the Samsung Ativ Odyssey is powered by a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 processor, which is no slouch. It’s the same processor you’ll find in the higher-end Lumia 920 and HTC 8X, and the lower screen resolution here actually makes the Odyssey feel faster. Benchmarks scores are similar across the board, but you’re definitely getting a lot of power for your money.

(Next page: Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions)

Unlike Android, carriers are only allowed to add a finite amount of apps to Windows Phones. On the Odyssey, Samsung has added Family Story, Mini Diary, and Now apps. Now gives you news, stock, and weather updates, while Family Story and Mini Diary are ports of Android apps. Family Story is for group communication, and Mini Diary is, well, a mini diary.

Verizon, meanwhile, has added NFL Mobile, Slacker, and VZ Navigator. Windows Phone 8 doesn’t have built-in, voice-guided navigation, like Android or iOS do. VZ Navigator offers voice-guided driving directions, though there’s no option for transit directions. It’s not a bad option, but it isn’t as good as Nokia Drive, which you can only get on Nokia phones.

Speaking of exclusive apps, Verizon has dibs on Data Sense, which is an excellent data monitoring app. It shows you how much data you’ve used (and where), and it warns you if you get close to using up your monthly limit. It can even map out nearby hotspots, which can help you conserve data on the go. Additionally, Microsoft uses the app on its end to compress data, meaning you’ll actually use less of it. And it has made a deal with DeviceScape to automatically connect your phone to public hotspots, which will be up and running at some point this year.

The Windows Phone app store has over 100,000 apps, but that number is deceiving. You’ll find plenty of the same popular apps you can get on iOS or Android, like Angry Birds and Netflix, but there’s no Spotify, no Temple Run, and no lots-of-other-stuff-you’re-probably-interested-in. Sure, you should be able to find plenty of apps which are similar to those, but it’s sort of like shopping for the generic cereal in a plastic bag on the bottom shelf in the grocery store.

Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
You get 5.02GB of free storage space, about half that of the Lumia 822. There’s also the aforementioned side-mounted microSD card slot, which worked with both my 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards. I was able to listen to AAC, MP3, WAV, and WMA music files, but not FLAC or OGG. Music sounded great over a pair of wired headphones, but bass was lacking over a Altec Lansing BackBeat Bluetooth pair. All of our test video files played back smoothly at resolutions up to 1080p.

The 5-megapixel camera with autofocus and LED flash isn’t bad, but it lacks some of the bells and whistles of the Lumia 822, which has an 8-megapixel Carl Zeiss lens, wide-angle capability, and dual LED flash. Here, you can snap photos almost instantaneously without autofocus, but they mostly come out blurry. It takes the autofocus an average of 0.8 second to kick in. Photos taken with the photo have solid color and detail, though brighter colors have a tendency to get blown out. The video camera recorded a smooth 1080p video at 30 frames per second indoors, but strangely, the video I recorded outside had a surprising amount of stutter. There’s a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat, which is the same as you get on the Lumia 822.

The Ativ Odyssey is sort of a strange choice for Samsung’s entrance into the world of Windows Phone 8, if only because it’s just so average. It isn’t a bad phone, it just isn’t particularly special. You’re better off getting the Nokia Lumia 822, which is free with contract, has a larger display, a sharper design, more internal storage, and a better camera. Or, if you’re willing to pay a little more money, the HTC 8X has a striking, colorful design, a gorgeous 720p display, a better camera, and enhanced Beats Audio.

If you aren’t committed to Windows Phone, you may want to take a look at the Android-based Motorola Droid Razr M, which has the same price and a similar size to the Ativ Odyssey. It also gets you a sharper display, a better camera, and, of course, more than 600,000 apps from the Google Play store. And if it’s apps you’re after, you still can’t beat the Apple iPhone 5, which has the best catalog in the business. It starts at $199.99, but the iPhone 4S can be had for half that price and offers up access to the same, stellar apps. It also has a sharper display and a better camera than the Ativ Odyssey.

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Specifications
Service Provider Verizon Wireless
Screen Details 800-by-480-pixel Super AMOLED
Bands 800, 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 700
Physical Keyboard No
Operating System Windows Phone
Network GSM, CDMA, UMTS
High-Speed Data EVDO Rev A, LTE, CDMA 1X
Form Factor Candy Bar
Megapixels 5 MP
Bluetooth Yes
Camera Yes
Battery Life (As Tested) 13 hours 39 minutes
Camera Flash Yes
microSD Slot Yes
802.11x 802.11 a/b/g
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
Screen Size 4 inches
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 Dual-Core
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 5 GB
GPS Yes

Verdict
As Samsung's first Windows Phone 8 smartphone, the Ativ Odyssey for Verizon Wireless is a surprisingly underwhelming showing.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc