If you painted over the Windows logo on the Samsung Ativ S Neo’s home button, shut the thing down, and handed it to a random smartphone user, you might get a response like “I think the Galaxy S III was thinner than this.” But once you turn on this Sprint Windows Phone 8 offering—$49.99 with a two-year contract, $449.99 without—you find a Samsung oddity: a phone that features most of the company’s engineering smarts but none of its usual interface tinkering.
Size, Screen, and Storage
The Ativ S’s 4.77-inch screen feels a little smaller than that number suggests, largely thanks to Windows Phone’s avoidance of traditional menus and buttons—you don’t need to tap something in a corner nearly as often as you would in Android. Its 1,280-by-720-pixel resolution, only a little below an iPhone’s pixel density, looks sharp indoors and out.
The phone mimics the plastic-and-chrome look of Samsung’s recent Android models, which makes it seem a bit dated. There’s a physical camera button on the side, which makes taking one-handed shots a tricky proposition. The plastic back peels off and reveals a microSD card slot that’s accessible with the battery in place, and a SIM card slot that’s not.
Samsung includes 16 gigabytes of storage, of which 12.06GB were available after resetting the phone to factory configuration. You can expand on that by deleting some of the bundled apps—an underrated advantage of Windows Phone over Android.
Calls, Battery Life, and Bandwidth
The Ativ S has some great noise cancellation: The call I made standing underneath a busy freeway and above a freight train screeching around a curve barely included that background noise. Switching to speakerphone did not make things much worse, although whispers dropped out.
In quieter confines, the worst I could say for the phone was that speakerphone mode made my voice sound too loud. With no discernible sidetone to remind you of how you sound, you may find yourself unintentionally speaking too loudly. One other mild quirk: When I shut off the screen with the power button and then took the phone away from my head, it wouldn’t light up automatically.
Talk-time battery length didn’t match Samsung’s estimate of 15 hours, but 12 hours and 52 minutes still represents a strong performance—especially with only a 2,000 milliamp-hour battery inside. Voice dialing through a Plantronics Bluetooth headset was no problem.
The Ativ S speaks LTE, but Sprint’s LTE is not widely available and slow where it is in service. The best result the Speedtest.net app observed was 11.46 Mbps, well below what I’ve seen LTE delivers on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Switch to Wi-Fi whenever you can.
But this phone also includes a GSM radio, so you can also use it with cheap prepaid service overseas once you have Sprint unlock it. That alone makes the Ativ S superior to Sprint’s other Windows Phone offering, the already-dated HTC 8XT.
Camera, Connectivity, and Apps
The 8-megapixel camera on the back isn’t iPhone-outstanding but did generally good work. There’s enough resolution here that digital zoom doesn’t have to guarantee awful results, but brightly lit objects sometimes had a gauzy haze around them.
The back camera can record 1080p video while the front, 1.2-megapixel camera only does 720p. You may get better results with the former: When I panned rapidly around a room, the back camera’s footage got a little choppy while the front camera’s video stayed smooth.
Samsung includes NFC wireless and a bundled app that’s actually useful: Ativ Beam lets it send files to other Samsung Windows Phone devices and, much more important, NFC-equipped Android phones. It worked exactly as advertised, sending and receiving images to and from a Nexus 4. A separate Samsung Link app can send content wirelessly to DLNA-enabled TVs, but there’s no wired video-out option here.
Microsoft and third-party developers continue to chip away at the longstanding Windows Phone problem of not enough apps. But you still often have to shop around to find alternatives to name-brand apps that have yet to grace WP8 with their presence (for instance, downloading Startingline Media’s Bikes instead of Spotcycle’s bike-sharing app). I wouldn’t expect a massive change to this situation before you’d be eligible for your next subsidized purchase at Sprint.
If your smartphone use is more about the Web than apps—or if you habitually check your social-media presence, something WP8′s live tiles excel at helping you manage—the Ativ S Neo makes for a good call. It also offers a virtue absent from such better-known Samsung entries as theGalaxy S 4: simplicity. One other budget smartphone on Sprint worth considering is the Android-powered Vital, which delivers a 5-inch display and a 13-megapixel camera for just $99.99, although it’s an average performer otherwise.
|Phone Capability / Network||GSM, CDMA, UMTS, LTE|
|Screen Resolution||1280 x 720 pixels|
|Dimensions||5.33 x 2.72 x 0.36 inches|
|Video Camera Resolution||1080p|
|Available Integrated Storage||12.06 GB|
|Processor Speed||1.4 GHz|
|Total Integrated Storage||16 GB|
|High-Speed Data||GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, EVDO Rev A, LTE|
|Screen Type||IPS LCD|
|Operating System as Tested||Windows Phone 8|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP Rear|
|1.2 MP Front|
|Screen Pixels Per Inch||308 ppi|
|Bands||800, 850, 900, 1800|
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
|Screen Size||4.77 inches|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc