Hands-On With Samsung’s ATIV S: A Windows Phone 8 Whopper That’s Got Galaxy SIII-Style

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The Samsung ATIV S is a whopper of a Windows Phone. Indeed it looks like Samsung has repurposed the Samsung GSIII’s generous form to accomodate Microsoft’s latest WP8 OS. The phone is very thin and light which certainly helps keep the heft down, and it felt polished rather than plasticky — the back sports a brushed metallic effect, locked under lashings of varnish. But if you’re not a fan of reflective surfaces then its blinged-up silvery form and all-over glossy sheen might get tiresome/distracting.

With a 4.8-inch screen slapped on the front there’s no denying the ATIV S is a paid up member of the enormo-phone club — small-handed folk may prefer to cling onto something a little more modest. The Super AMOLED HD screen is certainly bright, colourful and clear, although, in the brightly spotlight test area where I was poking and prodding it,  it suffered from the same blue sheen that afflicts the GSIII — suggesting it may not offer a great viewing experience in bright sunlight.

The touchscreen felt nice and responsive during my brief hands on, although it did fail to move on cue a few times as I swiped — possibly down to me trying to use it with one hand (and a small hand at that). Pinch to zoom was smooth and fast, and scrolling looked pretty slick. When browsing and fully zoomed in on text, the lettering is as smooth as a baby’s behind — just as Microsoft promised.

In terms of software, being a Windows Phone there is no OEM skin sitting atop the ATIV S (Microsoft does not allow skins) so if you’re used to Samsung’s Android phones you’ll need to reset your expectations for WP8. The UI is all Microsoft — with a homescreen comprised of varying sized Live Tiles that pump personal info (like Facebook) updates right to the surface to personalise the look and feel.

Samsung has added a few of its own apps to the phone in an effort to differentiate the device from other Windows Phones, although these look a little lightweight when compared to the mapping, navigation and traffic apps Nokia preloads on its Windows Phones. You get a WhatsApp-style messaging app called ChatOn, a journal app called Mini Diary, a news aggregator called Now and an NFC wallet app. Samsung is also preloading some of its own lenses (i.e. filters) on the camera app — although these were not loaded on the device I saw.

The rear camera is 8MP (and supports 1080p video recording); the front camera is 1.9MP (720p). It wasn’t possible to ascertain the quality of the shots that either lens can take during my brief hands on but the rear camera snapped shots without any noticeable lag.

Under the hood there’s a dual-core 1.5GHz chip and 1GB of RAM. The UI transitions, menus and apps I opened materialised without any major delays.

There are four physical keys on the phone — a power key/lock key, a dedicated camera key, a volume rocker and on the front a home key (alongside touch-keys: back and Bing search, to make up the standard Windows Phone trio of nav keys). All these felt responsive, albeit I did accidentally knock the Bing search key a couple of times — which, again, could get annoying (unless you enjoy being unexpectedly catapulted into Bing).

The back of the ATIV S can be removed to get at the battery. There’s also a Micro SD card slot to expand on board storage (either 16GB or 32GB).