Review – Hands On with the Samsung ATIV S from Rogers

The Samsung ATIV S is the latest smartphone from Samsung running Windows Phone 8. And just like their previous Windows Phone powered devices, the ATIV S brings new specs and features to the platform, like how incredibly thin the device is, its massive screen, and then there’s the addition of expandable storage. Is that enough to set the ATIV S apart from the crowd? I had a chance to use the ATIV S for a couple weeks over the holidays and gathered more than a couple thoughts to share with you about it.

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The ultra thin ATIV S packs a Qualcomm Dual-core 1.5 GHz processor, a massive 4.8 inch HD Super AMOLED screen at 768 x 1280 resulting in pixel density of about 306ppi, 16GB of storage space, 1GB of RAM, and a 2,300 mAh battery in the thin and lightweight frame measuring 137.2 x 70.5 x 8.7 mm and just 135 grams. Of course, there’s also an 8 megapixel rear camera, a 1.2 megapixel front camera, Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2, a MicroSD slot, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, and LTE speeds that support download speeds up to 75MB (that’s the theoretical limit).

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There’s a lot to like with the specs for the ATIV S. One thing that is hardly seen in the Windows Phone world is the the MicroSD expansion slot. Other manufacturers included this option only on their entry level devices. This allows them to keep costs down by only including 8GB or storage and then users can add their own cards. But Samsung understands that this feature is something that the “pro” user is also interested in. The Samsung ATIV S from Rogers has 16GB of storage, plus you can add a 64GB MicroSD card – meaning you can have a total of 80GB of storage on your phone. What’s not to like about that?

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The ATIV S sports the single largest screen on any Windows Phone device at 4.8 inches. The HD Super AMOLED screen is exactly what you would expect from Samsung, it’s clear, crisp, and bright. In the past there was a couple large screen Windows Phone devices, but the problem then was that the OS didn’t support larger resolutions. Now, Windows Phone 8 has support for some higher resolutions and as a result the 4.8 inch screen on the ATIV S runs at 720×1280 and provides an approximant pixel density of 306ppi. As a result of the increased resolution, all you see when you look at the device is this huge awesome screen. Images looked fantastic, and text was very easy to read.

Samsung has maintained the same button layout across all of their devices. That means that the power button is on the right side towards the top, the dedicated camera button is also on the right side but towards the bottom, and the power is on the left side towards the top. With the ATIV S, Samsung switched the Start button on the front of the phone from the capacitive style button on previous Windows Phones, to a more traditional physical button. This means that you can activate the speech engine of Windows Phone even if you have gloves on. The back and search buttons are still the capacitive style.

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With a 4.8 inch screen, you’re going to end up with a big phone. While Samsung is making investments and progress in the area of bendable screens, it’s still a ways off. So there’s no getting around the physical width and height of the device once you put a 4.8 inch screen on it. The ATIV S measures in a 137.2 mm tall and 70.5 mm wide. Compared with the older Focus S from Samsung, the ATIV S is a full 11.2 mm taller, and 3.7 mm wider. The device is just 0.2 mm thicker – 8.7 on the ATIV S compared to 8.5 on the Focus S.

The ATIV S does closely the shape and styling of another Samsung phone, and as a result, a number of people were confused about which device I actually was using. If you like to stand out and be different, then you might want to wrap it in a case or a sticker or something.

Given the sheer size of the phone, one-handed operation is not something that everyone will be able to achieve. If you have larger hands, or have become accustom to sliding the phone around in your hand, then you should still be able to preform many regular every day tasks with one hand. However, typing might be another story.

On the back of the device you’ll find the camera with LED flash at the top in the center. The back panel removes to expose your battery, SIM and MicroSD slots. The back panel is the same super thin plastic that we’ve seen on a number of Samsung devices. It snaps in place and is easily removed with a fingernail under the corner.

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The 8 megapixel camera takes very nice pictures when there’s plenty of light around. In the low light situations, the camera faired pretty well, but sometimes the LED flash just didn’t seem powerful enough to light up the shot. The ATIV S camera won’t replace your DSLR anytime soon. But it can certainly manage very well for an impromptu moment that you want to capture.

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(I snapped this quick picture of the Gingerbread house the kids made over the holidays. Click the image to see the full size version)

Samsung has included support for LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks. All that really means is that the phone has the ability to do super fast downloads over the cellular network. According to specifications listed on the Rogers web site, the ATIV S is capable of download speeds up to 75Mbps. Of course, real world speeds are a different story. During my tests, I saw anywhere between approximately 10 and 34 Mbps for download. The range is most likely due to the changes in location where I was testing and the load on the network. Both of which will have an effect on the overall speed. Regardless, for streaming music or video, managing email, or web surfing, 10 MB is pretty awesome and 34 MB or more, if you’re lucky, is amazing.

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Battery life was nothing short of excellent. I easily made it through a day with push email, twitter, Facebook, and a fair amount of web surfing. You might even be able to make it most of the way through the next day too.

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Rogers has included their Anyplace TV Live software which allows you to stream various live events directly to your phone. There is a fee for this service, so you’ll have to check with Rogers to make sure you’re covered on your plan before you ring up a huge data charge. Samsung has also included a number of custom applications like their own Music Hub, MiniDiary, Live Wallpaper, ChatOn, and Family Story. Overall, I found the applications to be pretty good, with the exception of the Live Wallpaper. All the other applications seem to offer a good number of features and are fairly flexible, but Live Wallpaper only allows you to select 12 pictures that will be cycled for your lockscreen image. It would be better if you could point it to an album or maybe your favourites. But with just 12 pictures, I think most people will get bored of those images quickly. There’s also no ability to say how often the image should rotate. But don’t let that turn you off, there are a number of other free wallpaper apps in the Store that you can pick from, all offering more flexibility.

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When it’s all said and done, the Samsung ATIV S is a fast device, with large screen and lots of room to carry all the music, video’s and pictures you can imagine. The ATIV S has a nice sleek look to it – Samsung has a great ability to make the plastic look and almost even feel like metal.

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So what’s the downside of the ATIV S? Well, it is sleek looking but it lacks the flashy colors that a lot of the other manufacturers have done in this space. People like to personalize their device and colored devices is one way to do that. Samsung knows this is true, because they’ve done it with other phones in their catalog. Further, Samsung has included some applications with the device, but it’s not nearly at the same level as what some of the other manufacturers have done for their devices. And who doesn’t like free apps? Other than those 2 things, I think the ATIV S is solid phone.

The Samsung ATIV S is currently available on Rogers for $130 with a 3 year contract, or $650 if you purchase the phone outright.

About Mike Temporale

Mike Temporale has written 614 posts on Mobile Jaw..

Mike Temporale grew up fascinated by computers since an early age. His first hands on with a computer came when he was 7 years old and a travelling lab of Commodore PET computers made a stop at his school. Hooked on the new world these devices offered, he took any chance possible to get in front of a computer. When Compaq launched the iPaq 3600, he was hooked again. This time on a whole new world of mobile computing. Today, Mike spends his day helping clients deploy and manage their mobile device around the world. From installing custom software, to locking and securing data, and everything in between. He is also the Editor in Chief at Mobile Jaw - a site focused on today's mobile world.