Samsung Ativ S review

A lack of 4G holds back an otherwise stellar Windows Phone.

Ativ S

TechRadar Verdict


  • +

    Thin, stylish design

  • +

    Biggest screen of any Windows Phone 8 device

  • +

    Strong specs

  • +

    MicroSD support


  • -

    Limited WP8 apps

  • -

    No 4G

  • -

    Made of slippery plastic

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Producing powerful and balanced devices like the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2, Samsung is a force to be reckoned with in the Android smartphone market. Not one to be rushed, the Korean manufacturer has taken its sweet time producing a Windows Phone 8 device.

After some delay, the Samsung Ativ S has emerged. With its big and bright display, it shows just how lovely those Windows Phone 8 Live Tiles can be. With the Ativ moniker, it stands among the Ativ Smart PC, Ativ Smart PC Pro, and Ativ Tab as Samsung devices built to use the latest Windows 8 and Windows RT software.

While Microsoft's mobile OS is still young and the Windows app store is still being populated, store shelves are filling up with WP8 devices. Both HTC and Nokia have substantial offerings, the HTC 8X and HTC 8S and the Lumia 822 and Lumia 920, respectively.

Just as Microsoft's mobile platform is finding its legs, competition is heating up for the title of flagship WP8 device. However, for many customers the Ativ S may not even be in the running due to uneven carrier treatment. In Australia, the U.S. and in the U.K., the Ativ S is only a 3G device. You'll have to be a lucky Canadian on Bell to experience 4G LTE speeds with the Ativ S.

While we loved the Ativ S's big display, and found it a subdued alternative to colorful handsets like the 8X and Lumia lineup, it suffers the same limitations as other WP8 devices. Also, the lack of 4G support in most places should have power users hesitant to jump in. In the U.S., they'll want to wait for Verizon's rumored Ativ Odyssey, which could end up being the 4G version of the Ativ S we so desire.

While Samsung has crafted a handsome, reliable device, the hunt for the ultimate WP8 device is still on. Read on to find out what great touches the Korean manufacturer has brought to the WP8 space, and the reasons why consumers should still be a tad hesitant to embrace the Ativ S.


Samsung's Ativ S bears a very strong resemblance to both the Galaxy SII and SIII, to the point where it feels like one of those phones retrofitted with WP8 software.

Physically, the Ativ S has two major accomplishments under its belt: it's the thinnest build of any Windows Phone 8 device and it has the largest screen. This alone makes it deserving of attention from consumers.

Samsung Ativ S review

That AMOLED display is 4.8-inches, just a little bit bigger than the WP8 device with the second largest screen, the Nokia Lumia 920 at 4.5-inches. At 306 pixels per inch, the display is actually less dense than the HTC and Nokia competition, but you'd never know it with your naked eye. This large, well-lit display really makes those Live Tiles sing, and the viewing angles are nothing short of spectacular. Even in bright sunlight we had no trouble looking at the Ativ S.

The body of the Ativ S isn't bad to look at either. It has a long, brushed metallic exterior, like a Galaxy S3. Don't let that chromed appearance fool you though, just like the S3 the Ativ S is all plastic.

The Ativ S's slim body and metallic design give it a mature, subdued appearance that we find appealing. Consumers who found the candy-colored HTC 8X too playful or the Lumia 920 too obviously plastic will be delighted with it.

However, the Ativ S is so slick it's downright slippery. It almost slid out of our hands on a number of occasions. That's not something that would ever happen with a grippy HTC 8X or 8S. Hopefully there will be stylish flip covers for the Ativ S, just like the S3.

Inside, the Ativ S packs power. It doesn't have an S3's quad-core, but its 1.5 GHz dual-core is nothing to sneeze at. There's also 1GB of RAM, and the option of 16 or 32GB of internal memory.

Fans of removable batteries and micro-SD cards rejoice, the Ativ S has both. Just like an S3, the thin backplate is removable, revealing a 2,300 mAh battery, micro-SIM and SD card slot. That, combined with ample internal memory, makes it ideal photos and videos.

As with the S3, the backplate is shockingly thin. Taking it off always made us feel like we might break it, but it held up well to multiple removals, and the bending we subjected it to.

Samsung Ativ S review

On the rear you'll also spy an 8-megapixel lense and LED flash. There's also the long, thin speaker grill we often see on Samsung phones.

The top right side of the Ativ S has the lock/power button used for waking the phone and turning it off. On the bottom right lies a dedicated camera button, a signature of Windows Phone 8 design. It's a choice we agree with, as it's very convenient for grabbing a quick shot.

Samsung Ativ S review

On the left side is your standard volume rocker. It should be noted that all three of the buttons sit somewhat loosely in their sockets. You can feel them move around as you press them, and hear them click if you shake the phone. As with the iPhone 5, it's a small detail that detracts just the tiniest bit from overall premium feel of the phone.

Overall, the Ativ S is a very handsome, smartly designed phone. While long, thin and metallic has become something of a standard design for Android devices, this is a new look for the revamped Windows Phone. It sets it apart from the more colorful competition, and while some consumers may balk at its size, a subdued, thin look plus removable storage and battery make it a very viable option.