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Samsung Ativ S Windows Phone 8 smartphone hands-on

Samsung showcased its one and only Windows Phone 8 smartphone, the Ativ S, yesterday at the official launch of Windows Phone 8 in Central London. The device, which was the first WP8 to be announced, was unveiled back in August at IFA and we did catch a glimpse of it when Samsung unveiled the Ativ range back then.

The phone is 137x71x8.7mm and weighs 135g; physical properties that are quite close to the Samsung Galaxy S3, its Android alter ego - but design wise, the handset doesn’t adopt the S3’s pebble-like design. The phone has a premium hairline design with a plastic back brushed metal finish combined with an aluminium chassis and side buttons.

The backplate reminds us of the ones on the Nokia E-series of yesteryear, sporting big Samsung and Windows Phone logos and what looks like a speaker grill that extends all the way across the back of the smartphone.

But there are some striking similarities with the Galaxy S3, some of which leaves us to believe that the Ativ S and the S3 were built using the same blueprint. There’s a Windows home button on the front with back and search keys like on all other Windows Phone 8 handsets.

Samsung swapped the Exynos 4412 quad-core system-on-chip for a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8260 model clocked at 1.5Ghz with an Adreno 225 GPU. There’s 1GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB onboard storage, support for NFC, a microSD card slot and a 2,300mAh battery, exactly the same as the Galaxy S3.

The similarities extend to the cameras (an 8-megapixel one with LED flash and a front facing 1.9-megapixel model) with a dedicated camera button – making picture taking a doddle - and then, there’s that massive 4.8in Super AMOLED display with a 1,280 x 720 pixels covered with Gorilla Glass 2, which looks just as striking as the one on the Ativ S’s Android cousin.

During the few minutes we played with it, we found overall performance to be excellent. Apps started within a fraction of a second and the Windows Phone 8 Live Tiles (and now Live Apps) rendered beautifully without any noticeable lag. Running our fingers through the application list showed how responsive the phone and the OS were.

The phone supports HSPA+, allowing for a theoretical maximum speed of 42Mbps, although we couldn’t help but notice the Qualcomm 4G sticker on the top of one of the smartphones on display. HSPA+ though is not LTE and doesn’t qualify as 4G.

A Samsung representative told us that the company chose to launch just one smartphone as it simply didn't feel the need to unleash two like its rivals HTC and Nokia.

The Ativ S will feature a few exclusive features like ChatOn, Samsung Zone, Photo editor and Now, with US customers getting the Samsung Hub. But there’s no equivalent to the S Beam or other features found on the S3 - at least not yet.

The phone will debut across the pond on Verizon and will be called the Ativ Odyssey. Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer went on record during the presentation to confirm that the Odyssey and the Ativ S will not be the same models.

The phone will face competition from the HTC Windows Phone 8X and the Nokia Lumia 920 but Samsung’s marketing clout means that it should be the more prominent model, though we couldn’t help but notice that only Phones4U and O2 will be stocking the handsets in the UK.

The phone is expected to land on 5 November for around £432 SIM-Free which is more than HTC’s flagship Windows Phone 8 handset but less than the Nokia Lumia 920.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.