The ATIV Odyssey, Samsung's first Windows Phone 8 device ($50 on Verizon with a two-year contract) is a basic model, with a 4-inch Super AMOLED touch-screen display, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, and a 5-megapixel main camera with autofocus and LED flash. But this phone, though modest, has a lot of likable features.
I've been informally testing a press sample of the ATIV for several days. It measures a palm-friendly 4.8 by 2.5 by 0.4 inches and weighs a reasonable 4.4 ounces.
The ATIV's 2,100-mAh battery still had plenty of juice left when I finished fidgeting with the phone at the end of a full day. (Samsung promises between 19 and 20 hours of talk time, an impressive number our engineers will confirm when they finish testing the retail version of this phone that's now in our labs.)
I liked Samsung's apps for editing photos and tracking news, and I appreciated that this 4G phone is one of the few Verizon phones that will work on foreign GSM networks—a plus for travelers. Here are more details on the phone:
Brilliant though not very sharp display. Colors on the ATIV's Super AMOLED display looked brilliant—highlighted especially by the bold palette of colors native to the Windows Phone 8 operating system. But the display has only 800-by-480 resolution, which quickly became apparent when viewing text, the calendar-appointment grid, and other elements. All of these appeared a tad grainy.
Wireless sharing. The ATIV, like other Windows Phone 8 phones we've tested, the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC 8X, uses a short-range wireless technology called NFC (near-field communication) that allows phones or other devices to share URLs, calendar appointments, contact info, and other small files when you bump the devices together. NFC also acts as a "wireless manager" for the faster connections via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi that are needed for transmitting larger files.
Unfortunately, Widows Phone 8 devices don't yet support Wi-Fi, the fastest type of connection for such file transfers, so it took me more than 10 minutes to transmit a 1-minute video from the ATIV to the 8X via Bluetooth. Photos, on the other hand, took less than 10 seconds to jump from one phone to the other.
Camera conveniences. The ATIV's camera comes with several editing tools from Samsung, including red-eye removal, photo cropping, auto-enhance, and color adjustment, all of which worked quite well. These useful tools were buried among an unusually large number of cheesy effects (more than a dozen) that ranged from simple tints to heavy-duty image distorters.
News and weather. Samsung's Now app, like many Android widgets, provides an impressive stream of weather, news, stock and currency updates—but only when you have the app open. When it sits on the Start Page as a Smart Tile, it flashes only the temperature of a town or city of your choice.
Humdrum diary. Samsung's Mini Diary, as the name implies, lets you keep a digital journal of your thoughts, voice recordings, photos, drawings, and places you've been. But this app is surprisingly primitive and limited. It won't, for example, let GPS determine your location—even though you have to launch Bing maps to enter that information. Also, it lets you record a voice memo, but there's no voice-to-text option. Perhaps the second edition of Mini Diary will have those critical features.
Bottom line: While the Samsung ATIV lacks the high-resolution display, quad-core processor, and other features that define today's high-end phones, its hardware is more than adequate for most situations. And the phone comes with a decent number of useful apps. The package is even more appealing when you factor in its world-phone capability and attractively low price.
Our buying guide and Ratings for smart phones will help you find the right model for your needs and budget.