A few weeks with an Ativ S phone from Samsung (w/Bell Canada). A review.
I was really eager to put my mitts on the Ativ S. I was interested in Windows phone since Windows Phone 7 (WP7) but timing and 3 years contracts only get you so far. So I have been using a Samsung Galaxy S for 2 year and a half with Android 2.3.1 Aka. Gingerbread. People have been complaining that WP8 can't be installed on recent phones like the Nokia 900, but I must say that I haven't been threated well by Android either. An OS upgrade have been made available a few month after release but after that nothing, and more: updates from apps that expects better hardware made my top-of-the-line phone from 2010 barely usable. So I made the jump.
Now the Phone itself!
The Phone itself is light in the and feel solid in the hand. The back cover feel flimsy but I dont think that it will ve a long term issue unless you plan to open it often. All buttons are well placed as well as ports, you can reach it with ease. It took me a few days to get used to the size of the device, I have no small hand and I have had some trouble using the device one handed when a bumper protector is installed, without the cover I didn't had problem. I almost dropped it once because it is so thin that when I used the off switch to turned it down he slipped. Also it is the only Windows Phone 8 with a sd card slot, witch was the selling point for me. By the way, a strange behaviour: when I turn it off it often reboot right away without me willing so, weird.
The display is gorgous, I can't compare it hand to hand with a IPhone or another top of the line Android but I can say that it does the job well. I can read without straining even on the smallest character size. Viewing angles are great but glare can be an issue in direct sunlight, but no surprise here.
I listen to music a lot on my phone so it is an important feature to me. I can say that the converter in this phone does the job well: it render sound accurately without extra dynamic or bass so good sound quality overall. However, I have two issues with the Ativ as a Music consumption device. First, a small popping sound appear from time to time when listening through headphones (tried it with many headphones). From what I have observe those popping sounds appear whenever a new connection to a network through Wifi is attempted, my guess is that it is a problem with the shielding between components. Second: when music playback is engaged for the first time the phone "freeze" for 10 seconds, of course I have about 30 gigs of mp3 on my SD card wich could be the cause of this behavior but it is anoying nonetheless. The external speaker is loud enough to be usefull but won't win any prizes.
GPS and navigation:
The GPS work flawlessly and acurately, it can pinpoint it's current location quickly. That being said, the Ativ S is NOT bundled with any routing software whatsoever. The bundled map app can locate adresses and point of interests with so-so accuracy and you must use a third party software to get directions, I buyed gMaps (2$ not from Google) and it get the job done. On the plus side the map software store it's map locally on the phone, so it does not need any network to be used, don't forget to download and update your maps however.
From what I have been able to snap (see the "bug" section) the camera is average all in all. The camera is responsive, a click of a physical shutter away, easy to use and work well in most conditions. Low light pictures are average, better than my old Galaxy S but not as great as what I see from the Nokia or the IPhone. Colors are a little oversaturated, the blues and reds are really too intense.
Here are some samples that I took around:https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/114486866740131536619/albums/5828164249505426849
Wifi connectivity is great, I hadn't had a problem to connect to any wireless network and signal came strong from anywhere in the house or in the vicinity without a problem. LTE connectivity is blinding fast, a Gig of data went past without me noticing it (blame it on facebook photosurfing). I haven't notice any "death grip" issues either.
Call quality was good overall, I had one instance of a strange echo while talking other than that signal come clear and loud enough to be understood by both party.
Battery life is great on this phone. On light use, a little browsing, a few calls and text, you get two days of use. With heavy using: 2-3 hours of gaming, 5-7 hours of music listening, web browsing, full notification and sync and a few calls I went to bed with 20% of battery remaining! Great battery life.
The messaging app let you chose the channel of choice for messaging, as far as I am concerned it is SMS or Facebook, but I guess that more channels would be available in time. The keyboard is good, it predict accurately what I want to write but beware: the touchscreen is really sensitive, the lightest touch write a character. I often wish that swype was available for WP8 though.
Windows Phone 8 is really easy to operate. You can get your bearing in a matter of minutes. Social Network integration is great and painless. Cloud integration is also well implemented, WP8 come with 7 gigs on Skydrive and backups of Pictures, messaging conversation, installed app, contacts, settings, etc. are easy to configure and use. I have had to reset my unit 2 times and to change my phone once (see "Bug" section) and restauration worked well every time, only a handfull of apps had to be re-installed manually. WP8 does not have a notification centre however, it is not a deal breaker in my opinion because live tiles does the job well, but it is annoying nonetheless. Another weak suit is ther is no universal search on the phone. Internet browsing is also really fast but with few rendering issues (font size mostly) even if it score 100% on the browser Acid Test (http://acid3.acidtests.org/
Bloatware is almost inexistant on the Ativ S and it can be ignore without much effort. As I said before the absence of a driving direction app is barely excusable in a high-end smartphone (Bell Canada market the Ativ S as a 'Superphone'). Office and One-Note is pre-instaled on the device and I havent spent a lot of time on those butt they seem to work very well for smartphone apps. As for the app store I won't go in details because it is a complex matters I would say however that there is not a use case that I have not been able to cover with the current App selection, plus there are a lot of good games on Xbox Live store. I sure miss some, such as a native Kobo store App, but most of all Google absence is where it hurts, give me Google Maps, search and Reader.
Conversion from Android:
I had some trouble importing a few contacts for no obvious reasons, appart from that Google Calendar and mail is well integrated in Microsoft's OS.
As a early adopter I was ready to face some bugs, I have been well served! My first Ativ S had some issues with the Maps app. The app wouldn't get any results for any search if it was connected to a network (cellular or Wi-fi). My camera stopped working after about a week, to this day I am not sure if it was a hardware problem or a OS update that caused it. Those two bugs have forced me to get a replacement unit, they don't appear on my new unit, but a) I have not updated my Phone OS and b) I have set it up in english instead of french, so I am not yet sure if it was hardware or software problems. Finally, to this day, I havent been able to sync it with my Windows 7 pc as DRIVERS AREN'T YET AVAILABLE!!! It appears that they are available on Windows 8 but it can be a deal breaker for many. I had a few issues with some apps that were developped for WP7, but nothing major.
- Social Network integration
- Lucious Screen
- Excelent battery
- SD card slot + 16 gigs on the phone
- Powerfull processor
- Excelent network connectivity
- Good sound
- No windows 7 drivers be warned!
- No google services
- No navigation out of the box
- Less apps than other platforms
Overall: 7.5/10 but potentially a 8.5-9/10 if MS and Samsung clean it's act as all flaws are software flaws.