Samsung Ativ Odyssey
9th Feb 2013 | 16:00
Budget pricing begets budget features in this Windows Phone 8 handset
Introduction and design
With the initial rush of Windows Phone 8 devices now out for a couple of months and entrenched in the minds of potential converts to Microsoft's mobile OS (or those upgrading from WP7 handsets), we're now seeing a second wave of options, notably on the lower end of the entry price landscape. Case in point: the Samsung Ativ Odyssey, available exclusively on Verizon.
It's a budget option among Windows Phone 8 handsets, but the Ativ Odyssey isn't meek when it comes to performance. Samsung's device sports the same dual-core Snapdragon 1.5Ghz processor seen in other early WP8 devices, along with 1GB of RAM, allowing the vibrant OS to flow as fluidly as expected.
Compared to its WP8 brethren, however, the lower price point – $50 with a two-year agreement – comes with some limitations, namely a middling display, lower-resolution camera, and an unremarkable build that's unfortunately highlighted by cheap-feeling plastic on the back and sides. Whether those sacrifices level out with the savings over another device depends on what you want from the handset.
The Samsung Ativ Odyssey sports a fairly similar design as its flagship Galaxy line of Android devices, albeit on a smaller scale: it comes with a four-inch display, which runs at 480x800 and is covered by sturdy Gorilla Glass.
In fact, the build of the phone, with its rounded back and sides, actually feels a lot like an iPhone 3G/3GS in the hand, recalling memories of Apple designs from years past (surprise, surprise). The device is 4.82 inches tall, 2.5 inches across, and 0.43 inches thick.
Along with the display, the front of the Ativ Odyssey includes very large reflective silver logos for both Verizon and Samsung, which couldn't be more unnecessary on a relatively small device.
The latter logo in particular leaves little room for the Windows Phone soft touch buttons (Back, Start, and Search), which look and feel cramped as a result. While playing games and even just simply holding the phone, we'd often accidentally trigger the back or search button without trying, which can be particularly frustrating while gaming.
Meanwhile, the back looks like brushed metal but feels like the same plastic used for the glossy faux-metal sides and bottom. Another Verizon logo is here in case you forget the provider, along with a Windows Phone icon. The backing comes off without too much hassle thanks to a slit on the upper left, and within you'll find the sizeable, removable 2100 mAh battery, along with the SIM card slot.
On the left side of the phone is a volume rocker up top with a covered microSD slot near the bottom; it accepts cards up to 64GB in size, which you'll likely find handy with just 8GB of internal storage. The right side of the Ativ Odyssey has a power button and the physical camera shutter/access button, while the headphone jack is on the top of the phone and the USB port is located at the bottom.
While the 480x800 display is common for lower-end Windows Phone 8 devices, this one particularly disappoints. We were recently impressed by the solid clarity of the Lumia 810's screen at the same resolution on a slightly larger display, but the Ativ Odyssey's four-inch Super AMOLED screen shows its pixels throughout, whether you're looking at the Start screen, playing a game, or browsing the web.
It's distracting and easily the most disappointing feature of the device, making the handset seem dated from first glance when the internals are otherwise pretty good.
Interface, contacts, and calling
The Samsung Ativ Odyssey runs Windows Phone 8, which is the latest and greatest edition of Microsoft's mobile OS – and while the phone cuts some corners, you're getting the same eye-catching interface and smooth performance seen elsewhere.
Windows Phone 8 looks completely unlike both iOS and Android, with large and colorful squares and rectangles that can be resized and moved around the Start screen, which extends on as far as you'd like based on your pinned apps. Any apps not pinned to Start are found on a text listing located by swiping left.
The biggest UI upgrade in Windows Phone 8 is undoubtedly that of Live Tiles. Depending on the app and its size on the screen – full square, quarter square, or rectangle – the tile can display helpful information like email previews, the current temperature, or social networking correspondence. Even the People app, which pulls together contacts from online accounts, displays friends' photos as they flip into little sections on the tile.
For those tired of the typical grids of tiny app icons, Windows Phone's bold UI is a welcome change of pace, and you can customize the color scheme of the tiles and swap between black and white backdrops as desired.
Contacts and calling
As hinted above, the People app is the all-in-one destination for contacts on the Ativ Odyssey, pulling in phone numbers, email addresses, and more from your Google, Microsoft, and social networking accounts, and merging it all together with very stellar results. Of course, you can always add your own local contacts.
The phone app itself uses a stark design with large numbers and just Verizon Wireless listed in the blank space up top. We had very good results over Verizon's 4G LTE network while testing in Chicago, with mostly clear call reception coming through and positive reactions to the call quality from those on the other line.
We've had similar results with other handsets on Verizon over LTE, and luckily the Ativ Odyssey is no different in that regard.
Messaging, email, and Internet
The Ativ Odyssey arrives with the stock Windows Phone 8 apps for messaging, email, and web browsing. The Messaging app splits its attention between Threads (SMS and MMS conversations) and Online, the latter of which allows chat via Facebook.
Email on Windows Phone 8, meanwhile, is a solid experience, with the threaded conversation view helping you keep up with lengthy chains, and the attractive loading animation whooshing each email into view.
Unfortunately, the email client won't automatically load images – necessitating a repetitive tap with each new message – and it shows many emails from a zoomed-out view at first, which is very difficult to read on the fuzzy display.
Internet Explorer is the browser of choice for the OS, expectedly, and it's a pretty solid mobile take on the venerable web surfing solution. We love the option to have it default to standard, non-mobile sites, but then again, small text isn't a great match for this display, and web browsing in general suffers a bit from the lack of clarity.
Another quirk we noticed while using all three apps was how cramped the screen felt during typing. Coming from slightly larger Windows Phone 8 devices, we found the four-inch display just a bit confining while tapping out emails and texts, which made for more common typos or accidentally hitting icons on the screen.
But thanks to Verizon's stellar 4G LTE service, we experienced stellar browsing speeds through, with pages loading quickly throughout and download speeds on apps and other media proving consistently strong.
Camera, battery, and connectivity
The camera is one area where the Ativ Odyssey skimps on quality compared to its Windows Phone 8 competition, packing in a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera as opposed to the 8-megapixel ones typically seen in this space. As a result, photos offer less clarity in general, and typically show a bit more visual noise, particularly in backdrops.
As such, Samsung's Windows Phone 8 offering probably won't replace your point-and-shoot camera, unlike the Nokia's Lumia line – but it does take pretty solid snapshots, assuming you're not doing more than sharing them with pals and posting them online. And thanks to the OS-standard physical shutter button, pulling up the app and snapping photos is a breeze.
The Ativ Odyssey also shoots video from within the same app, and the results there are a bit more positive, as the 1080p footage we shot turned out clear and nicely detailed. The autofocus feature can take a bit long to adjust between targets, though, especially while moving, but for everyday clips it'll get the job done.
Expectedly, the device also has a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera for video chats and self-shot photos, and considering the specs, it's neither designed for nor well worth using for much other than those needs.
Battery and connectivity
Considering the ways in which the device undercuts some expectations, it's actually quite strong in the battery department. The robust 2100 mAh removable pack offers enough juice to get most through the day with regular use, including web browsing, phone usage, and streaming audio or video.
And less-frequent users who will keep the phone in a pocket or purse for most of the day can look forward to not having to charge the Ativ Odyssey every single night, as the sizeable battery retains its charge well when not being consistently prodded.
Beyond the 4G LTE connection, which we found stellar for both calls and data usage, the Ativ Odyssey supports Wi-Fi a/b/g/n connectivity, along with Bluetooth 3.1. It's also Mobile Hotspot enabled for up to eight devices, depending on plan.
Maps and apps
The Ativ Odyssey's built-in Maps app thankfully includes transit stops and both walking and driving directions, but it's inconsistent and comes with some frustrating quirks.
Typing in a nearby intersection at times instead sent us to a location far away (even in another state), while other times the GPS had trouble locating us on the map. While we prefer to use a native app instead of a web version whenever possible, we had more success using the Google Maps web app in this case.
Along with the Windows Phone 8-standard apps like Office (document, spreadsheet, and presentation creation) and OneNote (for note-taking), the Ativ Odyssey comes with a handful of Samsung-provided tools.
MiniDiary is a digital diary for notes and photos that can be password-protected, while Now serves up weather and headlines and shows the current temperature on its LiveTile. Verizon also contributes its VZW Navigator app for voice-guided navigation, which requires a subscription, as well as the NFL Mobile app.
Naturally, you can fill the phone up with any number of downloaded apps from the Windows Phone 8 marketplace, but while Microsoft claims to be recruiting the biggest apps from other platforms, the selection is still scarce. Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and Skype all have official apps, but Google's non-search apps are MIA, along with Flipboard and many other headline options.
It's also difficult to find what you're looking for in the store, with the listings clogged with middling knock-offs of established apps and games from iOS and Android. And games are a particular weak point, despite the Xbox tie-in and ability to play a handful of exclusive titles (like Skulls of the Shogun) familiar to Xbox 360 users. Many of the platform's top games are quite dated elsewhere, but only recently hit Windows Phone.
App and game selection is an ongoing issue with Windows Phone, though, and it's certainly not limited to the Ativ Odyssey – though if you're used to the more robust ecosystems of other devices, switching to Windows Phone 8 might feel very limiting indeed.
The Samsung Ativ Odyssey delivers the performance and stylish UI that we expect from a Windows Phone 8 device, albeit in a smaller package than much of its competition. Verizon's 4G LTE service makes for a handset that can speedily surf the web, not to mention ably handle clear calls, plus the battery is surprisingly robust.
But with the smaller form-factor and cheaper price come concessions, some of which may take this solid device out of consideration for prospective buyers.
Windows Phone 8 still feels like such a breath of fresh air in a market owned by iOS and Android devices. The customizable Live Tiles are a fantastic addition over previous iterations, and the OS runs very well on the Ativ Odyssey, with no noticeable spurts of lag during use.
Verizon's 4G LTE network remains a strong performer for both data speeds and clear calls, both of which were consistently great during use.
Battery life on the Ativ Odyssey exceeds expectations, easily delivering more than a full day's use for most regular phone users, while less-active owners can stretch that much further.
We've seen solid displays running at 480x800, but this isn't one of them. The Ativ Odyssey's screen makes its pixels distractingly discernible, which detracts from apps and games, not to mention web surfing and email reading. And the cheap plastic backing and unnecessarily large front logos make it feel a bit chintzy.
The 5-megapixel camera is on the lower end for Windows Phone 8 devices, which isn't a huge deal if you're just snapping quick shots for friends and family, but the Ativ Odyssey won't displace a standalone point-and-shoot option.
Using the built-in Maps app came with some frustration, and it's not like there's a wealth of great options to choose from in the marketplace. Windows Phone 8 continues to lag well behind its competitors in apps and games selection, and the tide isn't turning as quickly as it should.
As a lower-priced entry model into the world of Windows Phone 8, Samsung's Ativ Odyssey does a solid job of delivering the slick OS experience without lag, and Verizon's 4G LTE coverage ensures quality calls and data usage.
However, a low on-contract price isn't such a remarkable feat here; the Nokia Lumia 822 is free on Verizon with an agreement, and delivers more internal storage and a better camera, while the HTC Windows Phone 8X packs in a dramatically improved screen and a stylish build for $100 with contract. And that doesn't take into consideration the WP8 options on other carriers.
Considering Samsung's continued Android success, we hoped a bit of that gusto would feed into its Windows Phone 8 efforts in the United States, but the Ativ Odyssey won't turn any heads – certainly not with that middling display and uninspiring design. It excels in some areas, sure, but not enough to tie you down for two years just to save a few bucks now.