The Samsung Galaxy S3 was without a doubt, the biggest phone of 2012, strengthening Samsung’s hold on the Android smartphone market and even sticking it to the likes of Apple’s iPhone. Meanwhile the end of the year played host to the arrival of the Samsung Ativ S; an unknown quantity in a market where Android ruled supreme and no-one had yet been given access to the OS it ran: Windows Phone 8.

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Samsung Ativ S: Design

Especially when you consider the success of the S3, it’s no surprise that the Ativ S has a lot in common with its Android cousin, both inside and out. Both handsets feature 4.8-inch screens with a hardware home button surrounded by two capacitive keys either side. There are also chromed earpieces and 1.9-megapixel front facing cameras in the top right on each handset.

GS3 Ativ S 1

Both feature a silver band around their edge which plays host to a volume rocker on one side whilst a lock key sits on the opposing side. The Ativ S does offer a dual-detent hardware shutter key on this side too, something we’ve been wanting to see in the Galaxy S family for years, but is yet to materialise. The backs of both devices offer up a centrally mounted 8-megapixel camera and LED flash, whilst the loudspeaker is at the top on the S3 and the bottom on the Ativ S.

S3 Ativ S 2

Construction on both devices in predominantly plastic, with a removable Hyperglazed glossy back on the Galaxy S3 and a faux-metal finish backing on the Ativ S which gives it a more business-like feel. Under the back covers there’s room for a microSIM, a 2100mAh removable battery on the S3 and a 2300mAh removable battery on the Ativ S, both with NFC, as well as a slot for a microSD card to expand the memory. The Ativ S is able to accommodate up to 32GB of additional storage, whilst the S3 wins out with support for up to 64GB.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Samsung Ativ S: Screen

Another element that is almost identical on both devices is the display. Being flagships for their respective operating systems, both phones employ the same impressive 4.8-inch SuperAMOLED screen, which features a 720p HD resolution. AMOLEDs offer excellent blacks and vivid colours, but have a tendency to degrade faster over time than competing LCD panels. In this comparison, the older S3 is dimmer than the Ativ. Nonetheless, both screens are wonderfully clear, and support top notch viewing angles to boot.

S3 Ativ S 6

Winner: Samsung Ativ S

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Samsung Ativ S: Performance

The Samsung Ativ S is one of the first devices to run Windows Phone 8 and as such, is one of the first Windows Phone handsets with a multi-core processor. The silicon powering the Ativ S is a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core chip with 1GB of RAM, whilst the Galaxy S3 features Samsung’s own 1.4GHz Exynos 4 Quad quad-core chip again with a gig of RAM.

In general use, both phones feel tightly wound. The Galaxy S3 has proven time and again that it’s aging gracefully. Navigation is fluid, quick-launching apps from the lockscreen takes no more than a second or two, shutter lag is non-existent and multitasking or using the S3’s more intensive functions like pop out-video have barely any effect on the device’s usability. For an Android device of this calibre, battery life is solid too, with daily charging recommended but not absolutely essential.

Despite the lack of a quad-core processor, the Ativ S also puts on a great show. UI lag is rarely an issue and thanks to that hardware shutter key, the camera can be launched from sleep in just over a second. Multitasking is limited to seven apps which in comparison to the S3 is restrictive but ensures that the experience of jumping between and whilst using applications isn’t disruptive. You will occasionally find yourself waiting for loading bars to finish when opening some larger apps, but it doesn’t detract from the general smoothness of the Ativ S’s operation too much. What’s more the larger battery and power efficiency of Windows Phone 8 should see you well over a day before requiring a recharge.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Samsung Ativ S: OS

Google and Microsoft have very different approaches to designing a mobile operating system and where they can, Samsung will try and modify the user experience even further to their own stylings and preferences. Due to the nature of Windows Phone, the key customisations from Samsung come in the form of tailor-made Windows Phone apps, but with the Samsung Galaxy S3, barely any of the stock Android experience is visible under the company’s own TouchWiz Nature UX overlay.

S3 screen 1S3 screen 2Ativ S screen 1Ativ S screen 2

There’s an amazing depth to the level of customisation available to S3 users, with widgets, homescreens and a wealth of apps supplied by Samsung out-the-box. For some, the extensive lists of options and settings available to tweak and tune may be a little overwhelming, but it does result in a very diverse experience that can cater to a multitude of user types, something that might account for the S3’s incredible success.

S3 Screen 4S3 screen 3Ativ S screen 4Ativ S screen 3

Side by side, Windows Phone 8 feels sparse in comparison. Routing around, all the main functions and features you’d expect are there, but beyond that Windows Phone has a long way to develop in order to offer the same level of personalisation on devices like the Ativ S as can be had on the likes of the Galaxy S3. The app store too is under developed, with some key apps not yet able to support the newer Windows Phone 8 OS used by the Ativ S in favour of Windows Phone 7.

In order to counter some of the shortcomings of Windows Phone, Samsung have included a number of their own Windows Phone apps which add a lot of extra functionality from the get-go.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Samsung Ativ S: Camera

The best way to describe the differences between the two cameras on each respective handset is 'subtle'. For the most part we saw balanced performance, with almost identical colour reproduction, image stability and contrast, with a somewhat overtly sharpened look on some images, but in more extreme conditions the gap widened a little.

S3 VS Ativ S cam 1S3 VS Ativ S cam 2

Both 8-megapixel cameras, performed admirable but when trying to snap a macro shot, the Ativ S had a far easier time of focusing on the subject. As can be seen from the high contrast and darkness samples too, although the gap isn't huge, the Ativ S had the edge in low light performance.

S3 VS Ativ S cam 3S3 VS Ativ S cam 4

On the video front, both phones offer Full HD (1080p) recording at 30fps and both produce equally pleasing results, they might not be the best in the business but they're more the enough for the average videographer. As we've seen before on the S3, both cameras had a tendency to frequently refocus, especially when the camera was moving, but this was a minor annoyance at best.

Winner: Samsung Ativ S

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Samsung Ativ S: Verdict

Although some of the differences feel significant, the gap between the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Samsung Ativ S is smaller than you might first think. Naturally the OS is the most obviously difference and that's enough to sway a prospective customer one way or the other. Windows Phone 8 is a wonderfully slick alternative to the more commonplace Android devices out there, but when compared to the S3's TouchWiz-laden Android Jelly Bean user experience, it can't compete on flexibility. We liked the Ativ S's design but again it's a wholly subjective matter with your preference over hard lines or smooth curves dictating which handset feels more complete.

S3 Ativ S 4

The S3 might be older and as a result has started to show its age, but for the most part it still offers users an experience worthy of a flagship. Versatility remains the S3's strength; thanks to both the out-of-box experience and the breadth of content available on the Google Play store, a factor that although still capable, means the the Ativ S, like all Windows Phone handsets, is still playing 'catch up'.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S3

Thanks to Expansys for supplying us with the Samsung Ativ S.