The biggest mobile announcement to emerge from Microsoft at the end of last year, alongside the Surface RT Tab, was the arrival of Windows Phone 8 and a range of five shiny new handsets to show it off.

Whilst Nokia and HTC produced two brightly coloured smartphones a piece, Samsung poured all its efforts into producing a single high-end handset joining company's already vast mobile portfolio: the Samsung Ativ S.

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Samsung Ativ S: Design

A glance at the Ativ S and you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 or Samsung Galaxy S3. The Ativ S features a squared design with a slight rounding at its corners and a silver banding around the edge which plays host to the volume rocker, power/lock key and a hardware shutter button, something we’re particularly happy to see.

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Although the handset is predominantly plastic, the faux brushed metal finish is wholly convincing and although not as striking as the vibrant WP8 handsets produced by HTC or Nokia, it exudes an air of sophistication which makes this the most business-like Windows Phone around.

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The Samsung’s back is removable, granting the user access to its 2300mAh battery, a microSIM tray and a microSD card slot, along with 16GB internal storage.

Samsung Ativ S: Screen

The Ativ S brings the fantastic screen which made its debut on the Samsung Galaxy S3 to the Windows Phone world. The handset employs a 4.8-inch SuperAMOLED display with a 720p HD (720x1280) resolution - the largest display ever seen on a Windows Phone device.

Ativ S screen

Colours are vibrant and as it utilises AMOLED technology, blacks are near perfect. The ability to support a 720p HD resolution comes as a result of the new hardware allowances of Windows Phone 8 and keeps things looking crisp with text legible. AMOLEDs don’t produce as convincing whites as LCD-based panels, but unless compared side-by-side, the viewing experience is more than usable.

Samsung Ativ S: Performance

Windows Phone has enabled hardware manufacturers to be a little more creative with the innards of the WP8-powered smartphones. Aspects like removable memory, HD resolution display and a multi-core processor are things previously been unattainable on Windows Phone 7.5 or older. The brain inside the Samsung isn’t a dual-core chip of Samsung’s own creation, but rather a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.5GHz dual-core chip: perhaps one of the best dual-core chips in use in smartphones right now.

The processor, paired with the relatively lightweight, unfussed nature of Windows Phone, means that everything feels crisp and responsive with the ‘loading’ message seldom appearing, even when jumping between more demanding apps in multitasking situations. The dual-core chip and the 1GB of RAM mean that it can keep up with things in the imaging department too, handling Full HD video recording at 30fps.

In fact although the hardware at play in the Ativ S might be considered upper mid-range when looking at equivalent Android handsets, it features what’s considered top-tier kit in the Windows Phone world and as such, users should feel confident when picking up an Ativ S that their new smartphone will support the latest and most demanding apps on the Windows Phone Marketplace without issue.

The 2300mAh battery, twinned with the power efficiency of the OS mean that users should get up to a day and half of use, a truly impressive ability in a market where scraping a day is currently the typical benchmark.

Samsung Ativ S: Operating system

The WP8 interface is clean, slick and quick to navigate. However it's difficult for manufacturers to diversify the WP8 user experience.  Samsung Zone offers a selection of apps exclusive to the Samsung-branded Windows Phones. Some come pre-installed to help kick things off including the wonderfully helpful Samsung Now app, which offers, weather, news and stock information, ChatON - Samsung’s own-brand mobile messaging service and Music Hub, their own proprietary music store, where users can buy tracks and albums to stream or download to their handset.

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On the whole the Ativ S has a lot of functionality all its own, but it’s for the most part hidden amidst the much more apparent stock elements of Windows Phone 8; an OS with a lot of growing still to do.

Samsung Ativ S: Camera

The front of the phone features a 1.9-megapixel shooter, whilst on the back sits a large 8-megapixel camera with a single LED flash and Windows Phone standard shutter/camera launcher key. 

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The Ativ S creates very good 8-megapixel stills - on par with the Galaxy S3 - although does have a tendency to oversharpen. It works well at balancing out high contrast shots and does well with low light too, although noise is most certainly apparent when getting up close to resultant images. The LED flash does well to even out such dark photos, but shouldn’t be relied on to provide an attractive shot when used. Macro shots are easy to snap with the fast autofocus and colour saturation is high, creating impressive, although not necessarily accurate punchy photos.

On the video front, the Ativ S does well with up to 1080p HD video recording at 30fps. It’s quick to autofocus and holds well even when tracking left to right. Image stability looks to be digital and is only suitable when ironing out slight shakes, whilst adjustment from bright to dark situations as well as contrast and colour balance all work towards providing decent video.

Samsung Ativ S: Conclusion

Whilst Samsung’s rivals have split elements like removable storage and a removable battery between their flagship and secondary Windows Phone 8 devices, Samsung launched its WP8 story with one device aiming to do it all. In some aspects this has resulted in a ‘jack of all trades’ experience, with competent performance across the board but no real point with which to excel in. The HTC 8X and HTC 8S offer better design, whilst the Nokia Lumia 920 and Nokia Lumia 820 come packed with more impressive hardware and apps. 

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Overall the ATIV S is a great all-rounder, it will cater to a multitude of users with some handy apps thrown in to sweeten the deal. Its easy to use UI, vivid display and sharp camera should please users looking for a powerful alternative to Android, but if tinkering and tweaking is your style, then the Windows Phone experience offered up by the Ativ S won’t be for you.

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