Samsung Ativ Odyssey review:

Windows Phone 8 at a low price, but not much else

The camera snaps pictures within about a second, not instantly like some high-octane handsets such as the HTC Droid DNA. The autofocus feature also takes about half a second to lock on to subjects, even longer if the lighting is poor or if it's trying to capture fast-moving people or objects.

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Indoor still-life shots had accurate color but details were soft. Brian Bennett/CNET

Still-life shots indoors had accurate color with the automatic white balance correctly compensating for fluorescent light. Details were soft, however, and many images were blurry due to camera shake.

While snapping pictures outdoors on an admittedly less-than-ideal rainy day, details remained not as crisp as I would like to see. Also, the combination of sluggish autofocus and a tendency for the camera to select a low shutter speed and ISO in auto mode produced a greater number of blurred images than I've experienced when using nimbler phones.

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Snapping pictures of moving subjects was tough for the Ativ Odyssey. Brian Bennett/CNET
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Outdoors details remained soft, lacking crispness. Brian Bennett/CNET

Powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus processor backed up by 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, the Ativ Odyssey has plenty of power to drive its OS with authority. It's true that Windows Phone is traditionally less demanding than Android, which relies heavily on multicore processors for serious multitasking. All the same, I was able to smoothly flip through Windows Phone 8's menus plus launch and riffle through apps with the software's signature graphical eye candy.

Call quality over Verizon's CDMA cellular network was also rock-solid. Callers described no static or other background distractions though they did report a slight robotic quality to my voice. On my end, people I heard through the phone's earpiece were similarly clear. Voices didn't get terribly loud, though, even at maximum volume. By contrast, the Odyssey's speakerphone had enough punch to be heard in a large conference room, but didn't distort voices when turned up all the way.

For data connectivity, the Samsung Ativ Odyssey links to Verizon's 4G LTE network. Testing in New York, I measured an average download speed of 8.8Mbps with uploads averaging just over 4Mbps. These are decent if not blisteringly fast 4G numbers. In fact, during one test run, download throughput dropped to a slow 4Mbps. That said, cellular infrastructure in the heart of congested Manhattan is often dicey.

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4G LTE speed was quick, but not blazing. Brian Bennett/CNET

Samsung also claims that the Odyssey provides a rated talk time of 20 hours over 3G and up to 19 hours of talk time via 4G. In my anecdotal experience while testing the Ativ Odyssey, the device's 2,100mAh battery helped the phone last for more than 36 hours between charges. That's a lot longer than I've seen from Android devices, which typically need to be plugged in each night.

Choosing a great smartphone on Verizon for just $50 used to be a daunting challenge. The arrival of the $49.99 Samsung Ativ Odyssey, which serves up all the modern mobile features Microsoft can muster, certainly makes the task easier. It's affordable, handles its software with agility, and connects to a large Xbox games and music library.

Unfortunately the Ativ Odyssey's other attributes don't have as much allure. The phone's cheap plastic construction and staid oval-shaped design don't get the blood pumping, even for die-hard Samsung fans. If you really are wedded to the idea of a Windows Phone handset on Verizon and have just $50 in your pocket, then the Ativ is no-brainer. Otherwise I suggest going with the $49.99 Motorola Droid Razr M which runs Android (now updated to Jelly Bean) in a more attractive and compact chassis and at the same price. If you're willing to spend $50 more, the HTC 8X provides Windows Phone 8 but with a much better camera that's packed into a premium, more attractive body.

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