Samsung Ativ Odyssey review: Windows Phone 8 at a low price, but not much else

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MSRP: $449.99

The Good The Samsung Ativ Odyssey is compact and affordable, and offers the clean Windows Phone 8 UI as well as 4G LTE.

The Bad The Samsung Ativ Odyssey’s small screen, blah design, and 5MP camera won’t knock your socks off.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Ativ Odyssey provides an affordable but not thrilling Windows Phone 8 experience.

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6.3 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

The price of entry for Windows Phone devices has never been extremely high. The new Samsung Ativ Odyssey, which is available on Verizon for just $49.99, however, pushes the upfront cost of Windows Phone 8 down even further. This very capable device provides many of the compelling features Microsoft's latest mobile operating system has to offer. Still, with a less-than-stellar camera, a boring design, and a small screen, it faces stiff competition from Motorola's sleek Droid Razr M Android phone, which sells at the same price. For just $50 more, the HTC 8X offers a premium Windows Phone experience.

After picking up the Samsung Ativ Odyssey for the first time, it became immediately clear that Samsung didn't pull out all the stops when designing this phone. Indeed, the Odyssey's plastic construction and bland oval shape play it safe and won't help it stand out from the legion of other midrange smartphones. Its surfaces feel slippery too, and dare I say, even cheap. I prefer the metal or even higher-grade polycarbonate materials used in other, more premium Windows Phones such as the HTC 8X (here's our review of the AT&T version) and the Nokia Lumia 920.

On the left side sit a thin volume key and a microSD Card slot. Sarah Tew/CNET

Measuring 4.8 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide, however, the Ativ Odyssey isn't overly large, and I didn't have problems stuffing the phone into jeans or jacket pockets. One tradeoff to the Odyssey's compact size, however, is the device's 4-inch AMOLED screen. It's on the small side and offers a relatively low 800x480-pixel resolution. That said, the display offers very high contrast with deep blacks and eye-popping colors that some screen purists will no doubt disparage as being oversaturated.

Above the display is a 1.2MP front-facing camera, while below it are three capacitive buttons for primary Windows Phone functions. On the left side of the Ativ Odyssey are a thin volume rocker and a flap covering the microSD Card slot. Sitting on the right edge is a key for power, plus one to engage the Odyssey's camera system. Pressing that dedicated shutter button also kicks the phone into camera mode even when the handset is in standby mode, a nice touch.

Around back you'll find the Ativ Odyssey's main 5MP camera and LED flash. Here, too, is a large curved grille that contains the phone's speaker. Placed underneath the smooth plastic back cover is the phone's removable 2,100mAh battery.

The back of the Ativ Odyssey is made from cheap-feeling plastic. Sarah Tew/CNET

OS and apps
As a Windows Phone 8 device, the Samsung Ativ Odyssey features a clean and clearly arranged home screen, what Microsoft calls the Start screen. Instead of widgets or app icons as you'd find on Android or iOS products, the start screen consists of square tiles that wink and flicker at you with pertinent information updated in real time.

For instance, you can quickly see the number of unread e-mails sitting in your inbox, note any missed calls, or check the weather at a glance. I find it a refreshing approach and very efficient for digesting what you need to know without having to muck around within excessive menu screens. Of course tapping a tile launches its associated application. You can also remove, resize, and rearrange tiles to suit your tastes.

The Start screen features tile-like icons that flash with information in real time. Sarah Tew/CNET

Windows Phone trails behind iOS and Android in terms of the depth and breadth of apps available, with about 125,000 apps for Windows Phone compared with 700,000 for Android and 775,000 for iOS. Microsoft certainly has some catching up to do. For instance, there still is no smash-hit news aggregator for Windows Phone on the level of Flipboard or Google's own Currents. Even so, apps such as Weave and Newser are compelling alternatives.

Other mobile staples are either already installed on the Odyssey or available for download a click away. For example, the phone can connect to multiple Gmail accounts right out of the box. It also links to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn data to display social updates via the People app (essentially a fancy contacts list). For a deeper dive into the full experience these social-media platforms offer, I had to take the additional step and download their corresponding applications individually.

Install apps from the Windows Phone store on the Ativ Odyssey. Brian Bennett/CNET

The Samsung Ativ Odyssey does have tight integration with numerous Microsoft services such as Office, Xbox games, and Xbox music storefronts. That's certainly a boon if you're a fan of these platforms.

The Samsung Ativ Odyssey comes equipped with a decent but not stellar imaging system. The phone's main 5-megapixel camera tops out at a 2,592x1,944-pixel resolution and doesn't offer much in the way of special features or shooting modes. For instance, it doesn't have HDR, panorama, or burst modes, which are offered by competing phones. There are 12 photo effects to play with though, including Negative, Sepia, Solarize, and Posterize, to list a few.

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