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

Samsung's $49.99 Ativ Odyssey offers Windows Phone 8 on Verizon for not much dough up front.

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Brian Bennett
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Brian Bennett

Senior writer

Brian Bennett is a senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET. He reviews a wide range of household and smart-home products. These include everything from cordless and robot vacuum cleaners to fire pits, grills and coffee makers. An NYC native, Brian now resides in bucolic Louisville, Kentucky where he rides longboards downhill in his free time.

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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.

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6.3

Samsung Ativ Odyssey

The Good

The <b>Samsung Ativ Odyssey</b> 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.

Windows Phone 8 in a no-frills package (pictures)

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Design
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.

Camera
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.

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.

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.

Snapping pictures of moving subjects was tough for the Ativ Odyssey. Brian Bennett/CNET

Outdoors details remained soft, lacking crispness. Brian Bennett/CNET

Performance
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.

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.

Conclusion
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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6.3

Samsung Ativ Odyssey

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 7Performance 7