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Samsung ATIV Odyssey Quick Review

by Michael Fisher on January 29, 2013 7:24 PM

So far, the Samsung of 2013 has proven much less bombastic than the company we came to know as the king of high-profile mobile unveilings in 2012. While it’s no doubt got a surprise or two up its sleeve for MWC next month, it appears that the company lacks either the inclination or the ability to wow us with its first Windows Phone 8 device for the United States. Despite its flashy moniker, the ATIV Odyssey for Verizon Wireless is very much a middle-of-the-road smartphone, in nearly every sense.  Is there anything here to make the Odyssey stand out from the growing legion of mid-range Windows Phone devices? Well, we’ve got a steamy helping of review videos and pretty words to help you find out, so scale the jump and dive in.

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Videos · Specs/Hardware · UI · Camera · Performance

 Pricing/Availability · Conclusion · Scored For Me

Videos

 

 

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Specs & Hardware

The Odyssey’s ho-hum appearance conceals guts that will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the Windows Phone landscape. There’s plenty of horsepower here, with the familiar Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus humming along at 1.5GHz, powering the Odyssey’s software with the assistance of the typical gig of RAM. The 8GB of onboard storage is unimpressive, but it’s augmented by a MicroSD card slot capable of hosting cards of up to 64GB for media-lovers. The 2100mAh battery isn’t the biggest on the block, but it is removable should you want to swap in a fresh one while out on the town or job site. The primary camera is a 5MP module that packs its share of surprises (more on this in a bit), and the radio loadout features support for LTE along with the usual WiFi a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.1.

That’s all contained within a sleek but bulk-tastic fuselage that’s one part Nexus S and one part Samsung Focus, after about three weeks of binge eating. That’s not to say the Odyssey is heavy -at 125g, it’s lighter than the Galaxy S III- and we’re also not calling it fat. But there’s no getting around it: at 11.1mm, it ain’t thin, and its rounded corners amplify that effect. On the plus side: all that roundness makes it feel delightful in our average-sized hands, with our right thumb resting right atop the power/standby key and the volume rocker sitting squarely below our middle finger. It’s a snug fit, and it feels great.

Now if only Verizon provided complimentary bottles of acetone to rub off its oversized logos.

Sadly, the 4-inch display that makes the small form factor possible is also the Odyssey’s weakest point. At 480×800, the Super AMOLED panel looks particularly grainy alongside today’s 720p and 1080p-packing powerhouses – an effect that will only grow more pronounced as time goes on. To our eyes, the pixelation is more pronounced on the Odyssey than on similarly-specced devices, especially when viewing white text on a black field, which yields very hazy results. Furthermore, color reproduction is slightly off on the Odyssey, the bright accent colors of Windows Phone seeming cooler than they should when compared to other S-AMOLED-equipped smartphones. If you’re considering buying an ATIV Odyssey, you’ll want to spend some quality time giving its screen a solid once-over in a retail store before pulling the two-year-contract trigger.

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UI

And run the platform nicely it does. We have yet to come across a device that chokes on Windows Phone 8, and the ATIV Odyssey doesn’t appear eager to be the first. It runs the OS with the confidence and stability we’ve come to expect from modern Windows Phones.

Once again, Samsung’s custom applications are called out front-and-center in the Store app, residing in a “Samsung Zone” that sits somewhere between HTC and Nokia in terms of title count and usefulness. Familiar titles from our time with the ATIV S have made their return; we were happy to see apps like the fun Photo Editor and the handy Now hub – though we still wish the latter would knock the dust off its hideously ugly “news” live tile.

Come on, dudes. You can do better than this.

Samsung’s ChatON SMS-replacement app is here again, as is its well-regarded MiniDiary and a few other titles. We were glad to see two more apps in the Samsung Zone than we did during our time with the ATIV S, but disappointed to find that they were just an RSS reader and a blemish-removing lens app for the camera. Fortunately, Nokia’s turn-by-turn navigation app, Drive+ Beta, was recently released across all Windows Phone 8 devices, and it runs about as well on the ATIV Odyssey as on any Nokia device. We only got lost in the backwoods of Connecticut once during a two-hour drive at the hands of Nokia Drive + Beta, and we lived to tell the tale.

This being a Verizon device, there’s the expected carrier bloat – but in this case the additions aren’t entirely unwelcome. Unlike AT&T’s overwhelming and intrusive bloat-bombs, Verizon’s bundled package includes solid apps like NFL Mobile, VZ Navigator, My Verizon Mobile, and the excellent Data Sense data-tracking utility from Microsoft. If you’re not a fan of the pigskin and don’t need Verizon’s help with driving down the road or managing your account, these titles can be uninstalled at will with the exception of Data Sense (which you can disable if you prefer).

PROTIP: Keep DataSense active. There are starving people on AT&T who’d be happy to have that.

Finally, it’s always nice to see a manufacturer start to make its own little tweaks to a new platform, and the ATIV Odyssey has a couple of these minor enhancements to showcase. The responsive, super-springy haptic feedback we remember from the ATIV S has returned, as well as a new detail: when illuminated, the capacitive buttons below the display momentarily blink off when tapped. It’s a tiny idiosyncrasy you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for it, but which reminds you that someone in the design office was sweating the small stuff. That’s nice.

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Camera

Also nice: expecting sub-par image quality from a smartphone camera and getting a pleasant surprise. The 5MP shooter in the ATIV Odyssey is nothing special on paper, and the results it produced registered high on the “meh” scale when viewed on the Odyssey’s display – but once taken off the phone, the photos proved impressive for a midrange device. They feature good color tone, saturation, and white balance, a winning combination similar to that of the ATIV S and Galaxy S III. Due to the reduced resolution, the images aren’t as zoom-able as those from the higher-end devices, but they’re still quite good for a camera on a smartphone of this type.

On the flip side, the front-facing camera is a 1.2MP unit that -surprise!- isn’t very good. Following in the tradition of nearly every smartphone ever, it delivers washed-out, blurry, colorless photos that serve as a reminder only to use it for Skype calls. The only cause for celebration is that it’s not the Lumia 820‘s front-facing camera.

Though its tendency to over-expose is great for stupid photos in the Pocketnow Testing Chamber.

Back to the more-impressive primary camera. In video mode, it’s capable of shooting 1080p footage. The results are acceptable, but auto-focus and exposure control are slightly on the slow side. Audio is nothing to write home about, either.

On the whole, though, the Odyssey’s camera is good. For a Windows Phone, it’s quite good. For a Windows Phone that costs $50 on-contract, it’s great. If every mid-tier smartphone packed a camera like this, the endless stream of your friends’ vacation and baby photos on your Facebook feed would seem almost tolerable. Almost.

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Performance

From the standpoint of sheer numeric processing speed, the Odyssey delivers predictable results: because its hardware is nearly identical to the premium-trim ATIV S, it delivers comparable benchmark scores. The Odyssey scored 240 in an average of scores taken on the Windows Phone benchmarking utility WP Bench, bringing it within three points of its high-end sibling. If you’re a performance hound looking for an ATIV-branded Windows Phone 8 device, the Odyssey won’t disappoint.

That’s backed up on the network side as well, with Verizon’s LTE network delivering an average of 19 Mbps down and 6 Mbps up during our testing in the Greater Boston area – higher speeds than we’ve seen from Verizon in a while in this neck of the woods. On 3G networks in more rural areas like eastern Long Island, NY, network speeds were predictably -and significantly- slower. As always, we encourage prospective smartphone buyers to fully evaluate carriers in their area before buying branded smartphones.

In the more traditional area of voice calling, the ATIV Odyssey did well enough. Callers said we sounded “average,” but they readily picked up on background noise on our end, like wind blowing past a car window and children screaming like banshees playing on a playground a few feet away. As on the ATIV S, there appears to be room for improvement in the Odyssey’s noise cancellation.

The speaker gain, once again, was cranked way down for voice calls taken on the speakerphone. Like many OEMs, Samsung seems perfectly willing to let you blow your eardrums out with headphones, but it has no interest in turning the speakerphone volume high enough for you to hear a caller in anything but the quietest of rooms. We don’t get it, and we don’t like it.

You’ll have a fair amount of up-time to fiddle with the sound levels, though: for battery life, the ATIV Odyssey delivered solid endurance in day-to-day use, despite a somewhat finicky battery meter on our review unit that never liked to show 100% charge for more than a few minutes after unplugging. In WP Bench’s battery endurance test, which runs the CPU at max cycles until the phone reaches auto-shutdown, the ATIV Odyssey hung in there for 3 hours and 3 minutes. That’s 21 minutes longer than the ATIV S lasted, and over an hour longer than Nokia’s Lumia 822 held out. Furthermore, thanks to that removable battery, you can always spring for an extra pack and tote around a pocketful of power, ready to swap in at a moment’s notice.

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Pros

Responsive, Stable OS
Better-than-average camera
+ High speeds over Verizon Wireless LTE
+ Excellent value

Cons

- Low-resolution display with sub-par color reproduction
- Chunky, unremarkable build
- Samsung Zone could use more utility

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Pricing and Availability

The ATIV Odyssey is available now via all Verizon Wireless sales channels. Its $449.99 full retail price comes down to $49.99 after all rebates and promotions for new customers, or existing subscribers qualifying for new-device pricing. That promotional pricing requires the usual two-year contract, though, so you’d better be ready to put a ring on this thing if you’re looking to get serious.

 

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Conclusion

That’s the real question: whether to get serious about the ATIV Odyssey. At first glance, there’s positively nothing remarkable about this device. To stretch the automotive analogy a bit: it’s got a fine engine under the hood, but it’s built like a mid-90s family sedan – one with an old-style cassette deck, at that. This ain’t a phone that’s built to impress.

And it’s not like you don’t have any other choices. If you’re a (current or prospective) Verizon customer yearning for a better-looking Windows Phone with a larger, higher-resolution display, you’re probably going to want to drop the extra $50 on an HTC 8X. If you’re really hard-up for cash, or super-invested in Nokia’s batch of exclusive apps -and assuming you don’t care about your phone looking like a cross between a WWI battleship and a bar of soap- you’d be best served by the Nokia Lumia 822. Both are solid phones in their own right.

But if you’re somewhere in between, with no need to turn heads at the club but no allergy to aesthetics, and you’re looking for a solid, middle-of-the-road feature set paired with an above-average camera, the Samsung ATIV Odyssey might just be your chariot of choice. It may not be the inaugural American Samsung WP8 device we were hoping for, but for a certain type of buyer, it’ll fit the bill quite nicely.

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Scored For Me

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