Budget phones are nothing new, but budget phones that run the new Windows Phone 8 are a rarity. The Samsung ATIV Odyssey brings Microsoft's new mobile operating system to the budget-conscious Verizon customer at a price of just $49.99. But many of the traits that drew us to other Windows Phone 8 devices are gone, such as the bright and colorful designs. Has Samsung cut too many corners to hit a pricing sweet spot?
Most Windows Phone 8 devices, such as the Nokia Lumia 822 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X, offer fun and playful color options. The Samsung ATIV Odyssey, however, opted for a more generic look, matching its cheap price with a plain design.
The phone backing is made of a silver plastic with a faux brushed metal treatment that quickly picked up smudges. There's a camera and flash at the top of the back with a Verizon 4G LTE logo underneath. The bottom of the back houses a Windows Phone logo, and below that is a horizontal bar with the phone's speaker.
Under the 4-inch display are three capacitive buttons: Back, Start and Search. If the logos on the back of the phone weren't enough, there's also a Verizon logo above the display and Samsung branding between the screen and the buttons.
The right side of the ATIV Odyssey houses the power button up top and the camera button down below. The left edge has the volume control as well as a covered microSD slot. There is a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top and the microUSB power port at the bottom.
The ATIV Odyssey measures 4.8 x 2.5 x 0.43 inches and weighs 4.5 ounces, which is slightly smaller and lighter than the Nokia Lumia 822 (5.0 x 2.7 x 0.44 and 5.1 ounces). The Odyssey is also lighter but chunkier than the 5.2 x 2.6 x 0.4 inch, 4.6 ounce HTC Windows Phone 8X.
At a time when manufacturers are pushing the limits of screen resolution, the ATIV Odyssey's 4-inch Super AMOLED display disappoints with a mere 800 x 480 pixels. This works out to a sheepish 233 PPI, which is higher than the equally disappointing Lumia 822, which had 217 PPI on a 4.3-inch display, but significantly below the sharper 1280 x 720 4.3-inch display of the HTC Windows Phone 8X.
This low resolution is paired with a screen that achieved a max brightness of 228 lux, below the category average of 296. Both the Lumia 822 and the Windows Phone 8X were also brighter, at 410 lux and 312 lux, respectively.
On the plus side, the AMOLED panel offered excellent color saturation and wide viewing angles. However, when we watched the trailer for "World War Z," images were pixelated and slightly darker than we would have liked. It was difficult to make out the lines between buildings in the background of the New York skyline, and hordes of zombies lacked definition.
The audio on the ATIV Odyssey was better than we were expecting. Although the loudest setting gave high notes a slightly tinny quality, the volume filled our small testing room. We listened to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" and each element of the song was crisp and clear, from the piano to the cymbals to the vocals. Kanye West's "No Church In the Wild" also sounded clear, although the bass wasn't strong.
The sound quality varied based on how we held or rested the phone. We got the best sound quality when the ATIV Odyssey was on our desk, display up, and the audio was able to resonate off the countertop. When we picked the phone up and held it in our hands, the sound quality degraded, pumping out soft beats with less richness.
Software and Interface
The ATIV Odyssey runs Windows Phone 8, Microsoft's mobile operating system, which has a strikingly different interface than Android and iOS. We really like the Live Tile interface, which constantly refresh with new content. You can also resize tiles as you see fit.
There is a lot of different content that can be pinned to your Start screen, including people, websites, apps, photo albums, music albums, notes and directions.
In addition to the default Windows Phone 8 apps, such as the People hub, Mail and Internet Explorer, the Samsung ATIV Odyssey includes Photo Editor, Mini Diary and Now, which provides real-time weather, news, stock and currency info. Mini Diary is a app that allows users to connect pictures, location, text and weather to a "diary entry." It's a well-designed app, but we didn't really find ourselves compelled to add new entries.
Verizon has also added its own branded apps, such as VZ Navigator and My Verizon Mobile, which adds navigation assistant and phone bill management capabilities to the ATIV Odyssey.
While the Windows Phone 8 app market isn't yet as big as iOS and Android, there are more than 120,000 available apps. Third-party apps include YouTube, Evernote, USAToday, Accuweather and Netflix.
Football fans will appreciate NFL Mobile for getting the latest news, stats and videos on demand. A premium subscription ($5 per month) lets you access NFL RedZone and full live games from NBC Sunday Night Football, ESPN Monday Night Football, NFLN Thursday Night Football. You'll also be able to watch the 24/7 NFL Network.
The ATIV Odyssey features a 1.5-GHz Dual Core Qualcomm MSM8960 processor, which turned in impressive results on our benchmarking tests. On the WP Bench test, the Odyssey scored 247.62. That's slightly higher than the Nokia Lumia 822 (246.2) and better than the Windows Phone 8X (233). The category average is 160.
We also ran the AnTuTu Benchmark app, which measures CPU performance, 2D graphics and read/write performance. The ATIV Odyssey scored 11,849, higher than both the Lumia 822 (10,143) and the Windows Phone 8X (11,045).
The phone was quite responsive in our real-world testing as well, scrolling through Live Tiles smoothly and quickly opening and closing applications. We opened the People hub, swiped through all the different panels, and returned to the Start screen without any hitches.
4G LTE and Web Browsing
Despite our device showing three bars of 4G LTE service, Verizon's network didn't serve the ATIV Odyssey very well. On the SpeedTest.net test, we saw an average download rate of 3.3 Mbps and an upload rate of 1.9 Mbps near Union Square in Manhattan. When we tried again in Brooklyn speeds jumped to 7.2 Mbps downloads and 6.1 Mbps uploads, but we usually expect speeds in the low teens when browsing with LTE.
Web-browsing speeds were similarly mediocre: The NYTimes loaded in 15.8 seconds, ESPN in 13.7 seconds and Laptopmag.com in 20.3 seconds.
We hit the streets of New York City with both the ATIV Odyssey and the Nokia Lumia 822 to compare the results. The 5-megapixel rear camera on the Odyssey captured clear pictures and video, but the colors weren't as bright as the 8-MP Lumia 822. The camera app on the Odyssey loaded in two seconds when we pressed the dedicated camera button on the side of the device, regardless of what we were coing on the phone.
Images of surrounding buildings and architecture were crisp and clear but details bathed in sunlight were washed out. In areas where the sun was not as bright, we could make out individual bricks in the facade of a building across the street. The Nokia Lumia 822 produced more vibrant colors, and we could clearly see the sky and clouds, whereas the sky on the Odyssey's photo got blown out near the sun.
The front-facing camera on the ATIV Odyssey has a resolution of 1.2 MP for video chatting. As with the rear-facing camera, pictures were crisp and clear and exhibited very little noise.
To test the 1080p camcorder inside the ATIV Odyssey we filmed passing pedestrians, taxis and a bus. Details, such as an ad on the side of a bus, looked ,clear, but the lack of image stabilization led to some jerkiness.
The Camera app supports different "lenses," which add functionality to the default settings. Included on the ATIV Odyssey is the Bing Vision lens, which can scan bar codes, QR codes, Microsoft Tags, books, CDs and DVDs. We scanned a printed piece of paper and the app was able to recognize each word.
Battery Life and Call Quality
The ATIV Odyssey's 2,100 mAh lithium-ion battery lasted 5 hours and 5 minutes in the Peacekeeper battery test while connected to Verizon's 4G LTE network. This was even with the HTC Windows Phone 8X and more than an hour longer than the Nokia Lumia 822.
Test calls were loud and clear on both ends for calls to a landline as well as to a cellphone. The caller reported that background noise was limited and that our voice had no distortion. We experienced the same quality reception on our end.
The Samsung ATIV Odyssey runs Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 quickly and smoothly, but we're less than impressed with its design. In this price range, we prefer the Nokia Lumia 822, which is free on contract as of this review. While the Nokia is slightly larger, you get more color options and free turn-by-turn directions via Nokia Drive. If you're willing to spend a bit more, the $99 HTC Windows Phone 8X has a sharper 720p display, a sleeker design and wireless charging. Overall, the ATIV Odyssey looks and feels like a middle-of-the-road Windows Phone.