There aren't a lot of Windows Phone-based devices available for purchase these days. Whatever the reason, the selection of devices has dropped quite a bit over the last year or so. Not that there were ever very many to choose from, it's certainly noticeable that your options have been severely limited. Of course, that may not be a bad thing.
With fewer choices, there's a chance that it could mean the selection that is available is just a bit more high-end, just a bit more "premium." After all, if there are only a small amount on the market, they would probably all be clamoring for the top of the ladder, right? To be "the best of the best" when it comes to Windows Phone.
Samsung's got the Android market covered. They have some of the most popular devices available for Google's mobile OS, and so it's no surprise that they'd venture out to carry Microsoft's platform as well. Samsung's no stranger to Windows Phone, so the question of whether or not the company can continue their powerful dominance on another platform is only logical.
Can they do it with the ATIV S Neo? Let's find out.
Design and Features
For bette or worse, there is absolutely no denying that the ATIV S Neo is a Samsung device. It's plastic, almost slippery, and still manages to feel great in the hand. As usual, the button placement on the side of the device fits well, whether you're a left- or right-handed individual. Admittedly, while it feels sturdy enough in-hand, there was some moderate creaking of the plastic shell from time to time, which can't be counted against it too badly, considering Sprint isn't selling this at a high-end price point.
Not that the ATIV S Neo is a slacker in the specifications department, but we'll get to that.
The design here is familiar, but that isn't a bad thing. The ATIV S Neo is dominated by a 4.77-inch (4.8) 720p HD display, with a pixel per inch count around 308. Right above the display you'll get your first look at a Samsung logo, with the speaker grille placed just above that. Off near the top-right corner is the 1.2MP front-facing camera. Below the touchscreen panel, there's the Windows Phone standard Back and Search buttons, which --as usual-- are of the capacitive kind. Between those, Samsung slightly tweaked the physical Home button they've made so famous on their Android-based devices, and placed the Windows logo on a button that's slightly raised from the face of the device. It's easily found with just a quick slide of your finger, and it offers plenty of travel and feedback.
It doesn't light up, though, like the other two buttons, which is just strange, and makes no sense. Why you wouldn't want to find the Windows key in the dark is beyond me, but that's what Samsung wanted to go with, apparently.
On the bottom edge you'll find the single microUSB port. Moving along the right side, you've got the physical camera button, as well as the Power button closer to the middle than the top corner. Both buttons offer plenty of travel and feedback, and are easy to find with just a wandering finger. Along the top, only the 3.5mm audio jack makes an appearance. And finally, along the left, you've got the single plastic key that functions as the volume rocker. Unsurprisingly, it, too, is easy to find with it being just raised slightly from the edge of the device.
On the back you've got the single LED flash resting next to the 8-megapixel camera at the center-top. Just to the right of that you'll find the speaker. Below the camera is another Samsung logo, obviously just for good measure, and then near the bottom you'll find the standard Windows Phone logo.
The ATIV S Neo is comfortable in the hand, more so when you get over the feeling that it might slip out of your grasp if you aren't careful. The 4.8-inch display size is almost perfect in this reviewer's eyes, and the overall weight of the phone isn't too heavy, but it's not too light, either. It's not the thinnest phone on the market, either, but that just adds to the sturdy feel of the device while in the hand.
It's not the most pronounced design, especially in the Windows Phone market, but Samsung's design aesthetic doesn't do it any injustices, either. It's a plastic phone that feels great in the hand, and doesn't feel like it will break at any moment. Plus, the display is gorgeous, especially with Windows Phone's colored Live Tiles.
Usability and Performance
The ATIV S Neo is running the newest version of Windows Phone 8 that's available for public consumption. It's quick, stable, and responsive. The argument for whether or not Windows Phone needs to have the latest and greatest in the specifications department, primarily focused on new-fangled quad-core processors, is still up in the air for general discussion, but considering we see so many "high-end" Windows Phone devices run so well on dual-core processors clocked moderately high should paint a pretty clear picture.
Not that anyone is not anticipating the GDR3 software upgrade, which will allow support for 1080p HD displays and quad-core processors, mind you.
Overall performance with the ATIV S Neo is as good as it gets, but in all of the latest generation Windows Phone devices, the stability and performance has been fantastic. In all honesty, the only way the ATIV S Neo was going to stand out in this department is if it didn't perform well. That's not the case, though. Switching between applications is smooth as you'd want it to be, and playing games like Jetpack Joyride was calm and without lag or hiccups.
As far as under-the-hood specs are concerned, we're looking at a 1.4GHz dual-core processor, with 1GB of RAM. You've got 16GB of built-in storage out of the gate, but you can throw in a microSD card if you find yourself running out of space (up to a 64GB card). The battery is measured up to 2,000mAh. None of the specs will blow you out of the water, even compared to other Windows Phone-based devices on the market, but it's also more than good enough.
Samsung has done what other companies, like HTC and Nokia, have done in their efforts to customize Windows Phone and just added certain applications to make the device stand out against the competition. Thanks to Microsoft's ground rules for the platform, companies can't change all that much, so these apps are really the only shot they have.
In the case of Samsung, and what's present on the ATIV S Neo, you'll find things like Samsung Link, which lets you share and play content across smart devices. They've also got Now and MangaCamera. They've got their version of S Note (which you can find on their Android devices, like the Galaxy Note 3), which is called MiniDiary.
And then I found 'Live Wallpaper,' and I couldn't help but give that a try. We've grown accustomed to live wallpapers over the years, thanks to Android (and now that iOS has jumped on board, too), so I couldn't help but want to find out what it could possibly mean on a Windows Phone device. Sadly, it doesn't really mean anything. It just changes your lockscreen wallpaper. The only real difference is that you can select up to 100 images at a time, and the "feature" will change those images randomly every time you activate the lock screen. Not really a live wallpaper, but I imagine that's probably as close as you can get on a Windows Phone.
The 2,000mAh battery may not sound all that big, but I didn't have any trouble getting through a whole day of usage with the ATIV S Neo. That includes listening to music throughout the majority of the day, with plenty of emails, text messages, and even a few calls. Speaking of which, the ATIV S Neo got moderately good service everywhere I went in and around Phoenix. The calls I made and received were clear enough, and no one said I sounded like a robot, which is a good thing.
This brings up another Samsung-based software extra, which you can find in the "extra settings" menu option. Once there, you can find the "Echo cancellation" slider. If you turn it on, Samsung says it will improve the voice quality on a phone call. I turned this on and off more times than I can count, and while it may just be me, I never saw a difference in call quality. And neither did the folks I tested it with. That could just be speaking volumes about the overall quality of the hardware itself.
The stock keyboard on the ATIV S Neo, just like any other Windows Phone device, is amazing, responsive and accurate.
Finally, the ATIV S Neo's 8MP camera. To put it lightly, the camera is definitely not the best one available on the market, nor is it even close. While in good lighting, without much glare or interference at all, it takes marginally decent photos. In low-light situations, the results aren't spectacular in the slightest. The single LED flash just washes out some images.
The ATIV S Neo has been available for a little while now, but frankly it's still one of the only options for Sprint subscribers to pick up a Windows Phone option, so it's good to see that both Samsung and Sprint can price it accordingly. The ATIV S Neo isn't a high-end device, and it's not meant to be considered one, either. It feels good in the hand, takes only decent photos, but gets plenty of battery throughout the day, so I can safely say it's a great mid-range device for anyone looking to spend only around $50 for their new phone.
If one thing is clear to me with the ATIV S Neo, it's that Samsung is simply running the bases here with their Windows Phone-based offerings. They aren't trying to sweep up the market, and take on the obvious reigning champ in the space, Nokia. Why? Who knows. But the ATIV S Neo is obviously not the Galaxy S 4 of the Windows Phone mobile ecosystem. Not by a long shot.
The Good: Sharp and crisp display; long battery life; perfect display size; Samsung-only apps, like MiniDiary;
The Bad: Plastic, slippery physical design; Mediocre cameras.
The Verdict: If you're on Sprint and you want to give Windows Phone a shot, then there is no doubt in my mind that the ATIV S Neo is the way to go. It's display is sharp and nice to look at, while also benefiting from being almost the perfect size. It's sturdy, even if it is plastic. And, for only $50, it fits the bill perfectly. It may not be the highest of high-end devices for Windows Phone, but it was never meant to be. If you're looking to get your hands on Windows Phone and not looking to jump carriers, you can't get much better than the ATIV S Neo.