CES 2013: Samsung ATIV Odyssey Hands-On Preview

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The ATIV Odyssey from Samsung is an elusive beast, what with the way it was given a pseudo-reveal by Microsoft back in October at the launch event for Windows Phone before falling off the radar and ultimately missing its initial launch window of December 2012. But now it’s been given a full reveal by Samsung (complete with specs!) and we’ve confirmed its existence by actually seeing and handling it here at CES.

The ATIV Odyssey is, first and foremost, rather uninspired. It’s not an ugly phone by any means, it’s just plain, especially considering how eschewing conventions seems to be the name of the game with Windows Phone 8 devices (e.g. Lumia 920, HTC 8X).

Samsung ATIV Odyssey BackThe build is simple, with rounded corners, a flat back, and moderate thickness. The coloring, which is another area where Windows Phone 8 devices tend to really go off the wall, is plain, with a black bezel and a dark chrome-colored — but not actually metallic — backing. The only thing that really stands out about the design is the way the speaker grill runs along the bottom of the back of the device.

What also disappointed me about the design of the ATIV Odyssey was that it lacks the physical Windows home key that’s found on Samsung’s other Windows Phone 8 device, the ATIV S. Not only did I think that was a clever (yet subtle) way to tweak the typical setup of the three capacitive touch buttons on the bottom edge of the phone, it’s also a practical idea. The number of expletives I’ve muttered as a result of accidentally grazing the capacitive home button and getting booted out of an app on my current Windows Phone is off the charts, so I was really missing that physical button on the ATIV Odyssey.

I could, however, appreciate the fact that not only did the ATIV Odyssey have a microSD card slot (especially handy considering that it only has 8 GB of onboard storage), it was located on the outside, on the lower left side. The other Windows Phone 8 devices that have microSD card slots (Lumia 810, 820, and 822) have them beneath a removable back panel, making them a little more difficult to get to.

Samsung ATIV Odyssey

By today’s standards, the ATIV Odyssey can definitely be considered compact with its 4-inch display; Samsung unfortunately could not provide exact measurements of the device’s frame, but it fit easily in the palm of my childlike hand. Between the size and the completely plastic build, it was a remarkably light phone. While I personally enjoyed this, especially given the surprising density of the Lumia 920 and HTC 8X, I expect some may say it simply feels cheap.

Speaking of suspect quality, the display of the ATIV Odyssey is unlikely to blow many users away. Perhaps at this point I’ve seen too many impressive screens — I’m especially partial to Nokia’s ClearBlack technology — and I’m therefore holding this one at too high of a standard, so it just pales in comparison. But this is, after all, intended to be a mid-range device, so top-notch quality isn’t the number one priority here.

Samsung ATIV Odyssey Side microSD Port OpenThe brightness is decent (though nowhere near as good as that of the Lumia 920), and the colorful tiles of Windows Phone 8 still looked good. But the real issue was the sharpness, and that was to be expected. Given that this is a Super AMOLED display, I wouldn’t have expected anything less than respectable brightness and colors, but its resolution is an unimpressive 800 x 480, which had some effect on clarity.

It’s true that this is a smaller display than the gargantuan 5-inch-plus nonsense we’ve been seeing so much of these days. As such, a smaller pixel count isn’t as noticeable since they’re being crammed into a smaller space. But upon closer inspection I could make out individual pixels with relative ease on the home screen, and even more so when I launched some of the phone’s apps.

Software

Windows Phones tend to have a relatively standard suite of apps, but Samsung threw in a few of its own for good measure, none of which are ground-breaking. There’s the Live Wallpaper app, which basically does what Windows Phone 8 does when it’s set to automatically cycle through Bing images for your lock screen, except with pictures on your photo roll. Then there are the Photo Editor and Now apps — the latter being an aggregator for weather, stocks, etc. — both of which have equivalents on other companies’ phones (e.g. HTC Photo Enhancer and HTC Hub).

Samsung ATIV Odyssey MiniDiary AppThat leaves the MiniDiary app which, while not personally my thing, I can recognize is probably the most intriguing of the bunch. It lets users jot down quick notes, much like OneNote does, but the entries can be supplemented with corresponding pictures, drawings, and voice recordings. Not only are these entries kept on file and organized by date, they can also be backed up onto SkyDrive or shared with other people via social networks or email.

Since the ATIV Odyssey is a Verizon Wireless exclusive handset, it also comes with two Verizon apps, VZ Navigator and DataSense, also come preloaded on the device. While VZ Navigator may be useless, DataSense is good for tracking monthly data usage or finding nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and is a Verizon exclusive app, at least for now.

Coming Soon

Unfortunately, there’s no word yet on the pricing of the ATIV Odyssey, so it remains to be seen how good of a deal it will be for its mid-tier features. But we’ll find out soon enough as we get closer to the phone’s release, which will take place “in the coming weeks.”

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