First and foremost, we often found that many of the tasks we were trying to complete on the ATIV S Neo — be it surfing the web, playing games online, or streaming music (or videos) via Xbox Music — often could not be performed on account of a weak or non-existent signal. We may have made this complaint before, but it’s worth making again: Sprint service is terrible. In a city as prominent as Boston, there’s no reason we should have been, more often than not, searching for reception because we were apparently roaming. I didn’t even know it was possible to roam in the continental United States anymore, much less in a major US city.
And it’s a shame that the lack of a consistent data signal resulted in handicapped performance, because the ATIV S Neo is otherwise well equipped as far as the hardware is concerned. It’s powered by a 1.4 GHz dual-core Krait processor that performs admirably, and the 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB onboard storage (expandable via microSD) are equally respectable. The camera software can lag a little at times, but other than that, the phone’s local performance was smooth.
Sprint tosses in a few of its own pieces of preloaded software on the ATIV S Neo, including its navigation software, Scout, as well as Sprint Music Plus and Sprint TV and Movies. The only useful one out of these is Scout, given that Bing Maps is generally not very good navigation software. The Data Sense application, once a Verizon Wireless exclusive, is also present here, and it’s a handy way to track one’s data usage and find Wi-Fi hotspots.
Samsung also has some offerings, including the Video Trimmer, Photo Editor, the DLNA-based Samsung Link, MiniDiary, Live Wallpaper, Samsung Now (an info aggregator with weather, stocks, news, etc.) and ATIV Beam (essentially the Windows Phone 8 version of Android Beam for NFC communications). None of these are terribly useful, but Samsung’s suite of camera-related apps and software provide a decent selection of shooting options.
There’s the bizarre Manga Camera Lens, which is essentially a series of cartoon panel-like frames to make your pictures look like something out of a comic book. Then there’s also Shooting Modes, which is a little confusing since it’s filed as a single Lens (which is the Windows Phone version of a shooting mode), but once selected, it brings up an overlay that offers a handful of different shooting options including HDR, Continuous, and Beauty shots.
Beyond that, it’s just the usual interface and suite of Windows Phone 8 software, given that Microsoft does not allow for skins or custom UIs to be overlaid on its OS.
The ATIV S Neo has a decent camera, even if it can’t hold a candle to the top-notch shooters that can be found on Nokia’s competing models. The sharpness of the ATIV S Neo’s camera is respectable thanks to its 8-megapixel resolution, and colors are more or less accurately represented, even if they are a little on the flat side.
Unfortunately, whites are often blown out or overexposed, especially in outdoor shots. The camera’s low-light performance leaves something to be desired as well, introducing far more noise and grain than shots taken by Nokia’s PureView cameras.
The ATIV S Neo is also equipped with a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera for video chatting and, of course, “selfies.”
The battery life of the ATIV S Neo is serviceable, but not impressive by any means. I could get a shade over 24 hours off of a single charge with a mix of both heavy and light settings/usage: maximum brightness settings, no email push, occasional web browsing, and less than an hour of listening to music or watching videos.
There are two possible suspects for why the ATIV S Neo is among the worst Windows Phone 8 devices when it comes to battery life (a difficult feat given the efficiency of the platform). For one, this does has the largest display a Windows Phone has ever been equipped with, which is likely to be a bigger drain than any other model. And secondly, the horrific Sprint service meant that more often than not, the ATIV S Neo was searching for a signal, which is always a surefire way to burn through battery life.