Samsung ATIV S Neo Review

ativ s neo review

One of the last carriers in the U.S. to offer truly unlimited data has taken their sweet time to add Windows Phone 8 devices to their line-up. Last month they launched the HTC 8XT and the Samsung ATIV S Neo. The Neo is especially interesting because Samsung doesn’t offer many Windows Phone 8 devices, and neither does Sprint. Now we understand why they called it the Neo. Is Sprint’s second Windows Phone 8 device truly “The One?” Let’s take a look.

Samsung Neo Design

“Uninspired,” “iterative,” and “boring” are some of the words used to describe the Galaxy S4, and they fit with the Neo too. Samsung phones all have a very familiar look to them. You can tell just by the shade of blue that this is a Samsung phone. Unfortunately, the Neo suffers from being an Android look-a-like. Don’t expect to flash this phone around and catch people’s attention. Prepare to hear “oh, you have that Galaxy phone.” The design, or lack thereof, works. It’s not gorgeous, but it’s not ugly either.

Samsung Neo Hardware

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When you see the “Samsung” logo on a phone you can already guess how it will feel. The ATIV S Neo has the same plastic-y build as the Galaxy S line of Android phones. Around the edge  is a faux-metal silver band, and the removable battery cover is a thin piece of dark blue plastic. It’s a fingerprint magnet, and it can be a little slippery at times.

Materials aside, the build quality is top-notch. There is no squeaking or creaking when squeezing the device between fingers. Samsung has opted for a physical Start Button instead of the traditional capacitive. I liked being able to use the physical button to wake the phone, but otherwise I found myself wishing it was capacitive. It’s easy to get used to, though.

ativ s neo buttons

Speaking of capacitive buttons, the Back and Search buttons are not physical. The one thing I found very annoying is that they disappear very quickly when they aren’t in use. They are totally invisible when not lit up. I found myself mistapping quite often before I got used to the placement. Once again, it’s something you’ll get used to, but might find annoying at first.

Display

The Neo has a 4.8-inch TFT LCD 720p display. The colors are very vibrant, and the blacks are very deep. I really love how the display looks, but I can definitely tell some of the colors are nor true-to-life. In my testing I found the displays on the Neo and HTC 8X (also LCD) to be very comparable, but in viewing photos the 8X colors were more true. Still, Windows Phone itself looks really great on this display.

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Power + Battery Life

The Neo sports a 1.5GHz dual-core processor. There isn’t really much to say about it. Everything you can throw at the Neo will run perfectly fine, and navigating the OS is smooth and snappy. It’s what we have come to expect from Windows Phone devices. Unfortunately there isn’t much available to really put that dual-core processor to work.

Battery life has been great. On Saturday I had the phone off the charger for 13 hours of heavy use while at a football game. It was constantly trying (and failing) to find a signal, and when I did have a signal I was checking-in, sending photos, and checking email on the two-hour ride to and from the stadium. At the end of the day the Neo had around 15% left. It got me through the day just fine.

Software

I’m not going to bore you with yet another review of Windows Phone 8. This is the same OS we have been using for the last 11 months. The Neo runs the latest version of WP8 (GDR2), which includes Data Sense, the ability to choose default camera apps, but not FM Radio. It runs perfectly fine, and looks quite nice on the large 4.8-inch display.

The real story here is the plethora of Samsung apps included, and available in the Windows Phone Store. Samsung has 18 apps listed in the “Samsung Zone” section of the Store. These apps include ChatON, Photo Editor, Live Wallpaper, ATIV Beam, Photogram, and many more. The most useful of the bunch are a slew of Lens apps, and an app that allows you to create a sudo “folder” on your Start Screen. The other cool thing is that I received 2-3 updates for Samsung apps in the short time I had the phone. Turns out they actually do care about Windows Phone.

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Samsung Neo Camera

The Neo has a 8MP camera with LED flash and 1080p video capture. There is really nothing amazing about the camera on this phone. It takes very mediocre photos, and videos are marginally better. As with most smartphone cameras, you’re going to get nice (albeit slightly washed-out) photos from well-lit situations, but not much in low light. I will say that photos taken with the flash don’t look as terrible as they do on most phones.

The previously mentioned Lens apps are a very handy addition to the camera. They add a layer of settings and options you can’t get in the stock camera app. Some of the things you can do with the Lens apps include HDR, burst mode, beauty (softens skin), colors, and a bunch of photo filters and effects. I only wish you could set these apps as the default camera apps, but Samsung has not enabled that.

Sprint

Usually I don’t mention the carrier in my reviews, but with a Sprint device I feel it’s necessary. Sprint has been rolling out their new LTE network, and while growth is slow I did find coverage in my area. The speeds on Sprint’s LTE network were comparable to AT&T and Verizon LTE. Keep that in mind if you have coverage in your area.

3G, however, is a very different story. Once you drop off of the fast 4G LTE network the phone becomes almost unusable. At times I couldn’t even send a text message while having full bars on 3G. None of this is the Neo’s fault, but you should know about Sprint if you’re thinking of switching for this device.

Verdict

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Positives

  • Display is big and beautiful.
  • Battery life is very good.
  • Many Samsung apps.
  • Performance is slightly better than other high-end Windows Phone devices.

Negatives

  • Camera is not that great.
  • Disappearing capacitive buttons can be annoying.
  • Plastic.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The ATIV S Neo is what we have come to expect from Samsung devices. You get an excellent display, great build quality, and a solid camera. It’s been a while since I used a Samsung device, and I have to say I now know what Android users see in them. The Neo might not be as flashy as a Lumia 1020 or 8X, but it just feels really great in the hand.

I have never used a Windows Phone that had a fatal flaw, and the ATIV S Neo is the same way. There are better devices out there, but I can’t find a reason why you wouldn’t buy this phone. Let’s cut to the chase, if you’re on Sprint you don’t have a lot of options. It’s the HTC 8XT or the Neo. With a higher resolution display, bigger screen, and suite of Samsung apps the Neo is the obvious choice. On Sprint this phone truly is The One.


  • Wyn6

    Good review. Just a quick addition/correction, if you will. The article began with this statement, “The last carrier in the U.S. to offer truly unlimited data…” Just so you know, T-Mobile also offers truly unlimited data. It’s 4G/LTE speeds are quite fast and it’s 3G coverage, while not as widespread, is considerably better than Sprint’s.

  • From what I understand T-Mobile does offer unlimited, but they throttle you once you reach a certain point.

  • Wyn6

    This is true of the 500MB and 2.5GB 4G plans. But, they offer a Truly Unlimited 4G plan as well which is never throttled.

  • Chris

    Nice review! Most of the reviews I’ve seen have been fairly negative. I just wanted to say that the screen isn’t Super AMOLED, it’s TFT LCD.

  • MagicMiguel

    This is correct — the $70 plan is not ever throttled.

  • Oh crap, you’re right. I swear somewhere it said it was AMOLED.