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Saturday, December 29, 2012

IRL: Western Digital MyBook external hard drives, Doxie Go and Apple's Podcasts App

  • Table oxternal HDDs
  • Doxie Go
  • Apple Podcastselcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: Western Digital MyBook external hard drives, Doxie Go and Apple's Podcasts App
Merry Almost-Christmas, folks. Time to find out if Engadget's editorial staff was naughty or nice this year. If our recent experiences with tech are any indication, we might be atoning for something: Billy's external hard drive is about to die a drawn-out death and Brian's still looking for an alternative to Apple's lousy Podcasts app. But at least Darren's enjoying his mobile scanner, so that 's good, right?


With my freelance design workload, I need to be sure my backup system is going to be super reliable. I also need to archive reviews, liveblog images and hands-on shots from time to time in such a way that I can access them in the future without any hiccups. When I was in grad school, I snagged two MyBooks about a year or so apart. Back then, $100 got you 250GB so I grabbed one for storage and, later, a 500GB disk for added piece of mind. You know, a backup for my backup sort of thing.
Now, the two are about six years old. The older of the two, the 250GB one, is nearing the end of its tenure as part of my workflow. After a good run with no issues at all, it's starting show signs that it's on its last leg. So far, the 500GB model is chugging along just fine. During the course of my years of weekly backups, I never had problems connecting or transferring files that needed to be stowed away for safe keeping. Everything worked as advertised every time. Transfer spends, even now, remain right in line with expected USB 2.0 speeds; the drives handle gigabytes of data in a matter of a few short minutes.
I'm not surprised that my external HDD is about to kick the bucket after six years. Honestly, I'm glad it made it this long, and $100 these days will get me at least four times the storage space. Pairing a couple of these Western Digital MyBooks with a cloud backup system like Backblaze has served me well and my level of anxiety about my digital wares remains at a minimum.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

How would you change Sony's Xperia Ion?

While Sony undergoes its transformation under Kaz Hirai, there's a suspicion that many of its divisions have just been treading water. Take the Xperia Ion, for instance. The company's AT&T LTE flagship shipped in June, yet still carried the dead weight of Gingerbread as the albatross around its neck. Sony's engineering prowess produced sleek hardware, a cracking display, good camera and it was priced at $99 -- but was that a draw with a two-year-old operating system and 2011-era internals? Probably not. But if you were in the minority who bought one of these, what do you think? If you were sure Sony's engineering gurus were reading your every word, what would you tell them to do differently next time?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

LG brings sharper picture of its 2013 Google TV lineup launching at CES

LG brings sharper picture of its 2013 Google TV lineup to be introduced at CES
After hinting in a Japanese press release that it'll out a bevy of new Google TV offerings in 2013, LG has firmed up the details, saying it'll launch seven new models at CES next January. Those include 42-, 57-, 50-, 55- and 60-inch models from the upcoming GA6400 series, along with 47- and 55-inch Cinema Screen panels included in the new GA7900 series. All the screens will ship with a redesignedMagic Qwerty Remote, which uses a full keyboard along with "natural language recognition" via a built-in microphone. Together with built-in Google search functions, that'll allow users to find "broadcast TV or internet content with only one vocal command," according to LG. Other features include the OnLive gaming platform app, a home dashboard to display other apps and content, LG's PrimeTime Quick Guide for browsing TV shows or movies, and a full browser. There's no word yet about pricing or availability, but hopefully that'll be one of the many, many morsels of info we'll be grabbing for you at CES 2013.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

customer data, Big Red points the finger at marketing firm

Hacker allegedly leaks Verizon Fios customer data, big red points the finger at marketing firm
Verizon customers saw a flash of excitement this weekend when an alleged hacker claimed to have pilfered personal data for some three million of its wireless customers. Twitter user TibitXimer shared 300,000 names from the file, claiming to have collected them as early as July 12th. According to Verizon, the would-be hacker's claims are bunk -- the leaked data has been available for months, and it's populated by Verizon FiOS customers. More importantly, Verizon says that its servers weren't hacked at all.
"There was no hack, and no access gained," it said in a statement to The Next Web"A third party marketing firm made a mistake and information was copied." Verizon says the leak was reported to authorities months ago, and insists that recent claims are inaccurate and exaggerated. Sure enough, security researcherAdam Caudill recalls seeing the file back in August, guessing this is probably a file leaked from a telemarketing agency. Either way TibitXimer's account has vanished from the social network, demonstrating, if nothing else, that Twitter is seriousabout its Trust & Safety policies.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Blue Microphones Spark Digital review: a solid iOS / USB mic for recording on the go

It was all the way back in January, when Blue Microphones made its CES announcements, that the Spark Digital first broke cover alongside two other mobile recording devices. Our interest was immediately piqued thanks to the mic's USB 2.0 and iOS connectivity, which allows it to support the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch via the 30-pin jack. After a grueling wait that lasted until just a few weeks ago, Blue's latest offering finally arrived. Was the long wait worth it? Does the Spark Digital do its part to bolster Blue Microphones' reputation for stellar recording wares? Join us past the break as we put the peripheral through its paces and give you answers to those very queries.

Blue Microphones Spark Digital review


Blue Microphones Spark Digital review a solid iOS  USB mic for recording on the go
Back in Vegas when we grabbed a quick hands-on with the Spark Digital, we noted the solid build quality, which has been a mainstay across Blue's microphone lineup. This unit is another metal-clad affair with a quite dapper blue-and-silver color scheme. Despite its claims to a studio-quality experience, the device remains comparable in size to a SM57 or SM58, measuring a hair less than 7.5 inches tall and an inch and a half in both width and depth. Of course, the size increases quite a bit once you attach the peripheral to the metal stand that's included in the box. Don't let those figures fool you, though, the Spark Digital has quite a bit of heft to it. Let's put it this way: you'll know when you've added it your daily carry.
All of those controls are great, but the plastic button / dial comes off way too easily.
Taking a tour around the rig, a combination volume and gain control rests on the front with four LED lights above it that serve as a level indicator. Turning that knob left or right makes this adjustment while pushing it in mutes the mic. There's another, larger LED on the dial itself that lets you know when you're on mute and when the mic is hot. All of those controls are great, but the plastic button / dial comes off way too easily. It's not attached with any sort of pin to hold it in place and it occasionally popped off while we were traveling. The only other on-board switch is an on / off toggle for the Focus Control around back (more on that feature in a bit). Last but not least, a jack is located on the bottom of the unit that accepts both the 30-pin cable for iOS devices and a USB option for connecting to a laptop or desktop.
Blue Microphones Spark Digital review a solid iOS  USB mic for recording on the go
As we mentioned briefly before, the Spark Digital comes with some essential accessories in the box. First, a metal desktop stand -- similar to the one that cradles the Yeti -- is included to handle the peripheral during recording sessions. The holder swivels 180 degrees and can be locked into place once it's positioned just so. Our only complaint with the stand is that the platform that the mic attaches to is held in place by mini bungee cord / rubber band-type ropes, serving as a shockmount to keep the microphone safe from vibrations. This makes for a less-than-solid base when positioned at an angle due to the weight of the microphone despite the shockmount's intent, even if you won't be moving it mid-session. If you keep things vertical, though, you won't have any issues.
In order to use this beast with the latest iPhone, iPad and iPad mini, you'll have to snag a Lightning adapter to get up and running.
In addition to the stand, the requisite cables are included as well. Again, you can connect via a 30-pin connector or USB port. The Spark Digital doesn't have a built-in headphone jack for zero-latency monitoring like its bigger brother, the Yeti, but it does offer said connection along the cable that connects to your laptop or mobile device -- a pretty nice touch as far as we're concerned. A soft bag for carrying the mobile recording unit comes standard as well, complete with a second compartment on the inside to keep that duo of cables tidy. You may be asking: "30-pin connector?" Yes, unfortunately you read that correctly. In order to use this beast with the latest iPhone, iPad and iPad mini, you'll have to snag an extra adapter to get things up and running. Perhaps a third cable will be introduced soon for the Lightning connection, but for now, be sure you pick up that $30 adapter before you plan to record.


Blue Microphones Spark Digital review a solid iOS  USB mic for recording on the go
Continuing its pattern of churning out plug-and-play devices, Blue Microphones made the Spark Digital's setup process super simple. If you've already installed a bit of recording software -- such as GarageBand, StudioMini and the like -- you're a plug-in and a few clicks in the Settings menu away from being able to record. The entire process takes less than a minute, which keeps the focus on actually recording, and not getting the equipment set up and connected. Throughout our time with it, we didn't encounter any hiccups going through the process each time we relocated and the fact that GarageBand automatically detected the accessory made the chore even easier.
Let's chat a bit about that Focus Control, shall we? On the surface, the feature is said to enhance recordings for greater clarity and detail over the "Normal" mode, but there's more to it than that. Toggling the Focus Control on alters the voltage of the mic's internals (specifically the capsule) and thus tweaks the dynamic frequency response. This offers a much more in-depth change -- than say, a filter would -- that doesn't adjust the unit's signal output. Instead, the input driver gets all of the changes. All of that boils down to this: the Focus Control offers two unique options for recording with the same sound quality for each. It's not really a matter of one working better than the other, but rather selecting which of the two works best in a given tracking scenario.


Blue Microphones Spark Digital review a solid iOS  USB mic for recording on the go
A painless setup routine goes a long way in making the Spark Digital a pleasure to use. The fact that it's iOS-compatible and that it takes up less space than the Yeti makes it more likely you'll take it on the road for capturing a new instrumental or doing some podcasting from a hotel room (a likely use case for Engadget editors, anyway). Thanks to the built-in mute control, we never had to worry about keystrokes, coughs or other noises creeping in mid-broadcast while we weren't speaking. The Spark Digital did pick up a bit of room noise while we were recording acoustic guitars, but it's nothing that can't be cured in postproduction.
A painless setup routine goes a long way in making the Spark Digital a pleasure to use.
During the course of our comparison tests, Blue's Spark Digital ultimately lived up to our expectations. The unit provided a depth of sound (read: range of tones) and overall clarity in the tracks that places it a notch above theApogee MiC in this regard. Captures from the Spark weren't weighted to one end of the sound spectrum or the other and highs, mids and lows were all consistently represented. However, low-end and mids get most of the attention with the MiC -- on par with what we had seen in previous recordings for other reviews. The new Spark handled both instruments and vocals (read: speaking and podcasting) with the same gusto each time out.
Blue Microphones Spark Digital sample

Apogee MiC sample
The clarity and depth were especially apparent when we recorded with a 1962 Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar. The higher pitched strings in particular were much more pronounced with the Spark Digital at the helm, lending a hand with the end result. Both of the audio samples were recorded with the same Gibson acoustic and GarageBand on a MacBook Pro with no EQ or production tweaks made after the fact. We did, however, adjust the volume of the tracks to make things nice and level for playback and we were careful to place both mics the same distance from the J-45 for each recording.


Blue Microphones Spark Digital review a solid iOS  USB mic for recording on the go
The other dual-connection mic we've already mentioned, the Apogee MiC, is one of the Spark Digital's more obvious adversaries: it, too, offers USB and 30-pin compatibility, and costs $199. What you lose here is an ultra-sturdy desktop stand in favor of a smaller, lighter setup. There's also no onboard mute switch. On the bright side, the unit is much more compact and doesn't carry nearly the heft that the Spark Digital does. As you can hear in the audio samples above, the MiC doesn't exhibit the overall range of sound that Blue's offering does, but it's definitely worth considering.
In terms of other mics that offer a double dose of connectivity, Blue's own Snowball fits that bill -- so long as one of Apple's camera connection kits for the iPad follows close behind. The Snowball has long been a popular choice for podcasters and remains rather compact with three color options. You would also be saving some coin, as the mic is priced at $99 and the requisite adapter tacks on another $29, but you can expect a dip in sound quality here as well. While the Snowball does an admirable job handling both acoustic guitars and vocals, shelling out 70 extra bucks would net a significant jump in audio quality.


Blue Microphones Spark Digital review a solid iOS  USB mic for recording on the go
While there are other mobile recording mics that play nice with both computers and the iPad, the Spark Digital is the best choice of the ones we've tested. Sure, Blue Microphones' latest effort is a bit heavy compared to the Apogee MiC, but the added features and boost in sound quality quickly made us forget the extra heft once we started tracking. And the price is the same, too, even though you get all those nice extras.
Yes, we'd like to see a bit more stable platform in the desktop stand that supports the unit's weight better and a mute / volume control that's attached with... well, anything. A third cable that allows us to connect to our shiny new iPad mini's Lightning port immediately would be nice too, but the truth is, at this point many of you may have already bought Apple's Lightning adapter out of necessity. For us, these are all minor flaws: the truth is that the unit works as advertised and provides great sound quality with a peripheral that's easy to setup on-the-go. You can't ask for much more than that.

Thanks to Nick Wiley for providing the guitar licks used in the audio samples for this review.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Samsung ATIV S review: the Galaxy S III, repackaged for Windows Phone 8

Samsung ATIV S review a flagship repackaged for Windows Phone 8
Samsung was one of the first to join the Windows Phone parade with the Focus, and was quick to follow up with devices like the Focus S. It's been unusually conservative with Windows Phone 8, however: the ATIV S ($100 on contract through Bell Canada) is the last of the big three flagships to arrive in 2012, following weeks after the HTC Windows Phone 8X and Nokia Lumia 920 went on sale. Some would argue that Samsung has been especially conservative with the ATIV S, given that it shares the same 4.8-inch screen, Snapdragon S4 processor, cameras and overarching design traits with Sammy's other flagship phone, the Galaxy S III. There's a real worry that someone visiting the carrier store will see both devices and pick the Galaxy simply through name recognition alone.
And yet, they're not entirely cut from the same cloth: there's a design twist or two, a larger battery and, of course, a switch to an entirely different ecosystem. Some will want the phone to try Windows Phone's simpler, at-a-glance interface concept; others are shopping solely inside of Microsoft's universe and want to know if expandable storage and Samsung's custom app suite fend off rivals. We already have lots to like, but there are a few punctures in the ATIV S' faux-metal armor that will keep it from being the handset for everyone, even if they do prefer Windows Phone. Read on and you'll see why.

Samsung ATIV S review


You'd be forgiven for thinking the ATIV S was another of Samsung's many Android devices.
Much of that apparent kinship with the Galaxy S III is visible from the front: if it weren't for the Windows logo stamped prominently on the home button, you'd be forgiven for thinking the ATIV S was another of Samsung's many Android devices. It's that close. Spin it around, however, and you'll realize that it's not mimicking its siblings quite so literally. The brushed-metal effect on the back isn't real, but it doesn't have to be -- the result is a smartphone that could very nearly be called handsome, if a bit flashy. Build quality doesn't suffer, as it still feels very sturdy, and those swaths of metallic gray help minimize (though not completely eliminate) fingerprint smudges. Gorilla Glass 2 kept the front of the phone pristine during our testing.
Some may just like the feel of the ATIV S in their palms. While it's touting a larger screen than the 4.5-inch Lumia 920, it's easier to hold courtesy of its textured finish and thinner (0.34-inch), lighter (4.8-ounce) body. Your experience may vary, but we weren't as afraid of an impending drop when using Samsung's phone one-handed. For that matter, the interface itself is easier to navigate one-handed versus the Galaxy S III. The subtle design changes, along with Windows Phone's larger UI elements, reduce the chances of launching something by accident and put your intended target just that much closer.
Few will be surprised by the ports and controls around the device, which very closely follow both Microsoft and Samsung's guidelines. Not that this is necessarily a problem, mind you. Up top is the standard headphone jack, while the bottom has a typical micro-USB port. The main speaker is located on the back and isn't especially loud, although it's certainly audible from across a quiet room. We occasionally hit the volume rocker on the left by accident, but we had no such trouble with the right side's camera button and didn't struggle to reach the power button, like we did with the Windows Phone 8X. The capacitive back and search buttons at the bottom are almost too easy to graze, however.
DNP Samsung ATIV S review the Galaxy S III, repackaged for Windows Phone 8
The real highlight may be what's just under the surface. Unlike what we've seen with HTC and Nokia's highest-end Windows Phone devices, the ATIV S gives expansion a big, friendly hug. Pop off the rear cover and you'll find not just a space for a micro-SIM, but also a microSD slot and a removable battery. Some buyers may not need to hear anything more than this, really. We know many who refuse to buy a phone that can't grow with their needs, and they'll appreciate the opportunity to go beyond the 16GB of built-in storage (up to 48GB total) as well as carry a spare battery for particularly hectic days. The result won't be as capacious as 64GB models of the iPhone 5 or One X+, but it won't cost as much, either.
As we've mentioned, the ATIV doesn't usher in any great revolution in processing power. It uses the same dual-core, 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 chip we've seen in some Galaxy S III variants, as well as many early Windows Phone 8 handsets. It sticks to 1GB of RAM rather than the 2GB of some of its Android brethren, but then again, there's less demand for the extra headroom. NFC is built in and once again uses the battery as the antenna.
Those hoping for a Nokia level of cellular diversity might be disappointed, though. In the Bell Canada model we tried, there's quad-band GSM, GPRS and EDGE (850 / 900 / 1,800 / 1,900MHz) and a similar number of dual-carrier, 42Mbps HSPA+ bands (850 / 1,700 / 1,900 / 2,100MHz), but just AWS (1,700MHz and 2,100MHz combined) for LTE. Variants for the US and elsewhere are poised to have either country-specific LTE frequencies or stick to 3G. As glad as we are that Samsung is catering to specific regions' needs, it's slightly disappointing to know that even an unlocked ATIV S sometimes won't reach its best data speeds on foreign carriers.


Samsung ATIV S review a flagship repackaged for Windows Phone 8
We weren't kidding when we said the ATIV S had a familiar screen. This is the same 4.8-inch, 1,280 x 720 Super AMOLED HD panel from the Galaxy S III. That's both a blessing and a slight curse, in our minds. You'll ultimately get rich colors, wide viewing angles and deep blacks. That also results in the ever-so-slightly fuzzy look of a PenTile pixel arrangement. However, what we said for the Android device also holds true here: this panel is far better than previous generations, and the pixelated effect isn't really noticeable unless your eyes are too close to the 306-ppi image. Although AMOLED still doesn't have the best reputation outdoors, we could see it well enough on a sunny day with the brightness pushed up.
Next to its immediate Windows Phone 8 counterparts, the ATIV S faces a stiff fight. It has the biggest screen of the current bunch and doesn't have to worry about refresh rates when AMOLED has near-instant response. Still, it doesn't have the pixel density of the 8X, or the extra 48 pixels of width afforded by the Lumia 920. Anyone who lives in a cooler climate will appreciate the Lumia 920 LCD's glove-friendly screen, too. There were a few times during my mid-December testing of the ATIV S where I had to stop to avoid frostbite. We're fine with Samsung's approach when the screen is large and contributes to a thinner overall phone profile; we just have to accept that it's not the best in every respect.


DNP Samsung ATIV S review a flagship repackaged for Windows Phone 8
Samsung recycled Galaxy parts once again with the ATIV S' dual cameras. Both the 8-megapixel, f/2.6 rear shooter and the front 1.9-megapixel, f/2.8 camera are lifted directly from the likes of the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II. On bright days and in good indoor lighting, that leads to photos from the rear camera that are sharply focused, with soft backgrounds in macros and accurate colors. The choice does maintain the reduced dynamic range, however, and the sensor is nowhere near earning trophies for low-light performance or image stabilization like the Lumia 920. Dark scenes without the bright (if slightly harsh) flash still result in either a lot of noise or pitch black elements. We had an opportunity to shoot with both the ATIV S and Note II for a while, and many images from both cameras were nigh-on identical to each other -- lumping the mostly good in with the occasional bad.

Samsung ATIV S sample shots

Samsung Galaxy Note II comparison sample shots for the ATIV S

This assumes that we're shooting with the same settings, though, and it's here that the ATIV S stumbles. Windows Phone 8 will let you fine-tune core image details like exposure, filter-based effects and white balance, but there's no built-in burst shooting, high dynamic range modes, panoramas or precision controls like metering. Samsung doesn't preload any apps that take advantage of Windows Phone 8's Lens feature for extending camera functionality, so we're left either finding apps for ourselves or going without.
Some of the basics take a separate hit because of Microsoft's approach. Tap-to-focus doesn't work without also taking a shot, which leaves you to either gamble with the results or lock the focus using the hardware key and pan away. The settings menu obscures most of the screen, preventing a good preview of any mode changes. That vaunted near-zero shutter lag? Shot-to-shot times are still quick, but no longer instant when Microsoft inserts transition animations and there's no continuous shooting mode. It's true that many casual photographers may not mind, or even notice; we just don't like that the ATIV S has one arm tied behind its back.
Video recording is thankfully much better. Windows Phone leaves fewer settings to play with, but the high-bandwidth 20 Mbps capturing is clean in daylight and stays sharp as long as the phone isn't being thrashed around. Exposure changes kick in smoothly and quickly. Moviemaking in the dark is about the only area that's off limits. The microphone faces a similar ceiling, catching subtle details in quieter moments and coping less than graciously with wind and loud noises. We'd choose Samsung's Windows Phone for capturing video in many situations... just not for the nightclub.


We've delved into Windows Phone 8 a few times now, and the ATIV S of course shares that same UI, so we won't rehash everything here. As ever, it's a distinctive take on smartphone software, and the introduction of resizable tiles has done wonders for providing as much live information as you'd care for. Internet Explorer 10 is a modern, speedy web browser. Like we hinted earlier, the ATIV S feels like it's occasionally solving problems that we see in the Galaxy S III, especially for those who aren't normally fans of big screens or a deluge of on-screen information. The Windows Phone keyboard remains one of the easiest to type with, at least on Samsung's big screen, with smart autocorrection as well as straightforward text selection.
All the same, there are a few undeniable chasms that have to be crossed. Multitasking is still awkward. Notifications are more prevalent than ever, but the lack of a notification center (missing due to time constraints, Microsoft has said) means you could miss a vital message if you're not paying attention while inside an app. Also, Microsoft needs to go beyond having 46 of the top 50 Android and iOS apps -- it needs the top 500, as there are too many must-haves beyond just the smash hits, whether it's Path or Remember the Milk. Those who live in Google's ecosystem will be hard-pressed to make the jump, regardless of third-party alternatives like MetroTube that occasionally fill in the gaps.

Samsung ATIV S software

Most Windows Phone supporters have their share of custom apps to tailor what's otherwise a very uniform experience, and Samsung is more than eager to follow suit. We'd call its strategy a potpourri. Where Nokia is focused mostly on location, and HTC is a fan of little conveniences, Samsung wants to cover a few areas at once. Company loyalists will most likely recognize its cross-platform messaging serviceChatON as well as the Music Hub, which (at least in Canada) centers on a 7digital-run music store. There are a few less common additions such as Family Story, which shares memos and photos between groups like a cross-OS version of Microsoft's own Rooms; Live Wallpaper, which shuffles photos on the lock screen; a MiniDiary app for cataloging memories with photos and voice; Now, a hybrid news and weather aggregator; and a self-explanatory Photo Editor.
DNP Samsung ATIV S review the Galaxy S III, repackaged for Windows Phone 8
In practice, there's a real hit-or-miss quality to these apps. We use Now the most for news and weather, as with HTC's hub. The Photo Editor app helps for a quick crop or tweaking the contrast before sharing a photo with the world. Live Wallpaper and the Music Hub feel redundant, though, and we honestly didn't see much point to MiniDiary when its content is completely disconnected from the outside world. ChatON and Family Story, meanwhile, both have strikes against them through their small communities (we struggled to find and recruit users among hundreds of contacts) and an arcane sign-up process that relies on phone numbers. Quite frankly, we got more bang for the buck from Nokia's mapping suite and HTC's attentive phone options.
At least Microsoft's hardline stance on the user experience works in the ATIV S' favor. Samsung's apps are treated like regular third-party releases and can be deleted entirely, if you can't bear to see them; they're sitting in a dedicated Samsung Zone section of the Windows Phone Store if you want them again. Carrier bloat is here, but you can still uninstall the apps from AT&T, Bell, Rogers and others if they're more hindrances than help. The loadout is light, as well -- our Bell unit has just a lone Mobile TV portal instead of the several non-removable apps we usually see on the provider's Android lineup. The sense is that it's our personal device, not just a profit engine for the network.


Samsung ATIV S review a flagship repackaged for Windows Phone 8
Theoretically, there shouldn't be any statistical difference between the ATIV S and any of its high-end Windows Phone 8 counterparts. After all, its 8X and Lumia 920 opponents share the same Snapdragon S4 and 1GB of RAM. For the most part, day-to-day interaction shows that to be true. The interface is still as speedy as ever, and 3D games in the Windows Phone Store like Ilomilo and Ragdoll Run stay smooth. Browsing is where you'll notice the jump the most; between Internet Explorer's improved renderer and the Snapdragon S4, pages load very quickly as long as the connection can keep up. We wish Samsung had used the extra time to stuff in a Snapdragon S4 Pro like that in the Lumia 920T, but the chip may be overkill when there are few things in Windows Phone's short-term future that would justify the added brute strength.
Samsung ATIV SNokia Lumia 920HTC Windows Phone 8XNokia Lumia 900
Battery rundown2:382:362:304:29
SunSpider (ms, lower numbers are better)8909149146,902
AnTuTu (*GFX test off)12,06410,957*11,7752,596
Going to more concrete numbers tells a slightly different story. Although the differences are imperceptible most of the time, the ATIV S just manages to edge out its Windows Phone 8 peers in every category. It crunches numbers faster and lasts just a tad longer in our battery rundown test. The longevity can be explained by the 2,300mAh battery pack, but there's no obvious explanation for such a consistent lead. We're intrigued enough that we've reached out to Samsung to see if there's a more logical reason than happenstance, such as the company's skills with in-house flash memory and RAM. We'll let you know if there's a definitive answer.
The extra 200mAh in battery capacity over the Galaxy S III is appreciated, though not quite as much of a boost to real-world use as you'd think. Our device had just under half of the battery left after the eight-hour span of a workday with periodic use of email, the web, social networking and the occasional phone call, and those who aren't any more aggressive should last the rest of the evening. It's very much possible to crush the ATIV S as a power user: on our first run, battery life shrank to about four hours after snapping 93 photos, recording three videos, streaming music over LTE and regularly hopping on to Twitter. Thank goodness there's a removable battery, then, even if we miss the wireless charging of the Lumia 920 and Verizon's 8X.
Samsung ATIV S review a flagship repackaged for Windows Phone 8
Outbound call quality was described to us as good by the various people we spoke to, although the inbound clarity on Bell's network wasn't as phenomenal as what we'd encountered with the Galaxy S III on other networks. Data was largely stable, albeit with a notable moment of inconsistency: we noticed that data traffic suddenly ground to a halt in downtown Ottawa on a Saturday night, even with three-bar LTE reception as we stood outside. Weekend revelers clogging the network may have played a part, but it wasn't confidence-inspiring. We can say that LTE was quick when working earlier in the day, and as we left the urban core. Our best result saw 21.4 Mbps downspeeds and 9.6 Mbps up, with downloads typically hovering around 17.5 Mbps. Outside of 4G, the dual-carrier HSPA+ 3G was good enough to reach a healthy 15.2 Mbps down and 1.6 Mbps up.


DNP Samsung ATIV S review the Galaxy S III, repackaged for Windows Phone 8
Samsung sits atop the smartphone world like a colossus thanks to its Android leadership, but the ATIV S ultimately feels like a third wheel on the Windows Phone 8 bicycle -- in part because it arrived late, but mostly because the design doesn't bring anything exciting to the table. HTC's Windows Phone 8X thrives on its compact, stylized body and helpful (if minor) tweaks; Nokia's Lumia 920 centers on major features for navigators, shutterbugs and cold-weather explorers. Samsung's phone stands out precisely because it's not trying to stand out, relying instead on historically reliable selling points like the slimmest design, the biggest screen and the most expansion.
Some will like it that way. Fans who've been waiting for full SD card support on a top-of-the-line Windows Phone now have that choice -- and it may trump everything else. Converts to Windows Phone and even smartphone newcomers might gravitate toward the ATIV S simply because they'll feel right at home. We genuinely enjoyed carrying one around, and it's a solid choice for those who aren't strongly attached to another mobile operating system (and don't mind the mixed bag of pre-installed apps). And at $100 or less on contract in Canada ($80 at Rogers; $30 at Telus) it's priced quite well.
Still, it's this conservative strategy that makes it a tougher sell for Windows Phone diehards and people who care less about expandable storage. While HTC and Nokia are guilty of saddling their Windows Phone devices with fixed storage and non-removable batteries, they've managed to carve out spaces for themselves through sheer originality: their camera and design features are irreplaceable. Samsung's decision to blend in makes the ATIV S less likely to stand out.

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