AT&T Samsung ATIV S Neo Review

While the Nokia Lumia 1520 has made a huge splash over at AT&T, another new Windows Phone, the Samsung ATIV S Neo, was released earlier this month in rather quiet fashion.

While some doubted it would ever happen, we had the opportunity to spend a little time with Samsung ATIV S Neo review unit and found it to be a decent mid-range Windows Phone but is not a device that will knock your socks off. 

While the Samsung ATIV S Neo could use a little fine-tuning, it should be appealing to those looking for a budget, large screen Windows Phone.  However, with AT&T currently offering the Nokia Lumia 920 for $0.50 (on contract) the ATIV S Neo may still face an uphill challenge.

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Nice build quality, solid feel in the hands, a physical Windows Button, microSD card expansionUninspiring camera performance, odd reception issues, auto-brightness is a little on the dim side
The AT&T Samsung ATIV S Neo comes across as a solid, mid-level Windows Phone.  It offers consumers an economically priced, large screen Windows Phone with a classic design.  While the ATIV S Neo could use a little fine-tuning, none of the shortcomings are terminal in nature.  However, if Samsung extends the same low level of support and marketing to the Neo as it has previous Windows Phones the Neo may quickly fade into the shadows.

The Design

The Samsung ATIV S Neo design gives the Windows Phone a little bit of an old-school feel to it.  There is a resemblance to several of Samsung’s Android devices.  While this may not appeal to everyone, we will write that off as just being Samsung’s style.

The tale of the tape has the ATIV S Neo measuring 5.33 x 2.72 x .36 inches and weighing in at 5.04 ounces.  The size and weight of the ATIV S Neo puts it in the same ballpark (just a smidgen larger) as the Nokia Lumia 920 or 925.

The layout of the ATIV S Neo has the power button centered on the right side of the phone with the camera button resting slightly below it.  On the left side you will find the volume rocker with the micro-USB post located at the bottom of the device.  Up top is the 3.5mm headphone jack and an 8MP camera is to the rear.

The phone has a solid feel to it and to help the Samsung stand out a little, there is a physical Windows button on the face of the phone that is capable of waking up the ATIV S Neo.  The back and search buttons are capacitive and remain hidden until touched.

The ATIV S Neo does have a removable backing that exposes the 2000 mAh battery, SIM Card slot and microSD card slot.  The battery cover is attached by a series of small plastic clips that reminds me of the battery cover on the Samsung Focus S.  As with the Focus S, the Neo S’s battery cover is thin almost to the point of being flimsy.  I doubt it would break but I feel the more you take it on/off the plastic clips will weaken.

The Samsung ATIV S Neo does have a charging LED that will glow red while the battery is re-charging and green when the charge cycle is complete.  It does not alert you of missed calls, new emails, new toast notifications, etc.  Which is a little disappointing but it is still a nice feature.

While having used a Nokia Windows Phone daily, the button layout on the Samsung ATIV S Neo did take a little time to get used to.  Overall, though, the Samsung ATIV S comes across as a decently built Windows Phone.  The phone had a little heft to it but did feel comfortable in the hand and was easily pocketable.

The Screen

The Neo is fitted with a 4.77” 1280 x 720 TFT display.  While receptive to the touch, the screen on the review unit was a little on the dim side indoors when the brightness was set to automatic, very reminiscent of other Samsung Windows Phones.  When the brightness was set to medium or you viewed the ATIV S Neo in ample light the screen quality improved rather dramatically.

Outdoors, the Samsung ATIV S Neo’s screen performed on par with similar Windows Phone screens; the harsher the sunlight, the more the screen is washed out.

The Neo’s screen is nice but not at the level of the AMOLED screens we have seen on other Windows Phones.

Under the Hood

Under the hood, the ATIV S Neo is fitted with a 1.4GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and your typical Bluetooth, GPS, and Wi-Fi radios.  You also have NFC support with the ATIV S Neo.

The dual-core processor moves things along nicely, on par with other Windows Phones.  While some may squawk at the 16GB of memory, you do have microSD card expansion available to help ease the pain.

I could not replicate the GPS issues that Dan experienced with his hands-on time with the Neo.  The GPS nailed my position with accuracy, not unlike other Windows Phone location services.

I did experience similar reception issues with the Samsung ATIV S Neo though.  Poor signal reception cannot always rest solely on the shoulders of the phone.  However, when compared to other Windows Phones on the AT&T network, the Neo’s reception was 1-2 bars weaker with drops from LTE speeds to HSPA+.

A 2000 mAh battery powers the ATIV S Neo’s operation and performed rather nicely.  A fully charged battery made it through the day easily with heavy email use, a little web surfing, a little game time and some phone calls.

In many respects the under-the-hood aspects of the ATIV S Neo is not unlike any other Windows Phones.  While there is nothing wrong with average performance, it is hard to say anything under the hood makes the Neo stand out.  The poor signal reception is of concern though.

The Camera

Samsung fitted the ATIV S Neo with an 8MP rear camera and a 1.2MP front camera.  There is an LED light adjacent to the 8MP shooter that serves as a flash and focusing light.

Still image resolution ranges from 640x480 to the full 3264x2448.  Video resolution includes 640x480, 1280x720 and 1920x1080 options.

Your typical Windows Phone software with options (for both still and video) drives the camera to control:

  • Focus Mode (Macro or Normal)
  • White Balance
  • Exposure Metering
  • ISO
  • Effects (Mono, Negative, Sepia, Solarize, Posterize, Vintage Cold, Vintage Warm, Point Blue, Point Green, Point Red-Yellow)
  • Contrast
  • Saturation
  • Sharpness
  • Exposure Compensation

As far as image quality is concerned, the 8MP shooter does a decent job of things but is not a tipping point for the ATIV S.  Customers will not be breaking down the doors to get their hands on the Neo solely for the camera nor will they be running for the hills because of the camera.

As long as the light was sufficient, the camera performance was acceptable.  Images were sharp but seemed a little under saturated and could use a boost in contrast. 

Low light photos were a bit of a mixed bag, often producing motion blur due to the slower shutter speeds and lack of image stabilization.  A steady hand is a must for taking low light photos with the ATIV S Neo.  I also noticed a slight haze on some of the photos and discovered the (what feels like) plastic lens cover was prone to smudges.  You'll need to wipe the camera lens clean often to avoid soft, hazy images.

Video quality follows suit with decent performance, not unlike other 8MP Windows Phone cameras.

Overall, the ATIV S Neo’s camera reminds me of the older Windows Phone cameras.  It does a decent job of things but pales in comparison to the more current crop of Windows Phone cameras.  If Samsung has invested in smartphone camera development, it is not evident with the ATIV S Neo.

The Software

The Samsung ATIV S Neo is loaded with Windows Phone 8, OS version 8.0.10512.142 (Update 3).  The Neo also comes with the customary AT&T software (Navigator, Radio, Locker, FamilyMap, etc.) and the Bing suite of apps (Weather, News, Finance, and Sports).

You also have a few Samsung apps that include:

  • ATIV Beam that lets you share files through NFC that is compatible with all Samsung Android and Windows Phone devices. 
  • Photo Editor that lets you edit newly captured and existing images in your Pictures Hub.  Editing tools include cropping, color adjustment, effects filters and stickers. 
  • Samsung Link is an app that lets you share and play content across Samsung smart devices.  Samsung Now is a weather, news and stock app. 
  • Mini-Diary, as the title suggests, is a diary app where you can add notes, photos and record where you are.

The Samsung Collection is also available in the Windows Phone Store where you can pick up a few additional apps such as App Folder that allows you to group apps in folders, ChatON a messenger app, and several photo effects apps.  There are several gems in the collection but unfortunately, there are a few duds as well.

The Samsung ATIV S Neo’s settings are standard for a Windows Phone.  You do have additional call settings such as call forwarding and call waiting, call/sms blocker, contacts import, and SoundAlive.  SoundAlive is a set of equalizer settings that applies to music and video players and only works through headsets.

You will not find any big surprises, or disappointments for that matter, with the software aspects of the Samsung ATIV S Neo.  Anything that is missing should be available over in the Windows Phone Store and thankfully, anything that you may not need can be uninstalled.

The Phone

The Samsung ATIV S Neo’s performance as a telephone was commensurate with other Windows Phones.  Call quality was good, as was the speakerphone performance.  However, you do have the odd reception issues though.

Overall Impression

The Samsung ATIV S Neo comes across as a nicely built, modestly capable Windows Phone.  The Neo feels comfortable in the hand, has a decent screen, good call quality but has a lackluster camera.  I do think the positives out-weigh the negatives as long as you are not looking for stellar camera performance.

I will admit the hardware Windows button took a little time to get used to but it grows on you.  It is a handy option to wake up the ATIV S Neo.  It does look a little out of place though with the Back and Search buttons hidden but that also grows on you. 

I am still on the fence with having the volume rocker being on the left side of the phone.  Fortunately, the volume rocker placement is not a detrimental design flaw for the ATIV S Neo.  Its placement takes a little time to get used to but you can get used to it.

Screen performance was overall good, but I wish Samsung would get the automatic brightness setting better tuned.  The 4.77” screen is respectable but the dimness holds it back.

While the hardware aspects and performance of the Samsung ATIV S Neo has appeal, it likely will be plagued by the same downside other Windows Phone manufacturers create; the lack of product support.

The Lumia Windows Phone hardware is impressive but it is the product support that Nokia brings to the table that makes them successful.  From marketing to software to device development, Nokia has done a commendable job of it. 

The Samsung ATIV S Neo has appeal but with abysmal product support by Samsung it will relegate the Neo to those with brand loyalty and more than likely to the clearance rack.  Bottom line, Samsung (as well as other Windows Phone manufacturers) needs to step it up to see any success in the Windows Phone market.

In a nutshell, the Samsung ATIV S Neo is a well-built Windows Phone for those looking for a mid-level performer.  I would not expect much beyond average performance out of the camera but can see the phone appealing to those looking for a budget, large screen Windows Phone.  The kicker is whether the ATIV S Neo can attract customers away from the older, $.50 Nokia Lumia 920?

AT&T is currently offering the ATIV S Neo for $49.99 after contractual discounts.  The Windows Phone will run you $419.99 off-contract and you can find all the ordering details here at AT&T’s website.

George Ponder

George is the Reviews Editor at Windows Central, concentrating on Windows 10 PC and Mobile apps. He's been a supporter of the platform since the days of Windows CE and uses his current Windows 10 Mobile phone daily to keep up with life and enjoy a game during down time.