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Review: Verizon's Other Windows Phone, The Samsung ATIV SE

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This is Samsung’s ATIV SE. It is a Windows Phone and at the moment, I have to say it’s one of the best choices out there if Nokia isn’t your thing. To be clear, it isn’t the flashiest phone and looks very much like another popular device from the folks at Sammy, the Galaxy S4. Matter of fact, it even shares a component or two with its Android brother. If you’re in the market for a solid Windows device at a good price you should definitely be taking a hard look at the ATIV SE. I’ll tell you why.


The Specs

The ATIV SE comes with a 5” Super AMOLED Screen at 1920x1080 that looks great. If you’re familiar with how Sammy’s Android offerings look with very saturated colors and you like those, you’ll find no surprises here. Images and colors pop though the blacks aren’t as deep as those found on Nokia devices. I’ll admit to being a tad knit picky as you probably won’t notice that but it bears mentioning. Not that you’ll need all the space for apps, but you get 16GB of on board memory, expandable  up to 64GB via microSD slot. Since Windows Phone 8 is so efficient, the phone sings with its 2GB of RAM. At no time did I experience any lag but that may be because everything is pushed by a 2.3ghz quad core processor, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800. I know this is a lot of nerd jargon, but you get Verizon’s 700 and 1700 mhz LTE radio bands built into this phone which means that you can take advantage of their new XLTE band. What that means for you is improved service during high traffic times of the day and increased speeds. In my own testing here in Los Angeles I was able to see speeds upwards of 19Mbps up and 10Mbps down.


Window Into Functionality

Most of the issues I might have with this phone come from the OS itself and not the hardware. Battery life for the ATIV SE is really good and if you’re ever playing games, manage to drain the phone and aren’t anywhere near an outlet, you can always swap the battery. That’s something you won’t be able to do with the other top Windows Phones from Nokia. And, while we’re talking about swapping batteries out, the back plate on the phone sports a brushed metal look that is plastic, doesn’t attract fingerprints at all but is super slick. There is no tack at all so it will slide in and out of your pockets easily. That also means it may slide out of your hands easily. Caveat emptor!


Like other Samsung phones, the ATIV SE sports the home button on the front with capacitive buttons for Search and Back to the left and right of the home button. One of the big bonuses to Windows Phone devices, given that Nokia has been driving the hardware, has been the camera quality and if you’ve liked the pictures taken with the Galaxy S4, you’ll have no problems with what you get out of the SE. The 13 megapixel camera produces sharp images with good color saturation and has an app that is fairly intuitive to use, except for one thing: there’s no “camera button” in the default app. You just tap the screen to take the picture, unless you change to the Shooting Modes app (inside of the camera app) or as the app calls it, a "Lens." Unlike the camera app on the S4, you don’t get the plethora of shooting mode choices in the ATIV’s app. This implementation gives you just four choices: Auto, Continuous, Beauty and HDR modes. Frankly, for most users this will be fine. I challenge anyone to think of how much they use more than a couple features built into a Galaxy camera app on a regular basis. You can download other "Lenses" to your ATIV, which act like apps inside of the main camera app and extend your camera functionality but that is more a function of Windows than anything to do with Samsung’s hardware.



Conclusion

In the end the choice between the unassuming ATIV SE and other competing Windows phones on Verizon’s network, like the Lumia Icon, may come down to a couple feature decisions on the part of Samsung. Those decisions include a removable battery and microSD slot… ATIV has them, the Ikon doesn’t. There are many people who still like the option to be able to swap out that 2600mAh battery for a fresh one and avoid the wall hugging as well as the ability to keep large amounts of media on a removable card for trips and such. And that may be the tale of the tape that helps consumers decide who wins the fight between the two, unless of course you’re looking for something more polished and slick which Nokia’s designs have in spades. And I know this may be a small thing, but you know what they say about the little things? They do mean a lot and having an IR port built into the ATIV so you can use it as a universal remote is actually quite handy. Matter of fact, while I was on vacation with my family recently, the remote to the TV in the master bedroom went out on us and instead of calling maintenance I just quickly programmed the phone to work with an older tube TV from GE and used WatchOn to provide me with a channel guide since there wasn’t one in the room. Currently you can pick up the ATIV SE from Verizon on a 2-year contract for $99.99.
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