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Windows Phone on a Budget: Nokia vs. Samsung

If you’re curious about Microsoft’s Windows Phone and want to save money, two models from Samsung and Nokia will please you and your wallet. But not all inexpensive smartphones are created equal.

This week, I took a look at two budget-friendly Windows Phone 8 devices from Verizon Wireless, the Nokia Lumia 822 and Samsung ATIV Odyssey. The Nokia is currently free with a two-year service agreement, while the Samsung costs $50 with a two-year contract.

These cheaper price points come with some trade-offs, such as lower-resolution screens, but I found them both to be capable smartphones. They delivered where it counts most: Each offers smooth performance, good call quality and solid battery life. That said, with more memory, a better camera and a bigger screen, the Nokia is the better choice.

Truth be told, I was a little underwhelmed by the ATIV Odyssey. It’s Samsung’s first Windows Phone 8 device, but there’s nothing about it that makes it stand out from the competition.

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While cute and compact at 4.8 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide and 4.4 ounces, this handset’s black-and-gray chassis blends in with the rest of the touchscreen smartphones on the market. Nokia, at least, throws in a bit of variety by offering the Lumia 822 in red or white, in addition to black and gray.

The Samsung features a four-inch, 800 by 480-pixel touchscreen. The screen was bright and clear enough for viewing emails and videos. But at that resolution, the pixels are more noticeable, so images and text weren’t as sharp or vibrant compared to some of today’s higher-end smartphones. The HTC 8X, Verizon’s flagship Windows Phone device, has a 4.3-inch, 1,280 by 720-pixel touchscreen, for example.

This is also true of Nokia’s display, which has the same resolution as Samsung’s screen but is slightly bigger, at 4.3 inches. Those extra three-tenths of an inch made a huge difference when using the onscreen keyboard and viewing Web articles. I was able to type faster and with fewer errors, since the keyboard’s layout was roomier. Also, when viewing websites like AllThingsD and the New York Times on the Nokia, the pages didn’t look as cramped as they did on the Samsung.

The larger screen size makes the Nokia a clunkier device (five inches tall by 2.7 inches wide; five ounces) than the Samsung, but it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. My eyesight is already bad enough, so I can deal with a slightly bigger device if it means being able to more easily see things onscreen.

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Another area where Nokia one-ups Samsung is its camera. The Nokia is equipped with an eight-megapixel camera, while the Samsung has a five-megapixel camera. Both phones took good photos when shooting outdoors in natural light, but when taking pictures indoors, Nokia did a better job of producing brighter colors.

Nokia also offers double the onboard storage of Samsung, at 16 gigabytes. Both smartphones have expandable memory via microSD card slots, but the total storage capacity for your photos, music and videos is greater on the Nokia.

Call quality and battery life are two areas where Samsung shined. Voices sounded natural and clear, with no trace of background noise. Friends also reported good results, but a couple of callers noted that the sound quality was slightly better on the Nokia.

This wasn’t the case on my end. Though generally good, I could hear a faint hissing noise in the background when using the Nokia. It wasn’t distracting, but it’s something I noticed after hearing Samsung’s pristine audio.

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Samsung estimates the ATIV Odyssey’s battery life at up to 19 hours on a 4G connection. In my battery tests, where I set the screen’s brightness to 75 percent and left Wi-Fi on with email running in the background, the smartphone fell short of 19 hours, but still delivered an impressive 14 hours and 20 minutes of battery life.

The Nokia’s battery life is estimated at 15 hours. Using the same battery test, the smartphone lasted 10 hours and 14 minutes before flashing the low battery alert.

In more real-world usage, where I used the phones to check email and social networks, browse the Web and view a couple of YouTube videos, the Samsung and Nokia lasted just over a day before needing a recharge.

Both smartphones are powered by Qualcomm’s 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, and performance was zippy. I didn’t experience any major delays when launching applications, watching videos or performing other tasks on either handset.

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I also downloaded a trial version of Gameloft’s Asphalt 5 racing game on both devices. In a side-by-side comparison, I found that the phones’ load times were nearly identical, and game play was smooth on both devices.

The Samsung and Nokia smartphones are compatible with Verizon’s 4G LTE network, and can be used overseas. I experienced swift data speeds here in San Francisco, which is great, but can also get dangerously expensive if you go overboard.

One handy tool that can help keep tabs on your data consumption is the Data Sense app, which is built into Windows Phone. It shows you how much data you’ve used over Verizon’s cellular network as well as over Wi-Fi. You can also set limits so you don’t go over your monthly data allotment and get charged overage fees.

Both the Samsung ATIV Odyssey and Nokia Lumia 822 are attractive options for anyone looking for a budget-friendly smartphone, but you’ll get much more out of the Lumia 822.


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