Samsung Galaxy Exhibit (MetroPCS) review

The Samsung Galaxy Exhibit is one of the first MetroPCS smartphones to run on T-Mobile's network, and is a decent choice if it's available in your area.
Photo of Samsung Galaxy Exhibit (MetroPCS)

The $129 Samsung Galaxy Exhibit may not be the most exciting new smartphone, but it does have an interesting twist. While the name on this phone reads MetroPCS, it’s actually running on T-Mobile’s nationwide network—making it one of the first devices to do so since the companies recently merged. It’s a completely average phone, and only available in a few cities, but it’s a decent choice if you’re looking to get onto T-Mobile’s network.

Editors’ Note: The Samsung Galaxy Exhibit models on MetroPCS and T-Mobile are virtually identical, so we’re sharing a lot of material between these two reviews. That said, we’re testing each device separately, so read the review for your carrier of choice.

Design
The Samsung Galaxy Exhibit is a slightly modified version of the unlocked Galaxy S III Mini. Keep in mind, however, that the GS III Mini isn’t a shrunken version of the Galaxy S III—the G S III is bigger and badder in every way. But the Galaxy Exhibit has similar software and features, wrapped up in a smaller, more pocketable design.

From the front, the Galaxy Exhibit does look a lot like a miniaturized version of the Galaxy S III, with the same single Home button, the same plastic silver ring around the face, and the same pebble blue color. But at 4.78 by 2.46 by 0.42 inches (HWD) and 4.27 ounces, it’s a lot squatter, thicker, and less elegant. The back panel here is made of matte plastic, and a curiously blue metallic embellishment around the camera sensor makes it look like someone forgot to take the protective shipping sticker off of it.

The nice thing about the design is that this phone is a lot easier to handle than a big phone like the Galaxy S III, especially if you have smaller hands. But I found the on-screen keyboard a bit too small and difficult to type on, which isn’t usually a problem I encounter on other phones this size. At least it has Swype built-in, which allows you to drag your finger across the keys in order to type out words more easily.

And speaking of size, the Galaxy Exhibit has a 3.8-inch, 800-by-480-pixel TFT LCD. It looks reasonably sharp, though colors aren’t particularly brilliant, and it could stand to go a bit brighter. Two backlit capacitive touch keys can be found on either side of the physical Home key. There’s a Power button on the right side of the phone, a Volume rocker and microSD slot on the left, and a power port on the bottom.

Network, Plans, and Call Quality
The Galaxy Exhibit is one of the first MetroPCS phones to run on T-Mobile’s network. T-Mobile is GSM-based, as opposed to MetroPCS, which is CDMA. Right now you can only get this phone if you live in Boston, MA; Hartford, CT; or Las Vegas, NV. MetroPCS plans to add additional markets soon, though it makes your chance of getting on T-Mobile’s network through MetroPCS extremely limited at the moment.

But if you’re a MetroPCS user, why should you want to get on T-Mobile’s network anyway? Well, since the T-Mobile/MetroPCS merger, MetroPCS will slowly be folded into T-Mobile. MetroPCS will ultimately stop selling CDMA phones, and while they will continue to work, there will be no additional improvements made to its CDMA network. This is in stark contrast to T-Mobile’s GSM and LTE networks, which the company plans to improve considerably. On top of that, if you’re using a MetroPCS phone, and you travel outside of the native coverage area, you start to roam on Sprint’s 3G network. T-Mobile already has a wider coverage area than MetroPCS, and its 3G network is vastly superior to Sprint’s, so you’re going to see better speeds.

The Galaxy Exhibit can be paired with any current 4G service plan. Take that with a grain of salt, as the Galaxy Exhibit doesn’t support T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network, or even HSPA+ 42, so you’re not actually getting real 4G data rates. Still, MetroPCS offers some pretty compelling contract-free rates. $40 per month gets you unlimited talk, text, and 500MB of ’4G’ data, with throttled speeds after that. $50 ups the ante to 2.5GB of ’4G’ data, while $60 per month gets you truly unlimited everything.

Compare those rates with T-Mobile, where each plan basically costs $10 more. Contract-free rates start at $50 per month, and that gets you all the talk and texts you want, along with 500MB of high-speed (3G or 4G) data per month, after which your speeds are throttled. $60 gets you 2GB of high-speed data, and $70 gets you unlimited high-speed data. But while T-Mobile is just a little pricier, you get a vastly larger selection of phones to choose from.

(Next page: Processor, Multimedia, and Conclusions)

The Galaxy Exhibit can hit up to HSPA+ 21 speeds on T-Mobile’s network. Again, I would’ve preferred LTE, but the phone managed to pull in some decent data speeds where I tested it in New York City. Download speeds averaged just over 4Mbps, while uploads hovered around the 2Mbps mark. The phone also supports 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and you can make calls over Wi-Fi, which is a big plus.

This is a solid voice phone. Calls sound well-rounded through the phone’s earpiece, with good volume, and there’s an on-screen button to pump up the volume even further once you’ve maxed it out. There’s a faint ringing sound in the background when you pump the volume all the way up, but it isn’t terribly distracting. Calls made with the phone sound very clear, though background noise cancellation is average at best. The speakerphone is loud enough to hear outdoors, and calls sounded great over a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset. I was able to use the headset to issue voice commands through S-Voice, which is Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri. The phone lasted for 7 hours and 43 minutes of talk time.

Processor, Android, and Apps
The Galaxy Exhibit is powered by a 1GHz dual-core STE U8420 processor, which is a chip we haven’t seen much of. Though the phone feels responsive enough in regular use, it turned in some very average benchmark scores. You’ll be able to run most of the 800,000+ apps in the Google Play store just fine, but you aren’t going to see the best performance on things like 3D gaming.

The phone is running Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean), which is a relatively new version of Google’s mobile OS (if not quite the latest version available). One the software side, you’re basically getting all the same customizations from Samsung that you’ll find in the Galaxy S III, which is a good thing. There are tons of settings you can play around with, from modifying call quality to activating motion controls. And if you’re a new smartphone user, you can set the phone to Easy Mode, which simplifies all of the icons and actions available on your home screens.

You get five home screens to swipe between and customize that come preloaded with a couple of widgets and apps. There’s almost no bloatware preinstalled by MetroPCS, which is a welcome respite from the T-Mobile version.

Google’s super-fast Chrome browser comes preloaded, though a much slower browser comes installed on your home screen. This being Android, however, you can customize to your heart’s content, and you should start by swapping that browser out for Chrome. You also get excellent email support and free GPS capability via Google Maps.

Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
There’s 1.19GB of internal storage, along with the aforementioned side-mounted microSD slot. I was able to use my 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards in it just fine. All of our standard music test files played back fine except for FLAC. For video, all of our test formats played back in resolutions up to 720p except for DivX, which only played audio. Audio quality was generally excellent over both wired and Bluetooth sets of earbuds.

The Galaxy Exhibit’s 5-megapixel camera is a little bit better than you’ll find on other budget phones in its class. It takes about 0.8 second for the autofocus to lock in and snap a picture. Finer detail holds up surprisingly well, though colors don’t necessarily pop. The camera also takes smooth 720p video at 30 frames per second that looks a little gray. The VGA camera on the front is adequate for video chatting.

The Galaxy Exhibit certainly isn’t the best phone you can get on MetroPCS, but it’s a good price for a decent phone on a guaranteed network. Now, whether you’ll want to keep using it in two years’ time is another story entirely. Our favorite phone on MetroPCS remains the Samsung Galaxy S III, which has a faster processor and a larger display, though it’s much more expensive and won’t perform as well as the Galaxy Exhibit over 3G. A better idea may be the LG Spirit 4G, which is larger and more powerful than the Galaxy Exhibit, and less expensive than the Galaxy S III, so you won’t feel as bad replacing it in the future. Finally, the Huawei Premia 4G is an inexpensive, solid performer, though it’s running an older version of Android.

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network GSM
Screen Resolution 800 x 480 pixels
NFC No
Dimensions 4.78 x 2.46 x 0.42 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 b/g/n
Video Camera Resolution 720p
Battery Life (As Tested) 7 hours 43 minutes
Available Integrated Storage 1.19 GB
Processor Speed 1 GHz
CPU ST-Ericsson NovaThor U8420
GPS Yes
Service Provider MetroPCS
Total Integrated Storage 4 GB
High-Speed Data EDGE, HSPA+ 21
Weight 4.27 oz
Screen Type TFT LCD
Operating System as Tested Android 4.1.2
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 5 MP Rear
VGA Front-Facing
Screen Pixels Per Inch 246 ppi
Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 3.8 inches
Bluetooth Version 4

Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy Exhibit is one of the first MetroPCS smartphones to run on T-Mobile's network, and is a decent choice if it's available in your area.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc