Samsung Galaxy Exhibit (T-Mobile) review

The Samsung Galaxy Exhibit isn't all that exciting, but for the least expensive Android phone on T-Mobile, it's a pretty good value.
Photo of Samsung Galaxy Exhibit (T-Mobile)

T-Mobile has a lot of good phones, but right now, it doesn’t have many Android smartphones that cost less than $400. Sure, that may not seem like a lot as you pay it off over time, but not everyone is willing to make such a substantial investment. That’s where the Samsung Galaxy Exhibit comes in. It may not be the most exciting new device, but at $216.00 (or $9 per month for 24 months), it’s the least expensive option you’ve got. And for a budget phone, it’s a pretty good performer that’ll pair nicely with an inexpensive, contract-free plan from T-Mobile.

Design, Network, and Call Quality
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.

The Galaxy Exhibit can hit up to HSPA+ 21 speeds on T-Mobile’s network, which is a bummer; I’d much rather see support for the carrier’s faster HSPA+ 42 or LTE networks. Still, 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 a decent 7 hours and 43 minutes of talk time.

T-Mobile’s new contract-free plans start at $50 per month, and that gets you all the talk and texts you want, along with 500MB of high-speed data per month, after which your speeds are slowed to 2G. $60 gets you 2GB of high-speed data, and $70 gets you unlimited high-speed data. These are excellent rates compared with competitors like AT&T and Verizon, and complement the Galaxy Exhibit’s budget-minded price point.

Processor, Android, and Apps
The Galaxy Exhibit is powered by a 1GHz dual-core STE U8420 processor, which is a chip we haven’t seem 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.

(Next page: Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions)

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). On 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 bunch of T-Mobile widgets and apps. You can easily remove them from your home screen, but you can’t remove any of the bloatware that T-Mobile has preinstalled. That means you’re stuck with T-Mobile’s pointless 411 & More app, as well as T-Mobile TV, Slacker Radio, a Samsung app store, and a few others.  

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.

At this price, you can’t really go wrong with the Samsung Galaxy Exhibit if you’re looking to save some coin at the cash register. The Windows Phone 8-based Nokia Lumia 521 is another solid low-cost option, but Windows phones aren’t for everyone. They’re easier to learn and use than Android, but only have a fraction of the apps, which is what most smartphone users want. The LG Optimus L9 is another good option, with a larger display and a more elegant build than the Galaxy Exhibit. Finally, the Samsung Galaxy S II is still available for about $100 more than the Galaxy Exhibit. It has a larger display and a better camera, though it is 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 T-Mobile
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, 2100
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 3.8 inches
Bluetooth Version 4

Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy Exhibit isn't all that exciting, but for the least expensive Android phone on T-Mobile, it's a pretty good value.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc