While top-tier smartphones tend to get all the attention, some consumers only need a basic device for apps, social networking, texting and email. Available for a down payment of just $19, the Samsung Galaxy Exhibit delivers just that, along with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and a 5-MP camera. However, it has a small 3.8-inch display and 4GB internal memory. Are those tradeoffs worth the low entry price? Not quite.
Samsung stuck to its simple rounded rectangle design with the Galaxy Exhibit, which makes it feel like a shorter, narrower version of its higher-end brothers, such as the Galaxy S4. Like Samsung's flagship, the Exhibit also has an oval-shaped Home button below the display, which is flanked by two capacitive buttons for Settings and Back.
The chassis of the Exhibit is a dark metallic gray with chrome encircling the display. Blue accents around the Home button on the front and the back camera add a subtle splash of color. A soft-touch finish on the back of the Exhibit makes it feel comfortable and easy to grip.
Measuring 4.78 x 2.46 x 0.42 inches, the Exhibit fit snugly in our hand and weighs a mere 4.27 ounces, narrowly beating out the boxier 4.3-ounce LG Optimus L9, which measures 5.2 x 2.7 x 0.36 inches. By comparison, the Nokia Lumia 521 is heavier than the Exhibit at 4.4 ounces, but narrower and slimmer at 4.4 x 2.5 x 0.4 inches.
At the top of the phone is a headset jack. Volume and power buttons sit on the left and right sides of the phone, respectively. A microSD slot on the left holds up to 32 GB of storage to expand the Galaxy Exhibit's 4GB of onboard memory. The bottom of the device houses a microUSB port.
Display and Audio
In an age where smartphone screen sizes are approaching those of tablets, the Exhibit's 3.8-inch, 800 x 480 TFT LCD display is definitely a throwback. By comparison, the Nokia Lumia 521's display has the same resolution, but is a slightly larger 4 inches in size, and the Optimus L9 has a roomier 4.5-inch 960 x 540 Gorilla Glass 2 display.
As a result of its size, on-screen icons felt more crowded on the Exhibit than on larger displays. Colors were a tad undersaturated, but viewing angles were fairly impressive. We watched trailers for "The Lone Ranger" and "R.I.P.D." and colors remained fairly true, even at sharp angles.
While better than the category average of 296 lux and the Lumia 521 (219 lux), the Exhibit's brightness of 330 lux fell below that of the L9 (367 lux).
Like other phones in its class, the Exhibit's audio was merely decent. While the back speaker was able to achieve room-filling volume, high notes sounded tinny. We played "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke and found that the dancing cymbals in the accompaniment disrespectfully overpowered Thicke's crooning tenor.
The Galaxy Exhibit's small display also comes into play when trying to type. In Portrait Mode, the QWERTY keyboard is so crowded that the space bar is barely the width of your thumb. In Landscape Mode, the keyboard takes up more than half of the screen. It also lacks haptic feedback. Thankfully, the Exhibit comes with Swype input, which speeds up typing with one hand.
Software and User Interface
Running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean overlaid with Samsung's TouchWiz UI, the Exhibit offers several customizations that made it a joy to use. By default, the lock screen offers instant access to Phone, Email, Google search and Camera. These shortcuts are fully customizable.
Swiping down from the top of the screen reveals a Notifications drawer with toggles for quick settings like Wi-Fi connectivity, sound profiles and Power-Saving, Driving and Flight Modes.
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At the bottom of the Home screen are shortcuts for Phone, Contacts, Messaging, Internet and Apps. The Exhibit supports up to seven home screens that can feature grids of 4X5 apps or widgets, such as favorite apps, settings, calendar and clock.
To be sure, you're not getting the full feature set you'd find on the S4. The Exhibit lacks support for Smart Stay, Smart Scroll, Air View and S Beam.
Powered by a dual-core 1-GHz STE U8420 processor with 1GB of RAM, the Galaxy Exhibit isn't the fastest phone on the block. While swiping through menus was smooth, opening the camera app took up to 3 seconds, and switching back to the home screen also resulted in lag.
Graphics performance on the Exhibit was somewhat strong. It scored 7,217 on the An3DBench benchmark test, just below the category average of 7,269. By comparison, the LG Optimus L9 scored merely 7,067.
On the other hand, the Exhibit's performance on the Quadrant test (CPU, graphics, I/O) was dismal, with the device scoring only 2,470. The LG Optimus L9 notched a higher 3,230.
The Exhibit comes packed with additional applications from both Samsung and T-Mobile. Samsung's Media, Music and App Hubs provide access to content, while S Voice provides Siri-like functionality. S Memo makes it easy to take notes.
T-Mobile stuffed the Exhibit with half a dozen apps, some more useful than others. They include CallerTunes, Mobile Hotspot, MobileLife, MusicHub, My Account, Visual Voicemail, and 411 & More. T-Mobile TV allows users to watch live TV for a monthly fee, and T-Mobile Name ID is a caller ID service that costs $3.99 per month. Annoyingly, these items can't be uninstalled, taking up a precious amount of the Exhibit's 4GB of storage.
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The device also comes installed with Slacker radio, Flipboard, Scout and other popular apps.
While it's not as pixel-packed as the Galaxy S4, the Galaxy Exhibit's 5-MP camera took fairly strong pictures on a user interface that Samsung users will find familiar. A host of options are available via the customizable left panel, like Shooting Mode, timer, filter, lighting, focus, exposure and white balance.
The Exhibit lacks fun features such as Eraser, Best Faces and Animated Photo Modes found on the Galaxy S4's camera, but has useful settings such as Smile shot and Night Mode, which greatly improved images in low-light situations.
Pictures taken on the Exhibit were crisp, clear and rich in color. Compared with pictures taken on the 13-megapixel camera of the Galaxy S4, the Exhibit's snapshots seemed unnaturally blue and somewhat less clear, but it holds up well for a 5-megapixel camera.
When we shot 720p video of passing subway trains, the video was smooth and clear, and the camera did a good job of balancing the lighting between the dark pillars and the shiny metallic cars.
The VGA front-facing camera, as expected, took low-quality pictures that had duller colors and did not look as smooth as those taken on its back-facing counterpart.
Another limitation of the Exhibit is that it can only access T-Mobile's HSPA+14.4 network. On the Speedtest.net test, the Exhibit averaged 1.39 Mbps downloads and 0.31 Mbps uploads over T-Mobile's network in our Manhattan office.
Speeds were significantly slower and less reliable when we tested the network on the Upper West Side. Two of the tests returned an average of 0.21 Mbps downloads and 0.60 Mbps uploads, while a third test showed 2.03 Mbps downloads and 0.94 Mbps up.
The Galaxy Exhibit's call quality proved decent when calling mobile phones in Hawaii and New York, and our friends could clearly hear us on the other end. What was particularly impressive was the fact that a call to a cell phone in Hawaii didn't drop even through an eight-floor elevator ride in an old building on the Upper West Side. Volume in the earpiece was sufficiently loud, and on maximum volume, the speaker filled a small bedroom in Manhattan.
The Exhibit comes with a 1,500-mAh lithium-ion battery that Samsung claims will provide up to 9 hours of talk time and ten days of standby time. Compared with the LG Optimus L9's 2,150 mAh battery, the Exhibit leaves much to be desired.
On the LAPTOP battery test, which involves continuous Web surfing over 4G with the display on 40 percent brightness, the Exhibit only clocked 4 hours and 40 minutes before giving out. That's almost an hour and a half less than the category average (6:09) and much less than the Optimus L9's impressive 7 hours and 20 minutes. But at least this Samsung fared better than the Nokia Lumia 521, which lasted only 3:09 on the Peacekeeper battery test.
Plans and Pricing
Consumers can purchase the Exhibit for $19.99 down payment and a monthly installment of $9 over 24 months, or $235.99 upfront.
T-Mobile offers a Simple Choice Plan for individual lines that comes with unlimited talk and text and data limits in three different configurations. The plan with just 500MB of data will cost $50 a month, while an additional 2GB costs $60 per month and unlimited data is $70 a month.
If you decide on the 2.5GB plan, you would pay $1,676 over two years, including the cost of the phone.
On the same plan, the LG Optimus L9, which costs $10 per month and needs no down payment, will cost $1,680 -- just $5 more expensive than the Exhibit. The Nexus 4on the same plan will set you back $1,868 over two years, with a down payment of $19.99 and a monthly payment of $17. The Nokia Lumia 521 comes up to $1,590 over two years on the same plan, which is almost $100 less than the Exhibit.
For its affordable price tag, the Galaxy Exhibit phone packs a capable camera and some helpful software extras in a compact design. However, the screen is small, the battery life is lacking and both the data and overall performance are sluggish. For no money down, the LG Optimus L9 offers a larger, brighter screen, swifter speeds and greater endurance. That makes this Exhibit A for a budget phone to avoid.