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I've long criticized Android for having too many low-end phones that unfairly sucked consumers in with their low price and then left them out to hang with sorry performance. No one should have to put up with a terrible phone just because they can't afford a more expensive one. The good news is that either people listened to me or a lot of people feel the same way I do (probably the latter). Now manufacturers are beginning to make solid phones that are still budget-friendly. The Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate falls into that category. For about fifty bucks (and a two-year contract) you can get a phone with a Super AMOLED display, a dual-core processor, and 4G capabilities. Not bad, right? It's definitely worth looking at and might even be the phone you should buy next.

 

Design & Features

There are a few concessions you're going to have to make when purchasing an inexpensive phone like the Exhilarate. You know how the high-end phones are all sleek and sexy? Yeah, don't expect anything like that from phones in the $50 price range. The Exhilarate's hardware is mediocre and monotone. It's rather thick, too, at .46-inches thick. This is to be expected since it's an LTE phone and LTE phones are extra-bulky compared to 3G phones. It is all plastic so it's somewhat light. The back cover has a texturized finish. All things considered, the phone measures 4.8-inches tall, 2.48-inches wide, and .46-inches thick and weighs 4.59 ounces.

If you watch or read my reviews, then you know that I've always been a fan of Samsung's AMOLED and Super AMOLED displays. While some people are turned off by the bright colors and saturation, I love it. Graphics pop, playing games is a more rich experience, and it does a great job of masking a display's flaws like, for example, when it doesn't have the best resolution. Granted, WVGA (480x800 pixels) is nothing to scoff at, but there is some pixelation when you look closely at text. However, a Super AMOLED display almost makes you forget about that. It's a 4-inch touchscreen which makes it comfortable for typing and web browsing.

The phone's volume rocker buttons are on its left side, while the microSD card slot and Power button are both on the right side. You'll find the microUSB port on the bottom of the phone and the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the phone. It's unique nowadays to have a microSD card slot on the exterior of the phone rather than hidden beneath the battery cover. The phone doesn't ship with a card (it has 4 GB of internal storage) but at least you have easy access to the slot. Around the back is the phone's main camera and there is a front-facing, 1.3-megapixel camera to the right of the speaker grill.

 

Usability & Performance

The Exhilarate ships with Android 2.3 and Samsung's TouchWiz UI. TouchWiz adds a refining edge to Android and makes it a little more consumer friendly. In the past, TouchWiz got a lot of flak for being too cartoonish and overbearing. Samsung has toned it down a bit and created a relaxed and enjoyable user experience. The widgets look modern, they're customizable, and the icons and app drawer are more subdued than their colorful, past-history counterparts. Samsung and AT&T have included a few pre-installed apps with the phone. Some of these can be uninstalled, but not all of them. These apps include AllShare, AT&T Family Map, AT&T Navigator, Live TV, Messages (an AT&T messaging app), and more. You also have access to Samsung's Media Hub and Movies store.

During my time with the Galaxy Exhilarate, I was very impressed by its performance. The phone has a dual-core 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor along with 1 GB of RAM. I experienced very few problems when playing games, web browsing, and performing everyday activities. I saw very little lag and scrolling and swiping was smooth. There were times when I noticed some checker-boarding in the web browser, but it was minimal. The Exhilarate scored a 5,408 on an AnTuTu Benchmark test, a 2,640 on a Quadrant Standard benchmark test (right about the middle of the pack), and a 1,614 on a Smartbench 2012 test (leaning towards the mid-range to low-end tier). It recorded 41.236 MFLOPS in 2.03 seconds on a single-thread Linpack test and 61.737 MFLOPS in 2.73 seconds on a multi-thread test. All in all, you can expect a near-seamless experience with only minor hiccups here and there.

Moving onto the camera, this is definitely another area where the Exhilarate shines. The rear camera is a 5-megapixel autofocus shooter with LED flash and it captures 720p HD video. While the HD video quality left much to be desired (it severely lacked detail and overall quality), the still picture quality was excellent. Color saturation was great and details were captured very well. I was shocked by how stunning photos looked when taken outside on a sunny day. Inside shots also came out well, though quality will depend on lighting. Low-light shots were somewhat grainy, but I really had nothing to complain about. I've been very impressed by this camera. It's a lot more than what I was expecting from a $50 phone.

In regards to data, I've been having some problems lately with AT&T's network, so take these test results with a grain of salt. The Exhilarate is an LTE phone and I've been able to test it in an area with LTE coverage. However, as I mentioned, I've had a hard time maintaining a consistent data connection. Despite the phone showing multiple bars of service and the LTE indicator being on, I've been unable to use LTE service. I'll have a few minutes of data, and then it goes off. Web pages won't load, emails aren't received, and speed tests are cancelled. This is more than likely an issue with AT&T's network and not the phone since I've had the same problem with another AT&T LTE phone I'm testing. While I have had a data connection, I've managed to get average download speeds of 12 Mbps and upload speeds of 5 Mbps.

With the Galaxy Exhilarate's 1,750 mAh battery, Samsung estimates that you should get seven hours of talk time. In my battery draining tests, the battery lasted 11 hours; however, not having a consistent LTE connection probably helped. Still, an estimated seven hours of constant heavy use should give you enough juice to get through a full day before you have to charge it, which will probably be every night.

 

Conclusion

For the price, the Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate is nearly unbeatable. Sure, AT&T has better phones available, but if you're not willing or able to spend upwards of $150-200, then the Exhilarate is an excellent choice. The display is terrific, performance has been great, and even the camera has surprised me. I would definitely recommend checking out the Exhilarate. You'll probably be as impressed as I was.

 

Wrap-Up

The Good: Beautiful Super AMOLED display; LTE; 5-megapixel camera produced great pictures; inexpensive; excellent performance.

The Bad: Mediocre hardware; I had problems with AT&T's network; poor HD video capture quality.

The Verdict: It's hard to beat a phone with this many features and that performs this well for only $50. Definitely check it out.


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