As the carriers dash to strengthen and expand their 4G networks, more high-quality 4G-capable phones are hitting the market. T-Mobile's Samsung Exhibit 4G is the sixth 4G phone for T-Mobile's HSPA+ network. Like the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G, the Exhibit is a more affordable handset that's still feature-rich without leaning too heavily on your wallet. What helps it stand out is a balance of value with up-to-the minute features. In addition to its speed, it runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, Google's most current OS. It has a punchy 1GHz processor, two cameras, movie rentals, and live and on-demand programming from T-Mobile TV.
The Exhibit costs just $79.99 after a mail-in rebate and with a new, two-year service agreement, and it comes in black and violet. (We reviewed the black one here.)
DesignThe Samsung Exhibit 4G is a medium-size candy bar phone with rounded corners up top and some interesting angles at the bottom. It stands 4.7 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.5-inch thick, and it weighs 4.2 ounces. The Exhibit doesn't look premium, but it is comfortable, thanks to the soft-touch finish on its black or violet back cover, and a similar but more rubbery material surrounding the phone face. Samsung's characteristic shiny black plastic shows up on the front, spines, and accents. Flip up the Exhibit's base and you'll see it's made of harder plastic with an alligator skin design.
The 3.5-inch touch screen has a 480x800 WVGA resolution and support for 16 million colors. The screen itself feels nice and smooth, and looks bright and colorful, as long as you're not trying to use it in direct sunlight, which washes it out. The screen size hits our lower limit of what feels useful for a smartphone. Typing on the Samsung and default Swype keyboards was more cramped in portrait mode, and reading Web sites isn't as easy as on a 4-inch screen, but the Exhibit isn't so dinky to make composition and browsing impossible.
Samsung has bestowed its custom TouchWiz interface on the Exhibit. Translation: you get five customizable home screens preloaded with various widgets, shortcuts, and app icons. You can add two more screens, too, and pinch the home screens for a thumbnail view of all your screens. There are four static onscreen buttons for the dialer, address book, texting, and applications. Instead of scrolling vertically as you would with stock Android to view your apps, TouchWiz has you swipe horizontally. There are also Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and other controls you can access by pull-down menu at the top of any home screen.
We're fairly neutral about Samsung's custom interface, as long as it doesn't get in the way of OS updates, as they sometimes do. Since the Exhibit 4G already runs on Google's most current Android operating system to date, we have no objections.
Above the screen is a VGA camera lens for self-portraits and video chats. Below the screen are three light-up touch-sensitive buttons that correlate to the menu, back button, and search. Just south of those is a central Home button. Press and hold it to see your most recent apps, and to access the preinstalled task manager app.
The phone's right spine houses the power button; on the left spine you'll find the volume rocker and the microSD card slot. The Exhibit comes with a 4GB card preloaded, and ultimately holds up to 32GB. Up top is the micro-USB charging port with a hinged plastic door, and the 3.5 millimeter headset jack. A 3-megapixel camera lens and LED flash are on the phone's back cover. The Exhibit unfortunately doesn't have a camera shutter button, so you'll need to launch the camera and trigger the shutter from the onscreen controls.
FeaturesThe Samsung Exhibit may not be the highest-end smartphone, but it is chock full of features and apps. There are all of the usual Android services, like text and multimedia messaging, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth support, plus e-mail that can merge your inboxes for Gmail, Web mail, and Exchange. There's also an accounts system that lets you sync contacts, calendars, and other information with social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, but also Qik video chat and photo-sharing services like Flickr and Kodak. Just be forewarned that importing and syncing contacts sometimes results in some informational errors you'll have to manually correct.
Google's app and services are all here: Gmail, search, maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation, Places, Talk, and YouTube. There's a clock, a calendar, a photo gallery, and a calculator, as well a thousands of apps in the Android Market--over 200,000 the last time we checked. Android's built-in music player is pretty basic fare, and as usual, Samsung's TouchWiz interface dresses it up with some cooler graphics.
T-Mobile and Samsung went crazy preloading the Exhibit with apps, which you typically can't uninstall. We won't list them all, but we will touch on the biggies. First, there's Qik, the Skype-owned (now, Microsoft-owned) video chat app that makes use of the Exhibit's front-facing VGA camera. For media entertainment, there's also the Samsung MediaHub, a portal to TV and movie rentals. T-Mobile has its own solution too, with T-Mobile TV, a $9.99-per-month service for streaming live and on-demand programs. It has a free 30-day trial to get you started.