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Samsung galaxy exhilarate review


Samsung's mid-range model for AT&T, the Galaxy Exhilarate, offers peace of mind when it comes to carbon footprint thanks to its eco-friendly build. If you're worried that being green means fewer features and down-graded performance, set aside your fears. Find out why in PhoneScoop's full report.

The Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate was first announced by AT&T in January. It's been a very long time coming, but now that it is here, Samsung's latest eco-friendly phone for AT&T is one of its best efforts yet at saving the planet one device at a time. The Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate doesn't aim as high as the Galaxy S III, but it provides enough oomph in the right places to make it worth consideration.



Design

The Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate shoots for the middle of the smartphone market. It doesn't have the largest screen, the neatest features, or the flagship appeal that some of Samsung's devices have, but it manages to find a niche all its own. 

The Exhilarate is dressed in all black and is more boring than bold in the looks department. It surely doesn't look bad - not at all - but nothing about its design stands out enough to call it a unique device. There are some shiny blacks, some matte blacks, and some grainy blacks. Perhaps it's the perfect phone for Goths. 

For astute Phone Scoop readers, you might notice that the Exhilarate is very similar to the Galaxy Blaze 4G. The Blaze 4G has similar design, specs, and proportions. I found the feel of the Exhilarate to be much better. 

Unlike many of Samsung's previous eco-friendly devices, you'd never know the Exhilarate was a green device based on appearances or feel. It's far and away the most solid and well put-together phone in Samsung's line of green devices. None of the materials feel cheap, and the build quality is excellent. I really like how the Exhilarate fits in my palm, and the soft-touch, matte-black battery cover gives it just the right amount of grip so that it doesn't slide out of your grasp. It shouldn't be a problem to fit into any pocket.

As with most Android smartphones, the front of the Exhilarate is all display. The AT&T and Samsung logos are about the only things you see on the front of the phone when the display is off. The normal four Android controls are placed along the bottom edge in capacitive form. I found them easy to use, and I liked the amount of haptic feedback they produce when pressed. 

The volume toggle is on the left edge of the phone. It's easy to find, but I wish it had physical markings (whether it be a nub, or ridges, or whatever) that made it easier to tell which end you're pressing. Instead, it's a smooth piece of plastic. It offers plenty of travel and feedback. 

As is typical for a Samsung device, the screen lock button is on the right edge. Samsung did a decent job with it. It protrudes just enough from the side surface that it is easy to find and use. The travel and feedback are quite good. The microSD card slot is buried in the right side, too, just below the power/lock button. It is covered by a little hatch that isn't much effort to pry off with your thumbnail. 

The microUSB port is tucked on the bottom edge of the Exhilarate, and the 3.5mm headset jack on the top edge. The battery cover comes off with little effort. The SIM card is accessible without removing the battery, which is a pleasant surprise, as is the fact that the battery itself can be removed, too. 

In all, the Samsung Exhilarate offers a somewhat bland approach to design, but the hardware all works well and feels good.

Display

The Exhilarate has a 4.0-inch display with 800 x 480 pixels, and uses Samsung's Super AMOLED technology. I wouldn't compare it to the brilliant display of the GS3, but it is a fine display in its own right that is more than adequate for this class of device. It's plenty bright and is easily visible indoors and outside, but I was able to see more individual pixels than I'd like.


Software


The Exhilarate comes with the latest version of Samsung’s TouchWiz installed on Android 2.3.6 “Gingerbread”. (Yes, really, no Ice Cream Sandwich yet.) In daily use, it feels and functions exactly as other Samsung handsets with this combo, though I think it is inexcusable for new phones to ship without Android 4.0 at this point. 

There are seven home screens on the Exhilarate. One of the features of Samsung phones that I like is that when you get to the home screen panel furthest to the left or right, you're not stuck cycling back in the direction you came. You can just keep circling through all seven panels without stopping. Wheee!

The main app folder is laid out in an alphabetical grid by default. The grids each hold up to 16 apps and are accessed by sliding the screen left or right. You can choose to rearrange the grid however you like, as well as view the apps in a single, alphabetical list. 

There are a significant number of widgets available that can be used to litter the home screen. There aren't any cool lock-screen shortcuts, but at least the notification shade includes access to switch on/off the device's various radios. 

On the performance side of the coin, the Exhilarate's Snapdragon S3 processor - a dual-core job at 1.2GHz per core - ran just fine. It was speedy throughout the user interface and applications. I didn't see any part of the phone's software suffer from jitters or lagging.


Camera 
The Exhilarate doesn't introduce any new features or functions to the tried-and-true camera software from Samsung. The viewfinder window has controls running down both sides. On the left, users can switch to the front camera, set the flash, or dive into a fuller settings menu. You can also choose to set your own shortcuts in this space, which means faster access to the tools you want. On the right, you can access the camcorder and the gallery. 

The full camera settings menu is extensive and lets advanced users adjust nearly every facet of the camera and picture-taking experience. Exposure, scene, metering, ISO, and more can all be tweaked. “Shooting Mode” lets you pick from smile shot, panorama, action shot, and cartoon. Scenes adjust for lighting, and can be set for dawn, candlelight, beach, snow, and so on. 

The Exhilarate includes touch-to-focus, and will lock onto anything you want in the viewfinder. Focusing is fast, but you still have to push the software shutter button to take a picture. 

Overall performance of the camera application itself was excellent. It had no problems, and was quick to open, focus, shoot, and save images to the Exhilarate.



Audio

The Exhilarate is an excellent voice phone. It achieves the right balance of quality and volume to make for smartphone nirvana. The majority of calls I placed were crystal clear and offered a pleasing tone to conversations. Further, the earpiece can be set loud enough for nearly all environments. It's loud enough that it hurts your ear a bit when set all the way up, but it doesn't suffer from distortion. The speakerphone was a bit less impressive in terms of both volume and quality. It will be useful in small rooms or spaces, but may not be loud enough to overcome the noise in a traveling car. Calls routed to the speakerphone had a bit more interference and distortion reducing quality. Ringers and alert tones are alarmingly loud, and the vibrate alert generates a good buzz. 

Battery 
The Exhilarate's battery does pretty well. It makes it through an entire day with no problem, and that's about all I really need from a smartphone these days. There was consistently enough battery power left so that I wasn't worried about running out before bedtime. You're safe from 7AM to 11PM, no doubt, and probably until the next morning, but not much beyond that.

Wrap-Up

Samsung did a fine job with the Galaxy Exhilarate for AT&T. For a mid-range device, it scores well across the board. To use a sports analogy, it won't make the All Stars team, but it would be a solid competitor for the league's MVP. 

I am particularly impressed with the materials in the Exhilarate and how well it is put together. This is by far Samsung's best eco-friendly effort. If you didn't know ahead of time that it was made from 80% recycled post-consumer materials, you'd never know it. The same cannot be said of some of Samsung's earlier efforts. 

Beyond that, the Exhilarate gets all the basics right. The user interface is speedy and easy to use; phone calls sound great and the Exhilarate maintains a strong connection to AT&T's network; the media features -- particularly the camera and video camera -- deliver strong results; and all the essential communications tools are covered. 

In a world full of smartphone extremes, the Exhilarate strikes a good balance, and in so doing, finds an identity all its own.