Samsung Galaxy Express (AT&T) review: Packs the midlevel goods at the right price

Camera and video
Camera features include a flash; a 4x digital zoom; four shooting modes, which include panorama and cartoon; four photo effects; 14 scene modes; an exposure meter; touch, auto, and macro focus; a timer; six photo sizes (640x480 pixels to 2,560x1,920 pixels); five white balances; four ISO options; three metering choices; compositional lines; three image qualities; and geotagging.

Video options are two shooting modes; a flash; the same effects, exposure meter, digital zoom, white balances, compositional lines, and qualities as the camera; a timer; and four resolutions (320x240 pixels to 1,280x720 pixels).

The front-facing camera has fewer features, but sports the same exposure meter, timer, compositional line option, image qualities, and geotagging preferences. You can only take photos with a 1,280x960-pixel resolution, but there is an added option to save a photo as flipped. Video recording features include the same features as the camera, except there are two shooting modes and you can only shoot in 640x480.

The device's photo quality was excellent. Shots taken outdoors with ample lighting looked crisp and clear -- objects had well defined edges and were easy to distinguish. Though I did find some of the colors to be oversaturated more than they were in real life, especially with blue hues, altogether photos were in focus and sharp. Indoor photos with dimmer lighting obviously didn't fare as well since more digital noise was apparent.

Samsung Galaxy Express outdoor
Well-lit images fared excellently, though blue and green hues looked oversaturated at times. Lynn La/CNET
Samsung Galaxy Express indoor
Notice the increased amount of digital noise in this dimmer indoor photo. Lynn La/CNET
Samsung Galaxy Express SSI
Colors in our standard studio shot appear accurate and true to life. Josh Miller/CNET

Video quality was also adequate. There was little to no lag between my moving of the camera and the recording, audio picked up well, and objects for the most part were in focus. Objects recorded in dimmer lighting, however, looked noticeably blurrier around the edges when compared with recordings set in brighter lighting.

Performance
I tested the handset in CNET's San Francisco offices, and call quality was great. Voices came in clear and the volume range was at a reasonable level. There was no extraneous buzzing or static, dropped calls, or audio clipping in and out.

I was told, however, that my voice sounded a bit fuzzy. My friend said she could hear some slight static both when we were silent and speaking. While I didn't experience that on my end, the one complaint I had was with the audio speaker. Even when it wasn't on maximum volume, audio from calls and music sounded harsh and tinny.

Listen now: Samsung Galaxy Express call quality sample

Because the phone operates on AT&T's 4G LTE network, data speeds were decently fast. On average, the device loaded CNET's mobile site in 5 seconds and our desktop site in 6 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took about 5 seconds, while its desktop version took 8. ESPN's mobile site took 4 seconds, and its full site loaded in 12 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 14.72Mbps down and 10.4Mbps up. It also took about 28 seconds to download the 23.32MB game Temple Run.

Performance: Samsung Galaxy Express
Average 4G LTE download speed 14.72Mpbs
Average 4G LTE upload speed 10.4Mbps
App download (Temple Run) 22MB in 28 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5 seconds
CNET desktop site load 6 seconds
Power-off and restart time 33 seconds
Camera boot time 2.64 seconds

Powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, the Galaxy Express is zippy. Not only were simple tasks, like browsing through the app drawer, switching from landscape to portrait mode, and opening basic apps a breeze, but more complicated actions were executed swiftly as well. On average, the camera took about 2.64 seconds to launch and it took about 33 seconds to reboot the phone entirely.

Graphic-intensive games like Riptide GP didn't stall during gameplay, nor did it unexpectedly quit at all. Frame rates, though not the highest I've seen on top-tier devices like the Nexus 4, were relatively smooth, and I didn't experience any stuttering with images.

The handset's 2,000mAh battery has a reported talk time of 14 hours. During our battery drain tests for video playback, the handset lasted a very impressive 14.58 hours. Anecdotally it had a respectable battery life. After a full charge and talking on the phone for 40 minutes, the reserves only drained about five percent. However, with heavy usage and the screen brightness cranked all the way up, you'll undoubtedly need a charge to make it through the workday. According to FCC radiation standards, the Express has a digital SAR rating of 0.84W/kg.

Conclusion
While I prefer the Express above both the Sony Xperia Ion (due to its dated OS and disappointing camera) and the Motorola Atrix HD (because of its less powerful battery), the device isn't necessarily the best $100 phone in AT&T's lineup.

If you want the midlevel Galaxy experience but in a more rugged (albeit also less attractive) package, the Samsung Rugby Pro is basically a tougher version of the Express at the same price. Lastly, not only will you get a swift and solid performance with the Sony Xperia TL "Bond phone," but at that same sweet $100 price, you'll also get a powerful 13-megapixel camera to boot.

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Where to Buy See All

Samsung Galaxy Express (AT&T)

Part Number: SGH-i437 Released: Nov. 16, 2012
MSRP: $99.00 Low Price: $0.00 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Nov. 16, 2012
  • Technology LTE
  • Service Provider AT&T
  • Weight 4.8 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.5 in
About The Author

Lynn La is CNET's associate editor for cell phone and smartphone news and reviews. Prior to coming to CNET, she wrote for the Sacramento Bee and was a staff editor at Macworld. In addition to covering technology, she has reported on health, science, and politics.