Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate (AT&T) review:

Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate (AT&T)

Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate
I had to take this photo twice to fix the focus on the green desk-fuzzy. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Video was also a strong suit of the Exhilarate; the camera shoots in 720p HD video. Clips looked crisp and colorful. There wasn't any choppiness or blockiness, but if I fixed my gaze on the legs of a woman who was walking in the corner of the frame, her motions tended to blur together. Audio also sounded good and strong to my ears, without any extra whining. On the whole, I'm happy with daylight video on this phone. The Exhilarate has 2.5GB of user-accessible storage, and room for 32 extra gigabytes in the microSD card slot.

Call quality
I tested the quad-band Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; LTE 700/1700) in San Francisco on AT&T's network. Call quality was decent, even pretty good. There was no background noise on my end and volume was pretty strong. However, there was a discernible amount of static when my regular test caller spoke, and his voice sounded thick and muddied, though natural. We were able to comfortably carry on several longer conversations.

On his end of the line, my calling partner thought I sounded a little unnatural and hollow, but very clear. Volume was also good, he said. However, more than once he mentioned that the Exhilarate cut off my higher frequencies, just like "an old military phone." That's a little before my time, but I'll take his word for it.

Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone was good when I held the phone at waist level. Volume was strong at maximum volume, and I could understand everything that my caller said when inside a relatively quiet office, but there were no volume reserves if I had to take the call out on the street, in a car loud with road noise, or in a busy newsroom. The phone also buzzed in my hand with the strength of the speakerphone; this effect was subtler at lower volumes. For his part, my test caller liked the sound of my voice over speakerphone and said I sounded very clear, though a bit indistinct, with roughly the same voice quality as the standard speaker.

LTE and processor
This is my favorite part of this review, because the Exhilarate was an absolute speed demon in San Francisco. It reached diagnostic speeds higher than I've seen on any other carrier or handset, and that's exciting for the phone, for the network, and for the future of the industry.

AT&T's Galaxy S3 was very fast, but the speeds on the Exhilarate blew it away. The diagnostic app clocked speeds over 40Mpbs downlink four times, peaking at 54.43. Wow. The whiz consistently returned speeds in the 20s and 30s time after time, and the vast majority of speeds were in the double digits. Uplink speeds were also incredibly fast. There were some single-digit returns for 4Mbps and 7Mbps up, but many were in the midteens. I tested in a variety of neighborhoods.

Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate
Speeds knocked my socks off here in San Francisco. These tests were taken different days in different parts of town. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

One problem I had was that the app frequently crashed between the download and upload tests, citing a "network error." This happened so often, I reinstalled the app. It still occurred, which could indicate hiccups in AT&T's network, despite breathtaking speeds.

I also performed plenty of real-life tests, downloading apps and loading Web sites. The Exhilarate updated and installed 11 Google Play apps in just a few minutes. It also downloaded and installed the Riptide GP game (41.74MB) in 35.5 seconds; that corresponded with a comparatively lower SpeedTest score of 8.99Mbps down. CNET's mobile site loaded up in 3.3 seconds and 2.7 seconds from a clean, uncached browser, and the full desktop view completely loaded in a slower 33 seconds on the first try and 17.3 seconds on the second attempt.

The Exhilarate's 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 APQ8060 processor is no slouch. It did the trick serving up apps and letting me navigate around without delay.

Battery life and SAR
The Galaxy Exhilarate has a rated talk time of 7 hours and 10.4 days standby time on its 1,750mAh battery. I used the phone very heavily during my testing period, and noticed that it didn't last quite as long as other phones -- but it did last a lot longer than some other rival phones in the same category. We'll continue our battery drain tests and will update this section with those results.

Radio emissions are part of every phone, and the FCC requires all cell phones to emit fewer than 1.6 watts per kilogram. According to FCC tests, the Exhilarate has a digital SAR of 0.96 watt per kilogram.

The Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate started off looking good on paper, and got better and better throughout the course of my testing. I'm not sure if the handset is always faster than others, or if I got lucky with my review unit and testing pattern, but AT&T's LTE speeds were on fire. The screen, the processor, and the video deliver; and the price tag that's now 40 percent lower just keeps ratcheting up the value.

There are still trade-offs to be made. The Exhilarate isn't superlative in any category apart from LTE, and I was expecting more from the camera. The phone isn't fancy or slim, and there aren't as many bells and whistles as there are on a flagship phone like the Galaxy S3. Think of it as a really good midrange phone and you'll be happy. Otherwise, you may wind up frustrated at the good-but-not-great camera and a phone that could easily ride Gingerbread for some time.

What you'll pay

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