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Samsung Galaxy Axiom review: Low prices make this midtier Android attractive

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Meet the Samsung Galaxy Axiom, the U.S. Cellular poster product for the GS3-ification of entry-level and midrange phones. The Axiom shares many of the same basic elements and a lot of the same design philosophy as the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini. Although it's roughly the same size as the Mini, its hardware and software features are still a step down.

Samsung Galaxy Axiom
7.0

Samsung Galaxy Axiom

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The LTE-enabled <b>Samsung Galaxy Axiom</b> has terrific battery life and a generous feature set for a lower-tier phone.

The Bad

The carrier's sluggish and stuttering roaming 3G network drags the Axiom down, it's on the heavy side, and it has poor call quality.

The Bottom Line

If you're looking for a midtier Android smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Axiom's cheap price is hard to beat.

That isn't to say you should steer clear of the Axiom. Its excellent price -- just a penny on contract if you live in a 4G area and $79.99 if you're in a 3G 'hood -- keeps it in the running as a midrange Android phone, and it comes with a lot of hardware features, including two cameras and HD video, plus the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS and NFC.

These features make it a good choice for people who are watching their purse strings or who are transitioning to a smartphone; however, I wouldn't recommend it for those looking for more power. There are a few red flags in addition: call quality was a little choppy, the roaming 3G network was slow and frequently stuttered, and the handset is a little bulky. Since I wasn't able to test the Axiom's 4G network -- or even its 3G network in its home area -- take my experiences with a grain of salt.

Samsung Galaxy Axiom: A GS3 Mini Me? (pictures)

See all photos

Design and build
With its rounded corners, gray-blue brushed-metal look, and central physical home button, the stylish Galaxy Axiom strongly resembles the Galaxy S3 Mini. Like the Mini, the Axiom has a 4-inch screen and some slick metallic-looking accents. That's where the similarities stop. The Axiom is thicker than the Mini, and uses a different display technology, an LCD touch screen with WVGA resolution (800x480 pixels) rather than an AMOLED screen.

As for the size, the Axiom's curved back fit well into my hands. At 4.8 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide, it's small enough to operate one-handed. The 0.47-inch thickness and 4.8-ounce weight made the phone seem thick and heavy, but more than once I forgot I had slipped it into my back pocket, which means in the end, it didn't really weigh me down.

Samsung Galaxy Axiom
The beautiful Samsung Galaxy Axiom closely resembles Samsung's Galaxy S3 Mini. Josh Miller/CNET

Below the screen, you'll find touch-sensitive navigation buttons for the menu and the back button. Between these is the physical home button. In Android 4.0, these take on double functions, such as launching thumbnails of recently opened apps. Above the display are all the proximity and light sensors, plus a front-facing camera. The bottom of the phone houses the Micro-USB charging port, and the top has the 3.5mm headset jack. You'll find the volume rocker on the left, above a microSD card slot. The power button is on the right and the 5-megapixel camera lens and flash are on the back panel.

I really like the handset's appearance, and although it is broad in girth, on the whole I did enjoy the illusion of a premium product.

OS and apps
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich powers the Axiom, with Samsung's TouchWiz interface on top. Thanks to the combination, you can customize multiple home screens, access system settings from the notifications menu, pinch to see all your screens, and trace your words on a virtual keyboard. As on all Android phones, you'll be able to manage multiple inboxes and social-networking accounts, syncing contacts and calendars.

A plethora of Google services at your fingertips includes access to turn-by-turn voice navigation, YouTube, and Google Music. The Play store is your source for thousands of other apps and games, and of course, you'll get a browser, a music player, a file manager, and a calculator all bundled into Android.

Samsung Galaxy Axiom
The Axiom contains a microSD card slot on its left spine. Josh Miller/CNET

GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth are smartphone standards, but the addition of NFC support means you'll be able to share photos among compatible phones via S Beam, and you can pay for goods and services using the preloaded Google Wallet app.

Speaking of preloaded apps, you'll also find Flipboard, Samsung's Media Hub, and Google's Chrome browser. The S Voice assistant is on tap to help out, or you can continue to use Google's own built-in voice actions feature. U.S. Cellular refrains from adding its own apps, which helps keep clutter down.

Cameras

Samsung Galaxy Axiom
The Axiom didn't focus well on the colorful chalk. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Samsung cameras are generally pretty good, and the Axiom's 5-megapixel shooter conformed more or less to my expectations. Outdoor shots taken in natural daylight situations were the best of the bunch. Artificial, indoor lighting tended to overwhelm the mechanism and produce blurrier photos.

This was one of the camera's cleanest shots overall. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I was pleased with the way that the Axiom reproduced colors; they were neither oversaturated nor flat and dull. The camera had a harder time with shadows and details in a photo I took of flowers in CNET's planter. This isn't the first camera to struggle with the same problems in distinguishing nuances in petal shadows and surfaces, though of the many photos I took inside and out, the Axiom produced only a handful of winners. I'd say for casual photos meant to capture a moment, the Axiom does just fine, but if I wanted to create larger or more lasting images to show off online or to frame, I'd be a little disappointed.

The Axiom takes some lovely 720p HD video that adjusted well when I panned around a scene. It also quickly adjusted to lighting changes with shifts in color. Audio was a weaker point, and I had to boost the volume to medium high to be able to hear the video well in a quiet room.

Samsung Galaxy Axiom
The Axiom's camera had a tough time capturing flower petal details and shadows, so these cyclamens look like pink blobs. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Photo tools and settings are plentiful. There are multiple resolutions for both photo and video, plus presets for white balance, scenes, effects, and various shooting modes. Samsung gives the Axiom its typical helping of Panorama, Cartoon Mode, and Smile Shot, and video can spool full-length or foreshorten for multimedia messaging.

Samsung Galaxy Axiom
CNET editor Jason Parker is a blur in this candid. Granted, he was moving, so the Axiom gets a pass. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Photos taken with the Axiom's 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera are fairly good for what they are. Most people will use the camera for video chats, but it will snap a decent, if soft, image that you could use as a profile picture for a social-networking site, for instance.

This studio shot shows the Axiom's limitations. Much of the image is slightly out of focus, and the flash reflects off the wall. Josh Miller/CNET

Call quality
I tested the Galaxy Axiom in San Francisco using U.S. Cellular's roaming network (CDMA:850/1900/1700/2100.) Since San Francisco is neither in the carrier's 4G zone nor even in its home network, my experience with call quality will likely differ from your own if you live within U.S. Cellular's network footprint.

Regardless, audio was fairly poor on my end. I heard a high though quiet whine throughout my main test call, and fellow CNET editor Brian Bennett's voice on the other end of the line sounded choppy, though the voice quality was true to life. Volume was strong set on medium-high in a relatively quiet room. If the room were louder, I might have surpassed my volume needs. I've heard much clearer, less distorted calls on Samsung devices. On his end, Brian said I sounded warm, clear, and loud, but he could detect a faint background hiss each time I spoke.

Samsung Galaxy Axiom call quality sample Listen now:

When I tested the speakerphone at waist level, I immediately had a hard time understanding Brian and had to ask him several times throughout the call to repeat himself. Some combination of the buzziness and tinniness made it hard to discern his words, though I did like that he sounded human and not robotic. According to Brian, my voice immediately dropped in volume, and I became distant and muffled. Switching back to the standard earpiece immediately put us both at ease.

Performance
When it comes to the processor and network speeds, you'll find uneven performance. I mentioned that since I live and test in a U.S. Cellular roaming network area, I only sucked down 3G speeds -- and very slow ones at that. Out of seven tests using the diagnostic Speedtest.net app, results typically showed 0.07Mbps downlink and 0.13Mbps uplink. The highest scores were, respectively, 0.26 down and 0.82 up. Real-world tests painted a similar story, with app downloads taking minutes for a handful of megabytes to install, and Web site pages loading up four times more slowly than the top LTE performers.

To make matters worse, the network frequently disconnected, requiring me to reload the Google Play store over and over again before I could download a single app -- to cite just one example. I really hope that the carrier's home network behaves better.

Samsung Galaxy Axiom Performance (3G)
Download CNET mobile app (3.8MB) 5 minutes, 20 seconds
Load up CNET mobile app 40 seconds
CNET mobile site load 47 seconds
CNET desktop site load 1 minute, 20 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 25 seconds
Camera boot time 2.6 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 3.5 seconds with focusing

Thankfully, the Axiom's chipset performance scored much higher. I tested the 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 with the Quadrant diagnostic test. While the phone didn't perform as well as the HTC One X+, according to Quadrant's results, it did come in fairly close behind. No especially laggy quality popped out, though the handset isn't perhaps as snappy as the most high-end models.

One shining beacon is the Axiom's battery life. It's rated as providing 8 hours and 10.8 days on its 2,1000mAh battery, and in real-life tests, it played back 10 hours of video before needing a recharge. FCC tests of radio emissions measured a digital SAR of 0.69 watt per kilogram.

The Axiom has 4GB of onboard storage, only 1.9GB of which is user-accessible. You can, however, add up to 32GB in external storage. The phone also carries 1GB RAM, the same quantity as some other high-end devices.

Final thoughts
I like the Samsung Galaxy Axiom's design, battery life, and price -- all positive traits that make me inclined to recommend the phone to the carrier's customers. However, the Android 4.0 smartphone's two biggest deal-breakers for me -- the call quality and data performance -- are still in the air as far as I'm concerned, since I wasn't able to truly test them in the carrier's own realm. For the features and price point, I'd also check out the LG Splendor and Motorola M before making my final decision, though the Axiom's camera has the edge over both.

Samsung Galaxy Axiom
7.0

Samsung Galaxy Axiom

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6