Though the Samsung Galaxy Express looks uncannily like a junior-size GS3, the handset is actually a midlevel phone with a bargain price.
At just $100, the Express is equipped with a dual-core processor, a 5-megapixel camera, and 4G LTE speeds from AT&T.
And while these specs aren't comparable with other top-tier Galaxy devices, nor is its camera the most powerful at this price range, the Express hits all the midrange notes well and has that swift and reliable performance you come to expect from the Galaxy family.
In short, the Samsung Galaxy Express looks similar to the Samsung Galaxy S3 but smaller. Though it's not as premium feeling, it has the same long rectangular shape, curved corners, and oval home button.
The device measures 5.22 inches tall, 2.73 inches wide, and its thin profile is 0.36 inch. At 4.8 ounces, it's also lightweight. Though it's too tall to fit entirely in small front pockets on jeans, it's comfortable when held in the hand or pinned between the ear and shoulder, and it easily slips into small clutches and bags.
On the left is a volume rocker and up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack. The right houses a sleep/power button and the Micro-USB port for charging is on the bottom. On the back is a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash and below that in the right corner are two small slits for the audio speaker. The plastic back plate has a glossy smooth finish, which makes it vulnerable to accumulating fingerprints. Using an indentation up top, you can remove the plate to access the 2,000mAh battery and expandable microSD card slot.
The 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus WVGA touch screen displays 16 million colors and has an 800x480-pixel resolution. It's sensitive to the touch; I had no problems pinch zooming, tapping on apps, and playing swipe-heavy games like Temple Run. Though icons looked crisp, I could see some slight aliasing with texts and the display had a subtle blue hue to it that was especially apparent when viewed at slight angles (as opposed to straight-on). Color gradients, like the ones on default wallpaper, also looked streaky.
Above the display are an in-ear speaker and a 1.3-megapixel camera. Below are a physical home button and two hot keys (menu and back) that light up white when in use.
Software features and OS
The handset runs on Android 4.0.4 and packs numerous Google apps like Gmail, Plus, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, portals to Play Books, Magazines, Movies and TV, Music, and Store, Google Talk, Search, and YouTube.
Basic task management apps include a native browser and e-mail client, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a memo pad, music and video players, and a voice recorder.
AT&T loaded some of its own apps as well. These consist of Code Scanner, which allows your phone to read UPC, QR, and Data Matrix bar codes; FamilyMap, which helps you physically locate family members on your AT&T account; a cloud storage app; an app that lets you share content between your Galaxy Express and computer; a map and a messaging application that's of the carrier's own brand; a Wi-Fi- and data-managing app; Live TV; and MyAT&T, which lets you manage your home phone and Internet accounts.
Other apps, some from Samsung, include Amazon Kindle and the Yellow Pages, a chat client called ChatOn, a content manager known as Kies Air, a media portal, an apps-and-games curator called S Suggest, and Samsung's personal voice assistant, S Voice.
Though I appreciate a few choice apps as much as the next person, the phone simply came with a lot of distracting bloatware. Out of the box, it was already loaded with three different message clients and two different navigators.
Additional features include NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, mobile hot-spotting, 8GB of internal memory, and 1GB of RAM.
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.
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.
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.
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.