Samsung Exhibit II 4G (T-Mobile)

At either $30 or $200, depending on whether you accept a two-year T-Mobile contract, there's no argument that the price for the Samsung Exhibit II 4G is right, but have the developers cut too many corners?

We liked

As we said, the Samsung Exhibit II 4G (T-Mobile) is very affordable, and the chance to go pre-paid on a fast, reliable 4G network like T-Mobile's is very nice. The low initial cost of this smartphone, coupled with the variety of payment options offered by T-Mobile make the Exhibit II very tempting for the budget conscious.

This smartphone has a lot of bells and whistles for a low-cost device, even if they aren't as beefy as what you'd find on higher-end models. A front facing video camera opens up the wide world of video chatting, and free, onboard GPS with spoken turn-by-turn directions will make even iPhone 4S users jealous.

Samsung Exhibit II 4G (T-Mobile)

The GPS as well as several other proprietary apps impressed us. Kies Air is an especially convenient app, perfect for a quick sync or file transfer while at a friend's house, and frees you from having to carry a USB cord. Social Hub was also very useful, providing quick access to multiple email accounts and social network feeds.

TouchWiz and Gingerbread make a good combination. The browser is fast and attractive, and having Swype makes for fast message composition. The Active Applications widget offers the kind of honest assessment of memory usage you'd normally only get from a third-party application, and allows you to easily manage background activity. All in all, these apps put the bloatware found on most new phones to shame.

We disliked

The Exhibit II's screen was a major point of irritation. Even in moderate sunlight, it gets washed out. Bumping up the display brightness is all you can do to compensate, which hurts the already not-so-great battery life.

Even with the brightness cranked up, it's still rather hard to see it outdoors. Also, the screen is none too wide, so typing in portrait mode is tough with big fingers. Using Swype or switching to landscape mode is much better.

The camera is none too great either, but this is an understandable, "get what you pay for" situation. We'd rather have the front-facing video camera than 8-megapixel image quality.

The place where the Samsung Exhibit II 4G (T-Mobile) really feels like a budget phone is in overall performance. Coming in and out of processor and memory-intensive apps like games and streaming video kills the frame rate and makes the phone sluggish and unresponsive. Usually it goes away if you give the phone a second, other times you need to go into Active Applications and dump the memory-hogging app. This is not a phone for the impatient; someone who's used to an expensive multi-core device will find it frustrating.

Also, while T-Mobile's network proved itself throughout our trials, and the company offers a wide range of flexible plans, we don't like that it limits how much data you can have at 4G speeds.

For example, on a $50 unlimited plan, only your first 100 MB of data is delivered at 4G speeds. At $60 dollars a month, it's your first 2GB. While this is becoming standard practice among many carriers, and T-Mobile is absolutely upfront about this fact - it's not hidden in the fine print - it makes us question the value of paying for 4G service.

Final Verdict

It's hard to argue with the Samsung Exhibit II 4G's price tag. At $30 (after a $50 rebate) with a two-year contract, or $200 for pay-as-you-go at Walmart, you'll be hard pressed to get a better smartphone for your money, especially at 4G speeds.

To get to this very low price point, Samsung has obviously skimped on some of the hardware, but the only place it really hurts is the screen, which is hard to see in sunlight and cramped for typing. The phone's low memory is manageable, thanks to the Active Applications widget.

Finally, the pre-loaded apps and T-Mobile's network really impressed us. The data speeds were consistently fast, and the quality and reliability of calls were among the best we've experienced. If you want 4G on a budget, or crave the flexibility of a month-to-month plan, you're not going to do much better than the Samsung Exhibit II 4G.