- Expandable memory
- Camera lacks detail
The Samsung Galaxy Express 2 looks to be the quintessential mid-range 4G handset, but how does it fair in practice?
Design & Screen: Squared jaw
Despite the startling similarities from one Samsung handset to the next, there’s something somewhat distinctive about the look of the Express 2 (relative to other Samsungs at least). Slotting between the Galaxy Ace 3 and Galaxy S4 Mini, the Express 2 is more squared in its appearance, which doesn’t mean it’s particularly attractive, simply more recognisable.
The tried and tested hardware control layout is ever present with the home button and capacitive keys either side underneath the display, power/lock key and volume rocker skirting each side of the handset whilst microUSB port and headphone jack lie underneath and on top respectively.
The phone’s colouring is a little unusual, using a warmer more, intense shade of blue than other Sammys, the front bezel features a flat blue, whilst the back totes a lightly brushed metal finish reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S3.
The display uses the same qHD resolution as the S4 Mini, albeit with a lower pixel density due to its larger size (4.5-inches). In practice, the LCD technology in play isn’t the best around, but wholly usable. Colours look a little washed out, with poor contrast and lacklustre tone. As a result watching HD content doesn’t look its best, but text and iconography are both perfectly viewable, just don’t bank on being wowed by the screen.
OS: Mixed feelings
The base Android experience offers a more complete feature set out-the-box than ever before and Samsung has dressed the serving of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean on the Express 2 with an interface of its own design.
The TouchWiz interface has long divided users of Android phones, on the one hand, it’s distinctly Samsung and bolsters the skill set of even the most basic Android phone, however it could also easily be considered bloatware.
On the Galaxy Express 2, having popular apps like Flipboard pre-installed out-the-box, a rich notifications drawer with quick toggles for connectivity and a host of handy widgets that don’t come as standard with pure Android are all welcome inclusions. It’s not too lagtastic either, which is high praise for an interface that shows signs of slow down, even on the flagship Samsung Galaxy S4.
The biggest blessing/curse is the amount of customisability; you can view your apps drawer as an alphabetical list, a customisable grid or a pre-defined grid, apps can be long-pressed to add to home screens, but you have press the menu key to uninstall things and the Settings menu divides the phone’s features into four main categories.
If you want to tweak and change the fundamental experience you can, but it takes time to learn and understand the rules of TouchWiz, which can be frustrating, not to mention there are also plenty of inconsistencies to serve as speed bumps and dead-ends as you navigate around.
Performance: Surprisingly snappy
The 1.7GHz dual-core processor and unusual 1.5GB of RAM work surprisingly well together to offer up a, for the most part, smooth dose of that aforementioned TouchWiz UI. The qHD display also plays into the hands of the hardware, offering a decent enough visual experience without overly taxing the internals by keeping below the HD resolution line.
Current full 3D games such as Angry Birds GO! don’t appear to throw the Express 2 too much either, but it’s load times that slow you down, they’re brief and actual gameplay was relatively smooth. How future proof the graphical prowess of the Express 2 is, is hard to determine, but so long as you’re more of a casual, rather than a gaming enthusiast, you shouldn’t run into too much trouble.
Camera: A bit shakey
The 5-megapixel snapper built into the Express 2 is nothing out of the ordinary, high contrast situations are its biggest foe, as it tends to overexpose the brightest and underexpose the darkest elements of each shot, suggesting a narrow dynamic range. Colours meanwhile appear accurate and macro shots also yield pleasing results.
Detail is a little lacking when you get in close and noise in darker areas of images or in low-lighting conditions is clearly visible. What’s more, 720p HD video is simply OK although doesn’t suffer from the motion ‘wobble’ of some smartphone footage.
All in all, the camera won’t impress and doesn’t particularly excel in any one area, it’s bland but usable and won’t be the reason you pick up this device.
Connectivity & Storage: Road runner
As you might have guessed, 4G connectivity is the feather in this smartphone’s cap and indeed web browsing, buffering YouTube videos and hopping on our favourite social networks did prove wonderfully fast.
On other fronts it’s a more run-of-the-mill creature with Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi (with hotspot functionality), GPS and expandable memory. Popping the back off exposes the battery (which unlike more premium Samsungs doesn’t boast NFC), microSIM slot and microSD slot which can accommodate cards up to 64GB in capacity; appreciated when considering the 8GB of internal storage is clogged up by the heavy user experience.
Battery: Just enough juice
Our battery test yielded an impressive 6 hours 45 minutes of continuous video playback from the 2100mAh battery and although 4G usage does impact on battery life, it’s not to a worryingly significant level.
With regular use expect the Express 2 to last a day and with 4G on, stand by a plug point come late afternoon. Samsung is unrelenting in its implementation of removable batteries, we like that.
Conclusion: It’s OK but…
The Samsung Galaxy Express 2 doesn’t really stick out from the crowd. 4G helps prevent it sliding into obscurity altogether, but it awkwardly slots in between the Ace 3 and the S4 Mini in a gap that we don’t really feel needed to be filled in the first place.
The larger screen may appease those looking for an affordable way to experience Netflix and BBC iPlayer on-the-go, but in truth we’d go for the older, but still fantastic Sony Xperia SP if that’s what you’re after. It shares similar problems with the Express 2, but promises a better display and camera experience, for less cash.