Samsung Galaxy Amp review: Jelly Bean sweetens this starter Android phone

Samsung Galaxy Amp
The flash blew out the lemon twist in this drink, but details and edges are clear. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

On the video side, 720p HD capture is available, but it strangely isn't selected by default, so you'll need to choose it yourself for the highest-quality clips. For smaller videos you plan to upload or share, you could also opt to drop down a few resolution notches.

Video quality itself was perfectly acceptable in 720p HD, especially for the type of phone this is.

Samsung Galaxy Amp
The front-facing camera produces blurred, grainy shots with poor color reproduction. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I can't say the same for the front-facing VGA camera, which took grainy, blurry photos. While you can use it for video capture and chats, your friends on the other side are going to see a whole lot of blur and not much you.

The Amp bathes our standard studio shot in cool blue. Stylish as it may look, colors are far from natural and that flash flare isn't what we want. Josh Miller/CNET

If you plan to take a few photos and any video, then you're also planning to invest in some external storage -- up to 32GB. The Amp's 4GB limit is really more like 1GB and a little more for your own use, and installing apps and shooting film will eat through that threshold before you know it.

Call quality
Call quality was impressively strong when I tested the Galaxy Amp (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) in San Francisco using Aio's wireless network.

I could hear my testing partner well on medium volume, and never needed to raise the levels or activate the extra onscreen audio boost control. The call was perfectly clear and voices sounded natural to my ears, although my partner did sound slightly muffled and tufts of distortion cropped up here and there. On his end, my testing partner called the Amp's call quality one of the best he's ever heard. It was clear and loud, and had terrific fidelity without any noise or distortion.

Samsung Galaxy Amp call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone was also great overall when I held the phone at hip level. My partner's voice sounded higher, more shrill, and a little buzzy, but I still didn't have to adjust the volume and the call didn't pick up too much echo. On the other end of the line, speakerphone remained excellent, with warm, human voices and only minimal room echo.

Performance
Aio's 4G speeds were consistent when I took the Galaxy Amp around San Francisco, but not anywhere near as fast as parent AT&T's LTE network.

Speeds measured through the diagnostic Speedtest.net app consistently hovered in the 3Mbps downlink range and 1Mbps up. Consistency is key, even if these registered as 3G rather than 4G speeds. In real-world tests, mobile-optimized Web sites like CNET's still loaded swiftly enough, and apps downloaded and installed without too much trouble. If you stream video and radio you'll notice a lag compared with faster phones, but for everyday communication use, performance was far from crippling.

Samsung Galaxy Amp performance tests
Diagnostic test results using Speedtest.net (left) and Quadrant put the Samsung Galaxy Amp in the lower-middle range. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The same can be said for internal performance, too. You get what you pay for with the 1GHz dual-core processor, which is far from being Samsung's most high-performing. Again, if you've never used a top-of-the-line device, you won't know the snappiness you're missing. Gamers won't show the fine detail they would on a top-of-the-line device, but that's no surprise.

Samsung Galaxy Amp (Aio Wireless)
Download CNET mobile app (3.7MB) 20 seconds
Load up CNET mobile app 10.7 seconds
CNET mobile site load 8.6 seconds
CNET desktop site load 20.6 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 36.2 seconds
Camera boot time 2.4 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 2.5 seconds, with auto-focus

Battery life should last through your workday on the Amp's 1,500mAh ticker, which has a rated talk time of 7.5 hours over 3G and 16.7 days in standby mode. That's less exact when you're using 4G, but we'll fill in with results from our in-house battery drain test.

As for radiation levels, the FCC measured a digital SAR of 0.77 watt per kilogram.

Final verdict
It's gratifying to see more and more smartphones come in below $150 off-contract. There's always a trade-off between price and features, but I'm gratified that Samsung nailed it on call quality, and the rest of the feature set, if not supercharged, is at least complete.

If you're within Aio's extremely limited startup footprint, the Galaxy Amp is stacked with more up-to-date goodies than Android phones from MetroPCS and Boost Mobile for about the same price. However, no-contract shoppers open to Windows Phone should still check out T-Mobile's Nokia Lumia 521 .

As for Aio itself, how well AT&T can wield Aio against T-Mobile, and Sprint's Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile to a lesser extent, comes down to how quickly the network can expand. With the Galaxy Amp and a few other smartphones, Aio is off to a fair start.

What you'll pay

    Pricing is currently unavailable.

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    Where to Buy

    Samsung Galaxy Amp (Aio Wireless)

    Part Number: SGH-I407ZKAATT Released: May. 9, 2013

    Please visit Samsung for additional models

    Quick Specifications See All

    • Release date May. 9, 2013
    • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
    • Service Provider Aio Wireless
    • Weight 4.41 oz
    • Diagonal Size 4 in
    • Sensor Resolution 5 pixels
    About The Author

    Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.