With modest specs like a low-resolution 4.5-inch screen and a 5-megapixel camera, T-Mobile's Samsung Galaxy Avant is all about value. Android 4.4 keeps it current, as does the 1.2GHz quad-core processor inside. Unfortunately, Samsung's decision to step away from its customary AMOLED display shows in this phone's dull, somewhat grainy visuals, a bummer for those of you familiar with the AMOLED technology's characteristically vibrant screens.
Still, for about $230 off-contract (or $9.60 per month for 24 months), the Avant is a quite decent choice in T-Mobile's lineup, but not a handset that excites on its own.
Design and build
Dressed like a familiar Samsung phone, the round-cornered Galaxy Avant has a black face and back, and a silvery rim encircling its spines and its physical home button. A pleathery-feeling tactile backing reminiscent of lightly textured naugahyde makes the handset really comfortable to hold, and helpfully deters smudges besides.
Possessing a 4.5-inch screen, the Avant is smaller than most by today's standards, which makes it easy to pocket and manipulate one-handed. The 960x540-pixel resolution isn't all that surprising for a phone of this class, even though the pixel density of 245 ppi makes the visuals "soft" and grainy. The bigger problem is that Samsung took a major departure from its usual AMOLED technology, installing a TFT LCD display instead.
The concession, probably to pricing, makes a huge difference. Even at higher levels of brightness, the Avant's screen looks dim and dull -- as do the videos, colors, and images on it. Outdoor visibility is dismal, particularly in bright sunlight, and the limited viewing angle means you really do need to position yourself directly in front of the screen.
Standing 5.2 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide and 0.39-inch thick (133 by 66 by 9.9mm), the Avant weighs 4.8 ounces (137 grams), which is certainly lighter than larger phones of our day, but it feels heavy for its size. Sticking to the Samsung script, the power/lock button lives on the right, the volume rocker on the left, the headset jack up top, and the Micro-USB charging port down below.
Above the display, you'll find a 0.3-megapixel camera, and below the screen, a home button with capacitive buttons on either side. Flipping the phone over, you'll find the 5-megapixel camera lens and flash, and a little divot along the edge where you can pull off the back cover. Beneath it, there's a microSD card slot that you can expand to include another 64GB.
Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC mean that you'll be able to share content between devices.
OS and apps
With weaker hardware, it's essential that the software is strong. Android 4.4.2 KitKat is a very recent version of Google's software, and the TouchWiz layer on top means that you're getting the same essential experience as you are on a higher-end Samsung phone.
For instance, My Magazine newsfeed (powered by Flipboard) and Google Now are baked right in, along with extras such as printing and screen mirroring, private mode, a simple "easy interface" UI, and options to customize the phone's look and feel.
These Samsung-granted features are more limited on the Avant than they are on a top-tier device like the Samsung Galaxy S5. While there's a power-saving mode, for example, you won't get Ultra Power Saving, and there aren't as many gesture capabilities or camera options.
In terms of preloaded apps, you'll find the usual heap of Google services, as well as T-Mobile's apps to manage your account, hotspot, and services such as T-Mobile TV. Visual voicemail and Wi-Fi calling are two other extras. There are a few other installations as well, such as Amazon, Dropbox, and Lookout security. Samsung keeps its own apps to a minimum with S Voice, a Google voice search rival.
Cameras and video
We've seen a good many 5-megapixel cameras from Samsung, and they're typically good. This one, however, disappoints. For starters, it defaults to 3.7 megapixels in a widescreen configuration (16:9), so you'll have to switch over to the 5-megapixel setting (4.9, to be exact) if you plan to milk the Avant for every megapixel it's worth.
The biggest problem is that image quality is subpar. Colors are muted and drained compared to real-world counterparts. Even with ample lighting and stillness, subjects are often out-of-focus and grainy, without many clearly defined edges. Flash can help bring out color and crispness, but it frequently comes on too strong. Outdoor photos look much better than indoor shots.
Although the Avant doesn't have as many settings and controls as a marquee device like the Galaxy S5 or Galaxy Note 4, it still has panorama, beauty face, and night modes, plus a sports mode to assist with fast-motion shots. Its sound and shot mode records some audio to go along with your still -- though it really only plays back on other Samsung phones.
The 720p HD video capture is adequate, but also suffers from issues of clarity and vivacious color reproduction. I do like that the camera adjusts to changing lighting scenarios. Don't place any bets on the 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera, unless it's to predict pixelated and grayed-out selfies. Even without blowing up a picture, I can see random clumps of white pixels on my eyelid.