T-Mobile Prism 2 review: Reliable 3G handset at a bargain

Though the original Prism and this version both have a 3.2-megapixel camera, photo quality on the newer model appeared to be markedly improved. Yes, the lack of touch focus makes it difficult to get certain objects looking sharp, and photos still had some blurry edges. But objects looked a bit more in focus, colors were slightly brighter, and overall, pictures looked less pixelated. And while the camera remains slow compared with the ones you find on more powerful devices, I felt like the time it took to refresh itself for another photo was shorter than on the first Prism.

T-Mobile Prism 2 (indoor)
In this well-lit indoor shot, colors are muted and whites are blown-out. Lynn La/CNET

T-Mobile Prism 2 (outdoor)
In this outdoor photo, the details in the grass blend together, and dark hues are hard to distinguish. Lynn La/CNET

T-Mobile Prism 2 (outdoor 2)
This alternative outdoor shot of flowers shows a wide range of bright colors. Lynn La/CNET

T-Mobile Prism 2 (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, I'm pleased to see no subtle tinges against the white background. Josh Miller/CNET

Video recording was also solid, but nothing to write home about. Because the camera needed a few moments to adjust for focus, lighting was a bit everywhere. In addition, you can see frame rates registered lower than real time, so if you looked really carefully, video could come off a bit choppy. In general, however, objects were easy to distinguish and audio picked up well.

Performance
I tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) handset in our San Francisco offices and call quality was good. None of my calls dropped, I didn't hear any extraneous buzzing or noises, and audio didn't clip in and out. My biggest gripe about call quality, however, was that volume wasn't loud enough. Even when the volume was turned all the way up, my friend's voice sounded a bit low. The speaker yielded similar results; I had to hold the phone closer to my ear than I expected in order to hear anything.

As for me, I was told that I sounded fine and clear. My friend didn't pick up any noise or static on my end, either, and I was easily understood.

T-Mobile Prism 2 call quality sample

Listen now:


Despite lacking 4G, the device clocked data speeds that were consistent and rather fast for 3G. On average, it loaded our CNET mobile site in about 12 seconds and our full desktop site in about 28 seconds. The New York Times' mobile and desktop sites took about 10 and 30 seconds to load, respectively. ESPN's mobile site downloaded in about 9 seconds and it took 18 seconds to load the full site. It took just 2 minutes and 18 seconds on average to download the 33.41MB game Temple Run 2, and the Ookla speed-test app showed me an average of 1.04Mbps down and 1.15Mbps up.

T-Mobile Prism 2 Performance
Average 3G download speed 1.04Mbps
Average 3G upload speed 1.15Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 33.41MB in 2 minutes and 18 seconds
CNET mobile site load 12 seconds
CNET desktop site load 28 seconds
Power-off and restart time 1 minute and 16 seconds
Camera boot time 3.5 seconds

Although the Prism 2's 1GHz single-core processor can execute daily (but necessary) tasks smoothly, you'll notice a little bit of lag with most of the things it does. Actions like unlocking the lock screen, bringing up the keyboard, and switching from portrait to landscape mode and vice versa always took a hair longer than I'd like. It took about a minute for the device to start up the first level of Temple Run 2, but afterward the game didn't stall or quit unexpectedly. On average, it took about 3.5 seconds to launch the camera and 1 minute and 16 seconds to power off and restart the handset.

During our battery drain test for talk-time, the 1,750mAh battery lasted 9.75 hours, and has an adequate usage time. It lasted all weekend on standby with 40 percent of its juice left, and with medium usage it can last a workday without a charge. It has a reported talk time of 7 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 1.385W/kg.

Conclusion
If you want a T-Mobile phone with fast data speeds and fast processing speeds, you'll need to fork over more than twice the money you'd pay for the Prism 2. There's nothing wrong with desiring those features, but that's the reality. The dual-core LG Optimus L9 , for example, is one of the carrier's cheapest 4G devices, and it costs $240.

If that's over your budget, consider the Prism 2. Yes, you'll only get the carrier's 3G network, but the speeds are consistent and decent. As one of the only two smartphones from T-Mobile that are under $200, it's an excellent value. I'd prefer it over the carrier's $153.99 Samsung Gravity Q , not only because the latter's battery is smaller, but also because it doesn't run Android, packs only a 2-megapixel camera, and has a meager helping of internal storage capacity.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

T-Mobile Prism 2

Part Number: 610214632258 Released: Jun. 19, 2013

MSRP: $139.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Jun. 19, 2013
  • Weight 3.88 oz
  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider T-Mobile
  • Diagonal Size 3.5 in
  • Sensor Resolution 3.2 megapixels
About The Author

Lynn La is CNET's associate editor for cell phone and smartphone news and reviews. Prior to coming to CNET, she wrote for the Sacramento Bee and was a staff editor at Macworld. In addition to covering technology, she has reported on health, science, and politics.