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Samsung Galaxy Core Prime review: This simple smartphone can't top rivals

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The Good The Samsung Galaxy Core Prime has a small price tag, its 5-megapixel camera takes vibrant sunlit photos, and there's plenty of room for expandable storage.

The Bad Poor screen resolution dampens the Core Prime's appeal, and the front-facing camera captures pixelated selfies. Low-light photos appear blurry and dim.

The Bottom Line One of Verizon and MetroPCS' least-expensive phones, the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime makes a decent entry-level choice, but it still isn't as good as the competition.

6.6 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7
  • Camera 6
  • Battery 7

Verizon and MetroPCS' Samsung Galaxy Core Prime is one of those phones that doesn't pretend to give you more than the basics you need to connect to Google's best-in-class services: maps, Google Drive and Google Now among them.

There's nothing flashy in the phone's basic gray design, the unimpressive screen is a struggle to read in broad daylight, and the camera is generations behind. Still, Verizon's network runs on high speed and the phone's price puts it among one of Big Red's lowest. That's $7 per month on the 24-month Verizon Edge plan; $30 with a new, two-year contract; or $168 when you buy it at full retail and contract-free.

MetroPCS, meanwhile, sells the Core Prime for $130 without a contract, but I saw it on sale for $50 after a mail-in rebate.

While completely fine for a starter smartphone, it's still worth shopping around. The Galaxy Core Prime may be the cheapest on both carriers' current rosters, but a few dollars more will buy you slightly better phones as well. (Read on for more!)

Design and build

  • 4.5-inch screen, 800x480 resolution
  • 207 pixels per inch
  • 5.2 inches by 2.7 inches by 0.35-inch (131.3 by 68.4 by 8.8mm)
  • 4.59 ounces, 130 grams

I hate to say that when you've seen one Samsung you've seen them all, but that's certainly the case for this pleasantly predictable Galaxy Core Prime. Its rounded corners and physical home button leave no question about the name stamped onto the phone's backing. That black-gray backing shimmers in the light and pops off, like most Samsung phones (except the new Galaxy S6 series) to reveal the battery and microSD card slot within.

Its right and left metallic silver-colored spines remain sleek and nearly unadorned, with the exception of the power/lock button on the right and the volume rocker on the left. A 5-megapixel camera and flash on the back sling photos, while the 2-megapixel front-facing shooter takes mediocre selfies.

The Samsung Galaxy Core Prime has a 4.5-inch screen and smooth backing. Josh Miller/CNET

How about that screen? The 4.5-inch display helps keep the handset smaller than supersize phones of 5-inches and more, but that 800x480-pixel resolution plays a sad trombone. Indoors, the screen looks lighter gray (and more reflective) than surrounding screens, and images, Web sites and videos appear pixelated and a little colorless. Outdoors under the rays, onscreen images wash out and copy is harder to read. This is pretty normal for phones like this, but still worth pointing out.

One thing to note: the Galaxy Core Prime got hot over time, but to be fair, warm summer days don't help. You might want to keep an eye on this.

Interface and apps

  • Android 4.4.4. KitKat
  • Loads of preloaded apps

The Galaxy Core Prime runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat, which isn't the latest version of the OS (Android 5.1 Lollipop is), with Android M coming up soon. If this handset updates, which it might not, it'll be to the Android M taste treat I believe, and skip Lollipop entirely.

Samsung has placed, as it always does, its TouchWiz interface on top of Android, which gives it the same character it does to its brethren. Samsung also brings you a few extra apps and settings, like Ultra Power Saving Mode and an easy mode that simplifies the home screen layout. You can also rearrange the quick settings panel (part of the notifications drawer) to access toggles in the order you want.

This battery swaps out, and you can expand storage through a microSD card slot. Josh Miller/CNET

On the Verizon model I tested, Big Red heaps about 20 carrier apps and partner services on the phone. You'll find, for instance, a heap of Amazon apps, various Verizon apps for managing your account (and then some), NFL Mobile, some game demos and Hotels.com.

Intense as the collection may be, you can at least neutralize (though not uninstall) this haul of preloaded apps through the settings menu.

Camera and video

  • 5-megapixel camera (defaults to 3.9)
  • 2-megapixel front-facing camera
  • 720p video recording

Finding your way around the camera app means two things in the Galaxy Core Prime. You can tap on Mode to take you to settings like Auto, panorama, Beauty Face, best photo, continuous shot and sports mode. The other option leads you to the Settings menu, which pulls up items like the photo resolution, ISO and metering, white balance and exposure, grid lines and geotagging (there are a few more selections besides).

The 5-megapixel camera takes colorful outdoor shots and poor photos indoors. Josh Miller/CNET

Beware! For some motivation, which Samsung is not alone in heeding, the Galaxy Core camera default tunes to 3.9-megapixels out of the box, rather than the full-strength 5-megapixel. This does change the aspect ratio from 3:5 for the 3.9-megapixels and 4:3 (which is now typical) for the maximum resolution. If you aren't paying attention, you'll wind up taking a lot of lower-res photos that don't come across as nice or detailed as all of your friends'.

Calibrated at the height of its capacity, the Core Prime's camera captures brightly colored outdoor photos that contrast with its rather bloodless images in low-light situations. Here's the age-old question: do you take indoor photos with flash or without?

Flash produces a bright light that makes everything a little brighter and clearer, but it's also fake as sin. Flash-free shots require you to let go of perfection in exchange for authenticity, but you also have to willingly stomach a fair amount of graininess and indistinction. Here, you'll be asking for second helpings of both.

galaxycoreprime-camera-app.jpg
Photos default to 3.9-megapixels out of the box. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Self-portraits here, like all the photos, incite a trade-off. The 2-megapixel front-facing camera takes exceptionally grainy selfies, both with Beauty mode engaged and au natural. Indoor snaps look gray and outdoor portraits are brighter and more sanguine. I'd stick to outdoor environs if I were you.

Video on the Core Prime's 720p HD camcorder is like everything else on the phone: serviceable, but not very impressive. Indoor recordings look wan compared to the vibrancy of the real world, and audio pickup is weak for anyone who isn't you (you'll hear your own voice quite clearly, though). You'll have better luck sticking with outdoor, well-lit scenes that don't record a lot of sound.

While these buds don't look particularly detailed by today's standards, they're certainly colorful. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Here's another example with a flower shot outdoors. There's just enough petal detail for this camera level. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
The phone was able to capture the water's movement. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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