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

This entry-level Android smartphone walks the walk and talks the talk, but a few dollars more will buy you a better phone.

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Jessica Dolcourt
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

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8 min read

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.

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6.6

Samsung Galaxy Core Prime

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.

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!)

Samsung's Galaxy Core Prime targets essentials (pictures)

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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

  • 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.

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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.

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While these buds don't look particularly detailed by today's standards, they're certainly colorful. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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Here's another example with a flower shot outdoors. There's just enough petal detail for this camera level. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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The phone was able to capture the water's movement. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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This indoor shot muddles borders and grays-out skin tones. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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My low-light dinner doesn't look so hot without a flash or filter. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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The Core Prime struggled with early morning light. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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While the photo of our standard studio shot is in focus, the camera bathes the scene in cold blue tones. Josh Miller/CNET

Hardware performance

  • 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor
  • 8GB of internal storage; 1GB of RAM
  • Up to 128GB of expandable storage
  • 2,000mAh battery (removable)

Equipped with a lower-powered processor, the Galaxy Core Prime isn't the zippiest phone in the kingdom. The good news is that this 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm chipset is the same one found in virtually every phone of this level, so the Core Prime is right on par with its closest rivals.

Navigation remains responsive as you're scrolling through screens and menus. Verizon's fast network in my testing area (more on that below) helps videos and songs stream fairly quickly. The Core Prime does dawdle a couple seconds between camera shots, which is also pretty typical for a lot of handsets, but you can switch to "continuous mode" to take burst shots. That's a definite bonus.

The poor screen resolution and slower internal motor take a toll on gameplay, especially when you compare a title on a high-end handset. Still, I wouldn't get too worked up about it. Game developers try to optimize graphics so their wares are immersive on any level screen. That certainly was the case for Riptide GP2. The game didn't play as smoothly, cleanly or responsively as it does on faster phones, but that didn't wipe out its fun factor.

3DMark -- Ice Storm Unlimited

Samsung Galaxy Core Prime 4545Samsung Galaxy S6 20,778LG G4 18,611
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3

Samsung Galaxy Core Prime 387 1,153Samsung Galaxy S6 1,371 4,608LG G4 1,046 2,981
  • Single-core
  • Multi-core
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

You can see from the Geekbench 3 and 3DMark - Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark tests that the Galaxy Core Prime falls far behind the top-tier Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 in graphics processing. While the Core Prime plays casual games and popular titles just fine (especially since many games are optimized for mobile), these numbers make it clear that it lacks the sheer horsepower of premium devices.

Battery life

Samsung says the Core Prime's 2,000mAh battery will last for up to 10 hours on 3G talk time, up to 9 hours on video playback, and up to 11 hours of Wi-Fi Internet time. In CNET's continuous looping video test, the Core Prime's performance exceeded expectations, lasting 10 hours each in both tests.

Of course, it could last longer or shorter for you, depending on how you use your phone. Streaming videos and live maps navigation uses resources (and data!) at a faster rate than, say, sending texts. Either way, the phone should last a full 8-hour work day without causing you consternation, though you'll need to plan to charge it completely at least once per day.

Network speeds and call quality

  • LTE-ready
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 b, g, n

I tested the Galaxy Core Prime in the San Francisco Bay Area on Verizon, which has a pretty strong network in my area (you may not share the same experience).

The Speedtest.net diagnostic app measured consistently high data speeds that usually hovered between 30 and 40Mbps downlink, with upload speeds typically in the 20Mbps range. Of course, there were some dips as well, into single-digit territory; coverage variations happen.

Real-world tests pretty much support the app's findings, with pages loading quickly through LTE. Large files took longer to download over Verizon's network, just like they would with any network. Videos and music also streamed without hiccups.

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Diagnostic speeds on the Ookla Speedtest.net app were pretty good in my testing area. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Wi-Fi protocols support 2.4GHz networks rather than faster 5GHz networks, so keep in mind that uploads and downloads won't be quite as fast as your peers with top-tier handsets. Very large files, like a movie file, will take much longer to download, depending on the file size.

I tested the Core Prime's call quality in San Francisco. Calls were generally static-free, though voices sounded a tad muffled and robotic on both sides. Otherwise, volume came across strong at the middle of the scale, and distortion was scarce. As always, it's tricky to separate network performance in a certain area from the phone's hardware capabilities, so just understand that your experience might differ.

Is this the entry-level Android phone to buy?

Samsung's Galaxy Core Prime is about as simple a smartphone as you can find anywhere. If that's what you're looking for, the Core Prime's low $168 price on Verizon and $130 cost on MetroPCS will certainly draw you. It's a one of the best options for MetroPCS in this price bracket, and the phone I'd probably pick (the next best phone I'd recommend, the LG Stylo , which costs twice the price.)

However, for Verizon customers, a few dollars more can pocket you a phone with better features and performance.

For Verizon customers, the LG Lucid 3 ($200) shares most of the Core Prime's specs, but with slightly larger screen (4.7 inches versus 4.5), slightly better resolution (960x540-pixels versus 800x480), and higher-capacity battery (2,440mAh versus 2,000mAh). The Lucid 3 also bests the Core Prime with 1080pHD video (versus 720p) and built-in wireless charging. Its only downside is the 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera, versus the Core Prime's 2-megapixel shooter.

The smaller screen size makes this phone easier to pocket. Josh Miller/CNET

You should also seriously consider Verizon's Microsoft Lumia 735 ($192). For about $25 more, you get a much clearer screen that's only a little larger (1,280x720p) and a higher-resolution camera combo (6.7-megapixels on the back, 5-megapixels on the front). If you frequently use Google services, or plan to download a lot of third-party apps, Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system won't work well for you. If you like to keep things simple, the Lumia 735 is the better phone.

If you don't mind going off-carrier, the Motorola Moto E 4G LTE is a slightly cheaper buy at $150 off-contract. It shares nearly identical specs with the Core Prime at a much lower cost. The Core Prime's 2-megapixel front-facing camera does beat out the Moto E's 0.3-megapixel selfie shooter. That said, the GSM-only phone won't work with Verizon's CDMA network technology, so you'd need to buy a separate SIM card and plan.

While the Galaxy Core Prime is fine for what it is, I recommend going with one of those other handsets.

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6.6

Samsung Galaxy Core Prime

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7Camera 6Battery 7