The Samsung Galaxy Fame sports stylish Samsung looks but is let down by a poor screen and slow speed.
The world might stir itself into a hectic fervor over the release of flagship smart phones like the Galaxy S4, but these devices come with elite features, monstrous engines and whopping price tags. If your phone needs are more modest, there's no need to throw away so much cash.
Samsung's Galaxy range of smart phones is constantly expanding, with a whole host of slightly differing models aimed at every segment of the market. The Galaxy Fame is towards the bottom end of the range, sporting a 3.5-inch screen, 1GHz single-core processor and a 5-megapixel camera.
It's available now for £110 on pay as you go.
Are you absolutely obsessed with putting the Samsung name in your pocket, but don't have the cash to splash on the elite Galaxy S4? If so, then the Fame is worth checking out. With a design very reminiscent of the Galaxy S3, the Fame is one of the best-looking budget mobiles around.
It's running Android Jelly Bean and has a 5-megapixel camera that's easily good enough for those arty Instagram snaps. From there though, things go rather downhill.
Its 3.5-inch screen has an unimpressive resolution and awful viewing angles that make the colours distort unless you're holding it square on. The 1GHz single-core processor provides very little power, often resulting in an stuttery experience.
For similar money, you can pick up the LG Optimus L5 II. Its processing power is similar but its screen is much nicer. Alternatively, the Nokia Lumia 620 is one of the best budget mobiles around, boasting a great screen, sleek, attractive Windows Phone 8 software and colourful, interchangeable cases.
Design and build quality
It's immediately noticeable that the Fame has taken a fistful of design cues from the Galaxy S3. It shares the same 'Pebble Blue' (or Marble White) colouring and comes with very similar faux metal edging around the sides. The S3's chrome-effect speaker grille is in place too, as is the chrome-edged home button on the bottom.
The Fame is certainly among the more attractive budget phones -- particularly when you put it against the miserable Huawei Ascend G510 -- but it's unlikely to convince anyone you've spent top dollar on it. The size gives it away for one. It's 113mm long and 62mm wide, which is very small compared to most smart phones. It's easy to wrap your fingers around though, and the rounded back makes it comfortable to hold in one hand.
It's 11.5mm thick which is pretty chubby, but about what you should expect on a low-end mobile. Build quality is generally fine. The all-plastic construction and glossy back feel about as cheap as the S3's does. It's far from premium, but nor will it fall apart at the first sign of trouble. The screen doesn't use hardened Gorilla Glass, so I worry that it might be more susceptible to small scuffs from keys over time.
Around the edges is the power button, a 3.5mm headphone jack and the micro-USB port for charging and data transfer. Under the back casing is where you'll get access to the SIM-card slot and the microSD card slot to expand the internal storage.
You'll really need to make use of the SD card slot as the Fame only has 2GB of usable storage space. If you plan on taking lots of photos and videos or saving music locally, you'll want to spring for at least a 16GB card. Even so, Android Jelly Bean doesn't let you install apps to SD cards, so you'll have to be very careful about what apps you install. There's really only room for the everyday essentials -- glossy games such as N.O.V.A 3 are too big to fit on the phone.
The Fame has a 3.5-inch screen, which is very much on the small side for most smart phones. On the one hand, that does mean the phone is much more comfortable to hold than the biggest smart phone brutes (I'm looking at you, Galaxy Note 2). The downside of course is there's less room to show off photos, video and apps. There's also less room for the on-screen keyboard, so if you've got chunky fingers I suggest having a try in a shop before you spend your money.
It has a resolution of 320x480 pixels, which is the absolute minimum I'd hope to see on any new phone. LG's Optimus L3 II had an appalling 320x240 pixels, which made most tasks highly unpleasant. The Fame's display is better, but it's still not great.
The extra pixels make the screen much sharper than the L3 II's, but icons are still a little fuzzy and small text on Web pages isn't clear until you zoom in. It shows off Facebook and Twitter well enough, but it's not going to do justice to your ebook library.
That's not helped either by the awful viewing angles. From square on, the screen isn't too bad, but viewing it from even a moderate off-centre angle and the colour distorts horribly. It's not a phone for people to crowd around, nor will it be good for casual video watching when you don't want to keep it -- or your face -- rigidly held in place.
It's at least fairly bright and the colours aren't too bad when you get them at the right angle. It has rather a cold colour cast to it, but I've seen worse displays on similarly priced phones.
Software and performance
The Fame comes running Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, which is the most recent version but one of Google's operating system for phones and tablets. The layout and operation is much the same as any other Android device so existing 'droiders will be immediately at home. It's simple to get to grips with too -- if you're nervous about taking your first steps into the smart phone world, the Fame's interface shouldn't be something to put you off.
You'll have a total of three homescreens to fill up with apps and widgets. That's not very many, so you'll have to be quite selective about what you want to give pride of place on the front. Anything that doesn't make the cut gets put into a grid in the app list. Along the bottom are three customisable app icons to give quick access to essential tools.
The swipe-down notifications bar lets you change crucial settings like brightness, Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth. It makes it very easy to turn functions on or off without having to dive into settings menus.
The interface might look neat and simple, but it's let down by a weedy 1GHz processor that seems to struggle with even basic tasks. Swiping around the homescreens was often juddery, particularly when I'd dropped down various widgets. Pulling down the notification bar and loading menus was stuttery and bringing up the multi-tasking list was subject to an inexcusable delay of several seconds.
It achieved 476 on the Geekbench benchmark test, which is far from impressive. LG's Optimus L5 II -- a similarly priced mobile -- achieved 564 on the same test, and that didn't give a smooth ride either. It will cope adequately with the essential texting, tweeting and stalking your ex on Facebook, but it's far from swift, which could quickly become an annoyance.
It will just about manage basic mobile games like Angry Birds, Cut The Rope or Temple Run, but it struggled with the more graphically demanding Beach Buggy Blitz. If you're looking for a mobile gaming device, you'll have to splash more cash on a more powerful phone.
Samsung has slapped a 1,300mAh battery into the Fame. That's not very big, but the small, low-res screen and single-core processor don't demand much juice to run.
Samsung quotes up to 6 hours of 3G talktime, which I'd say is about right. In my own use, I found the Fame to be pretty much the same as most phones. The battery quickly started to trickle away when streaming YouTube videos, but it held its charge fairly well on standby.
Keep the brightness down and avoid doing anything too demanding and you shouldn't struggle too much to eke out a day of use. Like all smart phones though, you'll need to give it a charge at night.
You'll find a 5-megapixel camera on the back of the Fame, which is fairly decent for a budget phone. Results aren't bad either. On my first test shot of our pool table (yes, we have a pool table), The Fame was able to achieve a good overall exposure, and noise levels were kept to a minimum, even in the shadowy areas.
Exposure: decent. Image noise: minimal (click image to enlarge).
On my second test, the Fame proved to have a good handle on colour reproduction too. The bright reds and yellows appear very vivid, but there is a reduction in quality towards the right of the image.
Colours seemed bold too. I've definitely had worse results from similarly priced phones (click image to enlarge).
The Fame isn't going to be your ticket to photography stardom, but it's perfectly good enough for some quick snaps of your friends in the park. There's a rubbish 640x480-pixel front-facing camera on the device too for video calling your mates.
With its familiar Galaxy S3-style looks, decent camera and affordable price tag, the Fame is a pretty good budget Samsung. It's let down by its poor performance and unimpressive screen, though -- two things that will have a big impact on your time with the phone.
Unless you're absolutely set on getting a new Samsung Galaxy phone, your money might be more sensibly spent elsewhere.