Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime review: Top of the sub-$200 Android class

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The Good The Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime has LTE and front and rear cameras that turn out decent photos.

The Bad Its low screen resolution makes videos and games look pixelated, and download speeds are on the slow side.

The Bottom Line Feature-rich cameras and an attractive build help push Cricket's prepaid Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime past other budget rivals that also cost under $200.

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

Considering that premium phones like the fully featured Samsung Galaxy S6 start at around $600, it's pretty amazing what a sub-$200 handset like the Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime can do given its budget specs.

For $180 from prepaid carrier (and AT&T subsidiary) Cricket, the Grand Prime brings you in one of the more decked-out phones of this price tier: a 5-inch screen, 8-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel front-facing camera and 1,080p HD video capture.

Now, the deal isn't quite so great on Sprint, which will sell the Grand Prime starting July 10 for $240 all-in, or $30 with a two-year service agreement. Buyers can also spread out payments for $10 per month for 24 months.

You're still getting last season's Android (4.4 KitKat), and lower-end hardware -- like a smaller battery and limited storage -- that help Samsung hit that low price point. While there are several worthy competitors in this space, read this review (or skip to the conclusion) to find out why the Galaxy Grand Prime tops the class.

Design and build

  • 5-inch, 960x540-pixel TFT (220ppi)
  • 5.7 x 2.8 x 0.34 inches (144.8 x 72.1 x 8.6 millimeters)
  • 5.5 ounces (156 grams)

Like a lot of recent budget handsets these days, the Galaxy Grand Prime manages to come across as attractive and approachable without looking "cheap." Its glossy off-white face pairs with a pearlescent back cover. Silver accents rim the perimeter, home button and camera mount.

Samsung likes to place the power/lock button on the right spine, which balances out the volume rocker on the left, the Micro-USB charging port down below and the headset jack up top. Its camera lens sits in the middle of the back, with the LED flash to the left. The front-facing lens roosts on the right side of the phone above the screen.

The Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime comes in white for Cricket Wireless. James Martin/CNET

Popping off the back cover reveals the Micro-SIM card holder. To slide in a microSD card, however, you'll have to first pull out the battery.

Circling back to the screen, you'll find it bordered by a white bezel and rimmed with a thin deep black frame. That's because the TFT screen itself appears light gray. The resolution is incredibly low for a screen this large -- 960x540 pixels compared with the 2014 Moto G's 1,280x720p resolution.

Its comparatively low pixel density won't ruin basic text reading and social networking on the Galaxy Grand Prime, but it does render the screen especially dim in bright sunlight and makes fingerprint smudges harder to ignore. More importantly, photos will lose some crispness and detail, and those resource-heavy videos and games, like music videos and movie trailers, often look choppy and pixelated.

OS and apps

An Android 4.4 KitKat phone, the Grand Prime isn't as up-to-date as Android 5.0 Lollipop, but it's still fast and has critical features like Google Now.

Underneath this battery resides the Grand Prime's microSD card slot. James Martin/CNET

The version of Samsung's TouchWiz layer that the phone uses on top of Android is a little more basic that it would be on other devices. For instance, there's no automatic brightness gauge and no gesture support, though you can still print from the Grand Prime and turn on ultra-power-saving mode to stretch the last of your battery reserves to hours; there's also NFC.

Preloaded apps are a reality for any phone you buy through a carrier, though the Galaxy Grand Prime's preinstall haul is surprisingly lean. Cricket's complement of management apps meets a few Samsung titles, like Milk (for music) and a folder for Galaxy Apps. Besides that, you'll get the usual Google basics.

Camera quality

  • 8-megapixel camera
  • 1,080p HD video (30fps)
  • 5-megapixel front-facing camera

The Grand Prime's shooter goes head to head with the Motorola Moto G (2014), and edges it out thanks to higher resolutions for both the video and selfie lens. For this price point, decent 8-megapixel photo captures are about the best you can expect, and that's what you get.

Autofocus is immeasurably helpful, although not every photo came out focused. I'll accept a certain amount of user error for that, but some pictures were unexpectedly blurry, even with the lens wiped clean. These are images that looked clear on the phone screen, but woefully the opposite when opened on the computer monitor. Shots taken outdoors or in natural light looked the best, with the quality degrading in low-light pictures.

The 8-megapixel camera on the back takes decent shots overall. James Martin/CNET

Although resolution goes up to 8 megapixels, the native app defaults to 6 megapixels. You'll need to manually change that. Samsung includes important modes like panorama and HDR, along with burst and night modes, and a tool that lets you use the rear camera to take a self-portrait.

Video captured at 1080p HD and played back smoothly, with focus adjusting as the scene changed.

If it's effects and filters you want, you'll need to download a photo editor. Strangely, Samsung didn't preload this, but there is a shortcut within the camera app to download the Samsung editor. Otherwise, you can use any other third-party app.

Samsung has thrown a lot into selfies for this device. You can trigger the front-facing camera with your palm or voice command (like "cheese"). Multiple modes mean you can also set up a wide selfie for a larger group, or create an animated GIF. Three separate sliders let you artificially adjust the degree of airbrushing, facial slimness and the size of your eyes. You know, if that's your thing.

Image quality was so-so for the selfie, which isn't always terrible depending on how detailed you like those portraits. I noticed that even with the airbrushing turned totally off, the Grand Prime's front-facing camera still imparted some of that soft effect.

Click to enlarge the photo samples below.

I wouldn't suggest trying to go macro on objects, but these flowers did come out nicely when I closed in on them. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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