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

Cricket Wireless' $180 entry-level smartphone lures you in with its 8-megapixel shooter.

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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

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.

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7.0

Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime

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.

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.

Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime makes its move (pictures)

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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.

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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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It was extremely bright when I tried capturing the bee here. Colors are a little oversaturated, but it's a usable photo. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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Our standard studio shot had a noticeable blue cast, though focus is fairly good. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
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This squirmy baby was hard to capture on camera. While not perfectly in focus, the Grand Prime did OK. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Our standard studio shot had a noticeable blue cast, though focus is fairly good. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Hardware performance

  • 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 410
  • 8GB of storage
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 64GB of expandable storage
  • 2,600mAh removable battery

Considering its hardware limitations, the Galaxy Grand Prime is a good little performer. It booted up in about 20 seconds and felt responsive throughout. The camera launched within a few seconds as well, and auto-focus kicked in pretty quickly. Photos also rapidly fired.

Perhaps a combination of the screen and the processor -- quad-core may sound impressive, but this model is purposely lower-tier -- gameplay on graphically intense titles wasn't at its peak. The good news is that a lot of outfits optimize games for budget devices, so graphics are still engaging, if not the height of perfection.

Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime performance tests

Test 1Test 2Test 3
3DMark - Ice Storm Unlimited 4,5654,5484,557
GeekBench 3 1,4241,4601,433
Quadrant 12,14212,23812,251

Since storage and RAM are so low (this is expected on phones this price), that provision for a 64GB microSD card slot is going to be very important for prospective buyers. Storage space is relatively cheap, and a card gives you a place to offload your photos, videos, and bigger games without having to ruthlessly play favorites.

Now, a 2,600mAh battery isn't terribly impressive on its own, but it does top the Motorola Moto G (2014)'s 2,070mAh ticker in capacity and longevity. Motorola's lasted just under 9 hours; this Galaxy Grand Prime averaged 9.5 hours.

In real-world terms, you're looking at a work day on a fully charged battery, though you'll want to top it up midway through if you're planning to use it into the night without stopping to recharge.

Unlike the highest-end Samsung phones, this juice pack doesn't charge especially fast, so you'll need to plan on long stretches of refueling time if you deplete it during the day. I'd personally invest in an extra charger for work in addition to one for home.

Call quality and data

  • GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
  • LTE: 850 (band 5), 900 (band 8), 1800 (band 3), 2100 (band 1), 2600 (band 7) MHz
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b, g, n

First, the disclaimer. I tested the Galaxy Grand Prime here in San Francisco on Cricket's network, which also mostly uses AT&T's network, it's parent, as well.

Call quality was pretty good during my tests. I made appointments and conducted interviews, speaking for an average of 15 minutes per phone call. No calls dropped and I didn't hear major interruptions during the hustle and bustle of the day.

Put the phone in a quiet environment and listen for flaws, and you'll find them. Like many other Samsung phones, in noisy scenarios, you may want more volume than this one gives you. Just beware that the tucked-away extra volume booster amplifies every background crackle and hiss, not just voice audio. Speakerphone, while acceptable, echoes (although they all do to some degree).

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Results from the diagnostic Speedtest.net. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

A word on data speeds. The Grand Prime supports 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks rather than the much faster 5GHz technology. While this means slower Wi-Fi overall, good sites and apps optimize their pages to load quickly, so in real-life situations, you shouldn't notice unbearable delay.

The same goes for 4G speeds, to a point. Sites resolved in acceptable lengths on time, and photos and video uploaded and downloaded without incident. It's true that diagnostic test results in Speedtest.net did show much slower speeds than I'm used to with LTE. I saw double digits for upload speeds, but only single digits for download speeds, which usually register in the double digits for AT&T in San Francisco.

Te results could be a product of the kind of LTE radio used in the Grand Prime, or possibly the way AT&T maintains Cricket's network. It's very likely a combination of the two.

You should view these results as yet more proof of this handset's rank in the pyramid. In the end, I was able to do everything I wanted to online.

Buy it or skip it

The Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime is worth buying for Cricket's price (and a little less so for Sprint's $240 cost), but do your homework first; there's some strong competition in this under-$200 price range.

If you're looking to pay less, the Motorola Moto E 4G LTE is far more entry level across the board, but also costs much less ($130 retail, and closer to $80 on current promotions). That phone sells at Cricket and Boost Mobile.

For a larger device, the 5.7-inch Boost Max costs a bit less ($150 at the time of this review), but also has a slightly older version of the Android OS and a weaker front-facing camera (1 megapixel rather than 5).

The Galaxy Grand Prime competes with phones like the Motorola Moto G (2014). James Martin/CNET

T-Mobile's closest rival, the now-$150 LG Optimus L90 , has stepped-down camera specs (5 and 1 megapixels) and less storage space, though it does support Wi-Fi calling.

My other suggestion, if you're willing to pop into the $250 bracket, is Alcatel's new OneTouch Idol 3 , which delivers beefier specs for the camera, screen and processor and delivers strong value.

Still, the Grand Prime's LTE functionality and better-performing 5-megapixel lens up front push this phone past its sub-$200 rivals, including its closest competitor, the likable Motorola Moto G (2014). Also priced at $180, the Moto G has a higher screen resolution and similarly performing rear camera, though its 3G-only status is a personal deal breaker. Cricket's Grand Prime would be my pick of the litter, though if you're thinking of spending $240 for Sprint's version, the $250 unlocked Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is a stronger contender.

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7.0

Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6Camera 7Battery 6