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Samsung Galaxy Light review: Steady performer for the price

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MSRP: $240.00

The Good The Samsung Galaxy Light gives you 4G LTE, a decent processor, and a pocket-friendly form for under $250. Call quality is strong, too.

The Bad Camera images seemed dull and soft on the Light's 5-megapixel shooter, and the 4-inch screen makes the virtual keyboard feel cramped.

The Bottom Line Buy the Samsung Galaxy Light if you're looking for Android on a budget -- just be aware that you're trading price for performance.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

If you're seeking an affordable Android phone on T-Mobile, the Samsung Galaxy Light is a serious choice. There's nothing flashy or even particularly interesting about a this 4-inch, entry-level smartphone that just looks like a slightly mutated Samsung Galaxy S3. Still, its 4G LTE is pretty fast, the screen is bright and colorful, and Samsung has filled it with many of the software extras you come to expect on its phones.

Its $240 all-in price puts the Light at the bottom end of the price range, which is exactly where it belongs. It isn't the least expensive device that the carrier sells -- you can get the LG Optimus F3 for $168 and the Nokia Lumia 521 for $150 -- but it does slide in under the QWERTY-equipped LG Optimus F3Q for $312 and the much better appointed Nexus 5 for $396.

If you don't want to pay the full cost up front, T-Mobile lets you buy the phone for $0 down, and $10 per month for 24 months.

Design and build
Peer at it from just the right angle in just the right lighting and you can make out the Galaxy Light's cocoa-brown color winking at you. Most of the time, though, it just looks generically dark gray or muddy black, though always gleaming with the high-gloss finish that Samsung's been using for years now.

Although it's a tad thick (0.4-inch), it's a compact device with a 4-inch display. The handset itself has rounded shoulders and stands 4.8 inches tall and 2.5 inches wide. It's the first phone in a long time that sinks into my back pocket, though it'll still be a tight squeeze in snug slacks with peewee front pockets. The Light feels good on my ear, and at 4.3 ounces, it isn't too hefty.

The Samsung Galaxy Light fits easily in your hand and pockets. Josh Miller/CNET

Its 4-inch AMOLED display is colorful as always when you glance at the screen and at Web sites, with bright hues that shine out in an 800x480-pixel screen resolution (233 ppi). Although we're seeing ever-higher pixel densities these days on high-end phones, this resolution is appropriate for a 4-inch screen. Sure, it isn't as crisp as an iPhone 4, but you'll be able to read Web pages and take in Facebook albums without strain. The smaller screen means a tinier virtual keyboard that lets you either trace or peck out words.

Below the display, Samsung has adjusted the dimensions of the Light's capsule-shaped physical home button to make it taper at the ends. This gives the impression of a slightly bigger target space in the center of the button. The capacitive Menu and Back buttons lie on either side. You press and hold Home to see your recent apps, double-press to open Samsung's S Voice app, and press and hold the Back button for Google Now.

Ports and buttons fall into the standard Samsung locations, with the power button on the right spine, the Micro-USB charging port on the bottom, the slim volume rocker on the left, and the headset jack up on top. Flip the phone over to locate the 5-megapixel camera and LED flash. Behind the back cover, you can remove the battery and also slide in a microSD card, up to 64GB at the upper limit.

OS and apps
If you define the word as "scant" and not as "illuminating," Light is a descriptive term for the phone's features haul. Samsung paints the Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS with its own TouchWiz layer, which gives the phone a specific look and feel, plus a few additional features that you'll find sprinkled around, like gesture controls.

A slightly thicker phone, the Light manages to avoid feeling overly bulky. Josh Miller/CNET

Apart from the basics from Google, T-Mobile and Samsung preload their own apps for managing your T-Mobile account and finding Samsung apps, for instance. Partner apps are really kept to a minimum this time around, which is a nice change from the norm. Lookout mobile phone security is one exception; this app pins to your notifications bar and is hard to cancel -- you'll need to disable it if you'd rather take your chances.

GPS, Wi-Fi, and standard communications standards are a given. The Light's Bluetooth version is nice and current at 4.0, and the phone supports DLNA, Wi-Fi calling, and HD Voice. NFC is here too, and steps in as the major protocol behind the preloaded Isis mobile wallet for making mobile payments at participating cash registers. In addition, you'll find VPN, a voice recorder, and T-Mobile's subscription TV service that you can opt into for $13 per month.

Cameras and video
The Light's 5-megapixel camera is blessed with an LED flash, panorama, and several other modes. It has loads of presets you can adjust to tweak image quality, but if you're a stickler for high-quality photos, this isn't your smartphone.

The 5-megapixel camera has flash and touch autofocus, and captures 720p HD video. Josh Miller/CNET

Images on the Light were absolutely adequate, but the camera dulled colors, while images sometimes looked too "soft." Photos generally looked better outdoors rather than in, and the strong flash should be used judiciously, especially in atmospherically-lit areas. The shooter will autofocus for you, just not continuously, so it'll take time to refocus between shots, which might result in you losing your moment.

Unless you enjoy the grainy, choppily airbrushed look of the Light's front-facing VGA camera, you should plan on avoiding selfies and video chats.

The 720p HD video capture won't look as smooth or detailed on the Light as clips taken at 1080p HD resolutions on other phones, but this handset at least faithfully captured the scene. Colors were still a tad dull, and the camera didn't adjust for new lighting situations as the video changed scenes, but the microphone picked up my voice loudly and clearly while I narrated the action. Video presets and options are minimal but include shortening the length to make it fit an SMS.

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