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Samsung Galaxy Light review: Steady performer for the price

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You can compare standard studio shots in this photo gallery with pictures taken with other smartphones.

Photos taken outside appear brighter and more colorful. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Even when focusing on Vanessa's face, her features appear softer than they should. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
I definitely noticed that colors dulled on the screen in this shot. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Here's CNET's standard studio shot, taken indoors with flash. You can see the flash reflected in the image's center. Click to enlarge. Josh Miller/CNET

Speeds: Network, battery, and processor
LTE speeds on the Galaxy Light ranged from OK to outstanding when measured via the diagnostic app During more prime-time hours, download speeds stayed in the single digits; but in the earlier morning hours when I had the network all to myself, they hovered around 13Mbps down and even spiked at 44Mbps down. Upload speeds consistently stayed in the lower to upper teens.

In real-world scenarios, T-Mobile's network performed admirably, with Web pages loading up quickly enough and images downloading. Videos streamed just fine for me, though your experience always depends on the network strength and congestion exactly where you are.

I tested network speed using the app, and processing power using Quadrant. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

In an unusual turn vis a vis the rest of the specs, the Galaxy Light amps things up -- at least on paper -- with a 1.4GHz quad-core processor. As with network data speeds, I used a diagnostic app, Quadrant, to check processor performance. The result, a score of 8,500, is a bit faster than the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini (7,398) and just about on par with Motorola's Droid Maxx (8,804). Still, it's far behind a phone like the HTC One, which posted a score of 11,862.

These results are here for guidance, but the real test is how the phone works in your hands.

Navigation and app loading were fast enough not to really notice any lag, though I wasn't bowled over by the speed at which things happened, either. Still, laggy processing power is a major complaint that keeps popping up for phones of this class, so as far as I'm concerned, the absence of frustration is a win.

Samsung Galaxy Light T-Mobile
Install CNET mobile app (5MB) 20 seconds
Load up CNET mobile app 8.8 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5.7 seconds
CNET desktop site load 17.3 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 22 seconds
Camera boot time 3 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time About 3 seconds, with autofocus

Gameplay for the graphically heavy Riptide GP2, however, wasn't as immersive or richly detailed on the Galaxy Light as it is on other, better-appointed smartphones. It just didn't have the same crispness, smoothness, or even pop of color. Comparatively, the whole thing seemed dulled. Then again, the game didn't lag, start, or crash, which is the main thing.

The Light has a smaller storage capacity as these things go, 8GB of ROM. However, you can expand that storage to 64GB. It has 1GB RAM.

A 1,800mAh battery gives you a rated talk time of 12.5 hrs and 19 days standby time. During our lab test for continuous talk time, the device lasted 9.65 hours.

If you keep tabs on radiation, the Galaxy Light has a digital SAR of 1.18 watts per kilogram.

Call quality
Call quality was pretty impressive when I tested the Light on T-Mobile's GSM network (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) here in San Francisco. Volume was strong at about three-quarters capacity, with just a tiny bit of distortion. My test partner's voice lacked a touch of warmth, but beyond that he sounded human and familiar, and very clear.

My test partner agreed that the call was clear and comfortably loud, with a small amount of distortion that gave me, in his words, a "dull, canned sound." He said I sounded like the higher frequencies in my voice were being cut off or stripped away. As with my experience, the line was completely clear of buzzes, hiccups, and other interruptions.

Samsung Galaxy Light call quality sample Listen now:

The speakerphone wasn't bad when I held the phone at hip level. Volume stayed strong, but I did notice that the voice quality shifted, making it sound like my caller's voice jumped an octave. I heard a little echo and a faint, repeating crackle, but not so much as to risk impeding the conversational flow. My partner agreed that speakerphone volume was consistently good, and that he detected only a little muffling. He was impressed that the phone didn't contribute to the speakerphone's natural echoing.

Buy it or skip it?
The Samsung Galaxy Light certainly isn't the only budget option you have with T-Mobile, but it's a good enough choice to keep you from running off to a rival carrier for a better selection. While nothing stands out about the Light, it doesn't fail in any one aspect, and the price is a very wallet-friendly $240, or $10 a month for two years. Yes, it's half the phone of, say, a Samsung Galaxy S4, but it's also half the price.

I have no qualms recommending the phone, so long as you know that you're getting purely entry-level hardware features and a slightly thicker, smaller in-hand feel. However, for $100 more, you can graduate up to the Nexus 5, which is a much more powerful experience that's still hundreds of dollars less than a premium phone. Definitely choose the Galaxy Light over other cheap T-Mobile Android offerings, like the Alcatel One Touch Fierce and Evolve.

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