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T-Mobile Prism 2 review: Reliable 3G handset at a bargain

Lynn_La2.jpg

Improvements, no matter how incremental they are, are always welcome.

35798811_T-Mobile_Prism_2-7818.jpg
6.5

T-Mobile Prism 2

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The <b>T-Mobile Prism 2</b> clocked consistent and fast 3G speeds, it's reasonably priced, and its 3.2-megapixel camera takes decent pictures.

The Bad

The Prism 2 is slow, with a low-resolution screen and a low call volume, and its camera lacks a flash.

The Bottom Line

Get the T-Mobile Prism 2 if you want an inexpensive and dependable 3G phone, but skip it if you prioritize speedy performance.

The T-Mobile Prism 2 from Huawei, for example, shows marked improvements compared with its predecessor, the Prism. Though both are marketed as inexpensive, low-spec devices, this most recent iteration has Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, a bumped-up processor (from 600MHz to 1GHz), and a marginally beefed-up, 1,750mAh battery. And despite it retaining the same amount of megapixels in the camera, I noticed that the Prism 2 took better photos.

Given all this, fans of the original handset won't be disappointed with the sequel. Especially since it's competitively priced at $115.99. However, if you're in the market for a higher-tiered phone that has blazing 4G speeds, a zippy processor, and an amazing screen, you won't find it here.

Design
Save for the rubbery, matte battery door, the T-Mobile Prism 2 struts an all-plastic glossy aesthetic that looks deliberately toylike. Especially given the neon-green ring that encircles the camera lens in the rear, the device has a subtle "youthful" look that still feels rather cheap.

At 4.6 inches tall and 2.44 inches wide, weighing 3.88 ounces, it's compact, light, and easy to control with just one hand. However, its 0.49-inch profile is thick, and the hefty two-layer chin below the display adds to its bulk.

T-Mobile Prism 2 (chin)
The Prism 2's large chin makes it the Jay Leno of smartphones. Josh Miller/CNET

On the left is a Micro-USB port for charging, up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a sleep/power button, and on the right is a slim volume rocker.

The 3.5-inch HVGA screen has a 480-by-320-pixel resolution. While adequately responsive to touch, needless to say, it's not the crispest of displays. Yes, text and icons are legible and easy to make out, but you'll see aliasing around the edges of individual letters and graphics. Default wallpaper photographs show plenty of color banding, and pictures look grainy up close. And given that the touch screen isn't very bright, it was really difficult to read in direct sunlight, as it had a narrow viewing angle and the screen was dim. I didn't have much trouble viewing it indoors, however. Below the display are three hot keys that glow white when in use for back, home, and menu.

The back houses the 3.2-megapixel camera lens that lacks a flash. Below that is a small narrow slit for the audio speaker. To remove the battery door, pry in the indentation at the very bottom of the handset. Once the door's removed, you gain access to the 1,750mAh battery. Unfortunately, you'll need to take the battery out if you want to insert a 32GB microSD card in the slot.

The budget-friendly T-Mobile Prism 2 (pictures)

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Software features
Given how bare-bones this phone is, it's nice to see that it ships with the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system right out of the box.

As such, you'll get your usual slew of Google apps: Chrome, Gmail, Search, Plus, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, access to the Play store's Books, Magazines, Movies & TV, and Music portals, Talk, and YouTube.

T-Mobile Prism 2 (apps)
With just four preloaded apps, T-Mobile included less of its own bloatware in this device than in the first Prism. Josh Miller/CNET

Basic apps include native browser and e-mail clients, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a notepad, a sound recorder, a voice dialer, and voice search. You'll also get some less common apps, like an FM radio, a Wi-Fi setup shortcut, an app offering tips on how to use your Prism 2, and a wireless emergency alerts app called WEA.

T-Mobile loaded a conservative number of its apps in as well. T-Mobile My Account gives you information about your phone and data plan; a trial subscription to the caller ID service Name ID; visual voice mail; and lastly, a 30-day trial to T-Mobile TV. This is a service via which you can stream live TV from channels like Fox News and ESPN, and download culturally significant shows like "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

The device also has 512MB of RAM, 4GB of ROM, mobile hot-spotting, and Bluetooth 4.0.

Camera and video
The 3.2-megapixel camera features a few photo options. These include a digital zoom, geotagging, a new panoramic shooting mode, five color effects, five white balances, five ISO options, a timer, three photo qualities, three photo sizes (ranging from 640x480 to 2,048x1,536 pixels), and compositional lines.

The video recorder has even fewer options. You'll only get the same white balance, zooming, and geotagging options, and you'll get two video sizes (from VGA to MMS).

Though the original Prism and this version both have a 3.2-megapixel camera, photo quality on the newer model appeared to be markedly improved. Yes, the lack of touch focus makes it difficult to get certain objects looking sharp, and photos still had some blurry edges. But objects looked a bit more in focus, colors were slightly brighter, and overall, pictures looked less pixelated. And while the camera remains slow compared with the ones you find on more powerful devices, I felt like the time it took to refresh itself for another photo was shorter than on the first Prism.

T-Mobile Prism 2 (indoor)
In this well-lit indoor shot, colors are muted and whites are blown-out. Lynn La/CNET

T-Mobile Prism 2 (outdoor)
In this outdoor photo, the details in the grass blend together, and dark hues are hard to distinguish. Lynn La/CNET

T-Mobile Prism 2 (outdoor 2)
This alternative outdoor shot of flowers shows a wide range of bright colors. Lynn La/CNET

T-Mobile Prism 2 (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, I'm pleased to see no subtle tinges against the white background. Josh Miller/CNET

Video recording was also solid, but nothing to write home about. Because the camera needed a few moments to adjust for focus, lighting was a bit everywhere. In addition, you can see frame rates registered lower than real time, so if you looked really carefully, video could come off a bit choppy. In general, however, objects were easy to distinguish and audio picked up well.

Performance
I tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) handset in our San Francisco offices and call quality was good. None of my calls dropped, I didn't hear any extraneous buzzing or noises, and audio didn't clip in and out. My biggest gripe about call quality, however, was that volume wasn't loud enough. Even when the volume was turned all the way up, my friend's voice sounded a bit low. The speaker yielded similar results; I had to hold the phone closer to my ear than I expected in order to hear anything.

As for me, I was told that I sounded fine and clear. My friend didn't pick up any noise or static on my end, either, and I was easily understood.

T-Mobile Prism 2 call quality sample

Listen now:

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Despite lacking 4G, the device clocked data speeds that were consistent and rather fast for 3G. On average, it loaded our CNET mobile site in about 12 seconds and our full desktop site in about 28 seconds. The New York Times' mobile and desktop sites took about 10 and 30 seconds to load, respectively. ESPN's mobile site downloaded in about 9 seconds and it took 18 seconds to load the full site. It took just 2 minutes and 18 seconds on average to download the 33.41MB game Temple Run 2, and the Ookla speed-test app showed me an average of 1.04Mbps down and 1.15Mbps up.

T-Mobile Prism 2 Performance
Average 3G download speed 1.04Mbps
Average 3G upload speed 1.15Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 33.41MB in 2 minutes and 18 seconds
CNET mobile site load 12 seconds
CNET desktop site load 28 seconds
Power-off and restart time 1 minute and 16 seconds
Camera boot time 3.5 seconds

Although the Prism 2's 1GHz single-core processor can execute daily (but necessary) tasks smoothly, you'll notice a little bit of lag with most of the things it does. Actions like unlocking the lock screen, bringing up the keyboard, and switching from portrait to landscape mode and vice versa always took a hair longer than I'd like. It took about a minute for the device to start up the first level of Temple Run 2, but afterward the game didn't stall or quit unexpectedly. On average, it took about 3.5 seconds to launch the camera and 1 minute and 16 seconds to power off and restart the handset.

During our battery drain test for talk-time, the 1,750mAh battery lasted 9.75 hours, and has an adequate usage time. It lasted all weekend on standby with 40 percent of its juice left, and with medium usage it can last a workday without a charge. It has a reported talk time of 7 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 1.385W/kg.

Conclusion
If you want a T-Mobile phone with fast data speeds and fast processing speeds, you'll need to fork over more than twice the money you'd pay for the Prism 2. There's nothing wrong with desiring those features, but that's the reality. The dual-core LG Optimus L9, for example, is one of the carrier's cheapest 4G devices, and it costs $240.

If that's over your budget, consider the Prism 2. Yes, you'll only get the carrier's 3G network, but the speeds are consistent and decent. As one of the only two smartphones from T-Mobile that are under $200, it's an excellent value. I'd prefer it over the carrier's $153.99 Samsung Gravity Q, not only because the latter's battery is smaller, but also because it doesn't run Android, packs only a 2-megapixel camera, and has a meager helping of internal storage capacity.

35798811_T-Mobile_Prism_2-7818.jpg
6.5

T-Mobile Prism 2

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 7