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

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MSRP: $139.99

The Good The T-Mobile Prism 2 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.

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6.5 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7

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

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.

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.

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

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