T-Mobile Prism review: T-Mobile Prism

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MSRP: $219.99

The Good T-Mobile Prism has a competitive price, decent call quality, and solid data speeds.

The Bad The Prism's camera quality is poor, the screen has a low resolution, and its processor is sluggish.

The Bottom Line If you're looking for your first 3G smartphone, the T-Mobile Prism will deliver basic calling, texting, and Web-browsing requirements all for $20. Just don't expect blazing speeds or great photos.

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6.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Manufactured by Huawei and distributed by T-Mobile, the Prism is an inexpensive solution to your Android needs. Targeted specifically for first-time smartphone buyers, this handset won't give you the fastest processor or the most gorgeous resolution. However, it might give you peace of mind, since you'll have a decent device in your hand and some dough leftover, too.

As of now, the Prism is going for the reasonably low price of $19.99 after you agree to a two-year contract with T-Mobile and send in a $50 mail-in rebate card. If you're more comfortable not signing a contract, the handset will set you back $149.99.

The T-Mobile Prism comes in two colors, red and gray. It's 4.58 inches tall, 2.31 inches wide, 0.48 inch thick, and weighs 4.4 ounces. The device has a nice, sturdy build, feels compact in the hand, and it fits comfortably in my jean pocket. At the very bottom of the handset is a Micro-USB port, and on the left side is a volume rocker. Up top and dead center is a 3.5mm headphone jack. Next to that is a sleep/power button.

The backing is made from a soft-coated plastic. I'm a fan of this material because it gives the phone a more luxurious feel than just plain plastic. Also, it doesn't trap fingerprints like other glossy surfaces. At the center of it is a camera lens. Unfortunately, the device isn't equipped with a flash or a front-facing camera. Located down below on the left side are two small grid openings for the output speaker. Behind the battery cover you can access the 2GB microSD card, which is expandable up to 32GB, and the 1,400mAh lithium ion battery.

T-Mobile Prism's back side is made of a matte plastic material that keeps fingerprints off. Josh Miller/CNET

The Prism's 3.5-inch capacitive touch screen has a resolution of 320x480 pixels, and is capable of showing 262 thousand hues. Don't expect to see images with smooth edges and rich color. Small text on the device's Highlight news widget was hard to read, and even simple menu icons showed some noticeable pixelation. In addition to that, default wallpaper images were grainy. Luckily, the screen was responsive. I didn't notice any lag when scrolling through my app drawer, flipping through my homescreen pages, or texting with Swype (which comes preloaded).

Above the display is a small metal accent for the in-ear speaker. An LED indicator light is located to the left of that. You can choose to have it blink on and off for notifications. Below the display are the four usual home, menu, back, and search keys.

Unfortunately, with a half inch of plastic between the four menu buttons and the bottom edge of the handset there's too much bezel space below the screen. That's just a waste of space. On the other hand, I'm fond of the phone's tapered edges at the bottom, and the brushed chrome accent that runs along the edges.

Features The T-Mobile Prism is powered by a 600MHz Qualcomm processor, which doesn't make it fast by any means. It carried out basic tasks like changing the device from portrait to landscape mode or entering text in a reasonable amount of time.

Yet, other actions such as opening the camera app or waking the display dragged on a few seconds more than they should. Also, when I scrolled up and down a picture of Kim Kardashian on the Web browser, the lagging refresh rate made it appear that she had four eyes instead of two. Unfortunately, this feature did not double the amount of brain she usually works with.

The handset runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and is stocked with the standard lineup of Google apps. These include: Gmail, Search, Latitude, Maps with Navigation, Play, Talk, and YouTube.

It also has a slew T-Mobile specific apps, like the hotline (and for some reason, horoscope giving) app, 411 & More; Access T-Mobile, which gives you info about your phone and data plan; a gaming portal called Game Base; More for Me, which scouts local deals based on your interests; T-Mobile Mall, which lets you download ringtones, MP3s, and apps; a trial subscription to the caller ID service, Name ID; T-Mobile visual voice mail, and lastly, a 30-day trial to T-Mobile TV. This is a service where you can stream live TV from channels like Fox News and ESPN, and download shows like the ever-so gripping "Dance Moms Miami."

The Prism offers numerous preloaded apps aimed at T-Mobile customers. Josh Miller/CNET

Additional features include a Web browser, a clock with alarm functions, a calculator, a calendar, a second e-mail app, an FM radio, a music player, a news and weather app, a notepad, a voice dialer, and voice search. In addition, the handset's capable of making and receiving calls and messages over a Wi-Fi network.

The 3.2-megapixel camera features only a handful of photo options. Along with geo-tagging, a 2.8x digital zoom, and five white balance choices (auto, incandescent, daylight, fluorescent, and cloudy), it also has three picture qualities (superfine, fine, and normal), five color effects (none, mono, sepia, negative, and aqua), and five picture sizes ranging from 3-megapixels to QVGA.

The video recorder has even fewer options. You'll get the same color effects and white balance options, as well as four video-quality options (either 30 minutes of low- or high-quality video, MMS, or YouTube).