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T-Mobile Prism review: T-Mobile Prism

T-Mobile Prism

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Lynn La
Lynn_La2.jpg

Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

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4 min read

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.

T-Mobile Prism
6.3

T-Mobile Prism

The Good

<b>T-Mobile Prism</b> 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.

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.

Design
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.

T-Mobile Prism Power (pictures)

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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).

Performance
I tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Prism in San Francisco using T-Mobile's network. Call quality was acceptable -- voices came off clearly in both indoor and outdoor calls, and there were no extraneous buzzing. Audio was continuous, as it didn't cut in and out, and none of my calls were dropped. My friends could hear me clearly and audio on my end was decent.

Listen now T-Mobile Prism call quality sample

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The camera's photo quality was expectedly poor. Because the processor isn't fast, the shutter speed is slow, as well. I had to hold the device very still after clicking the shutter to prevent motion blur. But even that didn't help much. The edges of objects were ill-defined, as if dabbed on with a paintbrush. Colors were dulled and objects were pixelated and grainy.

Even the large amount of outdoor sunlight couldn't help the blurry edges of this photo. Lynn La/CNET
In this indoor shot, colors were muted and the edges of the bricks and tiles bled together. Lynn La/CNET
Our standard studio shot shows images that are grainy and a low range of color. Lynn La/CNET

Video quality also was below par. During my shooting time, images were heavily pixelated and blurry. Colors were muted and grainy, too. Feedback lagged a little, but not so much that it was too bothersome. Audio came off as too sharp and harsh at times, though sounds could be heard at a decent volume. Since there's no focusing feature, lighting was over the place. Some objects were washed out while other dark objects were hard to distinguish.

For the most part, T-Mobile's network was reliable, and clocked in some decent 3G speeds. Loading the CNET mobile site took an average of just nine seconds, while loading our full site took 45 seconds. The New York Times full site took shorter on average, clocking in at 22 seconds, and its mobile site took a mere 11 seconds to load. ESPN’s mobile site took 12 seconds and its full site clocked in at 27 seconds to load on average. Ookla's Speedtest app, which is 2.99MB, took 21 seconds to install, and showed me an average of 3.17Mbps down and 0.19Mbps up.

The handset's reported talk time is 6.5 hours. During our battery drain tests, it lasted 8.32 hours. Anecdotally, battery life is satisfactory. I still had about a third of battery power left at the end of the day, after I surfed the Web, made calls, and watched YouTube videos. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 1.11W/kg.

Conclusion
For someone who's looking to be a first-time smartphone owner and doesn't care about data speeds, the T-Mobile Prism is a decent start. Though the carrier offers other entry-level phones, like the LG Doubleplay and the Samsung Gravity Lunar for free, the Prism still has a cleaner look or newer OS.

However, for just $10 more, I'd consider the Samsung Exhibit II 4G instead. It's still a T-Mobile handset, but as you may have guessed, it runs on its 4G network. And if you want to watch your videos, load your maps, or read your e-mails faster, the extra money forked over will be worth it.

T-Mobile Prism
6.3

T-Mobile Prism

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 7
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