T-Mobile Prism II review

The T-Mobile Prism II is T-Mobile's least expensive smartphone—and you can tell from a mile away.
Photo of T-Mobile Prism II

When I reviewed the original T-Mobile Prism last year, I wrote that it could have been a good phone—if it had been released in 2011. Now it’s 2013 and the T-Mobile Prism II has arrived, and my complaints are very much the same. Simply put, there just isn’t anything very modern about this device. Sure it’s the least expensive smartphone on T-Mobile (at $115.99 upfront), but you don’t need to pay a lot more to get a phone that’s significantly better.

Design and Call Quality
Made by Huawei (which you can only tell by the branding on the battery), the Prism II measures 4.61 by 2.44 by 0.49 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.88 ounces, which makes it about the same size as the original, but a bit lighter. It’s a little thick, but it’s very comfortable to hold if you’re not a fan of really big phones. The back panel is made of gray rubberized plastic, with a bullseye-like design around the camera sensor, which is highlighted by a stylish yellow ring. There’s a shiny gray plastic ring around the sides of the phone, and some black plastic detailing around the all-glass display.

The 3.5-inch capacitive touch LCD sports just 480-by-320-pixel resolution, which is disappointingly low-res. Text, images, and video all look fuzzy and grainy. The onscreen keyboard is a little small, but built-in Swype extensions help to smooth out the typing experience.

The Prism II is a quad-band EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and dual-band HSPA7.2 (1700/2100 MHz) device with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. It also supports T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling, which allows you to place calls over Wi-Fi when you can’t get network coverage. Unfortunately, there’s no 4G LTE support (or even HSPA+), which is a pretty big bummer considering T-Mobile’s recent dramatic coverage expansion.

Reception and call quality are both average. Voices sound somewhat muted, with a faint hiss in the background through the phone’s earpiece. Calls made with the phone sound decent, though I was able to hear a lot of background noise make its way through. Calls sounded fine through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset and standard Android voice dialing worked well. The speakerphone sounds okay, but is far too low to use outdoors. Battery life was average, at 6 hours and 36 minute of talk time.

T-Mobile’s new contract-free plans start at $50 per month, and that gets you all the talk and texts you want, along with 500MB of high-speed data per month, after which your speeds are slowed to 2G. $60 gets you 2GB of high-speed data, and $70 gets you unlimited high-speed data. Paired with the right phone, these prices can really help you save a lot of money per month over competing carriers like AT&T and Verizon.

Android and Apps
The Prism II runs Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean), with barely any customizations from Huawei. That’s a good thing, since any additional software would probably slow this phone to a crawl, but more on that in a bit.

There’s no word on an update to newer versions of Android, but considering Huawei’s track record, it isn’t likely. There are five customizable home screens you can swipe between that come preloaded with a small number apps and widgets. But there’s barely any bloatware, aside from T-Mobile TV, which you can’t delete. You get free Google Maps navigation for voice-enabled, turn-by-turn directions. And the phone should work with many of the 800,000+ third-party apps in the Google Play store, but performance is slow, so they may not all run well.

The phone is powered by a 1GHz Cortex-A9 processor, which really just doesn’t have the muscle to keep things moving smoothly. The Prism II turned in disappointingly low benchmark scores, but worse yet, you can feel it struggling to keep up as you use the phone. Even the opening animation when you turn it on stutters. So you definitely shouldn’t buy this phone for gaming, or even if you just like to run a lot of apps.

Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
The Prism II comes with 1.10GB of free internal memory and an empty microSD card slot beneath the battery, in which my 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards worked fine. There’s a standard-size 3.5mm headphone jack on top of the phone, and music sounded fine through both wired and Bluetooth headphones. The phone was able to play AAC, MP3, OGG, and WAV test files, but not FLAC or WMA. As for video, the phone was only able to play back H.264 and MP4 test files at resolutions up to 800-by-480, but even at that resolution, they played back a bit stilted. And while wired headphones were fine, audio for video was way out of sync over Bluetooth.

The 3.2-megapixel camera lacks a flash or autofocus. Shutter speeds are improved from the last time around, but photos sadly aren’t. Pictures taken with the Prism II have a soft and almost waxy quality as you zoom in. Color detail is decent, but nothing looks particularly vibrant. The camera also records 640-by-480-pixel video at just 14 frames per second outdoors and 12 frames per second inside, which is actually worse than the original Prism.

The T-Mobile Prism II just doesn’t have what it takes to compete with the rest of the current smartphone competition. At this price range, the Windows Phone-based Nokia Lumia 521 is the best low-cost smartphone you can get on T-Mobile. It has a larger, nicer display, faster data speeds, and a more powerful processor than the Prism II. The only strike against it is that Windows Phone lacks many of the popular apps you can find on Android. Your next best option is the LG Optimus L9. It costs nearly twice the price of the Prism II, but it has a large, sharp screen, very good call quality, a faster processor, and an attractive design. If you want to stick with Android, it’s worth the extra money.

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network GSM
Screen Resolution 480 x 320 pixels
NFC No
Dimensions 4.61 x 2.44 x 0.49 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 b/g/n
High-Speed Data EDGE, HSPA 7.2
Available Integrated Storage 1.1 GB
Processor Speed 1 GHz
CPU ARM Cortex A5
GPS Yes
Service Provider T-Mobile
Total Integrated Storage 4 GB
Weight 3.53 oz
Screen Type TFT LCD
Operating System as Tested Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean)
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 3.2 MP
Screen Pixels Per Inch 165 ppi
Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 1700
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 3.5 inches
Bluetooth Version 4

Verdict
The T-Mobile Prism II is T-Mobile's least expensive smartphone—and you can tell from a mile away.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc