Review: Samsung Galaxy Prevail
Samsung's latest Galaxy handset, the Prevail, lands on Boost Mobile's network for $180. Does this little Android phone have what it takes to compete with the big boys? Find out in Phone Scoop's full review.
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Though it wears the Galaxy name, the Samsung Prevail is not part of the Korean company's line of high-end Android devices. Rather, it's a much simpler smartphone for Boost's prepaid network. What it may lack in style and flash, it makes up for in power and usability.
The Prevail is a compact Android phone, though not the slimmest nor the sexiest. It uses straight-forward black on black styling, with a few random chrome-y accents thrown in for good measure. It is definitely chunkier than other Galaxy phones from Samsung, but the reduced length and width make it comfortable to hold and use. The materials feel good, and I like the soft-touch paint job on the battery cover, which gives it a grippy texture. Pocket friendly? Sure, though it will be obvious in tighter pants.
The front of the Prevail is a smooth surface from top to bottom and side to side. The display, which measures just 3.2 inches, leaves plenty of black bezel surrounding it. There are four capacitive buttons below the display. These have no physical boundaries or markings at all, and I found it all too easy to accidentally press the wrong one.
Samsung placed the volume toggle on the Prevail's left side, close to the top of the phone. The toggle is very easy to find, and travel and feedback are great. The microSD port is below the volume toggle, and is protected by a plastic hatch. I had some trouble getting the hatch to cooperate. Longer nails might lead to success. The microUSB port is on the bottom, and is used for charging and data transfer.
The camera button is on the lower right side in what has become the default spot for it on many phones. It is a single-stage button, and has excellent travel and feedback. The power/lock key is on the top edge of the Prevail. It doesn't stick out as much as the volume toggle and camera keys do, and I thought it was a little bit too small. Travel and feedback were OK. The 3.5mm headset jack is also on top.
The battery cover peels off easily.
In sum, the Prevail may not set any new ground in terms of design, but the hardware works well, and that's what some of us want most from our phones.
The Prevail's display measures 3.2-inches across the diagonal and packs in 320 x 480 pixels. That gives it a fairly dense pixel count, and the result is a screen that looks really good. Text, icons and graphics are all smooth, and you can only see pixels if you hold the Prevail really close to your eyes. As far as brightness goes, it was great indoors, but lost a lot of luster when taken outdoors. In bright sunlight, I was unable to see the display at all when attempting to take pictures. A super AMOLED this is not.
The Prevail is a CDMA smartphone. Boost uses Sprint-Nextel's iDEN network for many of its devices, but thankfully gave the Prevail access to the faster EVDO 3G network. That said, it performed on par with other Sprint devices I have tested in the metro NYC area. In my house, it held onto two bars consistently, but lost the signal altogether in my basement. In Manhattan, it did well at finding Sprint's network, though data sessions sometimes crashed. The Prevail didn't drop any calls, though.
The calls I conducted with the Prevail were good for the most part. Earpiece volume is great, though it distorts a bit when set to the max. Distortion aside, putting it up all the way will let you hear calls in all but the noisiest environments. Clarity was also decent, but I did hear some hissing and static now and then. The speakerphone was acceptably loud, and free of distortion when set up all the way. Ringtones and other alerts pack plenty of oomph. The vibrate alert has a video arcade quality to it (it's not silent, it actually makes a little bit of noise), and it's more than strong enough to let you know that there's a call or SMS waiting for you.
Since the Prevail uses less power-hungry hardware (smaller display, slower processor), I found battery life to be really good. From a full charge, the Prevail easily made it through 1.5 days with email and social networks actively pinging the network all the time. For a smartphone, that's better than average.
The Prevail runs a stock version of Android 2.2.2. Aside from the presence of Boost-branded apps and content, it appears to be completely unmolested Android.
The Prevail has five home screens that users can customize with application shortcuts, widgets, and so on. A number of Boost apps are on the various screens out of the box, but they can be tossed if you don't want them there.
One thing I saw for the first time was a "Welcome to Android" widget. Basically, it's an instructional widget that teaches users new to Android how to operate and use the home screens. After running through it once, I removed it from the home screen. Android virgins might find it helpful.
The rest of the system performs just as you'd expect Android 2.2 to perform. The main menu has a simple grid with the apps listed in alphabetical order. There is no "list" view. To alter most settings, press the menu button below the display, which brings up all the tools needed to adjust the Prevail's behavior.
How does the Prevail's 800MHz processor handle Android 2.2? Just fine. The system responded quickly to all actions, and it never stalled out or crashed on me. Screens transitioned smoothly and applications launched swiftly.
From the home screen, press the phone icon and the dialer pops open. The dialer is the stock Android dialer. The Prevail offers haptic feedback when you dial numbers, which is a nice touch. Users can choose to disable that if they wish. Nothing really new to report here.
The Prevail will import all your Google and Exchange contacts if you have them. Adding Facebook friends is optional. If you choose to do that, the contacts application is smart enough to add the Facebook profile photos to your existing contacts and merge them into one contact.
Android continues to offer a well-integrated set of tools for managing calls and contacts.
The Prevail comes with support for multiple Exchange accounts, Gmail, POP3 and IMAP4 email from just about every vendor there is. For the most part, all it takes is a username and a password to sign up. Both Exchange and Gmail will also marry your contacts and calendar to the Prevail, which is convenient.
The Gmail application is the most powerful of the email clients. It is so natively entwined with the way that Gmail works online that you hardly feel like you're using it on a phone.
The stock SMS/MMS application works well, and displays messages threaded in a conversation style. On the instant messaging side of the coin, Google Talk is built in, but nothing else. If you need access to Yahoo, AIM, or Windows Live, you're going to have to search the Android Market.
Social networking appears to be the forgotten red-headed stepchild on the Prevail. First, Facebook isn't installed. This is a no-brainer. It should be there, end of story. The official Twitter application isn't installed, either, but Twitroyd is. Twitroyd is OK, but I much prefer the official Twitter for Android application.
What does the Prevail have on board instead of legit social networking software? Hookt. Hookt is a dating, chatting, flirting application that requires you to individually scan through 45 (FORTY-FIVE!!!) pages of terms and conditions before you can use it. Preposterous.
The Prevail uses the stock Android music player application. It offers basic library organization. If you want to add music to the microSD card, you have several options: 1. Pull out the card, stick it in your PC and drag-and-drop files directly onto the card; 2. Connect the Prevail via USB and choose "USB Mode" when the Prevail connects to the PC; 3. Use third-party software such as doubleTwist (separate download). Once your media is loaded, you're good to go.
The stock media player is bare bones, but it does get the job done. You can sort through your playlists, artists, albums and songs easily enough, and album art comes through properly when tagged to the music. The media player can be sent to the background while you do other things such as browse the web or check Twitter. It goes without saying that the music player has a widget for the home screen, as well.
Samsung continues to offer some of the best camera software for its phones, and the Prevail is no exception. The camera is a wee bit slow to open (>2 seconds) but far from the worst. The viewfinder offers plenty of room for composing shots despite the presence of on-screen controls and software tools to adjust the camera's behavior.
To the far right, there is a stock-looking set of software toggles for jumping to the video camera, the gallery, and a software shutter button. Next to this set of tools, there are five icons sitting in the viewfinder area. Press any of the icons, and a drop-down menu appears next to it for adjusting the cameras settings. I love the way this software works. It's so much better than having to press the hardware menu button to get at the same bunch of controls. It's easier and you don't have to leave the viewfinder to make any of the adjustments.
Press the shutter button and the Prevail snaps the image almost instantly. Rather than offer a review screen, the Prevail takes you right back to the viewfinder. Reviewing images is only possible in the gallery, though you can see a teeny thumbnail of it at the top of the screen.
The gallery is the stock Android option. Photo albums float in stacks in the main gallery view, and you can sift through them in the chronological timeline in which they are arranged. It has a neat 3D look and feel to it.
Sadly, editing options are severely limited. Crop and rotate are all you get. You can't even apply the effects offered in the camera application after the photo has been taken. Weak. At least the sharing options are solid.
The Prevail has a 2-megapixel camera, and it doesn't include a flash or autofocus. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of images I was able to capture with the Prevail. Outdoor shots were mostly accurate with respect to color and white balance. Focus was a bit spotty here and there, but grain was kept pretty much in check. Indoor shots lose a lot of detail, especially in darker rooms/environments. The Prevail isn't going to do much for you if you take many shots of your friends when out for the night, but for the casual site-seeing jaunt, it will suffice.
Video captured by the Prevail is a grainy mess. Focus was soft, digital noise was everywhere, and it was slow to react to drastic changes in lighting. You might be able to capture MMS-worthy clips, but certainly nothing YouTube-worthy.
3GPP / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 1.4 MB
The Prevail comes with the stock Android browser. It's a good browser, and running over Sprint's EVDO network, it performed well in most of my tests. I noticed a few data speed problems when the Prevail had a weak network connection, but otherwise the browser is just the same as any other Android 2.2 phone.
The Layar augmented reality "browser" is also on board, but it's not really meant for web browsing. It is used with the camera and augmented reality apps that overlay content on top of live video camera images. The problem is, there are no augmented reality apps included, so why is the Layar browser there? Weird.
The Prevail can be customized as much as any other stock Android device. Five home screens leaves plenty of room for users to modify the look and feel of the device. It doesn't offer any fancy themes or modes, such as what's available on the HTC Sense phones, but it offers enough to make most people happy.
The Prevail supports mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets. I had no trouble pairing with either. Sound quality through mono headphones was not all that great. Quality through stereo headphones was terrible. I was also able to pair it with my computers and other handsets for sharing images, etc.
The Prevail offers the standard Android clock on the lock screen, which is visible when the device is first woken from sleep. It is a nice, large digital read out that's easily visible everywhere except under direct sunlight.
The Prevail offers two options for directions: Google Maps and TeleNav. Both are free. I enjoy Google Maps and think it does a great job of providing directions. TeleNav is a solid alternative, though, and Sprint doesn't charge for its use. Both will get you from here to there with no problems. The TeleNav app also offers voice commands, though they only worked about 50% of the time.
The Samsung Galaxy Prevail is a solid little phone. It performs well on all the benchmarks, such as calling, battery life and messaging capabilities. The hardware is perhaps a little vanilla-looking, but its good controls and nice feel make up for that.
It comes with bare-bones Android 2.2 Froyo, and in my book that's a good thing. Sure, it may not have the whiz-bang features of HTC's Sense or Motorola's MotoBlur, but that also means far less bloatware and annoyances. With the Prevail, it all just works. What it lacks in stock software can easily be assuaged by the Android Market.
Beyond the device itself, the Prevail's best feature is its price: $180 with no contract. You can buy it free and clear for less than two Franklins and you still get the benefit of Boost's CDMA (i.e., Sprint's) prepaid service. That's a win-win.
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As far as tethering to a computer via USB? I'll get back to you on that.