Introudction and design
Not so long ago, Samsung made itself infamous by flooding the market with cheap and only occasionally cheerful Android smartphones. In a post-Moto G world, however, Samsung has had to raise its low-end game.
The Samsung Galaxy Core Prime might sound like a Transformer, but it’s actually the Korean manufacturer’s latest entry-level smartphone champ, with a modest price tag of £110 (US$170) and a competent if unspectacular spec sheet.
But is that enough in a modern market where £250 (US$329) can buy you an outright flagship killer?
I’m not so sure that it is, but there’s no denying that the Galaxy Core Prime is a perfectly competent entry point for smartphone newbies and those on a strict budget.
The Samsung Galaxy Core Prime is entirely made of plastic. While Samsung has completely overhauled the top and middle of its range with the sweeping use of metal and glass – just look at the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Samsung Galaxy A5 – such materials remain off limits for the budget brigade.
As Moto G users will no doubt attest, the heavy use of plastic needn’t be a bad thing. But Samsung isn’t as good as Motorola (or the late Nokia) at playing to the material’s strengths. By mimicking the style of its high-end metal phones using cheaper materials, Samsung ensures disappointing results.
The Galaxy Core Prime uses a version of the design language set out by the Galaxy Alpha back in 2014. Rather than the cool, sculpted aluminium of that phone’s straight-edged frame, you get the smooth room-temperature touch of plastic, lacquered with both shiny and matte metal-effect paint. Samsung reckons that it "feels like anodised metal." It doesn’t.
From the front and back, the phone is unmistakably Samsung – and not just because of the logos emblazoned on both sides. The company has a well-established series of design cues that mark its handsets out, and all are on display here.
There’s the signature lozenge-shaped physical home key, which is still a relative rarity in the Android world, but a welcome focal point for your thumb. As always, this is flanked by capacitive multitasking and back keys.
Around the back of the device you get that familiar centrally-placed and somewhat square camera unit, which bulges out from the body like a blister.
My model was a colour Samsung calls "Charcoal Grey," and it’s a nice alternative to the usual black or white options. This colour is applied to both the area surrounding the screen (overlaid by the screen glass) and the subtly textured, matte-yet-shiny rear cover.
The latter can be peeled away to reveal a removable battery, as well as the tightly stacked microSIM and microSD slots.
While it’s not a looker, the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime feels solid in the hand. There’s a little flex in that flimsy rear cover, but the phone as a whole is reassuringly creak and rattle-free. While that’s no longer unique at this low price point, it shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated.
Part of the comfortable hand-feel is down to the Galaxy Core Prime’s dimensions. At 8.8mm thick it’s not skinny, exactly, but nor is it chunky. It also weighs a pleasing 130g, which is about the weight of an iPhone 6.
Besides its proportions, the overall balance of the phone can largely be attributed to its 4.5-inch display. Nowadays, that’s viewed as a small screen size, but this is a relatively recent view. Cast your mind back to 2011, and you’ll find that the Samsung Galaxy S2 (flagship ancestor to the Galaxy S6) came with a "huge" 4.3-inch screen.
The point is, 4.5-inches might be considered below average, but it’s still big enough for the majority of tasks, which haven’t essentially changed since the first smartphones rolled into shops eight years ago.
One thing this neatly proportioned screen is not is sharp, however. At 800 x 480, we’re talking the same resolution as that aforementioned five-year-old Galaxy S2 – and an even lower pixel density of 207ppi at that. With today’s HD-optimised web content, browsing the web on the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime shows up some unsightly artifacts and leaves a generally drab impression.
The even cheaper Motorola Moto E comes with a slightly smaller and considerably sharper 4.3-inch 960 x 540 display, so the Galaxy Core Prime’s visual failings are hard to overlook.
The Samsung Galaxy Core Prime’s display isn’t the brightest around, but crank the appropriate setting right up and it’s perfectly usable even in broad daylight. Of course, it lacks Samsung’s signature Super AMOLED panel technology, but the TFT display gives a reasonable account of colours. Just don’t expect your eyes to do any popping.
- Thank you to Carphone Warehouse for providing the review unit
One of the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime’s key selling points is its relatively compact build and display, which some would call small. Samsung calls it "well-balanced," and I’m inclined to agree.
The Galaxy Core Prime’s 4.5-inch screen proves more practical than most for single-handed usage. There remains a certain tactile appeal to pulling out your phone, unlocking it, and firing off a quick email with a single hand and minimal finger contortions.
Just follow our advice and swap out the default Samsung keyboard early doors, OK? It’s ugly, there’s no readily accessible comma button, and fans of joined-up typing systems will be left frustrated.
The other headline boast from Samsung relates to the Galaxy Core Prime’s 4G connectivity. At the very bottom end of the market it’s still common to see 3G-only phones that can’t take advantage of the UK’s belatedly expanding next-gen (surely current-gen by now?) mobile network standard.
The Galaxy Core Prime accessed my town’s 4G network as easily as flagship smartphones worth five times the price, like the iPhone 6S. Both connections are download-munchingly strong in the town centre and barely clinging on for life in the ‘burbs.
Of course, all features great and small should be cast in the context of the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime’s price. It costs around £110 (US$170) up front, and in the UK Carphone Warehouse is offering it for free on a £13.50-per-month two year O2 contract at the time of writing.
That’s pretty good for what’s on offer, but you can do better. We’ve already mentioned the second generation Motorola Moto E and its sharper display, and you can pick one of those up for less.
For a little more money, meanwhile, there’s the third generation Motorola Moto G for £150 (US$180) – a far better phone in most departments.
While value initially appears to be a big selling point, then, the Galaxy Core Prime’s price turns out to be nothing to write home about.
Performance and battery life
Samsung has gone with a pretty common low-end processor for the Galaxy Core Prime in the Snapdragon 410.
Qualcomm’s entry-level 1.2GHz quad-core CPU is so common because it does the basics competently, and that’s pretty much how it proves to be here.
Backed by 1GB of RAM, the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime handles general navigation fairly smoothly. You’ll get the odd delay when opening up apps, but the general experience is quite fluid.
You shouldn’t bank on strong gaming performance, except for simple 2D games. Dead Trigger 2 runs less than smoothly on medium settings (it won’t go any higher), Angry Birds 2 is playable with the odd physics-induced frame rate dip, while Beneath the Lighthouse and Horizon Chase didn’t load at all for me.
I’ll discuss camera performance in more detail later, but for now I’ll say it’s less than snappy – both in terms of starting up the camera app and actually taking pictures.
Of course, none of these drawbacks are unusual for phones pitched at this level. In fact, the Galaxy Core Prime’s less-than-sharp display could give it a bit of a performance boost against similarly specced rivals – on paper, at least.
During my time with the phone, it snagged an average Geekbench 3 benchmark test score of 1,710. This puts it ahead of the Motorola Moto E, which could only manage 1421, and the EE Harrier Mini at 1499. Both have sharper displays than the Core Prime.
Of course, both the Moto E and the Harrier Mini balance this out with leaner, faster, and altogether more appealing UIs. This being a Samsung phone, the Galaxy Core Prime gives you the company’s stubborn repurposing of Android 5.1.1 out of the box.
This is a similar TouchWiz skin to the one found on the rest of Samsung’s recent releases dating back to the Samsung Galaxy S6, which means it’s actually a big improvement on how things used to be.
Samsung has scaled right back on the needless duplicated apps, pointless animations, and gaudy UI elements. But it’s still an unnecessary obfuscation of the excellent stock Android OS.
The drop-down notification tray is a restyled effort, though it fulfils a similar role, with various settings toggles and a brightness slider alongside swipable notifications. More of those toggles can be accessed by scrolling right, but I found this to be a less elegant solution than the two-swipe expansion system found in stock Android.
Google Now won’t be found with a swipe to the right, nor with a hold-and-swipe of a virtual home key (there is none), but rather a press-and-hold of the physical home button. I actually like this tactile approach quite a lot, and it mimics the tight implementation of Siri on the iPhone range.
While the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime has access to faster 4G networks, it’s worth highlighting that its Wi-Fi performance isn’t up to the standard of most mid and top-range phones. As with the Moto E, you can’t access the faster, less-congested 5GHz band. It’s something to keep in mind if your home network’s 2.4GHz band is frequently jammed up.
The Samsung Galaxy Core Prime uses a compact 2000mAh battery. That might sound small, but remember that the phone’s display is less taxing than most.
As a result, I found the phone’s stamina to be perfectly decent. Very good, in fact. Following the standard techradar stamina test – a 90-minute 720p video with the screen brightness cranked right up to max – I recorded an average of 79% left in the tank. That’s about the same as the Moto E, which features a much larger 2390mAh battery to account for its sharper screen.
I found that the Core Prime’s battery performed even better in general usage. After a full 24 hours of very light use (with airplane mode activated overnight), the Galaxy Core Prime was left with 84% of its charge. Increase that usage and you’ll still be good for the best part of two days.
Samsung also offers a decent selection of battery-saving tools, such as an optimisation function that will scan for seldom-used apps and scale back the frequency of their background operations.
There’s also an Ultra Power Saving mode that strips your phone’s UI and operation back to near feature phone level, resulting in potentially weeks of standby time.
£100 (US$100) might get you a decent smartphone these days, but what it still doesn’t get you is a decent camera. Sure enough, the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime’s camera doesn’t have an awful lot going for it.
It’s a 5-megapixel unit with an f/2.6 lens, an LED flash, and autofocus capabilities. Not all cheap phones come with a flash (for example, the Moto E), so that’s a notable plus. The Galaxy Core Prime can capture 720p video.
That’s about it for features. While it’s a 5-megapixel camera, the default setting will get you 3.9-megapixel shots. This is so that you can obtain a wider 5:3 aspect ratio that fills the display, rather than the squarer 4:3 aspect ratio that the full 5-megapixel setting requires.
Actually taking shots on the Galaxy Core Prime is a slow process, with the autofocus system taking an age to obtain a lock once you’ve pressed the shutter button.
It can also take a while to jump to the camera app from the lockscreen shortcut.
The quality of the images you’ll obtain is mediocre at best. The camera doesn’t cope well with large differences in light and dark (high dynamic range) and there’s no HDR mode to compensate for that.
Meanwhile the shots I took on a slightly overcast day were murky and noisy, whether taking a close-up of a flower or a landscape shot.
Returning to that initial point, though, you don’t buy a cheap smartphone expecting to get a good camera. All you can ask is that the camera takes reasonably accurate, reliable shots for social media sharing and capturing unexpected moments. For that, the Galaxy Core Prime just about does the job.
The Samsung Galaxy Core Prime is a low cost smartphone with a robust design and a screen that’s well suited to one-handed usage. But it joins a crowded sector of the market with some very strong entry-level rivals, and Samsung’s latest effort simply doesn’t do anything sufficiently well to stand out from the crowd.
The Samsung Galaxy Core Prime’s 4.5-inch display is just the right size for comfortable single-handed usage, which is quite rare in the Android world.
Its battery life, too, is strong, and can get you through two days of moderate usage. A nicely balanced 4G phone for a wallet-friendly price.
While the Galaxy Core Prime’s display is nicely proportioned, it really isn’t sharp enough – even at this price point.
Samsung’s usual design approach of replicating its premium phones with cheaper materials continues to underwhelm. Plastic needn’t feel cheap, but it does here – particularly with that metal-effect rim.
Finally, while we don’t expect great things from entry-level smartphone cameras, the Galaxy Core Prime’s really isn’t much cop. In particular, it seems quite slow to focus.
While they’re still full of compromises, entry-level smartphones no longer need to be a case of simply making do. The Moto E and the EE Harrier Mini both have stand-out features that lift them above their modest price tags.
In offering absolutely nothing to write home about, the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime falls into a samey pack. It’s built well but looks a little cheap, while its display simply isn’t up to the standard of its low-cost rivals.
In short, it’s yet another "good enough" low-end phone from Samsung. And "good enough" is no longer good enough.
First reviewed: January 2016
- Thank you to Carphone Warehouse for providing the review unit