Recently I was given the opportunity to test drive a phone and service – Boost mobile’s newest pay-as-you-go offering (with shrinkage), and the newest android phone in their lineup, the Samsung Galaxy Prevail.
I’ve separated the review into two parts: Phone vs. Service, and given separate ratings to each.
THE PHONE: The Samsung Galaxy Prevail is Boost’s newest android phone, and their priciest at $179.99. One of the caveats with Boost is that, since you are doing a monthly non-contractual payment, you must purchase the hardware up front without subsidies. Typically if you sign up for a 2 year contract with a carrier such as AT&T or Verizon, they will throw a phone in for free; even many of their smart phones. However, you should realize that getting your phone subsidized by the phone companies really just amounts to an extended lease plan anyways, so this shouldn’t put you off.
I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that overall, the Prevail is a pretty great entry-level Android unit. As you can see from the specs it’s a relatively small, lightly enabled but full-featured phone that will get you “in the door” if you haven’t made the leap to a true smartphone before this.
The Prevail comes with a few apps pre-installed, but overall surprisingly little bloatware. Most notably it does come with the excellent ThinkFree Office application, which allows you to view, create, and edit Microsoft documents and spreadsheets.
Be aware that the Prevail is not intended for the “power” users out there. If you use your phone as a test bed for new apps, constantly downloading and installing the hottest new thing out of the Amazon or Google app stores, you will have some frustrations. In my tests, I repeatedly ran into the internal memory ceiling, which is quite low at 150MB. Even though most apps can be moved to the external SD card once installed, there were some that I was unable even to download OTA because of this. Frustrating for a power user, but probably not an issue if you stick to the basics with a few apps and the occasional Angry Birds session.
Speaking of games in general and Angry Birds specifically, this is where you’ll notice the downside of that 800MHz processor. It is noticeably sluggish on some of the more processor-intensive applications, such as games. It’s not unusable, and certainly I had more than a few hours of peace giving one or the other of my sons a run on the games, but is worth noting. Generally however, the processor was more than up to the task of running Android Froyo, jumping between apps, and even with running a few in the background did not slow down beyond reason.
Battery Life: Battery life was acceptable, but not great. Using GPS or streaming audio lightly, even if plugged in to the car charger but combined with leaving WiFi on, I would some days only get 4 or 5 hours of service. Under normal usage conditions, with WiFi off or in a consistent location, talk time was better – good enough to make it through a work day at any rate – but I wouldn’t recommend leaving this phone unplugged overnight as you won’t have much if anything left when you get up.
Camera: The camera is surprisingly, maybe even shockingly, good for a 2MP sensor. It’s limited in low-light and close-up situations, but for most every-day usage is exceptional with some of the best balance of colors that I’ve seen in a camera phone. The responsiveness of the shutter key is very snappy too.
Cons: One of the major issues I had with the phone was its tendency to reset itself or require a manual reset pretty frequently. In particular, about half the time I turned WiFi off to save battery life (more on that later), the phone would freeze and either restart or require me to do a hard reset. Fortunately, boot times are quick so this would never cost more than 2 – 4 minutes, but of course would happen at inopportune times. Certain apps, such as Pandora, tended to have the same results. I ultimately switched over to using Slacker because it operated more consistently overall, though the screen widget didn’t work as it should.
THE SERVICE: Boost mobile is one of the first companies to offer a truly inexpensive, truly unlimited pay-as-you go no contract voice, data and text service. Not only that, but with “shrinkage” loyal customers can expect to see their smartphone bills drop to below most straight-up voice only contracts on the major carriers. Even at the starting point of $50/month, the value alone may be enough to entice many to the service, and with good reason!
There are a few things to be aware of however. Boost piggy-backs on Sprint’s 3G CDMA service, and has no roaming capabilities. This means that you will get great connectivity and reliability in most urban areas, and along major expressways throughout North America. Your mileage may vary considerably if you are in a less well-populated or traveled region however, and you’ll definitely want to consider that before purchase.
I live in the Chicago metro region and had unequivocally great service – high bars and consistent 3G responsiveness pretty much all the time. Even in the less populated areas I would frequent, as far south as Oswego and north to Antioch, IL service was very good. I also traveled to the Dallas/Fort Worth region and Las Vegas while testing the phone. Both of these major metropolitan areas were comparable.
The one place that I had poor (read that as “no”) service was on a family vacation to Oneida County in far north Wisconsin. Admittedly this was pretty far out in the boonies, but it was frustrating that there was literally no service even in the nearby towns. Not until we got back to the major highways did service return. I don’t see this as deal-killer, though it did result in reducing the ultimate rating to 4 stars instead of 5.
For the price, this inconvenience would definitely be something I could live with; particularly when that price goes down as low as $35/mo after 18 months of consistent service and payments.
THE RESULTS: Overall, I am very pleased and would highly recommend Boost and the Samsung Prevail to my friends who are looking for a low-cost, entry-level smart phone service. If your interest is in calendaring, email, and the occasional game or note-taking apps, this is far and away the most economical plan I’ve ever seen, and the Prevail will be sufficient to your needs. It’s also light and small enough to easily fit in a shirt or pants pocket without making you look like you’re stealing masonry.
Because of the low specs and intermittent technical issues with the phone, I can’t give it higher than a 3 chip rating, though I do believe it will fit many users’ needs. The service I really wanted to provide a 5 chip rating to, but with the caveat of non-existent service, so the 4 chip rating should be considered with that grain of salt and is still pretty good.
Would I recommend it to a friend or family member? Absolutely. As a matter of fact, when my wife’s voice only contract with Verizon runs out at the end of the year, she won’t be too surprised to see one of these sitting under the tree!
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