With the Galaxy Light, Samsung is proving that it can scale its smartphone design and production costs. After hitting home runs with the Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy Note 3, Samsung is bringing some of its most noticeable aesthetics and features from its high-end flagships to a more affordable and pocket-sized package on T-Mobile USA’s 4G LTE network. At $270, the Galaxy Light is light on the wallet, but high on connectivity options, giving you a balanced experience of features and pricing.
Samsung Galaxy Light Specs
Display: 480 X 800 pixels
Display Size: 4 inches
Display Type: TFT LCD with strengthened glass
Processor: 1.4 GHz quad-core Samsung CPU
RAM: 1 GB
MicroSD: Yes > Up to 64GB
Battery Capacity: 1800mAh
Rear-Facing Camera: 5MP
Front-Facing Camera: VGA
Dimensions: 122 x 63 x 10.3 mm
Industrial Design: Good
With curved corners and a bulbous back with faux brushed metal texture, the Galaxy Light looks like a shrunken down Galaxy S III smartphone. In the hands, the phone’s curves, plastic build, and compact design reminds us a lot of Apple’s iPhone 3G/3GS series, which isn’t a bad thing as both devices despite being light have a reassuring weight to them and are really comfortable to hold.
Unlike the newer Galaxy devices that make use of a faux leather material, the fake metal of the Galaxy Light is actually a highly glossy plastic finish, meaning that the Galaxy Light will continue to attract fingerprints. Given that the Galaxy Light is aimed at the entry-level and mid-range smartphone buyer, the absence of a non-premium metal shell isn’t too jarring in this segment.
The compact size of the device gives the device a sense of heft to it, despite its small size, lending a solid feel in the hands.
The device has similar buttons and layout as a flagship Galaxy series smartphone. As is typical of Samsung phones, you have the volume keys on the left spine of the device, the power key on the right, and a center home button on the front sitting just below the 4-inch WVGA display. To the left of the home button is a capacitive menu key and to the right of the hardware button is the back button, both of which disappear when you’re not using them to make for a cleaner appearance.
On the back, the faux metal back cover is highlighted in a mocha grey color. Up top, a 5-megapixel camera and single LED flash highlight the removable back battery cover. Towards the bottom is the loud speaker, which could be used for speaker phone calls.
On the top of the device, you have the 3.5 mm headphone jack and a micro USB charging port graces the center bottom of the Galaxy Light.
The Galaxy Light is a phone that’s easily usable in one-hand thanks to its more compact 4-inch form factor, a rarity in the age where smartphones are taking on phablet-sized dimensions with displays that start at 5 inches. However, the problem with this is that things start to appear cramped when you get into this range.
With a display resolution of 480 X 800 pixels, things still remain relatively sharp, though you won’t find the pixel density of flagship devices. At 223 ppi, colors were bright and vivid on the Galaxy Light and the resolution doesn’t look bad on a phone this small. Users will also be pleased with the wide viewing angles on the Galaxy Light as well.
The downside with the display is that the keyboard feels cramped when you’re poking at letters on the screen, although those who use Samsung’s built-in swipeable will be able to connect letters more efficiently with shorter screen travel.
The upside is that the device—with its soft curves—is comfortable enough to use with just one hand and the smaller 4-inch screen means that you can reach the furthest corners of the display with ease using your thumb while you’re resting the device in the palm of the same hand.
With the Galaxy Light, don’t expect camera performance to match or rival those of high-end flagships. Samsung isn’t cramming any of the fancy ISOCELL camera technology from the Galaxy S5, and the video capture is limited to 720p on the rear and a measly 0.3-megapixel camera that records video in VGA resolution through the front shooter. Needless to say, the Galaxy Light isn’t the smartphone to get for selfies, but its rear camera will do fine in a pinch. If you are curious about what ISOCELL is, watch this:
Outdoors. In use, images captured with the 5-megapixel rear camera in normal light resulted in good quality photos, though colors don’t appear as vivid in our photos as they look in real life. You also won’t get quite the same retention of details in your shots, though considering most users will primarily be looking at photos on the 4-inch WVGA display this shouldn’t be a big deal unless you intend on cropping in or zooming in on your photos, in which case you will get a lot of noise and grain.
Low Light. Performance in low light fared even worse. Not only did the camera introduce a lot of noise, but you can see Samsung’s heavy sharpening at work. Images captured indoors—at the Stanford University Memorial Church—show that colors were distorted resulting in dull-appearing images that did not retain details, color accuracy, nor sharpness. Thankfully, if you need to capture a photo in the dark, you can use the single LED flash, which is actually quite strong, to help illuminate the scene.
The camera has auto-focus and you can tap to focus as well to highlight particular details, which is great for macro. The camera won’t continuously auto-focus as you shift around like on the flagship Galaxy S5 however. Thankfully, auto-focus was fairly fast outdoors and the focus was pretty spot on. Indoors, focus was a little bit trickier under low light, resulting in images that were much softer than what we anticipated.
As is typical of most Samsung camera phones, there are a number of shooting modes—including Beauty Face, Panorama, and Night. Of note, though there isn’t an HDR mode that’s built into the Samsung Camera app by default, images taken under mixed lighting with areas of high contrast show that some form of HDR is employed to pull out details in the highlights and shadows.
For full resolution camera sample images, be sure to visit the Ubergizmo Flickr page.
For video, the Light’s 720p HD video recording mode is sufficient, but you won’t get the same details and polished look of 1080p HD video recording on more expensive phones, and the Light’s VGA resolution front-facing camera looks pixelated.
Unsurprisingly, Samsung had preloaded the Galaxy Light with its TouchWiz user interface, a skin that runs on top of Google’s Android 4.2.2 operating system.
Thankfully, despite the deep skinning of TouchWiz that basically hides most traces of Android, Samsung and T-Mobile were more reserved in loading pre-bundled apps.
In addition to the standard Google apps—Gmail, Google Maps, Google Play Store, Google Search—and others—you’ll also have access to a variety of T-Mobile apps like the T-Mobile My Account, T-Mobile Name ID, T-Mobile TV, and Visual Voicemail.
Some of these apps do require an additional subscription on top of your monthly wireless bill to use. The most obtrusive of the preloaded apps is Lookout Security, which runs in the background to detect for malware, backup your data to the cloud, and find a lost phone.
Lookout does slow down your phone as it scans in the background, so I would suggest users to take the risk and disable the mobile security service, especially if you generally download only big name apps and stay away from side-loading suspicious APKs.
If you have a compatible SIM, you should also be able to use T-Mobile’s ISIS service to tap your phone at a supported store to pay for goods using NFC.
Additionally, while you won’t get some of the more advanced Samsung innovations that grace flagships likes the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S5, the Galaxy Light has a few tricks up its sleeves.
A “Power Savings Mode” helps to reduce screen brightness and limit the processing power to stretch out your juice while a “Smart Screen” mode allows the display to be kept on if the front-facing camera senses your face looking at the screen.
The former isn’t nearly as powerful as the new Ultra Power Savings mode on the Galaxy S5 and the latter is useful when you’re looking at a long webpage or document and not have the screen automatically dim or turn off.
For drivers, a “Driving Mode” reads out messages, caller ID information, and appointment reminders to keep you focused on the road and reduce distracted driving.
Given the quad-core processing speed and 1 GB of RAM, applications launched sufficiently quick and jumping between apps was a breeze on the Galaxy Light.
Even though the device is aimed at a more budget conscious crowd, Samsung’s software shows a nice level of continuity across the Galaxy range of smartphones and tablets so that you’ll instantly feel at home on the Light if you’ve used another Samsung Galaxy mobile product in the past.
Typically, many budget-oriented smartphones skimp on connectivity specs to keep costs low. This is not the case with the Galaxy Light, which comes with support for T-Mobile’s 4G LTE and HSPA+ networks as well as compatibility with NFC.
With about 2 bars of signal coverage shown on our Galaxy Light, we were able to achieve download speeds over 10 Mbps in the San Francisco Bay Area and upload speeds were even more impressive hovering over 15 Mbps.
"GREAT VIDEO STREAMING COMPANION" With speeds this fast, the Galaxy Light could become a great video streaming companion, especially for those who have large data buckets or an unlimited plan through T-Mobile.
I was able to watch YouTube videos, stream Netflix movies, and watch DailyMotion uploads without any hickups. Your mileage may vary depending on where you live on T-Mobile’s coverage map.
Yet, despite coming with support for 4G LTE, the biggest issue with connectivity on the Galaxy Light is that despite showing good signal strength and reception, the smartphone sometimes refuses to connect.
This means that webpages would time out and Play Store updates would not download until you put the phone into airplane mode and then switch off airplane mode or restart the device.
In addition to 4G LTE support, the other benefit that the Galaxy Light delivers is WiFi without requiring any additional app or complicated setup. Using T-Mobile’s WiFi calling service, you can essentially travel anywhere in the world and make calls without having to pay long distance or roaming by placing them over a WiFi, rather than a mobile connection, network while being able to still keep your domestic number and caller ID.
In terms of call quality, reception on the Galaxy Light was good and audio fidelity is almost as good as on Samsung’s much more expensive flagships. Voice calls sound rich, albeit a little digital at times, but there’s little to complain about.
Additionally, like most modern smartphones, you’ll also have access to a number of radios including Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS.
System Performance: Great (for the price)
On our AnTuTu benchmark test, the Galaxy Light scored performance marks that rivals the Galaxy S3 smartphone, which was a fast performer when it was first released a little over two years ago as the Samsung flagship phone.
The benchmark tests for AnTuTu reveals that the Galaxy Light is a very capable smartphone with great processor performance, good graphics rendering, and can handle most games fairly well.
Perceived Performance: Good
Thanks to four cores of processing power, performance on the Galaxy Light is snappy despite being fitted into the more budget category.
This isn’t the same Exynos-based processor that Samsung uses on its high-end phone, but performance is very respectable and apps were able to launch without hesitation on the Light.
Performance on the Galaxy Light, especially when you start to pile on and install a lot of apps, was a lot better than the dual-core setup of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Zoom, a device that began to buckle under heavy pressure once you begin installing a number of apps.
At times, though, there may be a little bit of lag when you’re multitasking. Updating apps in the Google Play Store while running another app in the foreground and having Lookout Security check for malware will result in some noticeable lags, but overall if you’re not taxing your system resources, things will run pretty smoothly. For this audience, likely you’ll be playing a few games, streaming some videos and music, responding to texts and emails, and making phone calls. And for all those tasks, things ran smoothly without any hiccups.
Battery Life: Great
Battery life on the Galaxy Light was surprisingly ample. Given the 1800 mAh battery, I was able to squeeze about two days of use on the phone taking a moderate amount of pictures, reading emails, and sending a few text messages.
Given that many modern smartphones require a nightly recharge to be ready in the morning, the Galaxy Light should help ease flip phone upgraders into the smartphone world with its rather strong battery life. With light use, I image that I could stretch out battery life to three days.
Does half the cost of a high-end phone mean you’ll be getting half the phone? Thankfully, in 2014, this isn’t the case at all with the Galaxy Light. With a modest, but still capable, quad-core processor, solid graphics performance, and being light on pre-loaded apps, the Galaxy Light delivered surprisingly good performance numbers, besting even last year’s Galaxy S4 Zoom."BALANCED PERFORMANCE AND BUDGET-FRIENDLY PRICE TAG"
Though you won’t be getting the Galaxy Light solely for its camera, its balanced performance and more budget-friendly price tag will appeal to those who don’t care to invest in a flagship device or are migrating to a smartphone for the first time. However, there is still a lot of competition in this space. Google’s Nexus 5 costs $80 more and delivers more performance while Motorola’s recently introduced Moto E brings the price down to just $130 for an entry level handset.