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Virgin Mobile Motorola Triumph Android smartphone review

Motorola Triumph packaging 3

New updates added at the bottom of the review!

Additional updates added in the comments…all is not well with the Triumph :(

Further update: After returning my original Triumph, I returned my second one as well and have gone back to the Optimus V. After a few days of usage I found that there were too many basic issues with the Triumph. Details in the comments at the end of the review…

The Motorola Triumph has been one of the most anticipated smartphone of 2011. This Android-powered slate phone is Virgin Mobile’s most advanced smartphone to date and takes the prepaid market forward with a respectable 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 4.1 inch screen and 5 megapixel, 720p HD video-capable camera. The Motorola Triumph bests Virgin Mobile’s current Android flagship, the LG Optimus V, which we reviewed previously. It’s also more expensive at $299 upfront with no contract on Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk prepaid plans. So can the prepaid market support a premium Android smartphone like the Motorola Triumph? Here’s our review…

First impressions of the Motorola Triumph

While the original release date for the Motorola Triumph was July 19th, my local Radio Shack was happy to sell me one yesterday. Lucky me! The Motorola Triumph comes in Virgin Mobile’s now familiar easy-open packaging, which houses the smartphone, a two-piece charger/USB cable, a battery, a quick start guide and a MicroSD card adapter. There is a 2GB MicroSD card pre-installed in the phone, which should be sufficient to hold a fair amount of music, photos and videos at least initially. The MicroSD card is removable which makes it easy to install a higher capacity card if desired.

Motorola Triumph frontThe Motorola Triumph has a minimalist look with few frills. The casing is made of dark gray textured plastic and the four inch capacitive touchscreen dominates the front of the smartphone. The four standard Android buttons below the screen are also capacitive. There’s a forward facing video camera above the screen to the left of the earpiece for video calls.

Around the sides are volume buttons, an on/off button, micro USB port for charging and data transfer and a mini HDMI port for connecting the Motorola Triumph to an external monitor or TV. Nice. Unfortunately an HDMI cable is not included in the box however. The back of the Motorola Triumph houses its 5 megapixel camera which also serves as a 720p HD video camera, and there’s an LED flash as well. There is no dedicated camera button, the camera is activated by launching the camera app.

The Motorola Triumph feels light for a smartphone with a four inch screen. At 5.04 ounces it’s easy to carry in a trouser or coat pocket without feeling uncomfortable, although it might weigh down a shirt pocket. While the Motorola Triumph is a little plasticky and lacks a premium feel, I like the clean lines of the device; the screen almost stretches to the edges, the back is flat and the phone is pleasingly thin. It’s a simple minimalist design.

Using the Motorola Triumph

Like Virgin Mobile’s LG Optimus V, the Motorola Triumph ships with Android 2.2 with hardly any carrier modifications, which is great for those looking for a stock Android smartphone. There are a few preloaded Virgin Mobile apps and wallpapers, but nothing intrusive. Sync’ing with Google services works as expected, and I haven’t found any blocked applications so far. For example, Skype installed properly and I was able to make a call over WiFi although I haven’t tried making a 3G Skype call yet.

In general operation the Motorola Triumph’s 1GHz Snapdragon processor makes the smartphone feel more snappy than the LG Optimus V, which is clocked at 600MHz. The Motorola Triumph also has far more onboard memory at 512MB, which definitely helps to keep the device humming along smoothly. The larger screen size and faster processor of the Motorola Triumph may however lead to worse battery life than the LG Optimus V. It’s early days yet and I’ll update this review with my experience of the smartphone’s battery life after more regular usage.

The Motorola Triumph paired quickly with the Bluetooth hands free and stereo headphone devices that I’ve tried so far. For stereo Bluetooth fans, the Motorola Triumph supports A2DP for stereo audio streaming and AVRCP for remote control over playback. I was able to control Pandora’s play and skip controls using a stereo Bluetooth headset.

As with the LG Optimus V, I was unable to use a Bluetooth headset on the Motorola Triumph for a Skype call. I’m not sure if this is possible on any Android smartphones at present, has anyone successfully managed to do this…?

The 5 megapixel camera on the Motorola Triumph produces respectable photos that in my opinion are easily good enough for casual use. If your primary camera usage is snapping general photos and uploading them to social networking sites like Facebook or taking casual vacation shots, then you could probably leave your point & shoot camera at home if you have the Motorola Triumph. It’s definitely a step up from the 3 megapixel camera on the LG Optimus V. I will post some photos that I took using the Motorola Triumph using its out-of-the-box settings, stay tuned!

The video camera also does a decent job. There is no image stabilization, but video come out looking absolutely fine for a mid-range device. Bear in mind that shooting 720p HD video requires a lot of storage space, so upgrading the supplied 2GB MicroSD card to a larger size might be advisable for budding directors.

Downsides to the Motorola Triumph are difficult to fully capture at this stage. I’m still only on day two with the device and I’ll add to this review as I continue to use it. So far I’ve only been using the Motorola Triumph on WiFi, so I haven’t made calls using it yet apart from Skype, although I have no reason to expect that it would have problems making regular calls! Motorola Triumph batteryThe microphone, earpiece and speaker worked well on Skype and I will update the review if I encounter any issues with network calls. In particular I’d like to add an idea of battery life after more consistent usage and I’ll also report back on whether the device starts to exhibit slow-downs and other performance side-effects that sometimes appear after time with smartphones.

The main issue I’ll raise now though is the price. At $299 the Motorola Triumph is not an impulse purchase, but it does offer good value compared to having a two year contract. Virgin Mobile has also just changed its Beyond Talk pricing, which now costs $35 for 300 minutes and unlimited data & texts (previously $25), rising to $45 for 1200 minutes (previously $40) and $55 for unlimited talk time (down from $60 previously). Virgin Mobile also just announced that it will throttle users down to 256kbps if they exceed 2.5GB of data usage in a month. While 2.5GB is more than enough data for many users, it’s disappointing to see Virgin Mobile adopting throttling especially when its parent company (Sprint) has not announced similar restrictions for Sprint customers on the same network.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Motorola Triumph ships with Android 2.2 Froyo rather than the latest version of Android, which is 2.3 Gingerbread. I forgave the LG Optimus V for this since Gingerbread was still fairly new when that device launched. However Android 2.3 has now been out for a long time and new devices should really have the latest version of the operating system installed when they ship. This is a big issue compared to the iPhone, or a laptop computer which will pretty much always ship with the latest version of its platform’s operating system.

Also, for those of you who like to use your phone outdoors, the screen of the Motorola Triumph is virtually illegible in sunlight. This is in keeping with many devices out there, and the screen is viewable outdoors in the shade.

On balance the Motorola Triumph works out well compared to a similarly spec’d smartphone on contract. Even though the price just increased by $10 each month, light voice minute users will still do well on Virgin Mobile’s $35 plan over two years compared to a similar voice & data contract on other carriers. The other plans are also good value. Remember that if you ever decide to stop using Virgin Mobile, there is no early termination fee and you can sell your phone to recoup some of the purchase cost. Just be sure to completely wipe the device of any personal data before selling it or passing it on to someone else.

So in that light, the $299 upfront cost is not quite so bad. At least that’s what I talked myself into when I bought the Motorola Triumph yesterday! In my two days of usage, the Motorola Triumph certainly seems like a solid contender and may well encourage those on contract to consider taking up the flexibility and lower overall cost of Virgin Mobile’s plans. The Motorola Triumph might not have some of the frills of the current top end smartphones, but it should easily meet the needs of many users and then some. Things sure have changed in the prepaid world.

Some updates:

I’ve been using the Motorola Triumph for a few days now and noticed a couple of things. Battery life seems good overall, I’m easily able to get through a day with moderate usage. Network signal on my Triumph is weak, definitely weaker than the LG Optimus V. There have also been a couple of occasions where I had to reboot the Triumph because it failed to re-find a signal for a prolonged period of time. The Bluetooth implementation has also been buggy for me so far. The Triumph either routinely refuses to connect to devices it has paired with previously, or it takes a long time to connect with them. Bluetooth signal drops are frequent.

On the whole it’s been an enjoyable phone to own so far, but cell radio problems and Bluetooth issues should not be present in a $299 smartphone in 2011. There’s nothing worse than having no bars when your friends have lots!

Additional updates in the comments…all is not well with the Triumph :(

Further update: I have gone back to using the Optimus V, the Triumph’s issues became too frustrating in day to day usage.  Details in the comments…

Neil Berman

Jul 17, 2011 Posted by | Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Virgin Mobile LG Optimus V review

LG Optimus V 11In case you didn’t get the memo, Android is getting big. Ahem, ok so that’s an understatement, the platform is becoming hugely popular in the smartphone world as a competitor to Apple’s iPhone. Previously the preserve of monthly contract plans, some no-contract carriers now offer Android smartphones for a song, dance and some green. Virgin Mobile just launched the LG Optimus V Android 2.2 smartphone for an upfront cost of $149.99, and is asking for a measly $25 for a month’s worth of unlimited data, texts and 300 voice minutes. Is this the craziest deal of all time, or is the phone perhaps a stinker? To find out I scoped out seven (!) Radio Shacks until I found one with the smartphone in stock, and then I bought the sucker. Here’s my review after two weeks of daily usage.

LG Optimus V 5Virgin Mobile is shipping the LG Optimus V in a cardboard easy-open container, which is a welcome change from the sealed plastic ones used for previous models. Inside the box you’ll find the phone itself, a two piece USB charger (a cable with a separate plug attachment), headphones with handsfree capability, battery and manual.

For a budget smartphone, the LG Optimus V is a real looker. The main body of the phone is made of two soft touch pieces of black plastic that appear more premium than they sound. Between them across the top of the phone is what looks and feels like a brushed aluminum strip that houses the power button, headphone socket and volume controls. Further down the sides of the LG Optimus V are dedicated buttons for the camera and voice commands, as well as a slot for a Micro SD memory card. A USB charging port sits on the bottom of the smartphone.

The upscale look continues on the front of the LG Optimus V with the four standard Android buttons encased by shiny silver surrounds. It’s good to see hardware buttons rather than the software buttons of some Android devices that only light up when the phone is in use. Around the back things get a little cheaper looking, although it’s difficult LG Optimus V 2(and also less important) to make a phone’s battery cover look impressive. The back is simply a plastic cover with a cutout for the speaker and a silver surround for the camera. Can’t get excited about that, it looks okay, but you’ll spend more time looking at the front anyway.

In a world where most smartphones look pretty much the same, the LG Optimus V fits right in. So while the LG Optimus V is a budget device, most people looking over your shoulder would never know it.

In terms of interior specs, the LG Optimus V sports a 600MHz processor, 320×480 pixel capacitive touchscreen, Bluetooth 2.1 including A2DP & AVRCP for music streaming and remote playback control, a 3.2 megapixel camera without flash, A-GPS, WiFi and the whole shebang weighs in at 4.6 ounces (130 grams).

The LG Optimus V carries Google’s ‘with Google’ branding, so I was hoping for a pretty vanilla Android experience…and that’s pretty much what I found. From what I could see, apart from a couple of Virgin Mobile apps, the LG Optimus V appears to be running something very close to stock Android 2.2. So far all the apps I’ve downloaded from the Android Market have worked perfectly, such as Skype, Pulse and my new personal fave Google Translate. Bear in mind you can only make Skype calls over WiFi with the LG Optimus V.

LG Optimus V 10Even though the LG Optimus V doesn’t have the fastest processor on the planet I found the 600MHz CPU to be perfectly capable as a daily driver for the phone. In my mixed usage of email, browsing, YouTube, streaming audio over Bluetooth and playing Angry Birds, I only occasionally noticed hangs or delays. The LG Optimus V has generally been reliable, although it has spontaneously restarted itself twice in my two weeks of usage.

One welcome addition in the LG Optimus V is that it ships with Swype installed. This allows for fast typing by moving your finger across letters on the smartphone’s virtual keyboard. I was impressed with Swype on the Samsung Epic 4G and it’s all the more useful on the LG Optimus V since the Optimus lacks a hardware keyboard. Swype isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely competent. I wrote this whole review on the LG Optimus V using Swype.

The screen on the LG Optimus V is not super high-res, but at 320×480 it’s dense enough for 3.2 inches of real estate, and I’ve found it to be perfectly usable. Then again, I’m not the kind of person who’s going to get out a magnifying glass and complain if I can see individual pixels. More importantly the screen can be cranked up to be up bright enough to be legible outdoors for occasional things like checking Google Maps or sending texts. Wearing polarized sunglasses also helps to minimize screen reflections when trying to read the LG Optimus V’s screen on sunny days.

LG Optimus V 7One thing I absolutely love about the LG Optimus V so far is its battery life. I’ve found it easy to get through a day with regular usage. I don’t spend all day on my phone mind you, but I do have it set up to pull email from multiple accounts regularly, stream music during my commute and update various feeds in the background. It’s refreshing to not have to turn off things like Bluetooth and background services during the day just to make sure I have enough juice for my journey home. Your mileage may vary though depending on how you use the LG Optimus V.

I’m guessing this power efficiency comes from a few factors. Firstly, the LG Optimus V has a slower processor than the 1GHz+ CPUs on the top end juice guzzling smartphones. Secondly, backlighting the LG Optimus V’s 3.2 inch screen probably uses less power compared to backlighting a 4+ inch screen on larger smartphones. Lastly the LG Optimus V uses 3G rather than 4G, which tends to require a lower power draw from the radio.

On that subject, I’ve seen some forum discussions questioning whether the LG Optimus V is restricted to 1x RTT. I can happily confirm that the LG Optimus V uses 3G where possible and downgrades to 1x RTT if the 3G signal is too weak.

In terms of connection speeds, in downtown Manhattan I’ve been experiencing download speeds that I think are fine for a phone with a smallish screen. In terms of specifics, I’ve measured consistent download speeds of around 1.1Mbps and upload speeds of around 0.4Mbps. For app downloading, watching HQ YouTube videos and listening to Pandora, that kind of speed is absolutely fine. It’s worth checking coverage in your area before you take the plunge though, and bear in mind that Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network. So if your area has good Sprint 3G coverage then

LG Optimus V indoor photo 2

The Optimus V captures a decent amount of detail on this indoor shot of Halo with good ambient lighting

you should be fine. Having said that, Virgin Mobile does have a 30 day return policy, so you could always take advantage of that if you’re not happy.

There are a couple of downsides to the LG Optimus V. Firstly, it’s camera is okay for quick snaps but nothing to write home about . It only has a 3.2 megapixel sensor and lacks a flash, so photos in well lit environments come out far better than those taken in dimly lit rooms. I’d really like to see a decent 5 megapixel sensor with a flash as standard on all smartphones. Secondly although the LG Optimus V can record video, it’s not capable of capturing HD footage. Again, I think being able to shoot in 720p should soon be the minimum for smartphones. Lastly the LG Optimus V only ships with a 2GB Micro SD card, so it’s worth setting aside some extra green if you need more storage for your extensive music collection. Given the LG Optimus V’s price though, these issues are easily forgiven since on balance this smartphone is far more capable than its price would indicate.

Check out our review of the new Virgin Mobile Motorola Triumph!

Overall I’ve been seriously impressed with the Virgin Mobile LG Optimus V. It handles run-of-the-mill smartphone tasks competently, looks good and is cheap to run. I was worried that the LG Optimus V might be a let down because of its low price, but in reality it’s possibly the best smartphone value on the US market today.

Neil Berman


Feb 27, 2011 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The $25-a-month Android phone is coming

We’ve covered the higher end Virgin Mobile products recently because they’re shaking up the smartphone and mobile data markets with seriously funky pricing. Hot on the heels of recent rumors, samsung-intercept-virgin-mobilethe carrier has now announced that it’s bringing the Samsung Intercept Android smartphone to it’s lineup this month for $249.99.

Virgin Mobile will be offering the Samsung Intercept on its Beyond Talk plans so yes that means you’ll be able to run it for $25 a month with no contract. $25!! Are you kidding?? The Intercept might be outclassed by the likes of the Droid X and the Epic 4G, but it’s still a perfectly solid midrange Android smartphone. It packs an 800MHz processor running Android 2.1 and I would expect the usual Android goodies to be present, like Google Navigation, a decent browser and Android Marketplace. On the downside the Samsung Intercept’s camera is a middling 3.2 megapixel affair and it uses the slower EVDO Rev. 0 data speed. But $25, for unlimited data, texts and 300 voice minutes on a genuine Android smartphone!

We’re hoping to get our hands on this puppy as soon as possible so stay tuned for a review…

Neil Berman

Oct 5, 2010 Posted by | Hardware | , , , | Leave a comment

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 Review

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 mainIt used to be that the internet connections for our computers were fed into homes, colleges and more recently coffee shops.  In today’s mobile era we want data everywhere, like parks, beaches and for funky stuff such as live-streaming outdoor weddings to family members around the world.  But there’s never a WiFi hotspot when you really need one.  Enter the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200, a 3G mobile broadband WiFi hotspot able to serve data to five devices simultaneaously.

Now you may well say, “Hold on, MiFis have been around for ages!” and you’d be right…but not at this price. The Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 asks for only $40 a month, with no contract, to feed unlimited data to your hungry devices. That, my friends, sounds like a slam dunk of a deal to me. We have one right here for review thanks to those wonderful folks at Virgin Mobile, so let’s see what it can do.

First impressions of the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 charging portThe Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 ships in similar packaging to the carrier’s cellphones, encased in a sealed clear plastic box.  It’s attractive but would benefit from some kind of tear off strip to make it easier to open.  The MiFi 2200 is viewable from the outside of the box, so its small size and shiny silver exterior are immediately visible.

Cutting open the box reveals a charger, USB cable, cloth pouch, activation guide and the MiFi 2200 itself.  While the MiFi 2200 looked tiny in the box, its silver topside gave the impression that it might be a little weighty.  The reality is quite the opposite; the MiFi 2200 is amazingly light at just 58 grams (2.05 ounces).  The silver fascia is actually colored plastic with an attractive brushed metal look, while the underside is matte black.  The power button sits on the top, while the micro-USB charging

slot and status indicator are on the side.  There is a removable battery cover on the underside, so if you’re planning a long journey away from power sources then carrying spare batteries is an option.

Setting up the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200

The MiFi 2200 needs to be charged before first use, which takes around 2.5 hours.  The power light illuminates yellow during charging and then turns green when the device is fully charged.  After that, setting up the MiFi 2200 was a simple process as the activation guide in the box is easy to follow.  After switching on the MiFi 2200, it showed up in the list of available WiFi connections in the devices I was using and from there it’s just a case of following the activation steps.

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 batteryThis is the point where you need to buy a no-contract plan to get data flowing to the MiFi 2200.  Virgin Mobile has made the choices pretty simple; it’s either $10 for 100MB or $40 for a month of unlimited data.  In my mind that translates to $10 if you have a short trip to make or occasionally need to go online when away from home for light data usage, or $40 if you’re a frequent user.  That pricing compares extremely favorably with the main carriers who typically ask for around $60 per month on a two year contract for mobile broadband.

Once the MiFi 2200 is fully activated, it’s worth setting up some security before you start using the device.  Options include WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption as well as a MAC address filter to ensure only trusted devices can connect to the MiFi 2200.

Using the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200

The Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 uses the Sprint cell network for data connectivity, so performance largely depends upon coverage in your area.  I tested the MiFi 2200 is downtown New York City, using an Apple iPad and a Dell Latitude laptop.  The MiFi 2200 can act as a WiFi hotspot for up to five devices simultaneously.

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 iPadI saw download speeds of around 400-500kbps and upload speeds of 500-600kbps, which I found to be perfectly usable for web surfing, making Skype voice calls and even watching Netflix on the iPad’s Netflix app.  Since I have the 3G iPad, I clocked some comparisons between using AT&T’s 3G radio on the iPad and using the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 to provide data.  The results were pretty interesting.

The iPad consistently loaded web pages faster using the MiFi 2200 compared to using the built-in AT&T 3G radio, and by a good margin.  For example CNET’s Crave page consistently loaded fully in 16-18 seconds on the iPad through the MiFi 2200, compared to 31-33 seconds through the built-in AT&T 3G radio.  Netflix started streaming quicker using the MiFi and playback was faultless, whereas there were occasional freezes using the AT&T 3G radio.  However the benchmark speed tests showed that the AT&T connection was capable of faster data bursts than the MiFi 2200, sometimes bursting as high as 1,300kbps.

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 Speedtest

Speedtest results from the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 in downtown New York City

This seems to indicate that the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 gets more consistent signal quality in my specific area of New York City, given that video streaming was smooth throughout my usage and pages loaded consistently quickly.  Whereas AT&T can provide faster one-time bursts in my area, although these are of lesser value to the quality of the overall web experience.

Looking to the MiFi 2200’s weaknesses, there’s very little to not like about using the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200.  Sure, we would love it to offer 4G rather than 3G and in our dreams that product might be born one day as a descendant of the Sprint Overdrive.  But given that Virgin Mobile is a newcomer to the mobile broadband sector, I wouldn’t expect to see a 4G Virgin Mobile MiFi until that market has sufficient saturation to warrant aggressive price competition.

It would also be great if the MiFi 2200 had a day-long battery rather than the 3-4 hours I experienced.  On the plus side as I mentioned earlier, the battery is swappable and you could of course plug the MiFi 2200 into a power outlet while using it if necessary.  The MiFi 2200 will also go into standby if not used for a while to save battery power.

Is the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 really a bargain?

In a word: Yes. Offering similar performance and mobility as its competitors but at a significantly lower monthly cost, the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 is an excellent deal.  It makes a great partner to any WiFi enabled mobile device and even makes me wish I’d bought the regular iPad instead of the 3G version!

Neil Berman

Sep 16, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 review

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530

Last month we reviewed the Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch and concluded it worked well as a smartphone for newbies or light data users. We suggested at the time that Virgin Mobile’s BlackBerry 8530 might be a better bet for those looking for a more rounded smartphone experience and promised a review, so here it is.

We covered Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk plans in our review of the LG Rumor Touch, but the one difference with the BlackBerry 8530 is that Virgin Mobile asks for an extra $10 per month. This is presumably due to costs associated with

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 back

Back

BIS usage and the higher volume of data that the BlackBerry 8530 will likely consume compared to the other Virgin Mobile data phones. This extra amount brings the base Beyond Talk plan to a still very reasonable $35 with unlimited data, texts and 300 minutes, or $50 for 1,200 minutes. The unlimited minute plan becomes $70 including data and texts. At the time of writing the same situation still applies regarding taxes which is that, in New York at least, the only tax applied is sales tax.

Now back to the BlackBerry 8530. While being a new addition to Virgin Mobile, the BlackBerry 8530 has been on the wider market for a while now. At $299.99 it’s the most expensive phone in the Virgin Mobile line-up, and twice the price of the LG Rumor Touch. So is it twice as good?

First impressions of the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530

When the 8500 series was announced I was skeptical about it during a BerryReporter podcast. My feelings at the time were that BlackBerry already had the 8900 Curve series and should have made the 8500 Curve series more teen orientated with a more obvious social networking focus and fewer traditional BlackBerry menus. RIM chose not to do that and released the 8500 series with the same OS as the rest of the range. While I remain unconvinced of this strategy on most carriers, I think it works well on Virgin Mobile since the 8530 is the only BlackBerry available on that network. More on the software later.

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 battery and micro sd

Battery, micro SD and camera

Looking at the hardware, the BlackBerry 8530 comes in any color on Virgin Mobile as long as it’s black. I was somehow expecting a red option since that is the color I associate with Virgin Mobile and I thought that would be a distinctive tell for the carrier but black it is. The casing is shiny black at least and does look smart. There’s a small, subtle Virgin Mobile logo beneath the keyboard.

The keyboard is a similar design to the 8900, with mildly ridged keys in the standard BlackBerry layout. The 8530 has the optical trackpad of the newer BlackBerrys, rather than the trackball which was famous for needing regular cleaning art best or occasional replacement at worst.

Above the trackpad is the screen, which is one of the newer dazzlingly vivid BlackBerry screens. Unfortunately the resolution is only 320 x 240, so it lacks the stunning pinpoint resolution of the higher end BlackBerry models. The result is that small OS text can look a little pixelated although still perfectly readable.

The left side houses a standard 3.5mm headphone socket, micro-USB charging port and assignable button. The volume controls and a second assignable button are on the right side.

On the top of the 8530 there are track skip and play/pause buttons, the latter of which also serves as a mute button.

There is a two megapixel camera on the back without a flash and a micro SD card slot hides under the battery cover. Thankfully the micro SD card is accessible without needing to remove the battery.

As with the rest of the BlackBerry range, the 8530 feels very well built. It might not ooze the enterprise class quality of the Bold 9000 or 9700, but it feels like it’s built to last.

Using the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530

The Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 runs version 5 of BlackBerry OS, which is pretty vast so I’ll concentrate here on some of the main features.

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 App World

BlackBerry App World

The Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 is able to access BlackBerry App World, which is RIM’s equivalent of Apple’s App Store. There is a wide range of BlackBerry apps available now, and since the OS is able to multitask it’s perfectly possible to have Facebook and IM or RSS apps running in the background while you’re watching a YouTube video or writing an email.

On the subject of YouTube, the BlackBerry 8530 was easily able to stream YouTube videos over the Virgin Mobile network, which actually uses Sprint for cell service. I preferred using the Player for YouTube app which I downloaded from BlackBerry App World, to browse and stream videos rather than the YouTube website but that’s purely a matter of personal preference. The message here is that while I struggled to stream YouTube videos consistently with the LG Rumor Touch, the BlackBerry 8530 worked perfectly every time.

The BlackBerry 8530 has 256MB for app storage, which is a decent amount since BlackBerry apps are generally pretty small in size. The micro SD card can only be used for media files, so if you run out of space for apps you’ll need to clear some out before installing more.

Speaking of media files, the media player on the BlackBerry 8530 is good to use. Videos look fine using the onboard player, although I missed the crystal sharp resolution of the screens on the Bold 9000 and 9700. Pictures can be browsed using a finger swipe across the trackpad.

Music is easily searchable and searches are instant. Playlists can be created on the phone itself and skipping within tracks is simple. There are repeat 1 and All settings as well as shuffle. The speaker is decently loud, although completely

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 browser

Browser

lacking in bass definition; it’s better suited to spoken podcasts than music playback. For music the headphone socket delivers excellent sound quality and the top-mounted playback control buttons are a useful feature.

Something I always look for in a smartphone is whether it supports Bluetooth A2DP stereo audio streaming and AVRCP playback remote control. The BlackBerry 8530 supports both of these and happily streamed music to a Plantronics BackBeat 903 stereo headset with full remote control capabilities. Incidentally this streaming also works fine with downloaded apps that are enabled to use it, such as Pandora and Stitcher, which is handy to know.

The web browser on the BlackBerry 8530 is okay, although nothing special.  It is able to render pages fairly well but lacks Flash and any sense of speed.  It is usable however for basic web surfing and the trackpad serves adequately as a mouse.  Serious surfers may want to look at a downloadable browser such as Bolt.

If you’re considering the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 over the LG Rumor Touch it may well be to take advantage of the renowned BlackBerry messaging capabilities. The 8530 does not disappoint in this regard offering an excellent keyboard, BlackBerry Messenger and downloadable clients for the major IM platforms. Virgin Mobile includes a Twitter app straight out of the box. The BlackBerry 8530 also supports multiple email inboxes and handles email far better than the LG Rumor Touch.

Photo taken on BlackBerry 8530

Photos taken on the BlackBerry 8530 are passable for occasional use, although Halo looks unimpressed

The two megapixel camera of the BlackBerry 8530 is passable but a weak point of the device. By modern standards the resolution is too low, with five or at least three megapixels now being the minimal standard. The camera does take decent shots though and is good enough for occasional use, but with its lack of flash don’t count on using it in low light environments.  There’s a second photo below taken at close range which reveals issues for macro shooting.

Many of the other drawbacks of the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 are common to the whole BlackBerry range. The 8530 takes a long time to boot up if it crashes, so we’re thankful that the platform is relatively stable. You will probably need to reboot once every couple of weeks though to give the 8530 a fresh start if you typically have a lot of apps open simultaneously.

The screen of the BlackBerry 8530, like most other BlackBerrys, is not touch enabled. However the BlackBerry 8530 is very quick to navigate using the optical trackpad. If you’re dying to get a touchscreen phone though, look elsewhere.

Call quality of the BlackBerry 8530 was good with no significant issues. It was able to pair with Bluetooth headsets if you prefer to talk hands-free. Battery life was fine, with two days being achievable with light voice and data use. Heavy users will probably want to juice up the BlackBerry 8530 every night.

Summing up the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530

Overall the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a proper smartphone for a low monthly cost. It’s definitely worth the extra over the LG Rumor Touch if you’re planning to be a heavy data or want a more robust messaging experience. There is the extra $10 monthly to consider above the normal Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk plans plus the initial outlay for the phone is high, but it works out favorably over two years when compared to buying the same phone on a contract with some other carriers. However the market is no longer standing still and MetroPCS has also recently launched the BlackBerry 8530 at a lower device price point but a higher minimum monthly cost. As ever, check out all the deals in your area before you jump in!

Neil Berman

theonbutton.com

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Aug 15, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch review

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 8

Sitting all over America today are people who yearn to upgrade to a smartphone without paying through the nose on a monthly basis for the privilege. Meanwhile sitting in various Virgin Mobile warehouses is the LG Rumor Touch smartphone. Tying these two things together are Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk unlimited data and text plans, which start at a very reasonable $25 per month with 300 voice minutes. So is this the disruptive force that will make smartphone adoption ubiquitous?

First impressions of the Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch

The LG Rumor Touch is a new addition to Virgin Mobile, offering a 3 inch touchscreen with slide out keyboard, email/web/social-networking integration and downloadable Java apps. It runs a proprietary LG Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 9operating system that supports touch throughout. Other notable features include a regular 3.5mm headphone socket, Bluetooth, a micro SD card slot and a 2 megapixel camera with video recording capability.  There’s no fancy OS here or App Store, but the specs are a good match for social-networking-cash-maximizing-wanna-get-something-that-works-and-doesn’t-break-the-back people.

Speaking of dosh, the LG Rumor Touch costs $149.99 and you then have a choice of no-contract pay monthly unlimited data, web, text and plans that have different voice minute allowances. The $25 plan buys you 300 mins, $40 gets you 1,200 mins and $60 buys unlimited talk time. Even better, while there is sales tax applied to the monthly cost, there are none of those pesky hidden charges that can take a $70 monthly contract cost up to around $80-90 when the bill arrives. The Beyond Talk sales tax, at least in New York, takes the $40 plan to just under $44 at the time of writing. And since there’s no contract you can cancel at any time or go up/down plan levels. So when compared to typical voice+data contracts over two years these Virgin Mobile plans can deliver significant savings.

While that all sounds great it’s clearly only useful if the LG Rumor Touch is any good, so is it?

Using the Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch

The LG Rumor Touch feels good in the hand. It appears to be well made and the slide out keyboard feels like it has a solid locking mechanism. The whole device is reasonably light at 4.59 ounces and is compact enough to hide in a pocket with ease.

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 11The social networking and email integration works well enough, although I had difficulty getting new email notifications to come through willingly from online email services.  I found that generally had to load up the email app each time I wanted to access my email, even though I had told the Rumor Touch to run the app to the background when not in use.  This would probably not be an issue for a light user who might only check their email once or twice a day, but I found it annoying to have to wait the few seconds for the email app to load each time I wanted to check my mail.   There’s Facebook integration out of the box and apps like Google Maps and Opera Mini can be easily downloaded.  I was impressed with how quickly the Rumor Touch downloaded and rendered Google Maps data, including satellite images.

On the subject of web content, Opera Mini is definitely a worthy download for the LG Rumor Touch as the built-in web browser is fairly weak. It tends to display information in more of a WAP format compared to how a state of the art smartphone would fully render a page. The Rumor Touch does download information fairly quickly though, as Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint 3G network to provide its service. However one online issue I encountered frequently was that the LG Rumor Touch often failed to play YouTube videos. I have to assume the issues were due to network congestion because while on some occasions YouTube video streaming worked fine, trying to stream the same videos on other days failed. Even when YouTube playback was successful the LG Rumor Touch often thought about the task for upwards of 30 seconds before starting to play the video clip, which is too long in my opinion.

The music player and camera can both make use of the LG Rumor Touch’s micro SD card slot, so with a high capacity card installed it’s possible to carry a large amount of media. The music player works well enough but unfortunately does not play in the background when other apps are in use. That was surprising, especially since most other apps on the LG Rumor Touch can be sent to run in the background.

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 5The camera is decent for general use, although its 2 megapixel resolution lags behind some of the competition. It’s fine for occasional snaps though. There’s also video camera functionality offering QVGA resolution, which is only 320×240.  It records video, but not to a high standard and is no rival for the HD-capable cameras on high-end smartphones.  Nevertheless the feature is useful as long you keep its limitations in mind.  It will play back at acceptable detail on a screen the size of the one on the LG Rumor Touch, but larger computer screens will not flatter the output of the video recorder.

The touchscreen does its job, but it’s resistive rather than the capacitive technology found on the likes of the iPhone and some other touchscreen smartphones. This means it’s more responsive to fingernails or stylus input than broad finger flings. Once you get the hang of it though it’s perfectly passable but don’t expect pinch-to-zoom or any of that funky stuff. The screen colors are vivid and the display is bright.

If touchscreens aren’t your thing, the LG Rumor Touch has a fully featured slide-out keyboard. The keyboard includes a dedicated row of number keys, which is a welcome feature, as well as button for instant access to emoticons. The keys themselves are easy to press and offer good feedback. I found it was easy to type with the LG Rumor Touch with good accuracy.

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 14Battery life was good on the LG Rumor Touch. I managed to get almost two days of general usage between charges, which I consider to be perfectly acceptable for a data phone. I find that current smartphones need a daily charge (some even need an intra-day fill-up) so it’s always nice to know that a phone has some leftover juice if I forget to charge it overnight.  Kudos also to LG for adopting the standard mini USB charging port for the Rumor Touch.

Call quality on the LG Rumor Touch was good, and these days we expect nothing less from a modern phone. Callers heard me fine and I heard them fine in New York City. I did not experience any dropped calls during my time with the LG Rumor Touch.

Is the Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch a good buy?

For a smartphone newbie or light data user, the LG Rumor Touch is a good choice at an excellent price point. It provides enough functionality to enjoy social networking, email and basic web browsing on the move in a compact user-friendly package. While it trails the better featured smartphone market leaders by some margin in many areas, its price point is also stratospherically lower than most competitors over a two year period.  If you’re considering buying the LG Rumor Touch as a genuine iPhone contender though, you will be disappointed.  More demanding users who want better smartphone functionality on a budget might prefer to consider Virgin Mobile’s BlackBerry Curve 8530 which sits at a slightly higher price point.  Stay tuned, our review of the 8530 is coming soon…and as promised here is our Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 review.

All details, including monthly plan features and costs are accurate as at the time of writing and may change in the future.  Consult Virgin Mobile for the most up to date information.

Neil Berman

facebook.com/theonbutton

theonbutton.com

Jul 17, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk is a beyond amazing deal – Update: now with review!

LG Rumor Touch Virgin MobileWay back in May, before things like the the World Cup, iPhone 4 and Summer happened, Virgin Mobile announced its Beyond Talk contract-free cellphone plans.  These pay-monthly-until-you-choose-to-stop plans provide unlimited text, email, data and web starting at a crayzeee $25, and come with with fewer taxes than typical monthly contract plans.

I recently purchased an LG Rumor Touch for $149, which is a 3″ touchscreen smart-feature-phone with a hardware keyboard and put it on a Beyond Talk plan to see what all the fuss is about.  I’ll fill you in on my experiences shortly but, as I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s hard to say no to unlimited data plus 300 minutes for only $25 or 1,200 minutes for $40…just as long as you can live with the limited phone selection.

Update – here’s the review: Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch review

Neil  Berman

facebook.com/theonbutton

theonbutton.com

Jun 28, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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