Virgin Mobile, one of Sprint’s less expensive, prepaid brands, can always use better cell phones. The eco-friendly Samsung Restore (3 stars) was a pretty good texting phone in its Sprint incarnation, and it carries most, but not all of its virtues over to Virgin Mobile. For $79.99 and reasonable monthly fees, you get a capable, QWERTY-equipped messaging device. However, this version of the Restore didn’t perform quite as well as the Sprint model did.
Design, Call Quality, and Apps
First, a quick recap: the Samsung Restore measures 4.6 by 2.1 by 0.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.7 ounces. Given the roomy QWERTY keyboard and slider form factor, that’s pretty compact, although it feels a bit large in the hand. It looks good, though. On the plus side, the Restore is one of Sprint’s greener phones; it’s made of 83-percent recyclable materials, excluding the battery, but loses Sprint’s usual recycled packaging. As a result, this version doesn’t qualify for our GreenTech Approved award. The 2.4-inch screen offers 240-by-320-pixel resolution, which is standard for this type of phone. The Restore’s slider mechanism feels solid, and the four-row QWERTY keyboard is a gem, with well-spaced, flat, rubber keys that have just the right amount of give.
Samsung Restore View SlideshowSee all (4) slides
The Restore is a dual-band, 3G EV-DO Rev. A (850/1900 MHz) device with no Wi-Fi. Voice quality was fine; callers sounded roughly the same as they did on the Sprint version, and no one had trouble understanding me. Reception was a little on the low side; the Restore dropped a few calls during battery tests, and 3G signal was hard to find. I live in an admittedly marginal Sprint coverage area, but other Sprint phones I review don’t usually have these issues. Calls sounded fine through an Aliph Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset ($129, 4 stars), and the voice dialing worked perfectly over Bluetooth without training. The speakerphone punched above its weight, with plenty of volume and a useful dedicated key to the left of the Send button. Battery life was good at 5 hours and 39 minutes of talk time.
The main menu features 12 icons arranged in a grid pattern. The sluggish Access NetFront 3.5.1 browser is fine for WAP pages. But loading the desktop CNN site took about four minutes, and the results looked horrendous. The Social Networking icon contains shortcuts to the Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter WAP sites, not dedicated apps. The Restore is GPS-enabled, and runs Virgin Mobile Navigator and Google Maps. VM Navigator costs $1 per day or $5 per month extra, while Google Maps is a free download. Virgin Mobile’s usual e-mail and IM clients are also available.
Samsung Restore Specifications
- Service Provider
- Screen Size
- 2.4 inches
- Screen Details
- 240-by-320-pixel, 262K-color TFT LCD screen
- 850, 1900
- High-Speed Data
- 1xRTT, EVDO Rev A
Plans, Multimedia, and Conclusions
Virgin Mobile offers three service plans: $35 per month with 300 minutes, a $45 per month with 1200 minutes, and a $55 month option with unlimited voice calls. All three plans come with unlimited text, e-mail, data, and Web access, and the phone runs on Sprint’s network. These are good deals that will save you some money compared with Sprint’s regular plans, though Sprint throws in voice-enabled navigation for free with its unlimited offerings. But here’s the puzzling thing: a real smartphone like the excellent, much more powerful LG Optimus V ($149, 4 stars) costs exactly the same per month. Granted, it’s $70 more up front, but that’s a very small difference when factored over several years. Which phone would you rather have?
On the multimedia side, there’s 85MB of free user memory for ringtones and apps, but the media player won’t fire up without a microSD card installed. The slot is located underneath the battery cover and on the side; my 32GB SanDisk card worked fine. Music tracks sounded fine throughSamsung Modus HM6450 stereo Bluetooth headphones ($99, 4 stars).
The 2-megapixel camera has no flash or auto-focus. Test photos were mediocre; in good lighting, they looked fine, but shadowy areas descended into inky blackness. Shutter speeds were below average; I lost several shots to motion blur. One shot didn’t save, which was odd, since the handset auto-saves each photo; it’s not something you choose manually. Recorded videos were of the useless, thumbnail-sized, 176-by-144-pixel variety; they averaged about 15 frames per second, and were even smaller than the Sprint Restore’s already marginal 320-by-240-pixel videos.
The Samsung Restore is still a decent texting phone, even in Virgin Mobile guise. But the video recording problems and photo-snapping bug are new issues that didn’t affect the Sprint version. As a result, we have to rate it down into the “fair” category. I’d rather put my money on the LG Rumor Touch ($99.99, 4 stars), our current Editors’ Choice for a Virgin Mobile feature phone. It offers better music and video playback, plus a more expansive touch screen on the front panel, in addition to the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Finally, since the monthly fees are the same, give some serious thought to that LG Optimus V Android idea.