Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Sane Smartphone

I have so many things I want to write about and so little time (and energy) to actually write them.  You know how it goes.  However, I really want to get this information out to those who can use it.  This is a big deal as far as technology goes.

Right now, you can get a very nice Android smartphone with a very inexpensive plan.  The data is "unlimited" and there is no contract.


LG Optimus V Android Smartphone: $120

Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk Monthly Plans:
$25 - 300 minutes, unlimited data/text
$40 - 1200 minutes, unlimited data/text
$60 - unlimited everything

Plan Details:

This is *not* your typical phone plan.  Please understand the following before jumping to conclusions:

1) The anytime minutes (for phone calls, of course) are actually used any time you talk.  There are no free nights or weekends.

2) There is no contract.  You are free to quit whenever you wish, without penalty.  Even so, it is possible to set up automatic monthly payments so you don't have to babysit your account.

3) You must pay the full price for the phone.  It is not subsidized by the plan because there is no contract.  This is the same hardware as the Sprint Optimus S and other Optimus One variants, which come cheap or free with more expensive plans that use contracts.

4) Look at all the details (extra minutes, foreign calls, etc...) before making your final decision.  I'm only a consumer, and I may not have all my facts straight.  These things are subject to change, as well.  Don't blindly trust anything I'm telling you here.

Technical Phone Details:

Okay, but the phone's a piece of junk, right?  Not at all:

1) The LG Optimus V uses Android 2.2, which is Google's custom version of Linux for mobile devices.  This version of Android has a significant speed boost over 2.1, so it runs much smoother than older phones with earlier versions.

2) The phone display is 3.2 inches, diagonally.  This is small compared to many of the newer smartphones.  I like it because those larger phones look ridiculously large.  This is a cell phone, not a tablet.

3) The display resolution is 320x480 pixels.  This is less detailed than most new smartphones that usually have 480x800 resolution.  However, this is not as not very noticeable due to the small screen size.  Additionally, this means that the graphics hardware doesn't have to work as hard to make things run smoothly.

4) The CPU (processor) runs at 600 MHz, and uses a single core.  Most new smartphones run at 1,000MHz and some even have two cores now.  However, the real-life impact on speed is not as noticeable as the numbers make it sound.  This is because the CPU is rarely the bottleneck for demanding tasks.

5) The phone has a dedicated GPU (graphics processor) which means that the CPU doesn't have to handle the graphics work.  This allows the phone to run much smoother than other phones without dedicated GPUs.  The Optimus V (and brothers) use the Qualcomm Adreno 200.  Much faster GPUs are very common now.  However, I have a very high-tech 3D video game on my phone that runs very smoothly at the highest graphical settings.  Don't let synthetic benchmarks fool you.

Note: Angry Birds is the only application I have used that will sometimes (on a few levels with many moving objects) run slowly on my phone.  I believe this is due to the fact that it uses very inefficient physics calculations.  I don't believe it is a graphics issue.  I have other, much prettier games that run very smoothly.

6) The phone uses 512MB of RAM, which is actually a very standard amount for even the newest smartphones.  This means the phone will be able to handle heavy workloads without stuttering.

7) The phone has 512MB of internal storage, and it comes with a 2GB microSD card.  This is plenty of storage, even for me.

Other Considerations:

1) You don't have to purchase the phone from Virgin Mobile.  You can get it from anywhere.  (I got mine from Be Intouch Wireless.)  After it arrives, call VM and ask them to activate it.  If you want to port over a number from your previous provider, be ready with your credentials (pin, etc...) for that provider.  You should not have to call your old provider first.

2) Don't get the Samsung Intercept unless you *really* want the slide-out keyboard.  It's thicker and slower.  It only uses Android 2.1 and it doesn't have a dedicated graphics processor.

3) The phone actually comes with a screen protector already applied.  DO NOT REMOVE THE SCREEN PROTECTOR AFTER YOU OPEN THE BOX!!!  Simply cut off the tab in the upper-right corner with a sharp knife, and you will save yourself the trouble of buying extra screen protectors and applying them yourself.  The image on the front can actually peel off separately; look at it closely and you will see what I mean.

4) Virgin Mobile's customer service seems good so far.  I had an issue with billing on their website when I first signed up.  After I e-mailed them, they replied back within hours to let me know my problem was resolved.

5) The phone can actually be set up to make VOIP calls to any phone using Wi-Fi.  This requires a bit of work and technical expertise, and it's just a tad laggy.  If you like to tinker, however, this can save you from using up anytime minutes when you're on your home network.

6) There's a lot of bad information out there, so don't install everything everyone tells you to.  I have some recommendations for apps and tweaks that will enable you to get the most out of your phone, but I'll cover that in a separate post.

Are you ready to take the plunge into the smartphone world?  Do you have experience with Virgin Mobile?  Share your thoughts in the comments.