If you've been looking to buy a smartphone on the cheap,
meaning with low monthly rates and without a two-year contract, you
know that there are plenty of Android-powered options out
The problem is, most of those phones have small screens, old
operating systems, slow processors, limited features, 3G-only
connectivity, or some other catalog of compromises.
That's why I'm thoroughly excited by the Virgin Mobile
Supreme, a 5-inch powerhouse of a smartphone that's quite possibly
the best deal no-contract I've seen yet.
I'll get to the specifics in a minute. For now, let's talk
turkey: the Supreme costs $299.99, while Virgin Mobile's
"unlimited" service plans start at just $35 per month--a rate that
includes 4G data (where available, and for the first 2.5 gigabytes
you consume--hence the quotation marks) and 300 voice
On the spec front, the phone offers nearly everything most
users need--and I say that as someone who thinks it's foolish to
chase after ultra-fast processors and ultra-high-resolution screens
in a phone. There's only so much horsepower you need to check
e-mail, watch Netflix videos, and play Candy Crush Saga, and only
so many pixels you need to see it all. Apple, Samsung, and other
manufacturers are pushing serious overkill.
This is not to say the Supreme lacks muscle, because it
doesn't: a 1.5GHz dual-core processor powers a 720p screen that
measures a full 5 inches. If you think that's somehow a compromise
compared with, say, the 1080p Samsung Galaxy S4, it's not--not when
the screen measures just five inches
diagonally. (There's a reason most smaller HDTVs run at
720p, too. Anything higher would be a waste.)
Indeed, I'm currently looking at the Supreme alongside a
Verizon HTC One, an indisputably wonderful phone with a metal case,
1080p screen, and screaming processor. And you know what? When it
comes to everyday functionality, they're nearly identical. Books
load instantly in the Kindle app; text appears razor-sharp. Web
pages zoom and scroll smoothly. Virgin's bundled Real Racing 3 game
runs like silk and looks jaw-droppingly gorgeous.
Kudos, too, to the Supreme's 13-megapixel camera, which
delivered noticeably better photos and videos than the camera in my
Like I said, this phone delivers nearly everything most users
need. Plus, it has a microSD slot and removable battery, two key
Android advantages the much pricier One lacks (and the iPhone has
Is it perfect? Not hardly. Virgin Mobile stuffs the phone with
an annoying amount of bloatware, and my fingers keep accidentally
pressing the volume and camera buttons, which are placed in the
worst possible positions. Perhaps more important, 4G LTE coverage
(provided by Sprint) is not yet available where I live, so I'll be
looking at 3G most of the time.
I'm actually fine with that. I mostly have access to Wi-Fi
networks anyway, and when I'm out and about, I find 3G to be more
than adequate for my mobile data needs (which typically amount to
checking e-mail and listening to Pandora).
My iPhone's AT&T contract expires next month. The Virgin
Mobile Supreme is now on my very short list of possible
replacements. For less than half the price per month, I can get a
much better phone without being on the hook for another two years.
Seems almost crazy to do anything else.Veteran technology writer Rick Broida
is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his
money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC