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Virgin Mobile Supreme review: The no-contract smartphone you've been waiting for

By Guest Blogger(view all posts by Rick.Broida)
at 9:48PM Friday September 27, 2013
under Product Review

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 there.

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 minutes.

But, wait, it gets better: For a limited time, and for reasons I can't fathom given how new this model is, the Supreme is on sale for $249.99.

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 iPhone 4S.

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 never had).

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, and also writes for PC World and Wired.