The Loft has a 500-contact phone book with six phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, two instant message handles, two URLS, two street addresses and notes for each contact. You can save contacts to groups, but only groups can be paired with a photos and one of the five polyphonic ringtones. We'd prefer to see more options on a Virgin Mobile handset, particularly one that has a camera. You can back up your contacts with the carrier's Contact Vault for $1 per month.
Messaging, of course, is the Loft's main focus. In addition to the standard text and multimedia messaging, the Loft offers access to POP3 e-mail services like Yahoo, AOL, Gmail and Hotmail, and instant messaging services from AOL, Google Talk, and Windows Live. Though the e-mail instant messaging services require a Web-based interface, all services are combined into a convenient "Ultimate Inbox."
Organizer options include a voice memo recorder, a calendar, an alarm clock, a tip calculator, a world clock, a calculator, a timer, a stopwatch, and a memo pad. You'll also find Bluetooth, an airplane mode, a contacts search, auto-answer, USB support, and speaker-independent voice dialing. The Loft also offers GPS support through Google Maps or Virgin Navigator. The latter is $9.99 per month or $2.99 for 24 hours.
With few features the Loft's 1.3-magpixel camera seems almost like an afterthought. It takes pictures in three resolutions and you can choose from two quality settings. Other options include a self-timer, brightness and white balance settings, 10 frames, a multishot mode, three color tones, and eight shutter sounds (there's no silent option). Photo quality is quite good, with sharp clarity, accurate color, and little image noise. The Loft does not shoot video.
Unlike other Virgin Mobile phones, the Loft doesn't push its media or social networking features. They exist, to be sure, but you have to dig around to find them. You can get online with the Opera Mini browser, and the VM Connect service offers access to an RSS reader and services like Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. The Loft also lets you download music tracks and other apps, but it lacks a dedicated music player. Gamers get demo versions of three titles: Brain Exercise, Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man and Tetris.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was decent, though not without problems. We had no issues with the volume or signal strength, though occasionally we heard static during calls. It wasn't consistent, nor was it very loud, but it was still there nonetheless. We recommend testing the phone before purchasing.
On their end, callers reported few problems. They could tell that we were using a cell phone, which isn't unusual. They didn't hear static, but a few friends reported that the Loft picks up a lot of background noise. Speakerphone calls were clear even if the volume doesn't get very loud. Bluetooth headset calls were fine.
The Loft has a rated battery life of 5.5 hours talk time and 12.5 days standby time. Our tests revealed a talk time of 5 hours and 2 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Loft has a digital SAR of 1.16 watts per kilogram.