Virgin Mobile USA has a handful of higher-end cell phones and smartphones on its prepaid roster, but the Samsung Intercept is the carrier's first Android offering. The Intercept is no stranger to the United States, having arrived three months before on its parent company, Sprint. Although the Intercept is an entry-level Android phone by all counts, it's one of the most advanced for Virgin's customers, and is a welcome addition to the carrier's pool of phones.
When we first got our hands-on view of Virgin Mobile's Intercept at CTIA Fall 2010, we joked that its hardware specs made it a phone of "32"--because it has a 3.2-inch screen, a 3.2 megapixel camera, and a 32GB expandable memory card slot. Like the Sprint model, the Intercept for Virgin Mobile comes with the usual Android treats such as integration with Google contacts and calendar, Google Maps with free turn-by-turn voice navigation, and the endless Android Market. What's lacking are the hardware touches that separate the entry-level, midrange, and high-end devices, like large, lush screens; speedy processors; and cameras starting at 5 megapixels. We do give Samsung kudos for instilling the Intercept with Android 2.1, and we hope Virgin Mobile USA updates it to Android 2.2 (Froyo).
The Intercept costs $249.99 for the hardware, plus a monthly $25, $40, or $60 plan. (Contrast that with a $99.99 price tag for the Intercept on Sprint, plus a two-year monthly service agreement.) Keep in mind that prepaid phones typically cost more than they would with a two-year service agreement; however there's no credit check with a prepaid phone and no contractual obligation.
Portions of this review are taken from the Samsung Intercept review for Sprint, since the hardware is identical for Sprint and Virgin Mobile.
The Intercept resembles many of its Samsung cousins with a black face and rounded corners. In this case, the phone is offset by a bright silver rim and has other thick silver accents. Size wise, the phone is no shrinking violet. It measures 4.43 inches long by 2.19 inches wide by 0.59 and weighs a solid 4.9 ounces. A back cover made from soft-touch material adds a nice touch as well. Don't get us wrong--we find the Intercept to be a perfectly pleasant-looking handset, but the phone's clunky body is a far cry from the impression of sleekness found in Samsung's other QWERTY models.
The Intercept has a very decent 3.2-inch WQVGA capacitive touch-screen display that is fairly responsive. This is a reasonable size for a touch screen, though the icons are on the small side, especially when compared to Android phones with 3.5-inch displays and above. On the plus side, the screen is bright and colorful on the eye, and the usual Android settings menu can help manage screen brightness if you're trying to reduce battery strain.
Below the display are the four Google-mandated backlit sensor keys for accessing the Android menu options, Home, Back, and Search. Holding down the home button brings up a task manager that shows your recently opened applications. This lets you multitask quite easily. As with a few other various Samsung models, the Intercept's square directional pad doubles as an optical touch pad. However, since the touch pad is smaller than a fingertip, we rarely used it. The navigation array is flanked by a Talk button and an End/Power button.
On the phone's right side are a camera button and a 3.5-millimeter headset jack. On the left, there's a volume rocker and a microSD card slot that accepts up to 32GB extra memory. The phone comes with a 2GB card installed. The Micro-USB charging port is on the top, and the back is home to a 3.2 megapixel camera with a tiny vanity mirror.
The slide-out QWERTY keyboard is a nice reveal. The buttons are smaller than on the slightly taller, and angle in. Interestingly, the center buttons are flatter than those on the periphery, which are slightly domed for easier pressing. We liked the placement of the Function key, which was easily accessible. Both landscape and portrait modes give you access to the virtual QWERTY keyboard any time you'd rather keep your fingertips trained on the touch screen, though we found the smallish virtual keyboard less accurate to type on in portrait mode.
The Samsung Intercept comes with Android 2.1, which is excellent since some manufacturers are still releasing phones with earlier, far less feature-rich operating systems. We haven't heard anything official yet, but Virgin Mobile updating the OS to Android 2.2 (Froyo) would make it more powerful still. We're glad that Samsung has kept its TouchWiz interface off this phone.