When you first power the handset on, you're automatically prompted to download one of the five available packs named, The Essentials. Though you can cancel the download, you have to manually go into the Mobile ID app and intercept the download process.
Don't get me wrong, the apps packed in this ID pack are useful. You get Facebook, Twitter, a music-streaming app called Virgin Mobile Live, the news app BuzzFeed, Wikipedia, Pandora, Yelp, and a random tuning-fork app. But because all these apps start downloading right at startup, it made me wonder why Virgin didn't just preload these features natively before the product shipped.
The 2-megapixel camera comes with a few editing features, including a 4x digital zoom, flash, geotagging, and five white balance modes (auto, incandescent, daylight, fluorescent, and cloudy). There are also two scene modes (auto, night); two photo sizes (either one or two megapixels); six photo qualities; four color effects (none, mono, sepia, negative); and three antibanding choices (auto, 60Hz, 50Hz).
The video recorder has similar offerings, such as the same color effects and white balance options. There is no zooming or autofocus, but there are five different shooting modes (high, low, MMS for sending videos, YouTube mode for posting videos, and custom). Custom lets you pick out the quality, video and audio encoder, and duration of each video you shoot.
I tested the Virgin Mobile Venturein San Francisco, which runs on Sprint's 3G network. Both signal and call quality were perfectly adequate. I didn't experience any dropped calls, extraneous buzzing, or audio clipping in and out, and voices sounded pretty clear. Calls taken outdoors were a little harder to make out. Increasing the volume helped a bit, but be careful. Sometimes voices got immediately too loud and sharp, and I had to turn the volume down quickly. My friends reported that they could hear me fine, though one said to me that I sounded "distant" -- as if I put her on speakerphone and stepped back. However, she was able to hear and understand everything I was saying.
The output speakerphone quality performed much better. Calls still sounded decent, but music from Virgin's streaming service played loudly. There were instances, though, when songs or dialogue sounded too harsh or sharp, probably due to the fact that the max volume level can be very loud, but they were easy to understand nonetheless.
Listen now: Virgin Mobile Venture call quality sample
The 2-megapixel camera's photo quality was understandably mediocre. Shutter speed was incredibly slow, and the time it took to save each photo after it was taken was a drag. In addition, with such a low-megapixel resolution, photos taken indoors looked grainy and incredibly dull. Colors bled together and the edges of objects did not look refined. Taking photos in an outdoor setting with plenty of natural light improved photo quality somewhat. Colors were a bit more vivid, though not as rich as in real life. Objects still retained blurry outlines, unfortunately.
Video quality was also subpar. Feedback lagged behind my moving of the camera. Objects were extremely blurry, even if I panned the camera as slowly as I could. White balancing also took some time to adjust -- people's skin color would be wonky (sometimes even orange) under certain lighting. After a few seconds, the color tones would finally correct.
The dual-band (850, 1900) Venture runs on Sprint's EV-DO technology and clocked in some solid times for a 3G handset, even faster than another Virgin Mobile 3G device, the. Loading the CNET mobile site, for example, took an average of 16 seconds, while loading our full site took 51 seconds. The New York Times full site took slightly shorter on average, clocking in at 32 seconds, and its mobile site took a mere 9 seconds to load. Ookla's Speedtest 2.99MB app, which took just 42 seconds to download and install, showed me an average of 0.8Mbps down and 0.87Mbps up.
Although I haven't finished our battery drain tests, the phone's reported talk time is 4 hours. Anecdotally, it had a decent battery life. After spending about hours surfing the Web, speaking with my friends, and listening to music, the handset still had about a third of its juice left. And when inactive but powered on overnight, the battery wouldn't drain. However, a lot of other customers have experienced poor battery life, so that's something to keep in mind. According to FCC radiation tests, the device has a digital SAR rating of 1.17W/kg.Conclusion
The Virgin Mobile Venture is a respectable entry-level handset if you're just starting to dip your toe into smartphone territory. Though camera quality and processing speeds are nothing to write home about (its specs are simply too low to impress anyone -- the former produces grainy photos and the latter makes for a sluggish user experience), the device makes decent calls and has a solid data connection.
In addition to that, though I had plenty of gripes about its poorly designed keyboard, the rest of its build is easy to handle. And with the reasonable price tag of just $79.99, it's safe to say that starting off with the Venture won't be too great of a risk to take.