While the pay-as-you-go strategy is a great way to reach younger cell phone customers, it helps if the handset itself is as hip as the target audience. Enter the Audiovox 8500, a slick, little number that operates on Virgin Mobile's service and is sure to turn a few heads. Unfortunately, as fetching as this model might be on the surface, it's not exactly a crack performer.
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Minor player: This pocketable phone is small and slim.
With such style come some compromises. The keypad is a bit cramped, and the buttons lie flat on the unit. The menu buttons are even smaller, so it's easy to strike the wrong key. Even worse is the dim backlighting on the keys and the nine-line displays, which makes the unit difficult to operate in low-light situations. Never mind that you can choose among seven colors for the screen--they're all equally dark, and adjusting the contrast offers minimal relief.
But we did like the sturdy feel to the unit. The flip cover gives a solid click when opening and closing, and the construction seems solid enough to withstand the handset being carried in the front pocket of your pants for long periods.
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Easy access: The phone's dedicated buttons launch popular features such as the built-in speakerphone.
Within five minutes of completing the activation process, we received a text message notifying us that the phone was ready for use. However, Virgin notes that this process can take up to four hours.
Unlike AT&T Wireless's GoPhone service, which automatically replenishes your account, Virgin Mobile lets you decide when to "top up" your account and for what amount. You also have the option of automatically topping up $30 or $50 each month if you don't want to be caught unconnected.
As long as you add at least $20 to your account every 90 days, your entire balance is good for 90 days, beginning each time you top up. Conversely, you can't carry over unused funds in the GoPhone from month to month. Overall, we prefer the flexibility of Virgin's payment plan.
As for the handset, the 8500 has more features than you'd might expect. You get a built-in speakerphone; a 300-number phone book; a selection of 40 ring tones as well as a vibrate mode; a Web browser via the high-speed 1xRTT networks; and Virgin Xtras, with which you can get music clips, ring tones, and movie listings. There's no charge to browse Virgin Xtras, but you'll have to pay for airtime when using the applications.
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Mixed bag: While the 8500 won't win any medals for talk time, it does well in standby mode.
That weak signal may have accounted for the weak talk-time battery life. We managed only 1.75 hours on a single charge, compared with the rated 2.6 hours. In contrast, some phones with color displays offer better talk time than this model. Standby time, however, was an excellent 220 hours (more than nine days), easily beating the rated 150 hours.