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LG Unify review:

Flexible service, mediocre phone

Performance

Of course Custom's flexibility will only be as good as the network it's on, and the 4G connectivity on Virgin Mobile's Sprint-backed network was sporadic at best. Here in San Francisco speeds peaked at about 3.48Mbps, but generally hovered around an average of 1.7Mbps. Connectivity would also occasionally fizzle down to about 0.30Mbps at seemingly random intervals during the day, only to climb back to its normal (but still abysmal) speeds a half-hour or so later.

Network connectivity and performance can vary by location however, so as always, be sure to check a coverage map. The device's call quality was similarly unsatisfying: the people I spoke with complained that I sounded distant, and occasionally crackly. An anemic speakerphone sits on the rear and proved similarly unpleasant, turning calls into a thin, almost raspy experience.

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Network test results were sporadic, at best. Screenshots by Nate Ralph/CNET

The Unify offers a mere 1GB of internal storage, which simply isn't enough for much of anything. You'll want to grab expandable storage: the phone supports up to 32GB microSD cards. But while the 1.2GHz dual-core processor isn't much to write home about, it suits the device well. Apps load quickly, and I was able through menus and the like without issue. Games like Temple Run 2 also run smoothly, so you needn't necessarily do without a bit of casual gaming.

Battery life, by contrast, is excellent: the phone lasted 12.5 hours on our video playback test, so you can be confident that it'll stick around for the long haul.

Camera

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The colors on this figurine look faded, washed out. Nate Ralph/CNET

The 5-megapixel shooter on the rear is serviceable, though disappointing. Colors lose their vibrancy, and tend to look washed out and faded.

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Image quality improves outdoors, but details are still lacking. Nate Ralph/CNET

Things improve in bright, outdoor light, but that only serves to highlight the muddled, blurry details. The autofocus is also a tad sluggish, which will make for missed shots if your subject is active (or impatient).

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The objects in our standard test shot are visible, though the objects on the edges of the frame are out of focus. Josh Miller/CNET

The 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera churns out muddy, unflattering images. The phone is capable of recording 1080p video, but that suffers from the same drawbacks as the still camera, churning out washed out, grainy videos that are generally out of focus.

Conclusion

The LG Unify is a disappointment, with middling call quality, dismal network speeds here in San Francisco, and a lackluster camera. And at $130, it's certainly doesn't seem like an especially good deal: spending a bit extra for the $180 Motorola Moto G will net you a far better experience. If you're looking for something in the LG Unify's price-point, consider the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce 2 : it's not the strongest performer, but it's just $126 sans contract and has a 5-inch, 960x540-pixel display; it also runs Android 4.4 KitKat.

But the LG Unify's greatest flaw is that it's one of the few ambassadors to Virgin Mobile's Custom pre-paid service. Custom is a phenomenal idea, and boils down oft-confusing monthly contract options into a simple, customizable menu that anyone can tailor to fit their use case or budget. And Custom's flexibility means that your plan can grow or shrink as needed, which leaves a wonderful amount of control in the customer's hands.

Limiting this service to just three devices is problematic enough. The LG Unify is little more than a vessel for getting access to Virgin Mobile's Custom service plans, and when one of those devices is this unimpressive, it sours the entire experience.

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