Virgin Mobile never tries to be more than what it is, and that's a good thing. The company has carefully cultivated an image of a hip, cool carrier that produces cheap, basic cell phones for the youth market. Granted, not every phone from the carrier has been a winner, but Virgin Mobile still accomplishes what it sets out to do. The latest model, the Kyocera Marbl (K127), isn't quite as flashy as the Kyocera Cyclops but it's still a decent phones for making calls. And at $29, it's a steal.
We've never been fans of flip pones without external displays, so we have to dock the Marbl from the start for the same reason. Yes, we get that an external display makes a phone more expensive, but we just don't like having to open a handset to see who's calling. Other than its lack of an external display, the Marbl does well with its design overall. The plain black form with the center stripe has an understated appeal that's broken only by the Virgin Mobile logo and a small speaker.
Though Virgin Mobile has advertised the Marbl's thin profile, its measurements of 3.3 inches by 1.7 inches by 0.8 inch wouldn't get it far in the slim-phone Olympics. On the other hand, it is pretty light, at 2.96 ounces, and there's no external antenna to add more girth. Other external features on the phones are few. A headset jack and a volume rocker sit on the left spine, and a charger ports rests on the phone's bottom end. The construction is solid on the whole, and the Marbl opens and shuts with authority.
The Marbl's 1.5-inch display (128x128 pixels) is a tad small for the phone's overall size, and the 65,000-color display doesn't pop with vivid resolution. Yet the phone perfectly fine for most uses. Although the icons don't make a lot of sense, the menus are easy to use and aren't too laden with animation. You can change the backlighting time and the contrast, but the text size is small and nonadjustable.
The navigation array has a spacious design with user-friendly controls. There's a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, Talk and End/power controls, a Back button, and a dedicated speakerphone button. Though we always welcome the speakerphone button, the icon on that particular key wasn't very obvious. The toggle doubles as a shortcut to four oft-used features, but it's annoying that the OK button won't open the menu when the phone is in standby mode. Most of the controls are relatively flat with the surface of the phone, but we were able to dial by feel most of the time. The keypad buttons are also flush, but they're large for the phone's size and are lit by a bright backlight.
The Marbl's features could hardly be any simpler. The phone book is small, with just 200 contacts, but each entry holds six phone numbers, two e-mail address, two Web addresses, two street addresses, and notes. You can save callers to groups, but only groups can be paired with one of the four (yes, you get only four) polyphonic ringtones. You can assign groups a photo as well, but keep in mind that without a camera, multimedia messaging, or an external display it's all a bit pointless.
Other features are decent for this caliber of phone. Inside you'll find a vibrate mode, text messaging, a speakerphone, a voice memo recorder, a calculator, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a scheduler, a countdown timer, and a tip calculator. The Marbl also supports speed dialing, and we were excited to find voice dialing onboard as well.
You can personalize the Marbl with a variety of color themes, wallpapers, screensavers, and alert sounds. Personalization has always been a big Virgin Mobile theme, so naturally you can get more options via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser and the carrier's VirginXL service. For playtime, the Marbl offers two games: Brick Attack and Race 21.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Marbl in San Francisco using Virgin Mobile service, which operates on Sprint's network. Call quality was pretty good; volume was quite loud, and voices sounded natural for the most part. At times the audio sounded a little tinny, but it was nothing that was particularly bothersome. Callers didn't report any significant problems on their end, though they could tell we were using a cell phone. Speakerphone quality was about the same.
The Marbl has a rated battery life of 3.8 hours talk time and nine days standby time. Our tests came close, with a rated talk time of 3 hours and 57 minutes.