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LG Tribute review: Premium style on a budget

In my testing, the camera produced good, but not stellar photos. It struggled to pick up fine details, and occasionally made shadows overly dark, but overall it performed well.

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In this outdoor landscape shot, the details in the waves comes through, but there is a lot of digital noise on the sand. Sarah Mitroff/CNET
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Digital noise was also a problem in this indoor shot, though the lighting is well balanced. Sarah Mitroff/CNET
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The lighting is good in this close up, and you can make out the details in the leaves and plastic snake. Sarah Mitroff/CNET
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In the standard studio photo, the scene looks overly dark and the colors fall flat. James Martin/CNET

The camera can capture 1080p video and the video I shot with the Tribute looked sharp and picked up fine details a bit better than in photos. There were still a few lighting issues, mostly that any dark or shaded areas looked overly dark. You can also capture still shots while recording video with Live Shot, a handy feature.

Call quality

I tested the Tribute on Virgin Mobile's network in San Francisco, and I was impressed with what I heard. In my test calls, voices on both ends sounded clear and natural, with very little distortion and no static. Occasionally, my testing partner sounded a bit muffled, but I could still hear her just fine. The phone did a good job of reducing any background noise, even outside next to a busy street.

On speakerphone, my testing partner said I sounded clearest when I held the microphone close to my mouth, but that when I moved it farther away, it was still easy to hear me. On my end, her voice was crisp, natural and loud, without getting distorted even at the highest volume. Unfortunately, that speaker didn't perform as well when playing music or videos, as it sounded harsh and distorted at high volumes.

Virgin Mobile LG Tribute call quality sample

Performance: Processor, data, and battery

Inside, the Tribute has a 1.2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and 1GB of RAM, both which keep the phone snappy and responsive. I did notice some occasional lag when opening apps and menus, but it didn't detract too much from the overall experience.

Likewise, the Tribute handled games well, with almost zero lag or dropped frames. Just a note that I wasn't able to run a Quadrant test on the Tribute because the phone asked me to turn of any network connection to run a benchmark app, and the Quadrant Standard app needs an Internet connection to calculate the results.

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Behind the back cover, you can add an SD card for extra storage. James Martin/CNET

There's 4GB of internal storage for apps, photos and files, and if you need more space, you can use an SD card to add up to 32GB. If you plan to install a lot of apps or snap a lot of photos, you'll want to get an SD card, because 4GB can fill up quickly.

LG says the removable 2,100mAh battery is offers up to 15 hours of talk time, and I found that the phone lasted a full day without a charge while checking email, playing games, and making a few phone calls. I can see it lasting a full day with moderate use, but if you'll spend a lot of time on your phone, playing performance-hogging games, you might need to top off the battery. With CNET's battery test, in which the phone plays a video on a loop until the battery runs out at fifty percent brightness, the Tribute lasted just over 9 hours, an impressive feat.

LG Tribute (Virgin Mobile) performance times

Average 4G download speed 8.74Mbps
Average 4G upload speed 3.55Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 43.7MB in 40.2 seconds
CNET mobile site load 3.4 seconds
CNET desktop site load 11.5 seconds
Restart time 32.13 seconds
Camera boot time 2.10 seconds

The phone runs on Virgin Mobile's CDMA network and gets 4G LTE data speeds via Sprint's Spark 4G LTE service. In my tests, browsing the Internet was fast, as was downloading apps. Streaming video loaded quickly in HD and played without any buffering. While the LTE speeds are great, I could do without the sun-like Spark logo in the status bar that spins frequently.

Should you buy it?

LG's Tribute impressed me from the moment I took it out of the box. Its modern design gives it a premium feel, while the internal guts come together to create a deft phone that handles everyday tasks well and the snappy LTE data speeds give you a fast experience when browsing the Web and cruising your social networks.

The Tribute is a budget phone done right, thanks to its polished design and solid specs. For $80, you don't have much to lose and you could do much worse on Virgin Mobile.

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