Back at CES in January, Sprint announced its first two 4G LTE smartphones, the LG Viper and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Both will be out April 22, but for this review we're going to focus on the Viper. Touted as an eco-friendly midrange device, it is certified platinum by Underwriters Laboratories for fulfilling the highest level of environmental and sustainability requirements. In addition, the company says it avoided using many common but environmentally sensitive materials including brominated flame retardants, polyvinyl chloride, and nickel in manufacturing this phone.
But being green isn't the Viper's only attraction. It's also equipped with an NFC chip and Google Wallet, so you can purchase items wirelessly, transmit data, and share tags with other NFC-enabled devices.
As mentioned, the handset is available, aptly enough, on Earth Day, April 22. It'll set you back an affordable $99.99 after you send in a $50 mail-in-rebate and sign a two-year contract.
Editors' note: When this piece was originally published, it was incorrectly reported that Google Wallet was not activated for users. In actuality, it was not activated only in our early demo device. We also updated this review on December 4, 2012 to reflect that the Viper can now receive an Android 4.0 update.
The LG Viper measures 4.59 inches tall, 2.44 inches wide, and 0.46 inch thick. Weighing in at a hefty 5 ounces, the device felt heavy in my hands. Although it's not very thin, it's slim enough to slide into a jeans back pocket or toss into a bag.
It has a 4-inch WVGA touch screen, which can display 16.7 million colors and has a resolution of 480x800 pixels. The display also has 700 nits of brightness, so colors, images, and video appear extra vivid. HQ YouTube videos were rich, and games like Temple Run were vibrant.
The screen was also responsive, making swiping through pages, pinch zooming, and text messaging a breeze. Above the screen in the right-hand corner is a VGA front-facing camera for vanity shots and video chatting. Below are the four standard navigational keys that light up during use: home, menu, back, and search.
On the left side of the phone, there is a volume rocker with a Micro-USB port below it. Up top are a sleep/power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
While the handset's casing is made out of 50 percent recycled plastics, it certainly doesn't feel cheap. The Viper has a sturdy feel with tapered edges, and its plastic backing looks much more luxurious, resembling steel or metal. The rear-facing camera sits at the top center of the back, next to the LED flash. Below, there is a thin slit for the output speaker. Using a small indent at the bottom of the device, you can remove the back casing and gain access to the 1,700mAh battery and the 4GB microSD slot, which can be expanded up to 32GB.
Despite its 1.2GHz dual-core processor, the LG Viper wasn't as swift and snappy as expected. There would be a slight but noticeable lag while I transitioned through apps, clicked back home, and autorotated. When multiple apps were opened, it took a couple of extra milliseconds to execute its task.
The device runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and can be upgradable to Ice Cream Sandwich starting November 2012. It's a bit disappointing that this is Gingerbread out of the box while the Galaxy Nexus is ICS. But it contains all the Google goodies you've come to expect: Google Books, Gmail, Plus, Search, Latitude, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, Shopper, Music, Talk, YouTube, and the Play Store.
The phone also is equipped with an NFC chip inside for wireless communication with other NFC-enabled devices, and Google Wallet, so you can purchase items with your handset through credit card information stored in your Google account. Unfortunately, Google Wallet was not activated on our early demo device, so I wasn't able to test-drive this feature. Until I get more information, I'll keep you posted. Another feature called Tags lets you organize all the things you tag and share through your NFC chip, like texts, URLs, and pictures.
Sprint included its selection of apps as well, with two sports apps (Nascar Sprint Cup Mobile and NBA Mobile), two media apps (one just for music, the other for TV shows and movies), and SprintZone, an app that keeps you in the loop for Sprint devices and news. If you don't want updates about random Nascar drivers, NBA teams you know nothing about, or have no interest in the entertainment industry, you can, fortunately, delete those apps.
Equipped with Sprint ID, this handset has a customization feature that lets you tailor your home screens with preselected apps, widgets, ringtones, and other items depending on which ID profile you install. There are 42 packs so far, catering to a number of interests including music (CMT and MTV have a Sprint ID pack), sports (ESPN, Fantasy Football), and colleges like UC Davis (go, Aggies!).
Aside from the fact that the packs are unsightly, deleting an ID package won't uninstall the apps that you've downloaded. Instead, you'll have to manually remove each app. You also can't remove the Sprint ID app from the home screen's dashboard, so if you're not a fan, you'll just have to ignore it.
Other task-management apps and goodies include a Web browser, Swype typing, a calculator, a calendar, a clock, Flash Player, a news and weather app, the mobile office suite known as Polaris Office, Smart Share (where you can upload and distribute media to other DLNA-enabled devices), TeleNav GPS Navigation, and a voice dialer.
The 5-megapixel camera with LED flash has several features, including autofocus, a timer, digital zoom, an exposure meter, face tracking, GPS tagging, and four shutter sounds.
It's also equipped with numerous photo options, like eight image sizes (ranging from QVGA to 2,560x1,920 pixels); six scene modes (normal, portrait, landscape, sports, sunset, and night); five ISO choices (auto, and then a range from 800 to 100); five white-balance settings (auto, incandescent, sunny, fluorescent, and cloudy); four color effects (none, mono, sepia, and negative); and three shooting modes (normal, continuous, and panorama).
Switching the camera to the front eliminates some preferences, including the flash, the size (it can only take photos in 640x480), and several scene modes (you can only switch between normal and night). But, a mirror image choice is added that will flip the photo vertically, and there is a "beauty shot" meter that lets you adjust an image's brightness and blurriness. This is useful for softening self-portraits.
When you switch to camcorder mode, you have a choice of six different video recording sizes (ranging from full HD video to 176x144, which is convenient for sending video elsewhere). The same white-balance, exposure meter, zoom, and color-effect options are retained, and you have a choice to mute audio when recording.
If you record with the front-facing camera, the flash and zoom will be gone, and you'll only be able to choose between three video sizes (VGA, QVGA, and QCIF).
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 850, 1900MHz) LG Viper in San Francisco using Sprint's services. Audio quality was disappointing. Voices were muffled and tinny in my ear, and sometimes there would be a slight buzzing noise that came out every time someone said something. When I put my friends or music on speaker, the sharpness was really apparent. Sounds reverberated off the backing of the phone, making it harsh to the ear. My friends told me I sounded stifled while talking as well.
LG Viper call quality sample Listen now:
The device is capable of running on Sprint's 4G LTE network, but since the carrier will launch its 4G later in the middle of the year, the handset ships with its 3G capabilities turned on as the default. Once the 4G network is available in your city, you can turn on your LTE/CDMA settings by customizing your network mode in settings. Compared with the carrier's existing 4G WiMax network, browsing the Web on 3G was sluggish. Playing YouTube video on EV-DO Rev. A was a pain, since it took a while to load. Loading the CNET mobile site took an average of 45 seconds, while loading our full site took 55 seconds. Downloading the 25.75MB game of Temple Run took a whopping 10 and a half minutes. Ookla's Speedtest app, which is 2.99MB, took 2 minutes and 51 seconds to download, and showed me an average of 0.36Mbps down and 0.62Mbps up.
The 5-megapixel camera took crisp and sharp photos, but color quality was mediocre. Even though they were in focus, images loaded onto a computer did not appear as vibrant as the originals were in real life. On the phone, however, the hues looked more accurate and rich.
Video recording, however, was great. Especially when set to HD video, the video capture was fast and fast-moving items, like cars, were captured with little to no lag. Small details, like the leaves in trees, were crisp, and colors were vibrant and full of depth. Audio was recorded accurately and didn't sound muffled at all.
In our battery drain tests, the handset lasted 8.02 hours. During my general use of it, the device would lose much of its charge quickly. Texting, surfing the Web, and making calls all day required at least one charge to juice up its life. According to FCC radiation tests, the device has a digital SAR rating of 0.71/kg.
The LG Viper is ahead of its time -- literally, and not necessarily in a good way. Many of its most attractive features, like 4G LTE and Ice Cream Sandwich OS can't be used at the time of purchase. Aside from that, and a few disappointments with audio quality and processing speeds, the phone is solid in all other aspects. For a midrange device, it has a great camera, sturdy build, and it's a good fit for those who are environmentally conscious.