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Samsung’s $249.99 Galaxy Reverb is hard proof that smartphone options on prepaid carriers are getting better every day. Sold by Virgin Mobile as its current Android flagship, the compact handset features a good-size 4-inch screen, a nimble camera that snaps pleasing pictures, and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Of course, the Reverb’s plastic construction isn’t a showstopper compared with other Virgin Mobile options such as the stylish HTC One V. Still, if you’re looking for a solid Android mobile on Virgin or an excuse to shred your two-year contract and sign up with a prepaid carrier, the Samsung Galaxy Reverb is a great way to do it.
Measuring 4.8 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.45 inch thick, the Galaxy Reverb is small in stature and cut from the same mold as Samsung’s myriad other phones. It’s crafted from lightweight plastic that helps the Reverb tip the scales at a mere 4.5 ounces but lacks the premium polish of metal. For example, the HTC One V (Virgin Mobile) is chiseled from a single block of aluminum lending it a luxurious feel. Despite its metallic body, the One V manages to be a lighter 4 ounces as well.
That said, the Samsung Galaxy Reverb’s conservative black color scheme with faux silver trim around its gently curved edges gives the handset a handsome appearance. Above the screen is a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for self portraits and video chatting. Below the display sit three Android capacitive buttons for menu, home, and back represented by backlit icons.
A typical assortment of physical controls and ports surrounds the Reverb, including a power button and 3.5 mm headphone jack on top, a Micro-USB port at the bottom edge, and a volume rocker on the left side. The left edge also houses a microSD card slot hidden under a flap, while the Reverb’s right side features a dedicated shutter button, which fires up the camera app when pressed. Unfortunately this key won’t wake the phone if it’s asleep. Around back is the 5-megapixel camera with LED flash plus a textured battery cover. Underneath is the phone’s 1,700mAh removable battery, something the HTC One V can’t match since its battery is embedded.
The Samsung Galaxy Reverb’s 4-inch LCD screen (800x480 pixels) won’t bowl you over especially compared with the massive and much sharper HD (1,280x720 pixels) 4.7-inch (and larger) displays you find gracing cutting-edge Androids. Even so, the Reverb’s screen is bright and produces very accurate colors. I do prefer the smaller display on the HTC One V (3.7 inch, 800x480 pixels), which creates warmer, if slightly oversaturated hues, and higher contrast.
Software and user interface
Running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and not Google’s most recent Android 4.1 Jelly Bean software, the Samsung Galaxy Reverb offers a modern smartphone experience. Pressing the power button brings up the lock screen, which displays a digital clock and the date at the top. You can simply swipe your finger in any direction to unlock the phone, or touch one of three icons (dialer, browser, and camera), then swipe to jump directly to their corresponding function.
There are five home screens to choose from and customize with app shortcuts and widgets. By default, the Accuweather clock widget is front and center on the Reverb’s main home screen as is the Google search bar. At the foot of each screen are shortcuts to leap to phone, contacts, messaging, browser, and apps as well. Of course, if you don’t like this selection you can swap them out for other phone functions.
For typing there’s Samsung’s standard virtual keyboard, which has a decent amount of space between keys but is cramped due to the Reverb’s 4-inch screen. There aren’t many dual-purpose buttons either that double as punctuation marks. Thankfully, I could still perform a long press on the period key to open a big list of popular symbols.
Features and apps
As a full-fledged Android smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Reverb features the standard assortment of robust Google services, including Gmail, Google+, and Navigation, plus the Play Store for downloading apps from a library of over 700,000 titles. Play also provided access to digital books, movies, games, and music to purchase. Samsung has included its Media Hub app too. The storefront provides its own catalog of TV shows and movies for rental or purchase. Content is only in standard definition and is meant for phone viewing only.
Unlike many handsets, I didn’t spot any third-party software on the Galaxy Reverb, which is a blessing since they tend to slow down performance and not be removable. Virgin Mobile has placed a couple software titles on the phone, though, such as Downloads for purchasing ringtones and wallpaper, and My Account to check your service status.
Equipped with a 5-megapixel sensor, the Samsung Galaxy Reverb doesn’t offer the same pixel count as higher-end phones with 8- and even 13-megapixel cameras. Even so, indoor still-life images I shot were clear with bright and accurate color. Images I took indoors under low light, though, were blurry and grainy especially with active subjects.
Moving outside, colors and details perked up and I observed lots of detail in shadows despite the lack of an HDR mode. I suspect the Reverb’s Backlight scene mode accomplishes a similar effect. Still, I would have liked to see more crispness to lend additional sharpness to objects.
The Reverb does snap images quickly, with a shot-to-shot time of less than a second. There are plenty of shooting options, too. Besides the previously mentioned Backlight mode, there’s smile shot, panorama, and cartoon. You also get special filters such as negative, black and white, and sepia.
Able to record video at 720p (1,280x720 pixels) resolution, movies I captured were smooth and clear even while panning. Detail was on the soft side, though, compared with phones capable of 1080p video recording.
Pushing along the Samsung Galaxy Reverb’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS as a steady, if not blazing clip, is a 1.4GHz Snapdragon Scorpion S2 processor. As a result, the phone doesn’t run applications and fly through menus like greased lightning. Still, the Reverb felt responsive enough and I didn’t experience any stutters or other performance hiccups.
Turning in a low Linpack benchmark score of 41.7 MFLOPs (single-thread), however, it’s clear the Reverb is no mobile firebreather. For instance, superphones such as the HTC Evo 4G LTE (Sprint), which uses more recent dual-core Snapdragon S4 chips managed to double the Reverb’s score (104.1 MFLOPs). On the more demanding multithread version of the test, the Evo delivered a showing more than five times higher (198.4 MFLOPs versus 38 MFLOPs). That said, the Galaxy Reverb held its own against the HTC One V on the same benchmark (33.9 MFLOPs).
While testing on Virgin Mobile’s CDMA network in New York, call quality on the Galaxy Reverb was rock solid. Callers described my voice as clear and easy to hear with no distortions. They could, however, easily tell I was calling from a mobile phone. On my end, voices through the earpiece were also warm and static-free. The speakerphone gets pretty loud too, with enough volume to fill a medium-size conference room.
Like the HTC One V, the Galaxy Reverb is limited to 3G data speeds. In New York and connected to Virgin Mobile’s EVDO Rev A network, I recorded very slow throughput. Average downloads came in at 0.57 Mbps. Average upload speeds were even slower, at 0.34 Mbps. That’s a far cry from 4G LTE that typically average downloads of around 15 to 20 Mbps.
Battery life was a bright spot for the Galaxy Reverb with the phone lasting for a long 8 hours and 6 minutes on the CNET Labs Video playback battery drain test. By comparison, the HTC One V managed just 6 hours and 4 minutes on the same benchmark.
I know carriers often make it tough to choose between two phones that are similar in either price or features. For example, if the HTC One V, now offered for $159.99, didn’t exist on Virgin Mobile, the $249.99 Samsung Galaxy Reverb would be an easy and smart choice. Its nearest competitor is the $239.99 HTC Evo V (really a recycled HTC Evo 3D), which offers Android 4.0 and 4G WiMax access but an outdated camera. In my view, the less expensive One V makes a much better option since it matches almost all the features the Reverb can muster in a more seductive all-metal chassis. If battery life plus having a replaceable battery is what you crave above all, however, then the Samsung Galaxy Reverb is the Virgin Mobile Android phone for you.