Samsung Galaxy Reverb (Virgin Mobile) review: This Android lasts long and packs a great camera

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MSRP: $249.99

The Good The Samsung Galaxy Reverb is compact, has long battery life, Android 4.0, and packs a removable battery.

The Bad Clad in plastic, the Galaxy Reverb's design is far from luxurious and its lack of 4G is a letdown.

The Bottom Line If it wasn't for the HTC One V, the long-lasting Samsung Galaxy Reverb would be Virgin Mobile’s best Android smartphone.

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6.7 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

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.

Samsung Galaxy Reverb
A faux silver trim adds some elegance to plastic. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

The Reverb's small screen is bright and has accurate colors but low contrast. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Samsung Galaxy Reverb
Swipe the screen or icons to unlock. Brian Bennett/CNET

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.

You have five home screens to choose from. Brian Bennett/CNET

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.