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Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE review: Budget Android phone can't outpace competition

The Android 4.0 smartphone comes in at a budget price for Sprint, but it can't beat one competitor that we like even more.

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Jessica Dolcourt
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

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7 min read

One of fall's best budget phones, the Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE packs quite a few features into a basic but usable package. The Victory holds up, thanks to a reliable Android experience and some sturdy midrange hardware; however, the design is thick and plain.

Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE (Sprint)
6.7

Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE

The Good

The <b>Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE</b> comes with Android 4.0, two cameras, and NFC for a great price. I love the dedicated camera button.

The Bad

This Android smartphone is thick and heavy, and Sprint's 3G speeds are slow in unsupported LTE areas.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE is a good Android choice, but for the same price, the LG Viper gives you greater camera power.

For me, network speeds are the sticking point, since Sprint's 4G LTE still hasn't arrived in San Francisco. However, the $49.99 price tag (with a new, two-year service agreement) makes the Victory easy to recommend for its price range.

That is, if its biggest competition, the 4G-ready LG Viper, didn't sell for the same price and also include a 1080p HD video camera and excellent photo features.

Design and build
Thick and heavy with a silvery finish, the Victory 4G looks the part of the middle-of-the-road phone. It isn't sleek or stylish, though Samsung does try to add some interest with mild contouring on the back and touch-screen navigation buttons that look embossed. Otherwise, the Victory appears very much cast from the same mold as other Galaxy phones.

Samsung's budget Galaxy Victory 4G LTE (pictures)

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Despite its 0.5-inch thickness and 4.9-ounce weight, this candy bar phone is similar in shape and size to thinner Samsung handsets, so it looks and feels familiar. It stands 4.8 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide and sports a 4-inch touch screen. Interestingly, Samsung deviated from its usual AMOLED path to give the Victory an LCD display. The 800x480-pixel resolution (WVGA) is definitely acceptable for the screen size, though someone comparing the handset's 233-ppi screen with screens with higher pixel density may notice the difference.

As for the size of the screen itself, 4 inches is now on the smaller side if you compare the Victory with high-end phones ranging from 4.3 to 5.5 inches. I think it's a very manageable size, especially if you often use the phone one-handed. The virtual Samsung keyboard includes a Swype-like tracing mechanism, so that makes it easier to maneuver in tighter spaces.

Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE
The Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE has a 4-inch screen and runs Android 4.0. Josh Miller/CNET

In this design, Samsung shows it's all about convenience by giving the Victory a dedicated camera button (a move that always scores points with me) and also by making the microSD card slot accessible on the left spine. I like how the volume rocker protrudes in two distinct sections, which makes it easy to operate.

The power button and 3.5mm headset jack are up top, the Micro-USB charging port is on the bottom, and the camera lenses are where you'd expect them. You'll find a 1.3-megapixel lens above the display, while the 5-megapixel rear-facing lens and flash find their home on the back.

OS and apps
The Victory ships with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and is accompanied by a pared-down version of Samsung's TouchWiz interface. This version contains a fair number of customization options, such as changing lock-screen shortcut options, plus the usual and useful access to system controls from the notification bar, and a pinch-to-view glance at all your home screens. You won't see gesture or motion support on here, but I hardly think you'll miss it.

You'll find NFC, Google Wallet, and a large battery. Josh Miller/CNET

What I am happy about is the inclusion of NFC, which means you can share content among compatible phones with just a tap, and also use Google Wallet to pay for goods and services. I'm also happy to see the current Bluetooth 4.0. Wi-Fi and GPS are onboard, of course, as well as everything Google brings to the OS in terms of access to Google services and multiple e-mail and social accounts.

Included along with essentials like a browser, a music player, a calculator, and a calendar are several Samsung and Sprint apps. The most notable is Sprint ID, which lets you choose among several profiles from a library of themes. There's also the aforementioned Google Wallet, and a Sprint hot-spot helper. You'll also find several Samsung apps, like the S Voice assistant (I prefer using Google's built-in voice commands) and a hub showcasing other Samsung apps.

Camera and video
For $50, you can do a lot worse than the Victory's 5-megapixel camera. Samsung tends to couple its handsets with decent lenses, so the results, while still very much middle-of-the-road, are quite usable. If you're coming from a feature phone, the Victory's photo quality will be a huge leap forward.

Samsung Victory 4G LTE
This outdoor shot looked colorful and clean, never mind the sun flare. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Judged on their own, though, photos aren't uniformly sharp, and colors sometimes looked a little dull in my test shots. The flash flared in our controlled studio shot, which isn't the best-case scenario. For comparison, here's a gallery of other studio shots.

There are plenty of photo scenes, presets, and effects in the Victory's camera app, including panorama and smile shot modes (the shutter engages only when the subject smiles). There are also lighting filters and the full complement of white balance and other presets.

Samsung Victory 4G LTE
This indoor shot of CNET editor Jaymar Cabebe could be sharper; also, colors looked a bit flat. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The Victory's 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera will be just fine for video chatting, but it won't deliver the most flattering of self-portraits. That's to be expected, and in some cases, having that option is far better than not having it. Photos will look soft, but skin tones looked natural when I tested it on myself, not grayed-out or hyped up.

As with most smartphone cameras, you'll have options when it comes to shooting video, mainly full-length and quality, or limited-length for sending in messages. Your highest resolution is 720p HD video, but you can drop the resolution four steps to as low as 320x240 pixels.

Samsung Galaxy Victory
The flash went a little haywire in this studio shot, and edges weren't exactly sharp. Josh Miller/CNET

Video capture and playback were mostly good on the Victory; fairly sharp with pretty decent color accuracy and no jerky motion.

Call quality
I tested the Galaxy Victory 4G LTE on Sprint's network here in San Francisco (CDMA 800, 1900; LTE 1900.) Since my regular testing partner was out of town, fellow CNET cell phone reviewer Brian Bennett graciously stepped in on a call to New York.

Volume on my end was pretty high when the level was set to medium-high. Unlike the higher-end Samsung phones, it has no extra audio boost software, so if you're in a noisy area, you could max out. I didn't hear any background noise, but I did hear a lot of skipping and breaking up whenever Brian spoke. I kept wanting to smack the side of the phone in hopes of smoothing out the audio quality.

On Brian's side, I sounded fairly loud as well, with a slight whisper of static before and after I spoke. Brian noted that my voice came across a little flat, but not very tinny or scratchy.

Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE call quality sample Listen now:

I tested the speakerphone by holding the phone at waist level. Brian sound fairly loud and a little hollow to my ears, but his voice finally smoothed out and didn't cut in and out. For his part, he said he could tell I was on a speakerphone and said that I sounded distant. He could make out a slight purr of static as well. Overall, the Victory's audio was passable, but the uneven, cutting-in-and-out quality is disturbing.

Performance
Although the Galaxy Victory has "LTE" in its name, I wasn't able to test it here in San Francisco, a market still waiting for Sprint's LTE network to kick in. That means I was surfing on 3G speeds when outside of a Wi-Fi zone.

Speedtest.net, Quadrant results for Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE
Speedtest.net and Quadrant results for Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

That's unfortunate, since Sprint's 3G network isn't the speediest in downtown San Francisco. The fastest I saw in my tests was 1.7Mbps downlink and 0.95Mbps up. In the real world, it took a lengthy 3 minutes to download and install CNET's mobile app, 10.8 seconds to load our mobile site, and 40.4 seconds to load the graphically rich desktop site.

The Victory 4G comes with a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Lite MSM8960 processor. While that's speedy enough to get stuff done, I did notice a little lagginess when I navigated around some apps, including going back to the home screen. It performed pretty well on the Quadrant diagnostic test, but far below the fastest and brawniest handsets. In the Quadrant screenshot, the fastest phones come in well above the HTC One X metric (refer to screenshot).

One kooky thing I noticed was that Wi-Fi tended to turn itself back on after I had turned it off to use the Speedtest app. This happened many times throughout my testing period, even after I turned Wi-Fi off manually from the drop-down notification menu.

Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE: Performance testing
Download CNET mobile app (3.8MB) 3 minutes
CNET mobile site load 10.8 seconds
CNET desktop site load 40.4 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 29 seconds
Camera boot time 2.9 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 3-3.5 seconds
Load up CNET mobile app 25 seconds

The Victory 4G LTE has a nice large 2,100mAh battery and claims a rated talk time of 7 hours, with up to 9 days of standby time. In our lab tests, the Victory put in 8.2 hours of video playback. According to FCC tests, the Victory has a digital SAR of 0.98 watt per kilogram.

The Victory has 4GB of user storage, with up to 32GB storage through a microSD card.

Final thoughts
The Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE is a solid budget Android 4.0 smartphone that's worth the $50 on-contract fee for those who are watching their wallets. Since it's the same price as the LG Viper but trails behind in camera quality, I'd recommend the Viper over the Victory, now that the Viper has updated to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. However, keep in mind that audio quality on the Viper is also problematic, and the battery is a bit smaller.

Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE (Sprint)
6.7

Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6
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