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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.