Samsung Intercept (Virgin Mobile)
Virgin Mobile USA has a handful of higher-end cell phones and smartphones on its prepaid roster, but the Samsung Intercept is the carrier's first Android offering. The Intercept is no stranger to the United States, having arrived three months before on its parent company, Sprint. Although the Intercept is an entry-level Android phone by all counts, it's one of the most advanced for Virgin's customers, and is a welcome addition to the carrier's pool of phones.
When we first got our hands-on view of Virgin Mobile's Intercept at CTIA Fall 2010, we joked that its hardware specs made it a phone of "32"--because it has a 3.2-inch screen, a 3.2 megapixel camera, and a 32GB expandable memory card slot. Like the Sprint model, the Intercept for Virgin Mobile comes with the usual Android treats such as integration with Google contacts and calendar, Google Maps with free turn-by-turn voice navigation, and the endless Android Market. What's lacking are the hardware touches that separate the entry-level, midrange, and high-end devices, like large, lush screens; speedy processors; and cameras starting at 5 megapixels. We do give Samsung kudos for instilling the Intercept with Android 2.1, and we hope Virgin Mobile USA updates it to Android 2.2 (Froyo).
The Intercept costs $249.99 for the hardware, plus a monthly $25, $40, or $60 plan. (Contrast that with a $99.99 price tag for the Intercept on Sprint, plus a two-year monthly service agreement.) Keep in mind that prepaid phones typically cost more than they would with a two-year service agreement; however there's no credit check with a prepaid phone and no contractual obligation.
Portions of this review are taken from the Samsung Intercept review for Sprint, since the hardware is identical for Sprint and Virgin Mobile.
The Intercept resembles many of its Samsung cousins with a black face and rounded corners. In this case, the phone is offset by a bright silver rim and has other thick silver accents. Size wise, the phone is no shrinking violet. It measures 4.43 inches long by 2.19 inches wide by 0.59 and weighs a solid 4.9 ounces. A back cover made from soft-touch material adds a nice touch as well. Don't get us wrong--we find the Intercept to be a perfectly pleasant-looking handset, but the phone's clunky body is a far cry from the impression of sleekness found in Samsung's other QWERTY models.
The Intercept has a very decent 3.2-inch WQVGA capacitive touch-screen display that is fairly responsive. This is a reasonable size for a touch screen, though the icons are on the small side, especially when compared to Android phones with 3.5-inch displays and above. On the plus side, the screen is bright and colorful on the eye, and the usual Android settings menu can help manage screen brightness if you're trying to reduce battery strain.
Below the display are the four Google-mandated backlit sensor keys for accessing the Android menu options, Home, Back, and Search. Holding down the home button brings up a task manager that shows your recently opened applications. This lets you multitask quite easily. As with a few other various Samsung models, the Intercept's square directional pad doubles as an optical touch pad. However, since the touch pad is smaller than a fingertip, we rarely used it. The navigation array is flanked by a Talk button and an End/Power button.
On the phone's right side are a camera button and a 3.5-millimeter headset jack. On the left, there's a volume rocker and a microSD card slot that accepts up to 32GB extra memory. The phone comes with a 2GB card installed. The Micro-USB charging port is on the top, and the back is home to a 3.2 megapixel camera with a tiny vanity mirror.
The slide-out QWERTY keyboard is a nice reveal. The buttons are smaller than on the slightly taller Samsung Transform, and angle in. Interestingly, the center buttons are flatter than those on the periphery, which are slightly domed for easier pressing. We liked the placement of the Function key, which was easily accessible. Both landscape and portrait modes give you access to the virtual QWERTY keyboard any time you'd rather keep your fingertips trained on the touch screen, though we found the smallish virtual keyboard less accurate to type on in portrait mode.
The Samsung Intercept comes with Android 2.1, which is excellent since some manufacturers are still releasing phones with earlier, far less feature-rich operating systems. We haven't heard anything official yet, but Virgin Mobile updating the OS to Android 2.2 (Froyo) would make it more powerful still. We're glad that Samsung has kept its TouchWiz interface off this phone.
The Intercept has the usual mix of Android apps and features on deck, like voice-to-text capabilities, Google Maps Navigation with live turn-by-turn directions, and optional live wallpaper. There's also tight integration with Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Places, and YouTube. Instead of the more common Quickoffice viewer, the Intercept has ThinkFree Office, which works much the same way. If you want something other than Gmail for your e-mail, you also get a standard inbox that lets you plug in your POP or IMAP server settings. You can use the same e-mail program for your work e-mail, as long as you have the appropriate Exchange server information. All of your non-Gmail e-mail will be piped into this single unified inbox. You can sync up your work calendar and contacts as well via Exchange.
Preloaded apps is another area where the Intercept differs on the two networks. Virgin Mobile Live streams from the Virgin Music service. There's also a shortcut for managing your personal account online and another shortcut for Virgin store downloads online. Amazon's MP3 music store app, Facebook, and AirG Chat are other preloaded apps.
Of course, we can't overlook the cell phone mainstays such as the calendar, calculator, clocks, and so on. There's also the full complement of threaded texting, multimedia messaging, and chat services, in addition to the range of wireless features like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and airplane mode. In addition there's speakerphone, speed dial, and voice commands.
The Intercept comes with Google's standard WebKit browser, which supports Flash Lite and pinch-to-zoom. There are other third-party browsing options in the Android Market. The music player, similar to those on other Android phones, plays back songs downloaded through the Amazon MP3 Store, or loaded on by way of your computer, a Flash USB stick, or a microSD card.
The 3.2-megapixel camera on the Intercept was OK, but nothing worth writing home about. Picture quality seemed sharp enough, but colors looked dull and lacked vibrancy. Though we're not always fans of using an LED flash since it blows out photos, we still would like the option of some kind of flash, especially for low-light situations. The Intercept has none.
We tested the Samsung Intercept (CDMA 800/1900) in San Francisco on Virgin Mobile USA's network. Call quality was quite good overall, and both parties agreed that volume sounded loud and voices sounded clear. One friend used the word "crisp" to describe the voice audio. If we concentrated, we could sporadically hear a layer of white noise during one of our calls, but it didn't obstruct the conversational flow, and our caller didn't hear it. Speakerphone volume was clear with voices sounding true, but our friends noted that volume decreased and our voices sounded distant. Volume was strong on our end, though voices sounded hollow to our ears; this is fairly typical for speakerphone.
Samsung Intercept call quality sample
Virgin Mobile is, thankfully, serving 3G speeds on the faster EV-DO Rev. A, in contrast with the Intercept's slower EV-DO Rev. 0 version when it launched for Sprint.
The Samsung Intercept has a rated battery life of up to 5.5 hours talk time and 14.6 days standby time. It has a tested talk time of 4 hours and 3 minutes. According to FCC tests, the T249 has a SAR of 0.51.