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A closer look at the Virgin Mobile Shuttle

A brief hands-on of the new Shuttle handset from Virgin Mobile

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I finally had a chance to take a closer look at the Virgin Mobile Shuttle yesterday at the Mobile Focus show at CTIA. As you might recall, the Shuttle is Virgin Mobile's first ever 3G handset with EV-DO. It also has GPS functionality, and borrows a couple of Helio location-based services such as Buddy Beacon, a friend-finder application, and Where, which lets you find nearby restaurants or gas stations.

Despite its high-end features, the Shuttle looks and feels like any other Virgin Mobile phone. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but we were expecting a more sophisticated Helio-esque vibe to the overall design. As it is, it simply looks ordinary. That said, the Shuttle is a slender slider handset with nice curved tips toward the top and the bottom, and is clad in the classic red and black colors of Virgin Mobile.

The navigation array consist of two soft keys, a circular toggle, the Send and End/Power keys, a dedicated speakerphone key, and a Back key. The two soft keys, the speakerphone key, and the Back key are not physical buttons--they're actually touch-sensitive. Whenever you touch any of these buttons, the phone vibrates as a form of haptic feedback. I found this rather annoying, and would much prefer actual keys, but I only played with it for a few minutes so I'll have to wait to get our review unit for a proper verdict.

Virgin Mobile Shuttle
Virgin Mobile Shuttle Corinne Schulze/CNET

The overall handset felt, well, kind of cheap. And the display isn't the best we've seen. However, considering it's only $99.99 without a contract, it's not that bad. Plus it has quite a number of features, such as a 1.3-megapixel camera, video capture and playback, a music player, stereo Bluetooth, 3G support, and GPS services.

The Virgin Mobile Shuttle will be available September 28 at Best Buy and Best Buy Mobile.