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Virgin Mobile Supreme review: Another impressive Android no-contract device

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Virgin Mobile Supreme

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Virgin Mobile's new Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) Supreme smart phone offers another excellent choice among an already impressive field of prepaid phone options.

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The phone, manufactured by ZTE, costs $224.99, with no credit check and no contract. Its 1.5 GHz dual-core processor makes short work of installing apps and runs them smoothly.

It has just 8 GB of internal memory, but allows up to a 64 GB microSD card, which should allow plenty of space for your videos and pictures. I recommend picking up a 32 GB or higher microSD card as soon as you can after buying the phone.

Measuring 5.59" by 2.81" by .39", the Supreme weighs 5.43 oz and sports a 5" touchscreen. The touchscreen functions as expected, with just the right amount of sensitivity for scrolling through articles, typing messages and maneuvering around games such as Words With Friends.

Games and videos play smoothly and look gorgeous on the Supreme. Many games and other apps have free versions for Android devices like the Supreme but only paid versions for iPhones and iPads.

The phone's onscreen keyboard offers multi-function keys so you can hold in a letter to get a number or symbol. As with other Android phones, if you don't care for the keyboard, you can try one of the keyboard replacement apps available in the Google Play Store. You can also make liberal use of Android's excellent voice search and voice commands capabilities.

It has escape, home and settings buttons at the bottom. If you hold in the home key briefly, you'll see a list of recently accessed apps.

The Supreme's 13 MP camera and 1080p HD camcorder take exceptionally nice photos and videos. It also offers a basic 1 MP front-facing camera for video chats. I recommend using Dropbox or Google Drive for syncing your photos and videos easily between your mobile device and computer, so you can periodically clear them from the phone to save space.

The phone has some impressive battery life, going several days without a charge when it's just collecting emails. It even lasts an impressive amount of time watching videos or playing games - two of the things that generally open the spigot on battery drainage. A couple of hours of watching YouTube videos barely budged the battery meter.

As a precaution, if you'll be away from home and taking a lot of photos or videos, you may want to turn off auto-upload on Dropbox or any other cloud service that you use for syncing your photos and videos. On most phones, cloud sync can drain the battery quickly and also eat through your monthly data allotment.

Two big advantages of a Virgin Mobile phone are the low monthly nut and the lack of a long-term commitment. Virgin Mobile's Android plans start at $35 per month for 300 voice minutes and unlimited texts. You can also get 1200 voice minutes for $45 per month, or unlimited minutes for $55 per month.

Prepaid carriers like Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile charge full price for their phones rather than cutting the price and locking you into a two-year contract. Therefore, their device prices can run $300 or more for higher-end devices. The Supreme offers an excellent balance of cool features and fairly low price point. All mobile carriers tend to adjust their phone prices frequently, so you may want to check prices daily online for a week or two before making a purchase.

Not only can you replace your phone anytime since you don't have a two-year commitment to fulfill, but if you purchase directly from Virgin Mobile, you can even return the phone within 30 days if you decide it's not right for you. Just save all of your original packaging and call their customer care line for instructions if you decide to return a device.

The Supreme uses Sprint's 4G LTE network and falls back on 3G when 4G isn't available. I found that the phone's 3G and 4G both run sufficiently fast for most purposes, though 4G or Wi-Fi work best for video watching. All mobile carriers have dead areas. If you'll need frequent access to a mobile network, I recommend trying a friend's phone that uses the Sprint network in your neighborhood and/or workplace, to make sure you have adequate coverage.

Sprint has been steadily improving upon their 4G LTE mobile network, so if you haven't tried it lately, you might want to give it another shot.

Virgin Mobile doesn't add fees for going over their 2.5 GB monthly data allotment, but they can slow down the speed from 4G to 3G or slower. This likely won't happen if you're vigilant about using Wi-Fi when you can. You can monitor your mobile data usage under Settings on your phone or download a free widget like 3G Watchdog (which actually tracks both 3G and 4G data usage).

You might save a lot of money on your monthly bills by switching to a no-contract phone. No commitment mobile phones can also be a great choice for teens, since you you don't have to worry about going over a certain number of monthly texts or amount of mobile data. Though prepaid carriers don't always carry the trendiest phones on the market, they do have some attractive choices, many of which don't cost a fortune either upfront or monthly.

Whether you're a current prepaid phone customer looking for an upgrade or you're coming off a long-term contract with another carrier, the Supreme is worth consideration to become your new smart phone.

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