In December of last year, I unexpectedly received a new Virgin Mobile smartphone as a late Christmas gift in the HTC Desire 510. The Desire 510 is currently the entry level HTC smartphone on many US prepaid lineups and serves as a cheap way to get a somewhat current Android smartphone for ~$50.
I received a Dark Blue HTC Desire 510. The phone features a 4.7-inch WVGA resolution display, 5-megapixel resolution fixed-focus camera with 480p video capture and no LED flash. The phone is also one of the few to feature the bare minimum internal storage for current Android devices at 4GB, with less than 1GB available due to HTC, Google and Virgin Mobile preloading their own respective software at initial activation.
HTC’s software preload consists of Sense 5 with its own set of heavy ancillary applications, such as a Gallery app that weighs in at 70MB installed and uninstallable apps such as HTC Guide and Dot View, which I had no use for. Right off the bat, I should have the option to completely remove these apps without needing to root the phone and download them if I need them from the Play Store to make room for apps that I actually use frequently. Virgin Mobile and HTC are under the impression that letting a smartphone owner uninstall apps is A Bad Thing and that isn’t very customer-friendly.
To make matters worse, Virgin Mobile’s software load consists of loading the ItsOn software for compatibility with the previous Virgin Mobile Custom plan that was once offered in Walmart but has since been discontinued in favor of the equally confusing Data Done Right plans that also rely on ItsOn technology.
It continues with a redundant messaging client in Messaging+, which is supposed to be a carrier agnostic WhatsApp clone, an overly heavy account management app that still sends you outside of the app to manage the account, a redundant skinned HTC web browser next to Chrome, a forced install of ride request app Uber, Amazon, the full version of the Facebook app and a seemingly nonfunctional version of the Sprint Mobile ID theme service which likely hasn’t been updated since it was initially rolled out on Virgin Mobile.
When adding the Google Mobile Services suite on top of the above with all necessary updates to Chrome, Play Store, Movies & TV, Newsstand, Play Music, Hangouts, Voice Search, Search and Google+ I was left with less than 100MB of free space total. So much for using my own slate of necessary apps on this particular smartphone.
I also discovered that attempting to either disable or uninstall Sense on this phone led to some strange behavior, including reverting home screen customizations, and even completely failing to boot into Android in one instance before doing the three finger routine to boot into recovery mode and restoring the phone to a usable state. The phone’s hardware is at least well put together, with no audible creaks and a removable backplate that requires a bit of effort to remove if you keep your fingernails trimmed.
Removing the backplate exposes the removable (!) Sprint LTE SIM, battery and memory card slot. I activated the phone on December 30th of last year, and ended service in March of this year. I currently use the phone as an over powered FM radio thanks to the built-in Next Radio app, so at least it gets some frequent use, albeit now unactivated.
While this phone is otherwise a solid smartphone without the heavy hands imposed by Virgin Mobile, it would have been a better idea to throw in at least 8GB of storage in this version, especially as its limited to what is pre-installed on the phone unless you actively uninstall and disable certain apps.
Most people buying this phone won’t know how to uninstall and disable apps and will be left wondering why they have so little space when activating the phone. It’s incredibly silly that mid-range and entry-level phones are still being released with less than 16GB of storage, but it’s just one example of Virgin Mobile not understanding which customer it’s aiming for anymore and being confused as a result.
When I activated service on December 30th of last year, I selected one of Virgin Mobile’s $35 plans which included unlimited voice and messaging with 250MB of monthly data. Owing to what I do for a living, I need the peace of mind that unlimited voice and messaging offers over a large data bucket since I’m constantly around Wi-Fi. It would have been nice to have been one of those customers that automatically got their data allotment upgraded to 2.5GB while keeping unlimited voice and messaging, as was common for many long-time customers at the end of last year, but that didn’t happen this time.
For the three months I had active service in my area of residence (Ft. Worth, TX), I had sparse access to Sprint’s Spark tri-band LTE network, as the specific area in which I live only weakly transmits LTE on Sprint’s 1900MHz Band A-G.
While running errands further into town, I was fortunate to receive full Spark coverage and got acceptable speeds of 10-15Mbps, which is around the same speed range I got on my MetroPCS LG L70, but still lower than the speeds achieved by Sprint customers lucky enough to live around areas with complete and fully activated Sprint Spark service with all three bands activated.
Unfortunately, since my time spent in full Sprint Spark coverage was proving to be so inconsistent, I made the decision early on to cancel service after the third month, as by then I was gifted a Verizon Note 2, which I plan to activate on a T-Mobile-powered prepaid service soon. Since I spent so little time in Spark coverage and the LTE coverage around my home is so poor, I ended up having to spend much of my time on 3G EV-DO, which is alright if you’re a light data user, but it really was a hassle for more intensive tasks.
A couple things that I did appreciate about Virgin Mobile’s service center around being able to use PayPal to pay monthly service costs as well as full detail for calls, messaging and data. If only more prepaid brands adopted those two features, it would make things a lot easier for many.
Outside of those, there’s not much of a reason to consider Virgin Mobile, since prepaid GSM brands are catching up and driving costs down while increasing value seemingly every month, if Cricket and MetroPCS are anything to go by.
Virgin Mobile is a youth brand by design, but Virgin Mobile USA seems to be stuck in some sort of limbo where it no longer focuses on data or offering desirable devices at a reasonable cost, and instead is trudging along while its main competitors are offering a much higher service level for much less per month with more appealing devices.
The Virgin Mobile that stunned the industry in 2010 with the Beyond Talk plans that focused on data first for $25/monthly and released unique smartphones like the Motorola Triumph has been replaced by a brand that really isn’t doing much innovation or stopping people in their tracks anymore.
That Virgin Mobile is now focusing on multi-line family plans with specific phones and in a specific storefront seems like a huge step backwards for a brand that once had the courage to try and punch above its weight by comparing itself favorably against a struggling T-Mobile that is now experiencing wave after wave of growth and doing more of what Virgin Mobile once did under its “UnCarrier” sales pitch, which is a shame.
Rumors have swirling around for nearly 2 years that Virgin Mobile USA as a brand doesn’t have much time left, especially with Sprint Prepaid now making inroads into big-box stores and reducing the shelf space once dedicated to Virgin Mobile.
While Virgin Mobile USA going away from Sprint’s Prepaid Group isn’t going to happen in the short-term, it going away in the future would mark a slow death for the brand that once touted a sense of youthful energy and actually made an effort to get people interested in its brand, service and devices.
I didn’t have any major issues with Virgin Mobile, but the phone selection and wireless service needs a lot of work if it wants to keep attracting customers and avoid becoming irrelevant, especially against the resurgent Cricket and sibling brand Boost Mobile.
The longer Virgin Mobile goes without a desirable phone selection or plans that actually reflect what customers are looking for in terms of value, the less reason there is for it to exist in the grand scheme of the Sprint Prepaid Group.