Virgin, VOIP & the LG

As a follow-up, after a couple of months using the LG Optimus V (on Virgin Mobile) I’d say for the cost, it works as well as can be expected. When you stray too far from the highway 3G and 1X data often disappear completely. Sometimes the 3G radio doesn’t refresh (which apparently is a bug in Android 2.2, but this phone certainly exhibits it) so in a spotty 3G location it takes a few minutes to find the data signal. Again, for $25/month this seems acceptable. A higher end smartphone, or an iPhone, cost closer to $90/month. Depends what you need as an end user, but Z & I find it totally acceptable, especially considering the cost savings and Google integration.

The downside of the $25/month plan is only 300 “anytime” cellular minutes (and no free night/weekend minutes). To get around this I’ve registered my Sipgate One phone number with the Nimbuzz app for Android. When I have a quality wifi connection I disable all cellular radios (Airplane Mode). To make an outgoing call I use the Google Voice Callback app, so I must first answer the call in Nimbuzz (Sipgate has free incoming calls like a landline) and then it connects me to whomever I’m calling. I tried using SipDroid and CSIPsimple, but neither worked consistently. For whatever reason, Sipgate and Nimbuzz work better together.

As far as apps that make the small screen on this phone more usable, I really like the Miren Web Browser over the stock Android Browser. For one, you can easily go in and out of full screen mode. Secondly, it’s easy to turn off images over 3G to improve browsing speeds. For a while I searched high and low for a decent RSS reader app to sync to Google Reader, and finally I realized a better browser would really make the difference, and I was right. Miren using Google Reader’s mobile page is quite usable and is much quicker than any of the other stand alone “readers” I tried. Thirdly, the stock Android Browser didn’t support HTML5 audio and video tags correctly, Miren seems to handle these better and is much quicker than Opera Mobile.

While certainly not Siri on the iPhone 4S, Android’s ‘Speech to Text’ functionality works quite well. I’ve taken to using it for sending short SMS’s and for dictating short emails, especially while walking. The touch keyboard isn’t great, especially on a screen this size. Swype is better for some things but I find the predictive standard 2.2 keyboard to be a little bit faster. Again, I think the dictation engine is clearly the “way forward” but right now on this phone, it can be a little sluggish at times.

I think if you’re willing to accept these limitations this phone is a terrific value. I’m pretty sure the Optimus V can be bought outright for ~$100. Virgin’s $25/month plan increased recently to $35/month and for $45/month you get 1200 minutes (with “unlimited SMS & data”). So again, it’s still significantly less expensive (per annum) than any of the other carriers, but you must be willing to accept potentially sub-optimal cellular coverage and a smallish screen on a slightly underpowered phone. But it works. And I have been quite happy to have unlimited calling on Wifi. So there you go.

Note of full disclosure: I bought my LG Optimus V at retail price using my own funds. I have no stake in LG, Sprint Nextel or Virgin Mobile. This is simply a blog post about a phone.

Cutting Cords & the Best Deal Going

So I finally got another Android phone. This time I think it’ll stick. My little prepaid Nokia 2330 on T-Mobile was finally proving itself too expensive, especially in comparison to the current deal Virgin Mobile has with the LG Optimus V Android phone. For $25/month I now get 300 minutes of talk and unlimited SMS and data. Not that SMS matters too much since I use Google Voice as my carrier, but nonetheless, it’s nice not having to pay $0.10 per SMS as I did using T-Mobile Prepaid (which will soon be owned by Bell/AT&T).

Like all Android phones Google Voice integrates very well. The Optimus V runs a mostly stock version of Froyo, Android’s version 2.2 OS. Compared to the Huwaie Ideos (T-Mobile Comet) that I owned briefly, the LG Optimus V is fast. That’s not saying much, but the phone has been very usable so far. There are are a few things that are not as polished as iOS 4.x (on our iPod Touch), but the fact that it can make and receive phone calls, a feat I was unable to replicate consistently using the iPod Touch save for making Skype Out calls, makes it worth the $25/month.

My latest effort to avoid using up my 300 minutes of talk time while I’m at home is getting SIP to work. It’s a similar idea to Skype, except you’re not paying Microsoft for your minutes. Unlimited Skype outgoing usually works out to about $3/month. With a free SIP number from SIP Gate One I can reroute calls via Google Voice to the SIP number while I’m at home using Wifi.

If I’m on the computer I’ll usually make calls via the Gmail Gchat voice call-out function. The best Android SIP client I found so far is CSipSimple. It is in active development, works well, and requires significantly less setup than SIPdroid. Android’s “Gingerbread” OS update (2.3.x) actually integrates SIP calling natively into the mobile operating system. Sadly, it seems most carriers do not push for the latest updates on their phones, and with the exception of the flagship models or “Google Phones” like the Nexus One and Nexus S, you’ll need to root/flash the phone yourself if you want 2.3, if there is even a stable port for your phone.

So those are my first impressions. I’ll write more about the LG Optimus V and SIP as I get some more use out of it.

Virgin Mobile's LG Optimus V

Virgin Mobile's LG Optimus V