Well, you can't accuse Sprint of not thinking ahead. Even though its LTE network isn't available anywhere yet, the carrier is already releasing LTE phones. Thankfully, those phones will work on its 3G network until LTE becomes available, but that's a tough pill to swallow for some buyers. The nice thing about the LG Viper is that it's only $80 with a contract. That's not a bad price for a phone with a dual-core processor, a camera that captures HD video, and 4G capabilities; however, it will be an even better price when Sprint's LTE network is actually turned on. So, should you get the Viper and await the green light for 4G or should you save some money and get one of Sprint's cheaper phones that currently match the Viper's 3G offerings? Keep reading to find out.
Design & Features
I'm somewhat fond of what LG did with the Viper from a hardware point of view. The back, though plastic, has a metallic look to it. It makes the phone look solid, futuristic, and expensive. The only negative I can see is that the phone is rather thick. At .46-inches thick, it's not actually that much chunkier than other LTE phones, but the blocky design makes it feel like it is. It's quite heavy too, weighing five ounces.
It's standard issue stuff when it comes to the display - a 4-inch WVGA touchscreen. There's no Super AMOLED or Super LCD technology here. I mention that because there are phones available in this price range that offer a more impressive display. That being said, there's little to complain about. The display is clear and sharp and at about 233 pixels per inch, there's actually very little pixelation, something I can't say about those other phones that DO have better display technology. The viewing angle is a bit finicky, though. Other than that, the screen is smooth and responsive.
Below the display are four capacitive navigation buttons for Home, Menu, Back, and Search. The backlight for these buttons refuses to stay on for longer than half a second (literally) which is infinitely frustrating since you can't see the labels without the backlight. (Seriously, LG, what were you thinking?) Unfortunately, there's no way to change this so you're stuck with a constant game of Chicken, daring yourself to push a button and hoping it's the right one. The right side of the phone is devoid of any ports or buttons, but the left side houses the microUSB port and contains the volume rocker buttons. Up top is the 3.5mm headphone jack and the phone's Power button. In addition to the rear-facing camera, there is a front-facing VGA camera to the right of the front speaker grill.
In addition to the Viper's 4 GB of internal storage, you also have another 4 GB of memory available through an included microSD card. The slot for this card is on the right side of the phone but it's not accessible unless you remove the battery cover. (I always wonder why manufacturers don't just add a slit in the battery cover when the slot is on the side, but that's for another day.) Also underneath the battery cover is the phone's 1700 mAh battery.
Usability & Performance
The Viper is an Android 2.3 phone and I'm not sure what it's chances are of getting an upgrade to Android 4.0 or higher. It's a stock Android experience so LG hasn't made any customizations to Android. Sprint, however, has added its Sprint ID feature that allows you to download ID Packs with apps, widgets, and wallpapers based on specific themes. While this is pretty useless for those familiar with Android, it can be helpful to newcomers who may not want to spend an extended period of time searching through the Google Play Store to see what music apps are available, for example. Outside of that scenario, the ability to switch between themes (entertainment, work, cars, music, etc.) has never appealed to me and since that's the highlight of Sprint ID, I don't really know what its reason for existence is.
Sprint has included a few pre-installed apps, but they're little in number. The downside is you can't uninstall them so they're stuck there, taking up storage space. These apps include NASCAR, Polaris Office, Sprint Music Plus, Sprint NBA Mobile, Sprint TV & Movies, Sprint Zone, and more. Because the phone has NFC support, the Viper also ships with Google Wallet and Shopper. It even comes with $10 of free Google Wallet credit.
Overall performance has been great by the Viper. It has a dual-core 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor and 1 GB of RAM. In all of my tests, I've seen only minor lag on occasion. For the most part, everything has been smooth. The Viper scored a 2,956 on a Quadrant Standard benchmark test, a 1,705 on the Productivity Index of a Smartbench test, and a 5,403 on an AnTuTu Benchmark test. Everything from gaming to web browsing has been done with no problems. Scrolling, pinching and zooming, and multi-tasking has been a breeze. The web browser is slow to render text onto the window when you zoom in, most of the time not doing this at all, but minor problems here and there are to be expected.
As mentioned in the outset, the Viper is a 4G LTE phone, but since Sprint hasn't turned on its LTE network yet, the phone is relegated to 3G EVDO speeds. Therefore, it's hard for me to write a complete review on Sprint's 4G LTE network since, well, I haven't had a chance to test it yet. As far as 3G speeds, they've been pretty terrible for me in the Dallas area. I'm getting download speeds of about 100-200 kbps. Speeds will vary depending on coverage in your area, but let's just hope Sprint gets its LTE network turned on sooner rather than later.
Since the phone hasn't been connected to Sprint's 4G network, that also means that my battery test results will be inconclusive. The Viper ships with a 1700 mAh battery. LG estimates that you should get seven hours of talk time. In my tests, battery life has been pretty miserable, draining by 70 percent in about four hours. That's with Wi-Fi turned on and, again, without 4G connectivity. With little to no use, it lasted through a workday, but you may need to carry a charger with you if you use your phone heavily.
I've been neither impressed nor disappointed by the Viper's 5-megapixel camera. It features a flash and records 1080p HD video. Still picture quality was average - colors were dull and details didn't show up exceptionally well. The pictures were slightly grainy and this was even worse in shots that were taken in low-light settings. On the other hand, close-up shots came out very well, almost convincing you that it's an excellent camera. However, if you're planning on taking anything other than macro shots, keep your point-and-shoot camera handy for those memorable moments. HD video captured with the phone's camera was more definitively disappointing. Videos lacked detail and overall quality, though audio quality was actually pretty amazing (at least compared to the awful video quality).
The LG Viper isn't the complete package. Battery life suffered, the camera is mediocre, and Android 2.3 is getting so long in the tooth that a skin or custom UI would have been nice, not to mention the fact that it's an LTE phone that doesn't currently offer LTE service. It makes you feel like you're getting hoodwinked and, honestly, you probably are. A 4G phone with no 4G service? No, thanks. However, Sprint doesn't have a lot of better options at this price range, unless, of course, you consider the iPhone 4 which is only $50. You don't have to be an Apple fanboy/girl to realize which option is better. If you're determined to stick with Android, the Viper won't let you down in too many areas and if you're willing to wait for LTE to get the green light, the Viper should be good enough.
The Good: Spacious, 4-inch display; smooth performance by the dual-core processor; 4 GB memory card included; modern hardware design.
The Bad: Chunky phone; Android 2.3 with no custom UI can be dull; unimpressive display; poor battery performance; mediocre camera; 4G phone with no 4G service.
The Verdict: Well, when I was writing the review, it didn't seem that bad until I compiled the Good and Bad above. It's a good phone and it will keep you happy. The iPhone 4 for $50 is a better option for the price.