A mid-range phone packing LTE for Sprint's as-of-yet-unlaunched network - is it worth the investment?
The LG Viper 4G LTE is an interesting phone. (For starters, that name is long. It'll hereto be referenced as simply the LG Viper.) It's not an ultra-high end, mind-blowing, earth-shattering, missile-launching superphone, but it wasn't built to be. It also combines some of the latest features a phone the the Now Network can have, like NFC (paired with Google Wallet) and LTE radios for when Sprint's LTE network goes live.
And it's all targeted towards parents. That's not to say you need a kid to buy one, but if you have one, well, LG made this phone for you. It's reasonably sized, tough, and still powerful enough to do most of what you could ask of it.
To echo sentiments expressed before, it's absolutely crazy to think the specs on this phone are mid-range at best. I still remember a time when a 1.2Ghz dual-core processor was the hottest thing on the market, so don't immediately write off the LG Viper for specs like that. Come showtime, it performs.
Join us after the break and we'll have a nice, thorough look at how LG's LTE offering stands up against the rest.
Solidly built, strong battery life, and that screen, my gosh! LG certainly knows how to 'wow' their audience with their NOVA displays, and this one certainly doesn't disappoint.
Gingerbread, a million times over. Sure, it might be 2.3.7, but I've been running 4.0 for a while, so it's tough to go back. Also, LTE radios are useless for now, and if you're not living in a launch city, they'll be useless for longer yet.
The LG Viper isn’t going to change your world by being king of the hill, but it's a solid Android experience (on vanilla, too!), with good hardware, attractive design, and a fair price.
Inside this review
The LG Viper's hardware isn't necessarily uninspired, but it doesn't exactly stand out in a crowd. Rounded corners, black and silver accents, and a brushed aluminum battery cover make up the bulk of the device, and it's certainly sleek, if nothing else. The phone, despite only having a 4-inch screen, has a heft not found in many other devices (like my Galaxy Nexus), but it doesn't feel unnecessarily heavy, just solidly built.
The front of the device is essentially all screen (and all touch, at that). You've got a generously large earpiece up top, a VGA front-facing camera to the right of that, and a nice, beautiful 4-inch NOVA display (coming in at 480x800). Down below are your (now antiquated) four Android buttons, in yet another perplexing order: home, menu, back, search.
The buttons light up when touched (as they should), but go dark soon after, even if the phone's screen is still on. It takes a bit of getting used to, making sure you press the right button, so if you're just starting off, expect to press the wrong button first, then finally press the right one now that they're lit up.
Moving right along to the top bezel, you'll notice the power button, 3.5mm headphone jack, and a pinhole microphone. The power button has a nice click to it when you press it, although it's more felt than heard. The right bezel is suspiciously clean and devoid of any port or button action. As a result, it's the smoothest of any of the sides. It's not a big deal at all, just don't go looking for your power button there (especially if you're coming from a Samsung).
Hopping over to the other side of the phone, the left bezel is where most of the action is at. Up top is the volume rocker, which is a single piece that clicks down on either end. This button is textured (unlike the power button), with a concentric circle pattern on what looks and feels like brushed aluminum. It feels great (and sturdy), and for a button that'll get as much use as the volume rocker, I find nothing wrong with that. Down south on the same bezel is the microUSB charging port. Nothing special, but know it's there and know it's uncovered.
The bottom bezel holds our indentation to pop off the battery cover. This one seems sufficiently large (larger than ones I've dealt with in the past), and the battery cover comes off pretty easily. If you're in a position to battery swap (or have to battery pull), the LG Viper won't give you any trouble.
On the backside of things, we've got a gorgeous metallic backplate, a 5MP camera (more on that later), and the speaker. I tested out the speaker both making calls and while listening to music, and I must admit, this is one of the better speakers I've heard on a device. It's not overly tinny and if you're in a quiet room, expect to hear just about everything you'd want from this pocket-sized package.
The LG Viper comes with a 1700mAh battery, and for a screen so reasonably sized and no LTE to suddenly drain it, this seems more than enough.
Internally, the LG Viper boasts a meager 2GB of internal storage, but it does accept microSD cards up to 32GB. The microSD slot is actually away from the battery, so you can hotswap cards as you please, but forcing the customer's hand in buying one seems kind of a letdown, especially as internal storage on phones continues to get larger and considering the LG Viper isn't a bottom-of-the-barrel budget device.
As for making and receiving calls, the LG Viper handles it all like a champ. I didn't notice any issues with reception or call quality, so its
secondary primary function of making calls is right in line with everything else, quality-wise.
I must be frank and be the bearer of bad news: The LG Viper ships with Gingerbread on it. Sure, it's 2.3.7, and yes, it's (mostly) unadulterated a vanilla, but it's Gingerbread in a world that has known the taste of Ice Cream Sandwich, and while it works, it's just not as sweet.
There's not much to say about the software on the LG Viper. If you've ever used vanilla Gingerbread before, that's pretty much it. It's clean, easy to use, and at this point, antiquated. Fortunately, it all runs along at a nice clip (I didn't experience any performance issues), probably because of the powerful internals in relation to the software.
I will admit, I think the app drawer opening is probably the nicest I've seen it, but at this point, we're splitting hairs trying to find good or bad things to say about it. If anything, I hope LG has the Viper on a planned upgrade list, because Gingerbread is old hat (and Ice Cream Sandwich would look great on this NOVA display).
Looking on the bright side, the LG Viper comes almost completely clean of bloatware. Yeah, there's some of the stock Sprint apps, but other than that, this is a pretty clean install, both on the app and widget front.
LG Viper 4G LTE Battery life
If there's one thing especially impressive about the LG Viper, it's the battery life. A 1700mAh battery for a device this small (and I use small hesitantly) is more than enough juice, even with the screen brightness cranked up to maximum. Chalk it up to the smaller screen, efficient NOVA display, or lack of LTE radios raining on the parade, but you can expect to get a full day's use out of the included battery.
My time with the LG Viper also included taking 1080p video from the rear camera, VGA video from the front, and loads of pictures, and even then, the battery never wavered.
The LG Viper includes a 5MP shooter on the back with an included flash, and its basically a no-frills shooter. Point, shoot, and you're done. It's notable that the sensor focuses pretty quickly and almost immediately takes a shot, especially if there's good light. It's not quite zero shutter lag territory (like the Galaxy Nexus introduced), but it's certainly faster than most.
Picture quality in high light is good. Colors pop, images are in focus, everything looks good. In lower light conditions colors can get muddy or washed out, and overall there's a drop in sharpness (even with the flash).
The 5MP camera on the back can take full 1080p video, and while the video will certainly get you through in a pinch, the audio is nothing to phone home about. Subsequently, the VGA camera on the front is similar. You won't be winning any awards for your quality, but at least you'll be able to catch footage in an instant.
Below is a gallery of images taken using the rear-facing camera on the LG Viper. You can download a zipped file of all of the images at full size here.
LG Viper 4G LTE Wrap-up
The LG Viper isn't going to blow your face off with its bleeding edge tech, but it was never meant to. What it was designed to do, however, was provide a solid Android experience on reasonably good hardware, and on that front, it delivers wholeheartedly.
It's fast, well-built, and has a gorgeous display. (Seriously, having never used a NOVA display before, I'll be missing it when it's gone.) It also offers up NFC and LTE radios together in a Sprint device, which is a distinction most other phones don't have. Yeah, LTE isn't turned on right now, but when it is (and if you're in a launch city), you can expect to take advantage of faster data speeds than you've ever seen on Sprint, and that's pretty cool.
For a mere $99 on contract, you're one Benjamin away from a phone with great future potential that'll last. If you're the cutting edge type, congratulations on making it through this entire LG Viper 4G LTE review. Just know this phone isn't targeted at you. For the market LG and Sprint are aiming to tap, though, I think they hit the nail on the head, balancing price, build quality, and features all in one very attractive handset.
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