After a year with Virgin Mobile, I noticed my el-cheapo Samsung phone was starting to give me issues with call quality and occasional signal degradation. Since they were firing up the iPhone on the network, I thought maybe switching to a smartphone would be a nice change of pace — especially as VM doesn’t bend you over and give you the ol’ English boarding school treatment, price-wise.

The iPhone turned out to be just a bit too much for the initial outlay to justify, even though I calculated it would save me about $1000 over a two-year contract with the Evil Red One or AT&T, both of which I’ve had service issues with. I decided to settle for an Android-powered phone, but which one? Their top of the line phone was $299…same issue as the iPhone, so I settled for the mid-range HTC One V. (Normally $199 on VM.)

First, the aesthetics: the phone is lovely. Like the iPhone, it’s got a solid Gorilla glass front and it seems to resist smudges pretty well. The main body is metal — aluminum is my guess — and that makes it very very sturdy. the other smartphones I’d looked at over at the local Best Buy were plastic and felt cheap or weak. There’s a power button at the top, a volume rocker on the right, power dongle attachment on the left side. Three buttons: back, home, and multitask (to allow you to scroll through or shutdown suspended apps. It’s very thin, light, and the shape and texture of the metal makes fit well in the hand and stay there.

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Fired up, it was just as pretty. The screen is bright and was very visible during daylight while i was out on the motorcycle today. Call quality is good, both receiving and sending, but in speakerphone mode is pretty pathetic; the Samsung was fantastic as in speaker mode.

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Setup was remarkably easy. Like most iOS devices, it came with a charged battery (about 60%.) Call the number on the back, enter the serial number and my phone number was transferred with no issue. Set up of email was a pain in the ass: my Comcast account still is not set up, but hitting the Play Store (formerly the Android Marketplace) allowed me to download the GMail app and my gmail account was up in seconds. Facebook also set up immediately, as did Twitter. I was able to learn how to change wallpaper and sounds with a bit of hunting about.

Uploading pics and updating Facebook and Twitter is a snap, email works well, and the internet comes through very quickly. Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network and I was getting the 3G signal icon while using the internet in a nearby small mountain town. Excellent! You can fire up wifi, if you want to avoid data charges. It looks like when it’s on a wifi node it uses that for data transfer. I haven’t tried Bluetooth yet.

Camera: it’s a 5MPxl camera and the resolution leaves a bit to be desired in lower light conditions. Outside, it took nice pictures — not iPhone quality, but better than the iPad 2 which took the above photos. I’ve yet to try the video recording, but it’s supposed to be 720P. The onboard memory looks to be about 1Gb, so I dropped a $10 8Gb micro-SD card into it. That should be plenty, since it is not my go-to data device.

Overall, I am very pleased with my purchase, and so far the upgrade to the better phone allows me to really use the free data, email, text of the Virgin network. (They do throttle you after about 2.5Gb of data…) All in a month-to-month plan that after taxes is still half what I paid for comparable service with Verizon or AT&T (You listening, guys? Of course not…)

UPDATE: After living with the One V for three days, I’m happy to say that battery life seems pretty good. I’ve been using Facebook and doing a few quick internet searches, email, the camera, texting a bit, and making a few dozen minutes of calls. I’ve still got a third to a quarter the battery.

Comcast contacted me about the email issue, but so far, no combination of settings allows for connection to the server. I’ve had similar issues with my iPad and laptop when traveling; certain wifi networks Comcast simply will not work with. If they weren’t the only real choice for high-speed internet in town, I’d dump them like I did their TV service.

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