I’ve been using an HTC One V for a little over a year now on the Virgin Mobile service. It was a serviceable smart phone, but was increasingly buggy and twitchy. Even cleaning every cache, removing unused apps, etc. would not fix the issues, which included more and more dropped calls and bad reception. I finally broke down and decided to take the hit and buy an iPhone 5 (yes, I know the 5S is coming out at the end of the month, but I doubt it’ll hit VM before the year’s end…and I really don’t need a fingerprint sensor on my home button…)

So, was it worth it? In a word: yes! I’m relatively platform agnostic, but over the last few years i find myself gravitating toward Apple products. It started with the iPad, which I still adore, and then my wife bought me a MacBook Air back in 2010. It’s still going strong with 98% of the original battery capacity, it’s still as fast, and it still works great. I like that the Apple devices talk to each other easily and — outside of the craphill that is iTunes (Seriously, Apple…fix the damned thing!) — I have no complaints. Yes, the interface isn’t as customizable as Android. Yes, it’s a “walled” ecosphere — I still get pretty much all the performance I want. Yes, they’re bloody expensive — the main sticking point for me.

I figured I would like the iPhone — it’s a small iPad with a phone, after all. Except the integration of the apps is astounding. Everything talks to each other. Siri isn’t the greatest search engine, but it makes it easy to use the phone without hunting for the right app — call Mom. Facetime with Paul. Where’s the local Chinese joint? It works. Just don’t ask it if there’s a local distributor for McEwan’s Scotch Ale; it gets confused.

The texting/Message feature is good, and Facetime is quick and stable for video calls (my mother was thrilled to talk to her granddaughter face-to-face.) The voice recognition is about 90% — pretty good for my screwy Pennsylvania-Scottish accent, which throws it on the strangest words.

It looks good, build quality is top-notch — something the HTC also had going for it — and it’s no larger than the One V was. I find iOS6 much more user friendly than the back/home/app button combo of the One V, and i think the stability of the OS build is immediately noticeable.

The big downsides: yes, the interface looks a bit plain compared to Android, which you can customize, but that wasn’t much of a selling point to me; I want to find what I’m looking for fast and be able to hit the icon without worrying about my fingers being too big. This might not be an issue on the billboard-sized Samsungs and Droids coming out, but I want to stick with something phone-sized. Second: No true multitasking. I found with my HTC that multitasking on the Android phone blew through battery life pretty quickly. It’s a good best we’ll see the same issue once iOS7 brings it to the iPhone. Another is battery life. It wasn’t great on the One V, but I only had to charge it every two or three days with average use. The iPhone looks to burn through a charge will average usage (for me a couple of calls, a bit of texting, and some data usage) in about two days. A heavy user would have to charge the thing every day. I assume the same with an Android or Windows phone, as well.

As to the Virgin Mobile service for the iPhone. You can pay $55/month for unlimited everything, but I run the $45/month for the 1200 minutes and everything else unlimited. After taxes and fees, I’m still only paying $50…about half of the big boys, including Sprint, on whose network Virgin functions. Even paying up front for the phone, full price, over the life of a contract period, I pay $932 less. And yes, you can swap the SIM cards and run on other networks. So is it worth a bigger hit at the start for the overall savings? Especially if you can use the PayPal Buy It Now (or whatever they’re calling it) promotion of six months with no payments or interest — yes. Pay it off in a couple of chunks. You’re much better off than with AT&T or Verizon, from a price point.

But what about the quality and coverage? Not as good. I get 3G in Albuquerque and the surrounding New Mexico area with a bunch of dead zones thanks to the massive areas of nothing out here between towns. (911 service, however, has been available in the same places I’d get it on other networks.) You do need to leave LTE on if you want to do anything data-intensive or the performance is glacial; with it on, it’s speedy enough for a Facebook check or to do a quick internet search for whatever. I haven’t bothered to try streaming anything yet, but I suspect it will be a bit jumpy. Call quality is good, for those of you who realized you can use a telephone to speak to people, instead of conducting a 2 minute conversation over the course of an afternoon by text.

Style: 5 out of 5 — you really can’t fault Apple’s aesthetics. Simple, yet pretty; the interface is simple and easy to use. Substance: 5 out of 5 — it’s the largest app store in the world, and you can find just about anything you need. The operating system is almost bulletproof stable, call quality is good, and it’s packed with a host of baked in features.

Additionally, the preview of the iOS7 features and new look is another draw — at least for me — to the phone.

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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.

About a month ago I’d finally had enough of dropped calls in my house and dumped Verizon Wireless after six years with the company. The service seemed to be getting shoddier and the phone I had was crap. After comparing services, i decided I was sick of being locked into a two-year contract simply to get a free — yet crappy — phone. I bought Virgin’s $25 300 minute/free email, text, and web plan.

The best deal, hands down, was Virgin Mobile. The service piggybacks on Sprint’s network when theirs is unavailable, so the coverage, so far, is pretty solid. I live in new Mexico and have a tendency to take my Triumph for rides to places that Big Red and the Death Star can’t reach, either, so losing my signal up in Jemez Springs isn’t much of a surprise. Coverage is just as good, so far, as Verizon in my region. Data reception and transfer rates are as good, if not a bit fast, than Verizon’s from what I’ve seen.

Call quality: solidly good, although I do have a few spots in my house that cause a bit of signal loss. No dropped calls yet. Sound quality is good.

The phone: I went with the $79 Samsung Restore — it’s a smart(ish)phone with a slide out keyboard for texting and email. I find it indispensable — I hate pecking through the letters and numbers on a standard number pad and the screen keyboards don’t have the haptic feedback to help me type quickly. Sound quality is good and call quality for those I’ve called is reported as good to great. Text transfer is quick, as is data files (in this case endless pictures of my three month old.) Web is good, but I hate the “mobile” experience — all text, for the most part. Still it’s nice to check maps, weather, and check email from the phone while I’m out and about.

Overall, I’d say my experience with Virgin is positive — the phone’s good, the service is good, and the customer service has been stellar (if based in Brahmapore or wherever…) I had to call in early on about having the wrong phone number and they fixed it quickly. I called when I topped-up but the minutes didn’t apply right away (they simply paid me up for next month) — fixed, no questions asked, no hassle.

The only thing I’ve noted is without the mobile-to-mobile minutes of Verizon, I use alot more time than I thought…I may need to raise my minutes to 450. If you use 150-200/month n Verizon, you’ll eat up 300 in 15-20 days on a slow month. I burned up 50 minutes just today… Their unlimited plan is, for now, $45 unlimited everything.

Eat that Verizon.

First, have a network upgrade that drops customers’ phones on a regular basis so they have to go get their SIM cards reprogrammed or have the phone refresh the towers it’s looking for. Second, a month later, when the same issue recurs frequently — dropped calls, calls that don’t connect — inform the customer that “according to your contract, we’re not responsible for dropped calls in a building”. You know…like my house. Three, don’t bother to even try to find a way to satisfy the customer other than “buy a new phone…”

So I’m locked into a contract for this? Answer? No. I already made arrangements to go to Virgin Mobile. If I’m going to get crap service, I only want to pay $25 for it.

I’m going Browncoat on just about everything I can, these days — politics, economics, publishing, and my phone…it’s my money and vote they want. Time to earn it.