Virgin Mobile Supreme review

The Virgin Mobile Supreme serves up a big, beautiful display and performance that matches much more expensive phones, making it our top Android smartphone pick on Virgin.
Photo of Virgin Mobile Supreme

Is bigger better? If you answered yes, then the ZTE-made Supreme ($299.99 without contract) is your best bet on Virgin Mobile. Its 5-inch screen puts it in phablet territory and makes it the biggest option on the prepaid MVNO. The Supreme can’t compete with the current generation of high-end devices, but it doesn’t have to on Virgin Mobile—the carrier’s top-end Android phone is last year’s Samsung Galaxy S III. The Supreme holds its own against the S III, and aside from mediocre call quality, I find it hard to justify the $100 premium Samsung’s year-old phone commands. The Supreme will be a better value for most, and earns our Editors’ Choice for Android phones on Virgin Mobile.

Design, Network, and Call Quality
Aside from a larger-than-average camera hump around back, the Supreme looks fairly generic with its two-tone, all-plastic design. At 5.6 by 2.8 by .04 inches (HWD), it’s a tall device, but not overly wide considering its screen size. There’s a headphone jack and Power button on top, which is a big pet peeve of mine on devices this size—if you make a phone that’s nearly as tall as my hand is long, put the buttons on the side, please. There are volume controls and a micro USB port on the left and a useful two-stage camera shutter button on the right side. The back panel is covered in a rubberized coating and peels off to reveal the microSD card slot and a big, user-replaceable 2500mAh battery. We’re still running battery tests so we’ll update this review when the results are in.

The 5-inch 720p (294 ppi) display looks sharp and bright with a wide viewing angle. Contrast is about average, though, and I did notice a bit of backlight blooming towards the display’s edges. Colors appear true and the screen gets bright enough for outdoor use. Below the display are capacitive Back, Home, and Menu navigation buttons. I really prefer the standard software buttons built into Android, but it’s easy enough to get used to ZTE’s setup.

Virgin Mobile piggybacks on Sprint’s network, with the Supreme supporting the carrier’s CDMA (800/1900MHz) and LTE (1900MHz) networks. Where you can get it, Sprint’s LTE network is among the fastest I’ve seen, but keep in mind that the Supreme won’t be able to connect to Sprint’s faster tri-band Spark LTE. In my tests in New York City, the Supreme matched the HTC Desire, pulling down around 9Mbps down and 4Mbps up. The Supreme supports 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and GPS. It’s worth noting that there’s no Wi-Fi hotspot capability here, which is a bit disappointing.

Call quality is on the low side of average. Transmissions through the mic sounded overly digitized and tended to waver in and out in my tests. Earpiece volume is solid, but the Supreme kept clipping voices coming through on the other end of the line. Noise cancellation knocked out some loud trucks and street noises, but had trouble with wind noise. Speakerphone volume is decent, but sounds harsh at max volume.

Performance and Android
The Supreme comes equipped with a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor with 1GB RAM, which is essentially the same setup found in the S III. The two phones trade blows in synthetic benchmarks, with the slight edge going to the S III. The Supreme also turned in similar results to the HTC Desire, but keep in mind that the Supreme is pushing more pixels. High-end games like Asphalt 8 weren’t a buttery smooth affair, dropping frames and rendering objects a beat behind what you’d see on more powerful devices. The Supreme felt fast enough in normal use, though, firing up and switching between apps with ease.

The Supreme runs Android 4.1.2, which is a few versions behind at this point, and I wouldn’t count on any updates here. Aside from a modified lock screen, the skin here is very close to stock Android, including all the familiar iconography and settings pages. Virgin Mobile, of course, loads up its Mobile ID app, which foists some dubious themes and apps onto the Supreme. The good news is that most of these are just suggestions, as the app icons bring you to the Play Store to download the app if you choose. Some apps are uninstallable, though, and include things like EA Real Racing 3 and the aforementioned Mobile ID app.

Multimedia and Camera
Of the 8GB of total storage, only 4.07 is available to users out of the box. If you plan on keeping a lot of media on the Supreme, I suggest picking up a microSD card—our 64GB SanDisk card worked fine. As for media formats, the Supreme supported all of our test files except WMA.

The 13-megapixel camera is a big selling point for the Supreme, but it came up a bit short in our tests. There are plenty of manual settings you can tweak to eke out an above-average shot, but the Auto IQ is a big letdown, especially under more challenging conditions. Outdoors the Supreme snapped off some fine- looking shots with plenty of detail that rivaled higher-end phones. The two-stage dedicated shutter button is also very useful for getting steady, in-focus shots. Indoors, though, it was a different story, as the majority of shots I took came out soft and grainy. Video performance is also lagging, as footage shot indoors only managed around 19 frames per second, while autofocus, auto exposure, and auto white balance were all woefully insufficient—fluorescent lights were completely overexposed and everything had a blue hue to it. If you’re willing to tinker, the sensor here is capable of good things, and it’s still better than the 5-megapixel camera on the HTC Desire.

Conclusions
There are three options at the top of Virgin Mobile’s Android lineup: the Samsung Galaxy S III, the HTC Desire, and the Supreme. Each has its merits, but when you consider the combination of price, performance, and features, the Virgin Mobile Supreme comes out on top. It offers more screen real estate than the other two, matches the S III in performance, and costs only $20 more than the Desire, and $100 less than the S III. That earns it our Editors’ Choice award for Android smartphones on Virgin Mobile.  

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network CDMA, LTE
Screen Resolution 1280 x 800 pixels
NFC Yes
Dimensions 5.6 x 2.8 x 0.4 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 b/g/n
Video Camera Resolution 1080p
Available Integrated Storage 4.07 GB
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8930 Dual-Core
GPS Yes
Service Provider Virgin
Total Integrated Storage 8 GB
High-Speed Data LTE
Weight 5.4 oz
Screen Type IPS LCD
Operating System as Tested Android 4.1.2
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 13 MP Rear-Facing
1 MP Front-Facing
Screen Pixels Per Inch 294 ppi
Bands 800, 1900
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 5 inches
Bluetooth Version 4

Verdict
The Virgin Mobile Supreme serves up a big, beautiful display and performance that matches much more expensive phones, making it our top Android smartphone pick on Virgin.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc