Motorola Triumph Preview: A Contract-Free Android Smartphone

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With phones like the forthcoming Motorola Triumph – unveiled at a recent New York City press event – carriers with prepaid plans are sending out a clear and consistent message. If you don’t want a credit check, or you wish to forego a two-year contract for any other reason, you can now buy a decent Android smartphone for under $400 (or maybe even under $200). At those prices, though, you won’t be getting all the latest bells and whistles, as Brighthand discovered in a hands-on experience with the Triumph.

Announced in conjunction with the Android 2.3-enabled Photon 4G, a high-end phone from Sprint for non-prepaid use, Virgin Mobile USA’s Android 2.2 (“Froyo”)-enabled Triumph hit the pay-as-you-go smartphone scene only a few days after contract-less carrier Cricket Wireless’s announcement of plans to carry the Samsung Galaxy Indulge. The Indulge, a more budget-conscious cousin of Samsung’s Galaxy S, is already sold by MetroPCS, another prepaid carrier.

Motorola TriumphI got a hands-on preview of the two upcoming Motorola phones – Sprint’s Photon 4G and the Triumph, a phone to be sold by Sprint’s Virgin Mobile prepaid arm at a Sprint launch event in New York City. In a first look review of the Motorola Photon 4G smartphone, I pointed to a number of high-end features for the Photon, such as its kickstand, “kickstand view,” and car dock and HD dock accessories. Yet I also experimented with several features of Virgin’s Triumph (pictured at left), playing videos from the phone on a large flat panel display and listening to tunes on Virgin’s music player app, for instance. Results with the Triumph were mixed (as detailed below).

Before last week’s launch, rumors grew rampant over just what Sprint and Motorola planned to introduce. Under one theory, the mystery phone would be a Sprint version of AT&T’s Atrix 4G, while under another, it would turn out to be a Sprint version of Verizon’s Droid X2. Sprint, of course, unveiled two phones, rather than one, and while the rumor of the Atrix-inspired phone was right on target, the Droid X2 one didn’t come nearly as close to hitting the mark.

Not a Droid X2 (or Droid X) Clone
Although the contract-free Triumph sports similar dimensions of 4.8 by 2.5 by 0.4 inches, the device is certainly no Droid X2 clone. For one thing, the Triumph uses a single-core Hummingbird processor, in comparison to the Droid X2’s dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 chipset, acknowledged Michael Ogg, Motorola’s operations manager, speaking with me at the rollout. So in terms of processing power, it’s more similar to Verizon’s slightly earlier Droid X. Sprint’s Photon 4G phone will likewise be based on a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor.

Motorola TriumphYet, unlike the new Photon 4G, which is 4G WiMax-capable, the Triumph will run only on Sprint’s 3G CDMA network when it gets released at some point this summer. Would a dual-core processor prove all that useful on the Triumph, anyway?

Dual Cameras for Video Chat
Another difference is the Triumph will come with a 5 megapixel (mp) camera, in contrast to the 8 mp cameras that appear on both the Droid X and X2. That spec alone doesn’t tell the whole story, though, because also in contrast to those two Verizon phones, Virgin’s Triumph boasts a front-facing camera for video chat. It’s a much more capable camera than the 3.2 mp camera on Samsung’s Galaxy Indulge, which doesn’t even offer a smaller front-facing counterpart.

On the other hand, the Indulge is a side-slider, whereas the Triumph adheres to a candybar design, meaning that the Triumph has no hard keyboard.

Demos of the Triumph centered largely around the phone’s dual-facing cameras and HDMI-out. In playing around with the cameras, it was easy enough to switch between the two. For handier camera access, though, I wish that Motorola had included the same external dedicated camera button that shows up on the Photon 4G. However, maybe a button like that wouldn’t really fit, given the Triumph’s Droid X2-esque “razor-thin” design.

Of course, I could have sent photos and 720p video I shot with the Triumph’s camera to a large external flat panel display, attached to the phone that day for demo purposes. Instead, I played back three canned videos already downloaded to the phone.

Humdrum Display, but Crisp HDMI-Out
From what I saw, the Triumph’s main weakness is its display. Measuring 4.1-inches, the Triumph’s display is smaller than that of either the Droid X or Droid X2, and not even much larger than the 3.7-inch display of the very first Droid. Beyond that, the Triumph’s display affords only WVGA resolution, not the higher qHD resolution of the Droid X2, Atrix 4G, or Photon 4G.

Motorola TriumphThe Triumph’s WVGA screen wasn’t bad, at all. As might be expected, though, the movies I played, which included shots of parrots and balloons, seemed much more crisp and colorful on the external HD flat panel than on the Triumph’s own display. 

I also used Virgin Mobile Live 2.0, a Virgin-only software app that will be bundled on the Triumph, to play back a song. From what I could hear, the audio sounded good enough (although I must say I was surrounded by a lot of din from the other demos going on around me.)

However, for some reason, the app didn’t appear to take advantage of even the Triumph’s WVGA resolution. With its faded-looking colors, the user interface (UI) to the Mobile Live 2.0 software seemed to have been designed for an old-fashioned VGA display instead.

Motorola TriumphOgg told me that Virgin also plans to include the Android Market and some apps pre-downloaded from that online store, but that Motorola widgets will not be aboard the Triumph.

Could Be a Good Deal
Although the Triumph isn’t the most high-end Android phone around, I think it could do well. This will depend, though, on how it is priced, and Sprint hasn’t spilled the details yet on either phone pricing or rate plans for the Triumph. Cricket Wireless, however, is selling the Galaxy Indulge for $330, with a choice of two wireless plans: an unlimited data plan (talk, text and Web) with 1GB of Data, for $50 per month; and an unlimited talk, text, Web and data plan, for $60 per month.

For its part, Virgin Mobile US already offers Android OS phones such as the LG Optimus V for $150 and the Samsung Intercept for $200. As described on Virgin’s web site, current contract-less rate plans for Android phones range from $25 to $60 per month, all with unlimited text, Web and data. With the $60 plan, talk is unlimited, too.




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