The Virgin Mobile Awe is slow and has a poor camera, but don't completely write off the device just yet.
For one thing, it has solid call quality, and consistent, respectable 3G speeds. But perhaps the device's saving grace is its rock-bottom price.
Currently going for $89.99 but initially released with a $99.99 price tag, the Awe is a good deal for what it is. And while you can get a better handset if you're willing to spend a bit more, the Awe is a good choice for those who are mindful of every dollar.
Compact and lightweight, the Awe looks like most entry-level Android devices. It has rounded corners, edges that slightly curve outward, and a wide bezel. At 4.96 inches tall, 2.56 inches wide, 0.41 inch thick, and weighing 4.4 ounces, it's comfortable to maneuver with one hand and it slips easily in jean pockets.
On the left edge are two bulbous buttons to adjust volume and a Micro-USB port, and up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and sleep/power button. The right edge houses a convenient shortcut key to launch the camera.
The battery door is styled with curving lines and ridges that you can feel. Gray with a matte rubbery coating, the back is iridescent, but it won't trap fingerprints. You'll see the 5-megapixel camera with its LED flash to the left, and two small slits at the bottom for the speaker. You can pry off the cover using a small indentation on the bottom right corner. Located underneath is a 1,650mAh battery and a microSD card slot that's expandable up to 32GB.
The 4-inch IPS touch screen has a 480x800-pixel resolution. The display is responsive to my swipes and taps, and menu icons and texts appear clear. However, because of the low resolution, high-definition images don't look very crisp, and even some default wallpaper images looked "crunchy" or grainy. Moreover, it has a narrow viewing angle, which gets even more difficult to view outdoors in sunlight.
Above the display is a 1-megapixel front-facing camera, and below are three hot keys (back, home, and menu) that light up white when in use. When you long-press the home key, you can call up recent apps or launch Google Now.
The handset runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, and you'll get a number of Google apps including Chrome, G+ Photos, Gmail, Search, Plus, Hangouts, Maps, access to the Play store's Books, Magazines, Movies and TV, and Music portals, and YouTube.
It also comes with basic task managing apps like an alarm clock, native e-mail and Web browser clients, a calculator, a calendar, a music player, a news and weather app, a sound recorder, a timer, a video player, a voice dialer, and a world time clock. Two other, more uncommon apps are Qualcomm Enhanced and TouchPal X. The former is a location service app, while the latter is an optional keyboard and text inserting function you can activate.
Virgin Mobile preloaded three of its own apps as well. One is MyAccount, which lets you check your phone and data plan, and the other is the Feed, a news app that aggregates pop-culture and music news.
The last one is Mobile ID, which lets you download preselected apps, wallpapers, and other items depending on which ID profile you choose. For example, the Green package includes tools intended to help you lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Just note that deleting a Mobile ID package won't uninstall the apps that you downloaded-- you'll have to remove them manually.
When you first start up the smartphone, "The Essentials" package is already loaded, and you'll find shortcuts on your home pages to download more Virgin Mobile apps and apps like Wikipedia and Pandora. Keep in mind that these are shortcuts, which prompts you to download these apps in the Play Store, and not the actual apps themselves.
Additional features include Bluetooth 4.0, 4GB of ROM, and 1GB of RAM.
Camera and video
Photo quality for the 5-megapixel camera was adequate, but unimpressive. For instance, it's slow to start up, to focus, and to take subsequent shots. Even after you hold the Awe still for a few seconds when taking a picture to prevent motion blur, photos manage to look a bit hazy and colors look muted. You'll also see a notable amount of graininess and digital noise, especially in dimmer lighting. Check out photos from the Awe below and note that you can click on each picture to enlarge them.
Both the 5-megapixel and front-facing cameras have autofocus, digital zoom, five white-balance options, five ISO levels (from 100 to 800), geotagging, compositional grid lines, three photo qualities, and three antibanding options. However, the rear camera can shoot in six photo sizes (from 640x480 to 2,592x1,944 pixels), while the 1-megapixel camera can only shoot in two (from 640x480 to 1,280x720 pixels).