Back at CES in January, Sprint announced its first two 4G LTE smartphones, the LG Viper and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Both will be out April 22, but for this review we're going to focus on the Viper. Touted as an eco-friendly midrange device, it is certified platinum by Underwriters Laboratories for fulfilling the highest level of environmental and sustainability requirements. In addition, the company says it avoided using many common but environmentally sensitive materials including brominated flame retardants, polyvinyl chloride, and nickel in manufacturing this phone.
But being green isn't the Viper's only attraction. It's also equipped with an NFC chip and Google Wallet, so you can purchase items wirelessly, transmit data, and share tags with other NFC-enabled devices.
As mentioned, the handset is available, aptly enough, on Earth Day, April 22. It'll set you back an affordable $99.99 after you send in a $50 mail-in-rebate and sign a two-year contract.
Editors' note: When this piece was originally published, it was incorrectly reported that Google Wallet was not activated for users. In actuality, it was not activated only in our early demo device. We also updated this review on December 4, 2012 to reflect that the Viper can now receive an Android 4.0 update.
The LG Viper measures 4.59 inches tall, 2.44 inches wide, and 0.46 inch thick. Weighing in at a hefty 5 ounces, the device felt heavy in my hands. Although it's not very thin, it's slim enough to slide into a jeans back pocket or toss into a bag.
It has a 4-inch WVGA touch screen, which can display 16.7 million colors and has a resolution of 480x800 pixels. The display also has 700 nits of brightness, so colors, images, and video appear extra vivid. HQ YouTube videos were rich, and games like Temple Run were vibrant.
The screen was also responsive, making swiping through pages, pinch zooming, and text messaging a breeze. Above the screen in the right-hand corner is a VGA front-facing camera for vanity shots and video chatting. Below are the four standard navigational keys that light up during use: home, menu, back, and search.
On the left side of the phone, there is a volume rocker with a Micro-USB port below it. Up top are a sleep/power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
While the handset's casing is made out of 50 percent recycled plastics, it certainly doesn't feel cheap. The Viper has a sturdy feel with tapered edges, and its plastic backing looks much more luxurious, resembling steel or metal. The rear-facing camera sits at the top center of the back, next to the LED flash. Below, there is a thin slit for the output speaker. Using a small indent at the bottom of the device, you can remove the back casing and gain access to the 1,700mAh battery and the 4GB microSD slot, which can be expanded up to 32GB.
Despite its 1.2GHz dual-core processor, the LG Viper wasn't as swift and snappy as expected. There would be a slight but noticeable lag while I transitioned through apps, clicked back home, and autorotated. When multiple apps were opened, it took a couple of extra milliseconds to execute its task.
The device runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and can be upgradable to Ice Cream Sandwich starting November 2012. It's a bit disappointing that this is Gingerbread out of the box while the Galaxy Nexus is ICS. But it contains all the Google goodies you've come to expect: Google Books, Gmail, Plus, Search, Latitude, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, Shopper, Music, Talk, YouTube, and the Play Store.
The phone also is equipped with an NFC chip inside for wireless communication with other NFC-enabled devices, and Google Wallet, so you can purchase items with your handset through credit card information stored in your Google account. Unfortunately, Google Wallet was not activated on our early demo device, so I wasn't able to test-drive this feature. Until I get more information, I'll keep you posted. Another feature called Tags lets you organize all the things you tag and share through your NFC chip, like texts, URLs, and pictures.
Sprint included its selection of apps as well, with two sports apps (Nascar Sprint Cup Mobile and NBA Mobile), two media apps (one just for music, the other for TV shows and movies), and SprintZone, an app that keeps you in the loop for Sprint devices and news. If you don't want updates about random Nascar drivers, NBA teams you know nothing about, or have no interest in the entertainment industry, you can, fortunately, delete those apps.
Equipped with Sprint ID, this handset has a customization feature that lets you tailor your home screens with preselected apps, widgets, ringtones, and other items depending on which ID profile you install. There are 42 packs so far, catering to a number of interests including music (CMT and MTV have a Sprint ID pack), sports (ESPN, Fantasy Football), and colleges like UC Davis (go, Aggies!).
Aside from the fact that the packs are unsightly, deleting an ID package won't uninstall the apps that you've downloaded. Instead, you'll have to manually remove each app. You also can't remove the Sprint ID app from the home screen's dashboard, so if you're not a fan, you'll just have to ignore it.
Other task-management apps and goodies include a Web browser, Swype typing, a calculator, a calendar, a clock, Flash Player, a news and weather app, the mobile office suite known as Polaris Office, Smart Share (where you can upload and distribute media to other DLNA-enabled devices), TeleNav GPS Navigation, and a voice dialer.