Lately, Virgin Mobile has been consistently releasing solid phones that we've regarded as both reliable and reasonably priced. For example, one of its higher-end models, the HTC One V, impressed us with its stylish design and Android 4.0 OS.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the PCD Chaser. Sure, some things have to be taken into account: unlike the One V, it's an entry-level device meant for first-time smartphone users. It's inexpensively priced at $80 without a contract, and it's got decent midrange specs, like a 3-megapixel camera and an 800MHz CPU.
However, the device's performance was poor. In addition to its laggy processor speeds, call quality was rocky, and battery life was awful. Given all this, even considering its entry-level status, this PCD is something I'd rather run away from than chase after.
The PCD Chaser is 4.5 inches tall and 2.2 inches wide. Though it's relatively compact, lightweight (it weighs only 4.2 ounces), and easy to use with one hand, there are a few design flaws. Its screen size, for example, is just 3.2 inches, with a little more than an inch of black space below the display. And at 0.55 inch thick, it has a wide profile. These characteristics don't make this the most attractive or sleekest device.
On the phone's left is a volume rocker and up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a sleep/power button. On the right is a microSD card slot that's protected by an attached plastic door. At the very bottom is a Micro-USB port.
The back plate is coated with a smooth rubber material that I'm fond of because it gives the handset a more luxurious feel and fends off fingerprints. The rear houses a 3-megapixel camera; there's no LED flash. At the bottom are two slits for the output speaker. Using an indent at the top of the back plate, you can pry the shell off to expose a 1,450mAh battery.
The LCD touch screen is small, with a 320x480-pixel resolution, so don't expect rich graphics. Menu icons and text rendered crisply (save for the "My Account" app, which features a white fingerprint against a red background and just looks like one squiggly mess), but more complex videos, photos, and images appeared grainy and pixelated. In general, the display is somewhat responsive. Swiping through different homescreen pages, scrolling up and down the app drawer, or pinching in on maps usually worked fine. However, there were times when I had to press an app more than once, or gently put more pressure against the glass so it could register my touches.
Below the screen are the four usual navigational buttons: home, menu, back, and search. These hot keys worked well, except for the home key. There were a number of times when I pressed it and nothing happened, and after a couple of more tries, it finally registered that I wanted it to go back home.
The phone runs on an 800MHz processor, which doesn't make it fast by any means. Although some basic tasks were carried out in a reasonable amount of time, such as entering text and opening up simple apps, other actions were executed with noticeable lag. I had to wait a hair of a second longer when it came to waking the display up, opening the camera app, or returning to homescreen.
A big letdown is that the Chaser runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which makes it feel outdated before it even comes out of the box. It's preloaded with the usual slew of Google apps: Gmail, Plus, Latitude, Search, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, Places, Talk, Play Store, Books, Movies, and Music, and YouTube.
The Chaser also comes wtih basic apps like a Web browser, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, Bluetooth, a sound recorder, a voice dialer, and e-mail and texting capabilities. Virgin Mobile included two of its own apps. One is called MyAccount, which lets you check your phone and data plan, and the other is Virgin Mobile Live, a music-streaming and concert-finding app.
The device is equipped with Mobile ID, located at the third icon in the home screen's dock. With ID, you can customize your four home screen pages with certain preselected apps, widgets, and other items depending on which ID profile you choose.
For example, if you select the E! Entertainment package, you'll get apps and widgets pertaining to the celebrity and entertainment news channel. You can also choose a Green package, which 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. I don't like that Mobile ID is so integral to the device. You can't remove the function from the home screen's dashboard, so the only choice you have is just to ignore it. Right now, there are six available packs online.
When you first start up the handset, you are automatically prompted to download one of the six available packs named "The Essentials." Though you can cancel the download, you have to manually go into the Mobile ID app and intercept the download process. The apps included in the pack are useful, and you'll get Facebook, Twitter, the news app BuzzFeed, Wikipedia, Pandora, Yelp, and a random tuning-fork app. But because all these apps start downloading right at startup, it made me wonder why Virgin didn't just preload these features natively before the product shipped.