Motorola ‘Triumph’ Review: Contract-Free Goes Big

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The Motorola Triumph is supposed to be the cream of the contract-free smartphone crop. Available now on Virgin Mobile for a hefty up-front price of $300, it includes features that you might not expect to find on a phone that carries no commitments, like a 4.1-inch display, 1 GHz processor, 720p video capture, front-facing camera and slim design.

So can the best of contract-free smartphones hold its own against an army of two-year agreement juggernauts? Not quite, but don’t let that turn you away.

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Clad in a black, soft-touch coating, the Triumph is all hard angles and sharp edges. It kind of reminds me of a polygonal structure from a mid-1990s video game, with nary a rounded edge or unnecessary design flourish to be found. The sense of restraint is palpable, and I like it.

On the downside, it’s pointy. Expect some mild discomfort during long stretches of single-handed use, and expect the phone to make its presence known when resting in your pocket.

For software, the Triumph runs a stock version of Android 2.2, with a light amount of Virgin Mobile bloatware thrown in for good measure. If you’ve spent any time with MotoBlur, HTC Sense or any of the other custom interfaces that phone makers like to slap on their Android devices, stock Android will seem like a revelation. On the Triumph, it’s buttery smooth — at least until you start cluttering the home screen with widgets — and stylish thanks to some fancy graphical transitions scattered throughout.

This version of Android has been outdated since last winter, so it’s missing some features you’ll find on smartphones running Android 2.3, such as an improved keyboard and more accurate text selection. It also lacks the native video chat that Google is building into newer versions of Android, so you’ll be stuck with third-party apps like Qik and Fring for use with the Triumph’s front-facing VGA camera. (Skype video chat only supports a handful of Android devices for now, and it’s not clear which Android 2.2 handsets, if any, will be brought on board.)

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In terms of general performance, the Triumph handled apps and the web with plenty of zip. Faster phones exist, thanks to dual-core processors found in several high-end Android handsets, but the Triumph was perfectly capable of multitasking as I listened to music while playing graphically-demanding games. The phone did get warm to the touch with all this activity, but not unbearably hot.

I have a few nitpicks with the Triumph’s hardware: The 4.1-inch display, while sharp at 800-by-480 resolution, has a subtle blue-ish hue that I found odd; the 5-megapixel camera lacks face detection and touch-to-focus, and has a super-bright flash bulb that may stun your subjects at close-to-medium range; and there’s only 3 GB of storage on board — 2 GB on a microSD card, and the rest built-in.

But the Triumph’s biggest weakness is its battery. Though I didn’t perform extensive tests, I found that the Triumph drained roughly a quarter of its battery over a nine-hour standby period. After 90 minutes of heavy use, the phone was down to 25 percent power. My experience jibes with Virgin Mobile’s 4-hour talk time estimate, which itself is paltry compared to most other Android smartphones. Again, Android 2.3 might’ve helped here, as the software includes some behind-the-scenes power management not present in Android 2.2.

The Motorola Triumph is not a contract-free smartphone buyer’s dream come true. Its battery and internal storage are too limited, its camera is lacking in a few areas and its design leans a bit toward style over comfort. But the Triumph is certainly not a bad phone, and compared to other contract-free handsets, it’s a powerhouse. The $300 price tag is steep compared to smartphones subsidized by long-term contracts, but Virgin Mobile will reward your investment with cheap monthly bills — plans start at $35 per month with 300 minutes and unlimited data and text messages — and no commitments. If you can get past the Triumph’s flaws, you can’t argue with the savings.

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