T-Mobile’s No-Contract 4G Android Phone Doesn’t Look Terrible

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Earlier this month, T-Mobile and Walmart announced a $30 per month, no-contract smartphone plan with unlimited data and text messaging. Now, they’re ready to talk about the actual phones.

The first handset will be Samsung’s Exhibit II 4G, and it’ll be available at Walmart starting October 27 for $200 without a contract, or $80 with a two-year agreement. The phone will go on sale elsewhere on November 2.

(MORE: T-Mobile to Offer No-Contract 4G, Unlimited Texting and 100 Voice Minutes for $30)

On paper, the Exhibit II 4G isn’t half-bad, with a 3.7-inch screen, a 1GHz processor, a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera and a front-facing camera for video chat. An included microSD card holds 4GB of data, and you can swap it for capacities of up to 32GB. The phone runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) which, for at least a couple more weeks, will be the latest version of Google’s software. I’m guessing the Exhibit II won’t get upgraded to Android Ice Cream Sandwich after launch, but you never know.

The Exhibit II’s toughest competitor is the Motorola Triumph, a mid-range Android phone that sells for $300 on Virgin Mobile. On specs alone, the Triumph has the edge with a 4.1-inch display, a 1GHz processor and a 5-megapixel camera with 720p video capture. But because it runs Android 2.2, its keyboard and battery efficiency are inferior. It’s also $100 more expensive than T-Mobile’s off-contract offering.

In reality, either phone should be satisfactory if you’re looking to save a few bucks on cell phone service. The most important thing to decide is whether T-Mobile or Virgin Mobile has the better plan for your needs. The former offers 5GB of 4G data before slowing you down, while the latter offers 2GB of 3G data. But T-Mobile’s $30 plan only gives you 100 minutes of voice calls per month, while Virgin’s $35 plan includes 300 voice minutes.

In other words, if you mostly use data, go with T-Mobile. If you talk on the phone a lot, go with Virgin. Either way, you’ll end up with an average smartphone and a small monthly bill.

(MORE: Motorola ‘Triumph’ Review: Contract-Free Goes Big)