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Review of the Virgin Mobile Arc (by UTStarcom)

We’re back today with our second handset review. A few weeks ago, we reviewed the Samsung Slash. Sticking with Virgin Mobile, today we’ll take a look at the Arc by UTStarcom. The phone launched in July, and has since come out in various colors. One poster on Howard Forums noted that a gold version is available at Target. I got the red one.

The expectations caveat once again: This phone will not blow your mind. It is not meant to. I think I put it best in a post on HoFo, which is gleefully quoted in user Love Souljah’s signature:

Why doesn’t Dan Brown write sleazy romance novels? Why doesn’t Wal-Mart sell thousand-dollar car stereo systems?

They’re appealing to an audience. Same with VM.

So, now that we realize that the Arc is not the G1, let’s hit the review.

Form factor

Flip phones aren’t exactly my bag, though prior to about a year ago I owned them almost exclusively. They seem to be popular enough. Many of even the newer cell phone models are of the flip variety, including the RAZR, which is still the best selling handset in America.

There’s nothing wrong with the Arc’s form factor. It’s a slim clamshell which flips open rather easily. This means that it fits easily in your pocket, and isn’t a pain to open up — though I’m not sure I know a flip phone that is. All in all, the form is pretty benign. That can be a good thing if you’re not looking for something overly fancy.

Keys

Straight up, I am not a fan of the Arc’s keyboard layout. In particular, the dedicated Web button is the most troubling. It’s where you would typically find the End button, which on this phone is stowed below it, and is not as prominent in position or size. That one definitely threw me off. Why not put the Send and End buttons where they usually are, and put the speakerphone and Web buttons below them?

Not to harp on the issue, though I clearly am, I ended up hitting the End button a few times while trying to use the letters D, E, and F, as the End key is right above the number 3. Maybe I’m just out of practice, since I use a BlackBerry nowadays. Still, not everyone is proficient with their key accuracy. Thankfully, hitting End just brings up a Save Message dialog, so you can get back into it without losing what you’ve typed.

Other than that, it’s a pretty straightforward keyboard.

Display

The LCD screen isn’t much to look at, but it gets the job done. Once again, we’re going with expectations here. I’m not expecting a high-res screen, but I can say I’m expecting a little more than this.

The top image in the graphics section of VirginXL is (or was, at the time of testing) “Amanda in Hot Thong.” Dude. Sold. So I went to that, and guess what? Amanda isn’t so hot. Well, she very well could be. Problem is, I can’t really tell. Assigning her as wallpaper helped a little, but then her face is covered by Virgin Mobile. Eh. Not like I could see it anyway.

Call quality

I had the same deal as I did the Slash with the Arc. Call quality was crisp and clear. Once again, this is in New York City, so we can expect at least a moderate level of coverage. Since it was pretty clear, though, I can imagine that there aren’t many internal issues with the Arc which hinder its call quality. This almost makes up for the disappointing display.

Mobile Web

Again, the mobile Web is similar to that of the Slash. The separate Web and VirginXL screens is a bit of a pain, but not enough to make me rail on it for a paragraph. Browsing speeds are about what you’d expect from a non-EVDO phone. Some pages loaded quickly, while others took a while to connect. C’est la vie.

The downloads from VirginXL are rather quick, though. No complaints on that end. Amanda went from website to phone in about two seconds. Honestly, I didn’t even really notice. That’s a good thing.

Other than that, it’s your basic 2002 mobile Web experience. Remember: expectations.

Extras

That’s a picture of a portion of my bookshelf, taking with the Arc. Not bad, right? I mean, it’s far from great. This is a VGA camera, though, so I’m not expecting to get the same out of this as I do my Powershot. For simple MMS, this does just fine.

Speaking of MMS, I tried to send an MMS to the phone, and it wouldn’t accept. I wonder why. Does anyone else have this problem with the Arc?

I enjoyed the voice dialing feature, and normally I don’t like them. It picked up my voice pretty well. The last time I actually used a feature like this was with a Samsung I got in 02 or 03. The Arc picks out my voice much better.

Feel

As I said in the form factor section, this phone feels fine while I’m holding it. It’s weight, just 0.2 pounds, makes it even better. Honestly, though, holding it kind of makes me want to chuck it at someone. I don’t know why. It just feels natural as a projectile. Thankfully, I was able to avoid such a temptation on the subway.

The flip is smooth, and it fits in my pocket with easy. Certainly better than my clunky BlackBerry. Can I get a trade in? (Just kidding.)

Final thoughts

I’m not as high on the Arc as I was the Slash. Then again, with my predisposition towards sliders over flips, and with the general objective superiority of the Slash, this was to be expected. That isn’t to say the Arc is bad. It’s to say that there are perhaps better models out there.

Factoring in price, though, it’s a decent bargain. The Arc has all of the basic functionalities, including Bluetooth, and has a decent camera set up and voice dialing application. If it was priced closer to say, $30, I’d be all-in. As it stands, I’m lukewarm on the Arc.

Price: $49.99

Carrier: Read the Virgin Mobile review