Name: Motorola Triumph

Carrier: Virgin Mobile

Price: $300 (no contract)

The Back Story: The prepaid market might be viewed by many as a wasteland for dumb phones and ballers on a budget, but what they fail to realize is that contract-free services make up for nearly 50 percent of the cellular business. On top of that, carriers like Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile have finally adapted to the times and are gradually ramping up their smartphone inventory with Android being their platform of choice. Just last year, only eight percent of prepaid phones were smartphones, by Q2 of 2011 that number jumped to 22 percent, with most being devices produced by LG, Samsung, and Motorola running Google's mobile OS.

Having solidified its presence on the global marketplace with its Verizon-based Droid series, Motorola is looking to give prepaid consumers a similar Android experience by producing a handset cut from the same cloth as its big-league counterparts in the Motorola Triumph. With an impressive 1GHz CPU, skin-less Android UI, and an array of social media offerings, does Moto’s handset standout as the must-have prepaid phone? And can it hold its weight against other premier Motorola handsets?

Dope

• Virgin Mobile's most powerful phone: Even with a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor under the hood, the Triumph still delivers fast performance and does an effective job of multitasking. We were able to run up to seven programs simultaneously, lag-free. In fact, when compared to some of Motorola’s other dual-core powered phones, the Droid X2 for instance, this prepaid underdog serves as the better multitasking device. Apps and Flash-heavy sites launched posthaste, while menu navigation ran fluidly. The phone is also capable of powering up and turning off quick.

• No MOTOBLUR and some UI customizations: MOTOBLUR was never our favorite Android interface, so we were happy to hear that the phone shipped without the manufacturer's skin. Instead, the Triumph runs Froyo (Android 2.2) with a vanilla Android interface that runs smoother and executes faster than Moto’s overlay. Motorola also introduces two new input options: TouchPal and TalkBack. TouchPal offers larger onscreen keys and better texting accuracy, while TalkBack can read text back to you. Other standard Android features include five customizable homescreens, conference calling, voice dialing, and voice commands. 

• Suited for social media:  Aside from its robust email client, Virgin Mobile and Motorola laced the Triumph with enough messaging bloatware to satisfy the avid social media enthusiast. You’ll find apps and widgets for Facebook, along with different sized widgets for Twidroyd: a Twitter-based program that offers a variety of features including customized notifications, conversation thread views, and simultaneous Facebook and Twitter posting. Social community apps like Poynt, Where, and airG Chat are also available. Plus the phone has a robust e-mail client that supports all POP3, IMAP4, and Exchange accounts.

 Multimedia attributes: One feature we never expected to find on a prepaid phone is a Micro-HDMI port. Fortunately Motorola blessed the Triumph with one, giving users the option to mirror mobile content onto any HDTV. As far as output quality, surprisingly, all 1080p videos we transferred over looked impressive on our Sony Bravia 52-inch. The stock Android music player runs most music and video formats (MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV, et al.) and serves well as a back-up media device. Lastly, the rear 5MP camera captures 720p HD videos and lets you shoot in different resolution modes: D1, WVGA, VGA, CIF, QVGA, and QCIF. 

• Affordable price and pre-paid plans: Seeing how other high-end Motorola models like the Droid X and Droid 2 share similar hardware specs and run for almost $500 on Verizon without a contract, $300 for a 1GHz-powered Android phone is a bargain. With Virgin Mobile offering unlimited text, data, and web plans starting at $35 per month (with 300 voice minutes), prepaid subscribers are looking at their best buy.

Nope

• Missing mobile hallmarks: While the Triumph is an improvement in hardware and software for the mobile prepaid market, it doesn’t offer the big-league features found in some of the recent Android handsets such as a dual-core chip, Gingerbread OS, 4G-capability, and tethering and hotspot capability.

• Weak call quality: Running on Sprint’s 3G network, the handset struggled to hold calls in low-reception areas. In addition, we found ourselves bumping up the volume to the max in order to hear calls clearly, while receiving minor complaints of distorted vocals on the other end.

• Outdated design: Motorola tries emulating the rich and rugged feel of the Droid X series by slapping on the same soft-touch rubberized shell. It may have worked if not for the flat landscaping and catchpenny aluminum buttons.

• Camera stuttering and audio recording issues: The rear camera suffers from a shutter delay of about 1.2 seconds which caused the auto-focus to lag and snap blurry in-motion shots. We found the audio quality on recorded videos to come out unclear and muffled at times, too.

Final Say: There’s no denying that the Motorola Triumph is the most powerful and best contract-free handset out there. Its speedy 1GHz processor, minor UI customizations, and great multimedia options make it a notable Android device. Though it’s hard to tell if the exclusion of MOTOBLUR contributes to the phone’s rapid interface environment, one thing is for sure: the vanilla Android interface definitely runs smoother than the manufacturer’s software. Sure, it lacks the heavyweight hardware and high-speed capabilities of previously released Android phones like the Motorola Photon 4G and Samsung Droid Charge, but the Triumph still manages to outperform other high-powered Motorola devices. And with Virgin Mobile’s unbeatable prepaid plans, subscribers will breath easy knowing they can bask in a solid Android experience without committing themselves to two-year contracts from any of the four major mobile networks (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon).