Hi everyone, I happened on one of Virgin Mobile's notorious Bait & Switch promotions recently, offering the VM-branded Venture for $19.99, which has got to be the cheapest no-contract Android phone ever.
Itís known variously as the Virgin Mobile TCT Venture, the ZTE Venture, the Alcatel Venture, the Juke 3, and the Juke 910c. That info is good to know, as it gives you a better selection when buying accessories online from, say, eBay or Amazon.
I decided to pick up a couple with an eye towards using them as spares/loaners/emergency phones. The idea was to set them up on a cheap Pay-As-You-Go account (similar to T-Mobile's on GSM), where you can get a year of service for around $150, extend it every year for about $10, and the unused minutes carry over. I figured that having web connectivity over wi-fi was better than nothing at all.
So far I haven't been able to find a cheap PAYG plan for CDMA, but seeing as there isn't a ton of info out there regarding using the Venture without activating it on VM, I thought I'd put together a mini-review for folks who bought (or received) them as Christmas presents and don't want to sign up for the cheapest available ($35.00 per month) from VM. Basically this is about using the Venture as a wi-fi only device.
This is a decent little phone. Performance-wise, it throws rocks at my old T-Mobile MyTouch 3G, which is odd because the specs are very similar.
Image quality is nothing to write home about, probably the worst Iíve seen in an Android phone. But swiping back and forth and navigating menus is relatively smooth. The included YouTube app works pretty well, although the audio is a little weak, even at full volume. Thereís a built-in QWERTY keyboard, but itís tiny and has oddly-beveled keys, so it takes some getting used to. Thereís also a 2MB camera with flash and video capability, easy to use but middling quality.
There seem to be a lot of complaints on the web about the battery life. Even if youíre not using it as a phone, if you have GPS, Wi-Fi and background data enabled, even with a modest screen-brightness setting, it does run down pretty quickly. Thereís a built-in Battery Saver program, but itís bare-bones and doesnít do much. If youíre not getting enough time between charges, you can try Juice Denfender, itís feature-rich and free.
It's easy to set up for Wi-Fi use without activation. You'll need to either log into your Google account or create a new one. It ships with Gingerbread 2.3.5 and when you fire it up, you'll see the old "Android Market" icon. The first time you select it, it will migrate the phone to Google Play. Here's the problem you may run into: a selection of whether or not to accept the Google Terms of Service comes up briefly, and if you miss it, there's no intuitive way to get it back, and you won't be able to access Google Play.
If you find yourself in that situation, you can go into "Settings - Applications - Manage Applications - Market" and select "clear data". Then you can run Marketplace again (you'll have to log into Google again, since clearing the data also clears your login info). This time, watch for the "Terms and Conditions" box and be sure to select "Accept".
At some point during the migration to Google Play, you'll find a small box with a green check in it, asking if you want Google Play to send you notifications. These will appear in your phone's notification window and can be intrusive and annoying, so I'd suggest you uncheck that box. Don't worry if you miss it, though. You can log into Google Play from your PC, go into Settings, and uncheck it there.
Once you sort out Google Play, you can download whatever apps you like, just keep in mind that the Venture doesn't have much internal storage. I didn't find much bloatware, but even so, youíll only have about 150 MB or so to install apps. I was able to install Angry Birds (the original), Cut the Rope, and Fruit Ninja with around 50 MB to spare, which isn't much. VM ships the Venture with a 2GB SD card, and you can upgrade that all the way to 32 GB if you want, so thereís plenty of space available there. If you want to load up on apps, youíll need a utility like App 2 SD, which will allow you to move apps to your SD card.
Loading time is very slow, but gameplay on the titles I mentioned is surprisingly good for a phone with a pokey 600 mhz processor. I did try Angry Birds Seasons, where the graphics tend to be a little more complex, and it ran out of steam on the very first level. And more demanding games like Temple Run wonít even install.
This might be a good gadget to keep young kids from borrowing your phone to play games, and maybe teach them some Android basics. I certainly wouldnít pay anything like $50 or $80 for it, particularly when Wallyworld has the ZTE Concord with a bigger, cleaner screen, an 832 mhz CPU and a SIM slot for $99. But for a double sawbuck Iím pretty happy with my purchase.