When we first laid eyes and hands on Motorola's first Android offering for Virgin Mobile, we were pleasantly surprised. The Triumph proved to be one of the better looking and performing pre-paid handsets we'd had the pleasure of holding in our sweaty mitts, but we had one major hangup: the name. Call us old fashioned, but we're of the mind that it's unsportsmanlike to claim victory before the race has even begun. After all, we aren't looking at an iPhone killer here. To the contrary, the Triumph is a decently outfitted, Motoblur-free Froyo phone, with a suitable 4.1-inch WVGA screen, a workable 2GB of storage, and a fairly attractive (and contract-free) $300 price tag. So, after a week in our palms and pockets, did the Triumph really affirm its arrogant appellative or did it fail to live up to its name? The answers to this and other, less alliterative, questions await you after the break.
The Motorola Triumph is an ambitious mid-level phone that successfully ditches the stigma of pre-paid offerings.
At first glance, the Triumph is a rather grand looking phone. Its glossy, 4.1-inch WVGA touchscreen reaches to the very edge of its seemingly robust body, giving the feel of a much larger device. In reality, it measures 4.8 inches by 2.6 inches, slightly smaller than its cousin, the Photon 4G. A portion of the screen's real estate is taken up by Moto's logo, which sits just below the earpiece and front-facing VGA camera. Bright white haptic buttons line the bottom of the display, in typical Android fashion.
As we pointed out before, its body is otherwise sheathed in a nice, grip-able, black rubber finish, reminiscent of the Motorola Droid, Incredible, and other similarly appointed handsets. In the rear, a five megapixel camera and accompanying flash sit, horizontally centered, near the top margin, wile a shiny silver 'M' resides, dead center, above the carrier's own logo. The upper right-hand side plays host to an understated, shiny and receptive volume rocker, and the upper left is home to a small power / lock button of the same make. A 3.5mm headphone jack appears along the upper edge of the phone, and a micro-USB and mini-HDMI line the bottom.
For what seems to be such a substantial gadget, the Triumph is surprisingly light, but in no way flimsy. At five ounces, it weighs almost two ounces less than Dell's 4.1-inch Venue Pro, but about half an ounce more than our favorite pre-paid handset, the LG Optimus One. Despite being deceptively light, however, it proved incredibly difficult to carry; the Triumph spent most of its time taking the place of our shockingly under used pocket protector, as it was far too large to fit in our tightest jeans.
But when it comes to winning -- at least in the smartphone market -- a decent set of internals will almost always best a flashy exterior, and the Triumph isn't too shabby underneath all that glass and rubber. A section of the back panel slides off to expose a 1400mAh battery and a microSD card. Like the LG Revolution and HTC Thunderbolt, the Triumph sports a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8655, but falls behind the big boys with only 512MB of RAM and 2GB of onboard storage.
Back in June, when we got our first few minutes with the Triumph, we were impressed with its responsiveness, and while we don't have any big bones to pick about the 800 x 480 display's pickup, we did find it a little slow to catch up on occasion. We caught ourselves pressing some buttons more than once before we saw any results, but our major gripe here comes from a consistent lag in navigation. We scrolled easily across the home screens, but were met with slow app startups, especially when it came to the camera and camcorder. YouTube, similarly, took what felt like ages to load, and here is where the boasting catches up to this generally well-equipped phone.
The Triumph claims to be "The Ultimate Media Machine," but the things that make it a media machine, ultimate or otherwise, failed to keep up. We will, however, concede that this it performed well in terms of playback, both audio and visual. Colors were rich and vibrant, viewing angles were more than serviceable, and once loaded, Kanye West's Runaway played on without incident. As if its name and superlative media playing claims weren't enough to send us into a hyperbolic spasm, Motorola's also promised an "astounding audio experience" with "crystal clear speakers," sans headphones. Sure, Ike and Tina's River Deep, Mountain High came across loud and less muffled than we'd expected, but Phil Spector's wall of sound is much better suited -- as we'd expect most music is -- to a real-deal stereo system.
So it's not the Hulk of all media players, but when it comes to making calls, we'd say the Triumph delivered fairly well, if a bit inconsistently. Aside from a mildly annoying intermittent hissing that popped up during one call, and a complaint from a friend that we sounded distant in another, we gabbed without incident. Considering we could only get one to two bars in the entire city of Oakland, we were surprised to find that Virgin's network carried us through without a single dropped call.
When it came to testing network connectivity, however, pinning down an appropriate location -- one that provided more than two bars -- proved especially nerve racking. After roaming the whole of Oakland, and coming up with lackluster (and inconsistent) results, we made our way across the bay to a coffee shop in San Francisco's Mission District. Even under ideal conditions, the Triumph pulled in speed test scores far below what we'd expected. So we enlisted the LG Optimus V and Photon 4G, both running on the same 3G frequency, and found that while the Triumph sometimes scored half of what its counterparts pulled in, that network wasn't exactly doing any of the handsets justice. Ultimately, Moto's boastful offspring proved consistently inconsistent, jumping back and forth between 3G and 1X, while the other two phones maintained consistent signals. Keeping that in mind, under the very best circumstances, this particular device provided average speeds of 312 kbps down and 215 kbps up -- more like lukewarm than blazing hot.
Performance and battery life
As we mentioned before, the Triumph runs on Qualcomm's Snapdragon MSM8655 processor -- the same chipset found in the Revolution, Thunderbolt, and Incredible 2. So how does a pre-paid smartphone stack up against its contract carrying counterparts? Well, in terms of performance metrics, the results are mixed, but it certainly didn't lose the race altogether. As you can see from the chart below, the Triumph wasn't the front runner, but it never fell too far behind its more generously specced competition.
So, it fared reasonably well in a handful of benchmark sprints, but can this ambitious Android go the distance? We gave the Triumph the standard battery life run down, consisting of two very different tests. When left to run a movie on a continuous loop, it kept its charge for a full five hours and forty-eight minutes. Of course, that's not the sort of thing most folks are likely to do, so we tried out something a little more practical. During a day of light use -- checking email and Twitter about once an hour, snapping a handful of pictures, and making three short phone calls, the aspiring champion came up a tad short, losing its charge in 13 hours flat. That might be enough to float you through the workday, but it certainly won't carry you through to the morning after.
It may not rock an 8 megapixel shooter like the Incredible 2, and it won't deliver 1080p, but with 5 megapixel stills and 720p video, the Triumph's front-facing camera is prime competition for a handset like the LG Revolution. Unfortunately, we weren't terribly impressed with what it had to offer. It managed to do an alright job when the lighting was just right, and actually served up some nice, crisp photos when given a little bit of shade. This camera was clearly not built for low-light picture taking, but it proved equally ill suited for shooting in harsh lighting. Under the midday sun, we found a consistent halo effect accompanying our images, and when we took it inside and shot near a window, our kitchen seemed to undergo a soft focus makeover. When the lighting is just right, though, this camera is capable of producing photos fit for even the finest of Facebook profiles. If you're looking to get serious with your picture taking, there are a slew of settings to help the little guy along.
So, how does "The Ultimate Media Machine" function as a camcorder? You can see for yourself in the video below. Dizzy? We certainly are. The Triumph's camcorder program functions well enough, there's a little bit of lag while loading, but other than that, we don't have much to gripe about in terms of a user experience. But the proof is in the pudding, and this pudding clearly had some issues keeping up. As you can see, when shot in 720p, the camera had some trouble tracking fast moving objects.
You may have noticed our delight when we found that the Triumph was running without the ill-fated Motoblur, but in case you missed it, let us reiterate: we are thrilled! It's no secret that we prefer a bloat-free phone, and this particular handset is about as untainted as we expected. Sure, it's got a couple of pieces of Virgin-branded software, but their presence is by no means egregious. You'll find Virgin Mobile Live, the carrier's own musically minded social networking app -- which strangely asked us if we were at Jesus Christ Superstar the first time we logged in -- SCVNGR, Twidroyd, and two location-based apps called Poynt and WHERE. Additionally, the desktop contains a short cut to your account and a Virgin-branded download manager.
Bloatware aside, we found the Android 2.2 experience smooth and steady throughout our trial, despite a few of the apps taking their sweet time to load. The stock apps are all here, and from what we can tell, just how the little green robot intended them. Sure we'd prefer a completely clean Android experience, but we've come to expect a little something extra from carriers. If anyone at Moto is taking notes, this is what an Android should look like.
So did the Triumph live up to the hyperbolic hype? In a word: yes. As far as mid-range, pre-paid Android phones go, it's definitely a winner. Motorola shot high with this one, and not just in terms of marketing. It not only shares a processor with a trio of higher-end phones (the aforementioned Thunderbolt, Revolution, and Incredible 2), but it also has the look and feel of a more expensive handset. At $300 and no contractual commitment, we're willing to overlook the sometimes-sluggish startup of apps, and inconsistent connectivity. It hasn't quite ousted the Optimus One from the top of our pre-paid list, but second place still wins a prize, right?