Almost every time we've handed someone the Viper, we've been greeted with initial recoil, followed by resigned dismay. It makes you wonder if LG put this phone in front of a focus group before sending it along to retail shelves. At 0.46 inches thick, it certainly cuts a striking figure, just not in the way most consumers would want. Had the Viper been put on a diet, it could've approached decently likable status. Instead, this clunker is saddled with a chassis so engorged that you'd expect Sprint to bundle it with a mini in-home 4G LTE cell tower just to accommodate its capaciousness.
Will that matter to users scraping by on their purse strings, eager to experience speeds similar to what AT&T and Big Red are offering? Not likely, to be totally honest. The faux-metal brushed casing (it's actually 50 percent recycled plastic) is home to LG's logo and a 5-megapixel module with a single LED flash. That chintzy back curves up to the screen where it's met by a silvery border. The 3.5mm headphone jack and power button sit on the top edge, while the volume rocker and micro-USB socket reside on the left -- an arrangement that frees up the remaining real estate, giving the phone a somewhat sterile feel. Peel off the casing and you'll find an NFC chip embedded in the shell, as well as a 1,700mAh Li-ion battery and microSD slot, which comes stuffed with a complimentary 4GB card.
Shrouded in a black bezel is that 4-inch (800 x 400) NOVA display, flanked by a Sprint logo, VGA camera, metallic-trimmed earpiece and four capacitive Android buttons. Curiously, those navigation keys don't stay lit for very long, so you'll have to become quite familiar with their layout if you want to carry on with your daily routine, uninterrupted. For what it's worth, the screen is readable from a variety of angles, though you might encounter some distracting glare. And for the more accident-prone among Sprint's subscriber base, the Viper also benefits from a Gorilla Glass coating, keeping its face (mostly) free from scratches.
Performance and battery life
Stock Gingerbread on an Android handset was a much clamored-for breath of fresh air back in mid-2011. Now, it just smacks of something old, a second-hand cast-off lacking the refinement, visual uniformity and software optimization ushered in with Ice Cream Sandwich. Thankfully, an upgrade to Android 4.0 is on the way, though LG and Sprint aren't committing to an ETA. That's not to say the two companies haven't added their own spices to the UI -- some subtle signs of skinning (read: a different camera app and Sprint's ID packs) are present.
Though our experience with the device was often pleasant, transitions can start to feel irksome after a while: instead of that swooping animation used for a switch between app drawer and homescreen, LG gussied the Viper up with a gradual dissolve that quickly escalates from elegant to annoying. Yes, it's a pretty embellishment, but it also contributes to a feeling of perceived slowness, even though the phone is actually the opposite: powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz MSM8660 chip and 1GB of RAM, this handset proved more than capable of quickly switching between apps.
To give you a fair sense of how the Viper stacks up alongside similarly specced budget offerings, we pitted it against AT&T's LTE-enabled Pantech Burst and T-Mobile's Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G. All three run a version of Qualcomm's Snapdragon S3 SoC, although the Viper is clocked 300MHz lower than its dual-core 1.5GHz brethren, so bear that in mind as you look over those mixed benchmark results. From a raw processing standpoint, LG's handset takes a firm backseat to its contenders, coming in dead last in Quadrant, SunSpider and Linpack single- and multi-thread. Where graphical prowess is concerned, however, it charges to the head of the class, toppling the competition with consistently higher frame rates.
Even when limited to Sprint's 3G network, web surfing within the native Android browser is a relatively painless affair. Full desktop pages render in under 20 seconds and pinch-to-zoom performs admirably, tracking our finger movements with only a slight loss in detail.
A product sold on the back of a phantom service? Meet the Viper. Without the support of Sprint's forthcoming 4G LTE network, LG's handset is forced to sit alongside the other 3G products currently staffing Sprint's CDMA lineup. So, while we'd like to tell you how it'll perform with that specific radio tuned into those next-gen waves, we can't -- there's no available signal here in New York City to test.
What we can attest to is the longevity of its battery while in EVDO-only mode (you can enable or disable this in the settings menu). Under the stress of our standard rundown test the handset lasted four hours and 49 minutes. That's with brightness set to 50 percent, WiFi and GPS enabled, Twitter syncing at 15-minute intervals and one push email account active. With light to moderate use, you should be able to force the phone past the 24-hour mark, especially if you opt for more conservative settings.
GSM carriers here in the US have long trumped their CDMA counterparts in terms of speed. Even so, anyone familiar Sprint's 3G network should know not to expect fast rates, which is precisely why subscribers might be tempted by the promise of LTE. Sadly, without that live 4G network, the phone is at the mercy of Sprint's lackluster EVDO speeds. Around New York City, which is blanketed in 3G coverage, we saw download and upload speeds max out at 1.3Mbps and 0.90Mbps, respectively, with the average hovering between 0.15Mbps to 1.05Mbps down and 0.21Mbps to 0.86Mbps up. In areas where signal penetration was relatively weak, we waited with increasing aggravation for a 2MB app to download and install. Things could change mid-year when Sprint flips the switch on its repurposed radio waves, but for now consider yourself warned.
In a bid to seem different, LG's outfitted the Viper with its own camera app, putting a shred of distance between it and all those other Gingerbread handsets. Users won't be disappointed with the customizations on tap, nor will they be incredibly amazed -- it offers all of the features we've come to accept as standard on modern smartphones. While you don't have the option to tap-to-snap, you can highlight an area on screen to focus in on your intended subject. We do have one minor gripe with the app, and that's the lag between shots.