(Triumph on the left, Virgin Optimous Center and Samsung right)

Let’s get this out of the way first: I like Virgin Mobile.  The Sprint prepaid subsidiary offers plans that work well for me because I don’t use a lot of voice minutes – specifically, their Unlimited Data/Text Minutes plan which just unfortunately went up from $25/month to $35/month for 300 minutes of talk.  Virgin also doesn’t put too much trash on top of Android and the phones they sell don’t have manufacturer overlays on them either.  You almost get a Google phone, though one here that is left back on Froyo.

If anything slows Virgin down, my major gripe has been their lack of diversity in phones and specifically at the high end in Virgin’s lineup.  Until now, they’ve offered a small anemic Samsung Slider and a very solid but economical LG Optimus V (which I reviewed at Fortune).

That all changed today with the release of the Motorola Triumph (manual- PDF), a slim 4.1-inch screen candy bar with a 1-GHz Processor and front and back cameras.  The device is handsome and coated with a soft rubber feel that certainly improves the grip.  How does it perform?

The Triumph feels like a top notch Android superphone and its 4.1-inch display hits a sweetspot because the phone is mostly screen, similar to an Atrix.  It also has some of the best stereo speakers I’ve used both for listing to music and as a speakerphone.  Its 1GHz processor zips through apps and its GPS picks up a signal faster than any other phone I’ve tested save for some high end HTCs.  Videos record well on the backside 5 megapixel camera but the front side camera is mostly a wash until a video conferencing company picks it up.

On the downside, there is no excuse for not having Gingerbread OS on this phone.  AT&T just released the Facebook phone with Gingerbread a few days ago with a huge Sense 3.0 overlay.  If AT&T can do it, so can Sprint/Virgin.  The upgrade also would have helped with video conferencing void because Google Talk video was introduced in Android 2.3.4.

Also, as far as Virgin is concerned, they just raised their unlimited plan price $10 to $35/month.  That is still a great deal for unlimited data/texts and 300 minutes.  But who is to say they won’t raise it another $20 next month?  You are putting $300 down on a phone that will only work on one network so it would be good to have some price guarantees.

And finally, the phone  price is going to be, like it or not, higher than most people on Virgin’s network want to pay.  Sure a high end iPhone, Bionic and EVO 3D cost $299 and they come with 2 year commitments attached, but this is still a prepaid carrier.

But I think that’s what Virgin is trying to do here.  They want to break the pre-paid mold and offer up some phones for people who don’t need to be on pre-paid, but want to be on pre-paid.  As T-Mobile and other small carriers bring their prices in line with Virgin’s the best way to innovate is to open their network up to more innovative products.  I’d like to see Virgin open completely allowing users to bring their Nexus S, EVOs and even iPhones onto their simple but efficient network.

For now though, if you want a great phone with a huge screen, and pay as little as possible for unlimited but speedy 3G service, the Triumph is for you.  Be quick though, they are already sold out online.

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