My favorite low-cost phone over the past two years is the LG Optimus V on Virgin Mobile. You could often find the very capable, lightly skinned LG Android 2.2 phone for under $100 with Virgin’s unlimited data plans that start at $35/month. It is hard to beat that combo.

Today, Virgin replaced that low-cost Android phone with an even lower priced model called “the PCD Chaser” for just $79.99 without a contract. The Chaser comes with many of the same specs as the Virgin Optimus V, including a 3-megapixel camera, 800MHz processor, 3.2-inch display, and hardware buttons. The Chaser adds the new price tag and Android 2.3, which will be welcome by the low-cost folks but lamented by those who want to see Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean on their devices (Virgin never updated the Optimus V, so do not expect this one to get an upgrade either).

Doing the math: $79.99 + $35/month*12 = $500 for the first year of smartphone usage, including unlimited texts and data, is a pretty good proposition. The price is especially good considering the cost of Virgin’s high-end phone, the iPhone 4S, which runs for $650 without a byte of data. Many feature phone owners are probably paying more than that for their dumbphones.

For those wireless customers currently using a feature phone but now ready for an upgrade, the PCD Chaser comes with the best Android features without the hefty price tag. Today, Virgin Mobile USA offers the PCD Chaser for $79.99 with Beyond Talk unlimited data and messaging plans starting at $35 per month.

The device comes with a 3.2” touchscreen, 3MP camera, Android 2.3 operating system, and a powerful 800 MHz processor great for multitasking. Operating on the Sprint Nationwide Network, the PCD Chaser comes preloaded with Virgin Mobile Live, Virgin Mobile ID Packs, Facebook, Twitter, and more. This is a great, affordable 3G starter smartphone. It will roll out to national retailers beginning in September through October but you can get it now online.

ComScore, in a recent report titled “The Great American Smartphone Migration“, said smartphone usage grew 10 percent in the past year and passed the 50 percent threshold.

“The growing number of smartphones available to consumers, accompanied by the decrease in price points and surge in mobile media content, have made smartphone ownership possible and desirable for many more Americans,” said Mark Donovan, comScore SVP of Mobile. “Within the year, we expect to see smartphone owners become the mobile majority, a milestone that represents not only the evolution of the mobile landscape but highlights the enormous potential for marketers as these powerful, ubiquitous devices open new opportunities to reach a growing audience of consumers.”

PCD is a phone-outsourcing partner, not a manufacturer, so it is not quite clear who actually produces this phone ($80 says it is made in China). I hope to get a review up as soon as possible. Virgin said they will be available online immediately and at its retail partners shortly.

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