LG’s latest Android offering is a low cost smartphone that looks good on the outside, but as we all know it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
So how do you make a distinction between devices in a particular price range? Well, the hardware itself is one important factor and this is an area where the low cost LG Optimus impresses. The handset is dressed in a stylish combination of brushed stainless-steel effect plastic and metallic grey casing. It’s a little on the heavy side and has a sturdy feel that creates the impression of a more costly device than it actually is.
The controls on the outside of the handset are well spaced and easy to locate with a single thumb, although having a combination of touch-sensitive buttons (menu and back keys) with physical buttons (call, home and end call) below the screen takes a bit of getting used to. On the left edge is a volume control and on the right edge are the search and camera buttons. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack handily placed at the top of the phone.
So far so good. However it’s when you come to the screen and the internal workings that the cracks start to appear. The display itself is a low grade resistive touchscreen, meaning you’ll need to press rather than swipe, although in fairness it works as well as any we’ve experienced and is certainly responsive enough to the touch.
The main problem with the display is that it’s incredibly dull, sporting just 256k colours and 320×480 pixels, especially when compared to other models from the likes of Samsung and HTC. Yes this is obviously a budget issue, but even a slight boost in pixel power would have elevated it up from the bottom of the pile and kept it more in line with the elegant chassis that houses it.
The second major issue with the internal workings of the Optimus is its antiquated version of the operating system. Android 1.6 is almost a year old and has been superseded three times, so it’s inevitably well out of date and certainly now living up to it’s original codename ‘donut’. Considering Android 2.0 was released in October last year, for a handset to be running such a dated OS almost 12 months down the line is simply scandalous.
It’s not that there’s anything particularly awful about 1.6, indeed it’s perfectly competent in its own right, it’s just that having used the later incarnations you know the functionality could and should run that bit smoother.
Perhaps the area where the software limitations are most noticeable is the virtual keyboard. Typing even a short message is a daunting task and it requires the precision of a Phil Taylor arrow to hit each virtual button in the bullseye, even when using the handset in landscape mode. The improved keyboard support found on Android 2.0 devices is far easier to use.
Elsewhere there’s a general lack of polish to the UI, from the layout of the five scrollable home screens to the lack of functionality on the top menu bar. However LG has tried to make some minor improvements by adding messaging and caller shortcuts either side of the main menu softkey. The handset does operate speedily enough, powered by a 600MHz Qualcomm processor, and as long as there’s not too many programs running at once you can nip around the menus with no discernible lag.
In terms of features, the Optimus is fairly well-specified for a budget device. Wi-Fi is a pleasing addition and we were able to hook up to the office network with a minimum of fuss. There’s also the perfectly functional Android media player and web browser (although Opera Mini is still a preferred download). An FM radio is another thoughtful addition.
The camera is a lowly 3.2-megapixel affair and lacks a flash of any shape or form, so snappers are restricted to daytime outdoor shots – in the right lighting conditions you can get good results. It runs on LG’s own software which is better than the generic Android version and is supplemented by geo-tagging, plus face and blink detection.
The handset we had in for review was exclusive to Orange, but the branding was surprisingly minimal; a small logo on the rear and no real alterations to the interface. On the home screen you get links to various services such as the OrangeWorld web portal, Orange Maps and the Orange App Shop, plus on the next homescreen sits an Orange MusicStore shortcut, but that’s the extent of the customisation. The Optimus is available from free on contract or £149.99 pay as you go on the fruity network (it’s available on other networks too).
So last year
It’s fair to say that the LG Optimus would be a decent enough handset had it been released this time last year, when Android 1.6 was fresh. The phone certainly looks the part and with a slightly better screen might have been quite special. Instead it’s just another unexceptional handset that doesn’t cut the grade. Twelve months ago we might have been raving about this device, but with no update of the OS in sight it just has us raving mad.
On the face of it the LG Optimus is a good-looking smartphone, with a classy metallic shell that makes a mockery of its position as a budget model. However it’s severely hampered by an implementation of the ancient Android 1.6, an OS that was released nearly twelve months before this handset appeared, and there’s no update in sight. It works fine, but later versions of Android are just that bit smoother. Add to this a dreary screen and an average camera and you’re left with another run-of-the-mill handset that promised so much better.
Ratings (out of 5)