Review: Can LG’s Budget Android Offering Beat Off Killer Competition?

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With Android phones now flooding the market, a budget option is not too difficult to find. LG’s Optimus One P500 is a sturdy offering that now comes with Android’s Froyo update pre-installed, but does it make it a good enough deal to compete with the likes of HTC’s Wildfire?Key Features

    * 3.2in, 320 x 480 pixel screen
    * 600MHz CPU
    * Android OS
    * 3.0 megapixel camera
    * GPS, Wi-FI, Bluetooth

Clothed mainly in soft touch black plastic, this phone is built around a 3.2in screen, which is slightly smaller than that of your average high-end smartphone and as such the whole phone is a bit smaller than the likes of the iPhone 4. Specifically it measures 113.5 x 59 x 13.3 mm, so is about 5mm shorter and narrower.

It’s also immediately clear this is a budget phone from the fact that the screen is a flexible plastic rather than glass. Otherwise, it’s an elegant enough device with its smart black and silver livery. The curved edges and general layout of buttons also makes it a nice device to hold and handle.

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Eschewing the fashion for all touch sensitive controls, the One has a full compliment of four physical, backlit, buttons running underneath the screen, corresponding to Menu, Home, Back and Search. We rather like the way LG has separated the Search and Menu keys from the Home and Back, signifying their status as less-often used extras rather than main navigation buttons. All four have a nice noticeable click and feel securely planted. Thankfully, pressing the Home button activates the screen, allowing you to unlock the phone, without having to stretch for the power button.

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Elsewhere there is a volume control on the right edge, headphone jack and power button on the top, a 3.0 megapixel camera on the back and microUSB on the bottom edge. The volume rocker again has a nice noticeable click though the thinness of the buttons means it’s not the easiest control to use by feel alone. Pop the back plate off – via the thumbnail notch on the top edge – and a rather glamorous looking silver inside is revealed. Sadly it’s just painted plastic, not metal. You do, however, get a sizable 1500mAh battery and microSD slot for adding up to 32GB of storage to the fairly miserly 170MB found onboard.

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Turn the phone on and its screen is presented in its full glory. The LCD panel packs in 320 x 480 pixels, which is lower than the San Francisco and high-end smartphones but is on par with or higher than most cheaper Android devices. Thanks to the smaller screen, the lower resolution isn’t quite so obvious, resulting in a sharp looking image. It’s no iPhone 4 but you’re definitely not going to be constantly distracted by a horrible pixellated mess everytime you try and write a text message. Viewing angles are impressive with the picture not breaking up significantly no matter where you view it from. It also produces nice natural, if slightly muted colours.

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It’s also nice and responsive when it comes to touch sensitivity, and supports multi-touch for the all essential pinch to zoom gesture. It’s just a shame LG couldn’t have packed in a glass screen for the price, as no matter this model’s merits, it just feels less than premium.

 

The LG Optimus One runs Android 2.2 with some light customisations by LG. So instead of the App Launcher, Browser, and Phone icons running along the bottom there are Phone, Contacts, App Launcher, Messages and Browser, which seems like an improvement to us. Slide the notifications bar down from the top of the screen and there are quick switches for turning on/off WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and Aeroplane mode, and there’s a Mute button as well. Again, this seems like a sensible little addition.

Less welcome is the T9-style keypad that LG has replaced the standard onscreen keyboard with. While the phone is a bit narrower than some other touchscreen smartphones, so is a bit more cramped to type on, it’s still wide enough to accommodate a standard QWERTY style keyboard. Thankfully, you can switch back to the very capable standard Android keyboard.

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Otherwise, we’re looking at a pretty standard version of Android, so you have five homescreens on which to place loads of widgets and apps. Tap the App Launcher and there’s the full selection of apps to choose from. The phone uses a 600MHz processor so it’s certainly not the speediest going but it generally trots along nicely with few moments of stutter.

LG has added a selection of its own widgets including a calendar and viewers for messages, weather and bookmarks. They all seem to work quite well though none particularly blew us away with any extra features over and above the norm.

Log into Gmail, Facebook and Twitter and, if you so choose, your contacts list will be populated by information from all three services, with you hardly having to lift a finger. It’s a common feature on Android phones now but it’s always satisfying to see.

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Messaging services include a text message inbox, instant messaging client and both Gmail inbox as well as a general inbox for other email services. All work very well and are a breeze to use.

GPS is onboard and you have GoogleMaps and Google Navigation to take full advantage of it, or you can download a 3rd party sat nav app as well. The phone seemed to pick up a signal with reasonable speed so we had few complaints here. The slow processor will mean that 3rd party apps (with 3D graphics showing where you’re going) are a bit sluggish, though.

Music is well catered for with an easy to use mp3 player and FM radio, though the player doesn’t support fancier formats like FLAC. Video isn’t so well represented with neither support for many files types nor the grunt to play higher quality clips. Of course, youtube is on hand for the majority of your video viewing.

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The web browser is the usual excellent Android affair that is speedy and renders most web pages perfectly. If lacks Flash support but otherwise is more than up to the job. With Wi-Fi as well as 3G you can have fast downloads when at home or on the move.

The 3.0 megapixel camera lacks a flash so is fairly limited in its scope, but will do for the odd social snap in well lit environments. Thankfully it does have autofocus, though, so can be used for taking sharp closeup shots. It can also capture video at a perfectly adequate resolution of 640 x 480. It’s not HD but there’s enough detail to see what’s going on, it’s actually the limited 18fps that hurts the quality, making motion look jerky.

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Making a few test calls on the One threw up no obvious issues, though general quality isn’t anything special. There’s no active noise cancelling for reducing the amount of noise transmitted from your surroundings to the person you’re calling. The speaker phone is fairly weedy as well.

Finally we come to battery life and as we expected, the large battery combined with a slower processor and smaller screen meant this phone happily kept going for three days general use.

Verdict

The LG Optimus One is quite simply some phone. As a budget smartphone, it more than gets the job done and if you can find it on a good deal, there’s no reason for you to avoid it. However, equally there’s little to really make us recommend it. Frankly, the Orange San Francisco still stands out as the bargain choice at the moment.

 
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Camera Test Samples:

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