LG Motion 4G review $149.99
30th Oct 2012 | 23:26
A budget conscious ICS handset for MetroPCS
Introduction and Hardware and Design
One of the primary reasons why Android has managed to take such a massive chunk of the mobile marketplace is the wide range of smartphones it's available on. These devices can be categorized by how much one is willing to splurge on a device.
Naturally, the more you pay, the more you get. That's why the majority of budget Android handsets are released with yesterday's operating system. This basic fact of Android life has increasingly become a point of frustration for those who want to be economical yet still somewhat cutting edge.
Thankfully that's beginning to change. LG's Motion 4G is indeed one of the cheaper alternatives out there, but it doesn't skimp on the software like all too many devices in its price range, it runs Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich. Hopefully others will start to follow LG's lead on this.
Yet it's hardly a perfect experience. There are some frustrating hardware trade-offs, while some software choices are genuinely confusing.
Hardware and design
The first thing that stands out about the LG Motion 4G is its size: it's tiny - especially for a 4G LTE-enabled device. The belief that any Android device that consumes data at such speeds would necessitate a large, physical body (a notion that has mostly been spread by overzealous and perhaps misinformed Apple iPhone 5 enthusiasts) is clearly not true.
Coming in at 4.36" x 2.39" x 0.46", the Motion rests comfortably in one's palm, but for those with large hands, it might prove to be a bit too small. The device weighs 4.7 ounces, which may seem only a bit more than some devices, but the weight is noticeable in such a small package. The extra heft is due to the device's density. Overall, the feel is sufficiently sturdy, and not cheap, as one would fear with budget handsets.
Looks-wise, the Motion 4G is not going to win it any beauty contests, nor would it even make it past the first round. We wouldn't call it ugly, but the Motion's design is hardly noteworthy. Some physical aspects can be considered utilitarian but that's being rather kind.
Starting at the top is your standard issue 3.5mm headphone jack and the power/sleep button. The left has your volume rocker buttons, along with the micro USB port for charging and PC connectivity. The right side is totally bare.
The same goes for the bottom, with the exception of a notch that used to pry open the back. Speaking of the back, there you'll find a 5.0 megapixel camera with a flash, along with the speaker grill. The back has a plastic finish, which isn't totally cheap feeling, but is hardly luxurious either. It does allow the Motion 4G to be easily gripped, with no fear of slippage, which is a bonus. The Motion 4G, despite its snug size, is not going anywhere.
Inside you'll find the removable 1700 mAh LiIon battery, which advertises a 5.4 hours of maximum talk time, plus 290 hours of maximum standby time. You'll also find the micro SD port, to expand the Motion's memory. Since there's only 5.6GB of onboard storage, you'll probably be taking advantage of this.
Going even deeper within reveals a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core, which keeps everything moving along at a great pace. Unfortunately, the 5.6 GB worth internal storage that's available for the user is not that much. As we hinted at, if you decide to get an LG Motion 4G, be sure to get a micoSD card if you wish to enjoy a more than modest allotment of content.
But should you even get an LG Motion? On the front of the device, you'll find a 3.5-inch Gorilla Glass display and the first huge misfire for the Motion. The resolution is extremely low, just 480x320 pixels. Despite the fact that system icons, or even text on web pages, are nice and clear, when it came to video, the Motion dropped the ball.
Everything just looks fuzzy and pixelated (and its not due to a poor data connection, it is 4G after all). Colors are muted, making even the basic perks of a smart phone, like watching a trailer on YouTube, rather poorly handled by the LG Motion. It really is that bad and quite the downer, especially considering how good most other things are.
Also worth noting is how those with big hands might have a hard time interacting with the phone; the virtual keyboard seems extremely cramped, even though the one on an iPhone 4S is not much bigger.
Below the screen you'll find the three display buttons, the new standard assortment with Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich and on. They light up when the rest of the display is on, and go out when not in use. You'll also find a front-facing VGA camera.
Software and Interface
As noted previously, inside the LG Motion 4G you'll find the latest version of Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 4.0.4. Without question, this is the highlight of this budget smartphone.
Sometimes, even with brand new but budget-priced devices, users bring them home only to discover they can't use most modern apps. This won't be the case with the Motion 4G. It may not be running Android 4.1: Jelly Bean, but you won't have any trouble finding software in the Google Play Store.
That 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core CPU is what really runs the show. The OS itself runs at a brisk pace, generally speaking. While not uber-fast like a Galaxy Nexus, even seasoned power users will not have any complaints when it comes to cycling through home screens, sifting through the Apps folder, waking the device up, or launching anything.
Outside of the home screen, however, it's a different story. Apps, particularly ones that rely upon network connectivity, have a tendency to stutter or lock up for short periods of time. Things are always unpredictable when it comes to data, but given how download speeds are supposed to be no sweat, it's both a surprise and an annoyance. Whether the carrier or the hardware are to blame, it's hard to say, but the result is disappointing.
Another annoying quirk is the interface. LG has overlaid the stock Ice Cream Sandwich with its own Optimus UI 3.0. Pointless is the bluntest way to put it, even though it sits side-by-side with Samsung's Sense UI in certain regards. Finicky Android users will have the "was this this truly necessary?" reaction that's typical of custom manufacturer interfaces such as this.
Much like the Sense UI icons, the ones found in the Optimus variant are boxy and not particularly eye pleasing. Thankfully, there is a way to change the look of the icons, which is definitely welcome, but the alternatives given are equally boring.
But there is an alternative: the ability to use pictures you've taken to replace icons. It's a welcome feature that could make even the most diehard iOS user jealous.
Perhaps the biggest problem pertaining to the Motion and its usability is the pre-loaded software. With the exception of another LG product, the LG Optimus G (AT&T), not in recent memory has there been a device with so much bloatware.
Given that the Motion is being offered by MetroPCS, which prides itself for being a contract-free provider of devices, and where one can get a phone without any hidden strings attached, having to deal with various other attempts by the provider to make extra cash on the side is hardly a shocker.
MetroPCS has gone overboard with the number of apps, but at least some of them are straightforward and somewhat useful. There's myMetro, a self-explanatory app for viewing your account balance and making payments. Unfotunately, it's the only pre-loaded app that does what you'd think, and does it well.
Next we have M Studio, which is where the head scratching begins. By the name alone, or just the icon, it's impossible to discern that exactly it's supposed to do. Turns out it's where you view and purchase videos and music.
MetroWEB is basically the default Android browser but re-skinned. Launching it will automatically force you to sign into your Google account, which might perturb users who don't want to fork over Google credentials, or just want a simpler browsing experience.
Next is the Metro Total Protection app. It basically governs all the content on your device, and helps sync or migrate items such as contacts, apps, and the like, which might seem unnecessary since managing one's Google account properly will take care of all that.
But with Total Protection, one can also locate a phone if it's lost, similar to Apple's Find My Phone service. It includes other similar functions, like the ability to send an alert or even wipe the content of the phone remotely. There's even the option to insure your phone in case of accidents or theft.
The fact that everything is bundled together in a service that costs extra money won't have users rushing to sign up for them. Consider the fact that most of these functions are free or baked into most phones (as part of Google's built-in Google Accounts system, or Apple's iCloud service).
Continuing a trend, mail@metro is simply the default Android email client re-skinned. Thankfully, unlike the MetroWEB browser, it doesn't behave in a manner that gives the impression that MetroPCS is accessing personal info.
IM and Social brings all your social networks together, or so it implies. In the end, it's simply an auto-launcher for various dedicated apps for those networks. It seemed a bit unnecessary to us, but others might find it convenient.
MocoSpace Chat may seem to be the same thing as IM and Social, but it's not. Instead, the focus here is to connect users to others to play social games or date.
Metro411 is designed to see what deals and happenings are taking place nearby, but the entire set-up is extremely confusing. The results are also suspect. When searching midtown Manhattan, the only results were three businesses in New Jersey, with no reason given as to why such results were displayed.
MyExtras is an app that feeds you weather alerts, sports scores, and promotional deals from nearby businesses. Once again, sounds a lot like a previous app, right? Why this wasn't included in Metro411, which basically aims to do the same thing, is extremely perplexing.
MetroPCS Easy WiFi allows you to connect to one of MetroPCS's numerous WiFi hubs. Unfortunately, here is where the Motion's inability to locate your position reared its ugly head. Sadly, it wasn't the last time, either.
The Motion was not able to accurately find my location, despite numerous attempts within the same general area (throughout New York City). But you can zero in on your location via the Easy WiFi app, upon finding an available network.
Most confusing of all is MetroPCS's very own app store, which is simply called App Store. Odd, given how all other basic functions have such wacky naming conventions, plus the name is synonymous with Apple. The strangest part is the icon, an @ symbol, which most people associate with email.
Go inside and things get stranger. It's mostly a hub to update the MetroPCS apps, though simply launching them individually will initiate that process. You'll also find various third party apps that are clearly included due to partnerships, like CBS SportsCaster.
But you'll also find various other MetroPCS apps that make us wonder why they weren't included seperately, like MocoSpace Chat, which allows users to connect others to play social games or date. Why this wasn't just tossed in with everything else is odd, but at the very least, it's not very essential.
Yet Visual Voice Mail, something that's been standard issue since the dawn of Android, is also MIA, and must be downloaded via the App Store.
Installing the software is convoluted. There are three different Install buttons to hit before anything happens, and once finished, the App Store app behaves that nothing has been installed until you exit and reinitialize the app.
Sadly, it doesn't stop there. The application folder includes a treasure trove of additional pre-installed apps. Among them are LG SmartWorld, which is yet another curated app repository, and Pocket Express, yet another hub for news, weather, sports, and entertainment.
All of these pre-installed apps are rescued from being true bloatware by one saving grace: they can be deleted. Only the App Store must remain, since it's the method for obtaining these apps, should you wish to reestablish the redundancy.
Camera and Performance
The camera built into the Motion is a mixed bag. Good news first: there are lots of software bells and whistles: touch focus, 15x digital zoom, face tracking, geo-tagging, a timer, continuous shot, HDR, and panoramic shooting. There's also a flash, which is usually cut at this budget price point. Additionally, there's an exposure meter, various image sizes, numerous scene modes, ISO options, white balances, and even various color effects.
It's a nice list, but the anemic 5-megapixel camera basically undermines all those options. As expected, pictures taken under a bright sun have better color reproduction, while those taken during the evening have faded color and a loss of definition.
To make matters even worse is the aforementioned subpar display. It's hard to make fine-tuned adjustments when you can't grasp the image on-screen in the first place.
For shooting video, the quality can get up as high as 1080p, but once again the lackluster optics hold it back.
When it comes to data speeds, the phone is confusing. Advertised as having 4G LTE speeds, the Motion does indeed open up web pages and streaming video quite handily. However, it sometimes struggles to keep up, and one gets the impression that performance could be better.
This was confirmed during speed tests. Using the Speedtest.net app, the Motion achieved an average ping of 100ms, 4600kbps download, and 4200kbps upload speed. While certainly not terrible, it's not great either. The test was repeated several times over the course of seven days, and from various different parts of NYC (Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens).
Overall, location services were an issue with the Motion 4G. Even after toggling them on and off several times, the Motion never caught onto the fact that its location was New York. We are not sure if this is a defect with the phone or if it's just MetroPCS's end. Which is hardly the most far-reaching network out there.
When it came to casual usage, as in downloading apps and surfing YouTube, the Motion performed just fine.
As for the final test, how a smart phone performs as, you know, a phone, the Motion sadly did not come through. Sound quality on both ends was muffled, and we had a particularly hard time hearing finer details on our end, via the earpiece.
Using the speakerphone helped considerably, but that's obviously not going to be the best solution for most situations.
The LG Motion 4G is a tough phone to call. On one hand, the idea of a budget phone that runs Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich is exciting, mouth-watering, even.
The Motion 4G defies convention for a phone that runs a modern flavor of the OS by being so small. It's nice to have something that's compact enough to toss in a bag and forget about, but sports ICS and 4G data speeds.
The processor is up for the job, for the most part, and when it comes to taking pictures and shooting video, you have a wealth of software options. Those 4G download speeds were true to form as well.
Finally, there maybe bloatware, but it can be uninstalled, which is awfully kind compared to most carrier policies.
Inside the Motion 4G, you'll find some of the most redundant bloatware imaginable. Some of the offerings will seriously confuse novices, but again, at least it can all be uninstalled. Whether newbies will be able to figure this out is an entirely different matter. Then there's LG's Optimus 3.0 UI, a mostly pointless coat of gloss that can thankfully be adjusted.
All those nice photography software options are wasted on a low-end 5-megapixel camera. But, all things considered, it's not any worse than what most budget handsets are capable of.
While the download speeds camer through, location services were unreliable. The Motion 4G was generally not able to recognize where it was.
Finally, when actually making phone calls, the Motion 4G came up short. Even though few people actually use smartphones for talking, that's hard to forgive.
The LG Motion 4G is not so bad, but could be much better in many regards. Despite running Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich with a 1.2GHz dual-core, it's still a rather middling option.
There's carrier bloatware throughout phone, and a low resolution display that mars the fast video and web 4G service provides. Despite all the software niceties on camera, it's only 5-megapixels, so it's never going to take great shots.
If you're dead set on 4G service without a contract, you could do worse than the Motion 4G, but you could also do better. The Samsung Exhibit II 4G delivers 4G service from T-Mobile at a similar price point, but without the locations services trouble we had with the Motion. Alas, it is an Android 2.3: Gingerbread device, so you won't be scoring the latest apps.