LG Optimus One £175
9th Nov 2010 | 16:36
Another 3.2" Android phone arrives, but just a little bit too late
LG Optimus One review: overview
LG's been putting out touchscreen phones for a long time, but has yet to pull off a proper success in the amazingly competitive Android scene.
Its Optimus GT540 was a poor attempt at making a stylish and original phone, and ultimately ruined by a terrible resistive touchscreen. Meanwhile, the GW620 was a perfectly adequate performer, but hardly thrilling when put up against, well, anything else.
Rather than muscle in with a headline-grabbing, powerful new glamour model, it appears LG has decided to go back to basics with the Optimus One – a standard, no frills, 3.2-inch Android 2.2 smartphone for the everyman. Do we really need another lower-spec Android phone when the Orange San Franciso exists?
First impressions of the Optimus One are rather good, despite the enthusiasm-sapping bland black slab design. The phone feels solid, pleasantly heavy and well made, with a slightly rubbery snap-on back cover giving you a little extra grip. Balanced in the hand, it's the perfect size and layout for one-handed use.
The edge of the phone features a pleasant metallic strip, which is the visible edge of the phone's (very neat!) insides poking out. On this strip sits the volume up/down toggle, which is a solid, metallic rocker; a 3.5mm headphone jack and power button on the phone's top; and a micro USB connector on the bottom.
The face buttons are large and easy to get at, but could do with being a little more solid. At least they're proper, physical buttons rather than the capacitive touch things found on the very similarly specced Samsung Galaxy i5800. LG has even cut out the icons and made them illuminate when pressed.
Sadly, this is yet another Android phone where there's no optical or digital trackpad option to be found, so the Optimus One comes with the caveat that playing some games might be out of the question. Editing text is also that little bit tougher thanks to the lack of any sort of analogue input.
Thankfully, the screen is capacitive, unlike that of LG's GT540, so a light press is enough to get things moving. It doesn't feel particularly solid or glassy beneath the finger, mind, but it does respond well to the touch, is bright and displays colours vividly.
LG Optimus One review: interface
LG has gone for a slight user interface skin for the Optimus One, but it's only a minor set of visual tweaks and nothing like as intrusive and overwhelming as some other manufacturer's Android customisations.
The Home screen has been slightly modified, featuring an HTC Sense-like curved docking area sitting at the bottom and shortcuts to the phone, contacts, apps, text messaging and browser.
If you want to customise this little area, you can change those shortcuts to whatever by opening the app drawer, pressing menu, selecting 'move icon'; you can now drag your application to the bottom docking area if you happen to never bother with messaging.
LG has put its own keyboard on here, inventively named the LG Keyboard. It's very similar to the stock Android keyboard, with numbers and special characters inconveniently hidden away on a second screen, which you access by pressing a key. The keys are needlessly tiny, making typing a bit of a chore.
It's a poor effort, to be honest. There's a huge number of alternate keyboards out there on the Android Market doing a much, much better job of handling text input than either LG's option or even the standard Android 2.2 keyboard.
One thing LG offers that's of use is word prediction, which guesses what you're trying to type and pops the results up in a cramped little grey bar. It's a pretty ugly solution, but it does shave a few seconds off those important text messages about dinner and football.
You also get the option of a traditional old mobile phone numeric keypad, complete with predictive text, just like in the old days. This is actually a better option if you remember your numeric typing skills, thanks to bigger keys that are easier to accurately hit than on the QWERTY layout.
One of LG's more user friendly Android customisations is the addition of Categories to its app drawer. It's not actually that thrilling, simply giving users a a way to group apps by theme in the app listing.
So if you want to bunch all your various Twitter apps or games together under one heading to make finding them easy, you can. It's a nice way to keep track of things and a clever technique to minimise scrolling fatigue if you're prone to filling up your phones with apps.
The Optimus One also comes with a configurable selection of Home screens, in that you can decide if you want five or seven of them. It's nice to have the option, especially if you're not all that into widgets and find the full seven Home screens a little intimidating.
LG Optimus One review: calling and messaging
The big news about Android 2.2 here is its built-in support for Exchange email accounts and all the data syncing that enables. In fact, Exchange is so built-in to Android 2.2 that you're prompted to set an account up the very first time you start the phone. That comes along with the more usual options to automatically set up other POP3 accounts and the all-important Gmail sign in.
Email is handled very well in Android, and the OS will magically sort out the options for most major email accounts after you provide your email address and password.
Text messaging on the Optimus One is the unrefined Android 2.2 default. You get a white window with black text on the top. That's your lot. Here's hoping Google's got some graphic designers on the case, because this is one area where Android needs some serious jazzing up.
What is nice, though, is LG's Messaging widget, which displays your latest SMS messages in a simple little window on your Home screen. It's great as long as you don't mind the slight breach of privacy that comes from having your texts beaming out of your phone.
The dialler is stock Android too. It's not exciting. LG has tweaked the Contacts section slightly, adding a History tab that keeps track of your various interactions with each of the people in your phone's directory.
Elsewhere, it's boring but functional Android all the way. You're able to star certain Contacts to add them to a quick list of Favourites, or you can long-press on a particular person's details and send a quick-access shortcut to your Home screen. This can be made to act as either as a shortcut to their Contacts page, or a hotlink that calls the person or sends them a message.
Call quality is fine, both when pressing the handset up to your ear and using the speakerphone option. It was loud enough and worked. Wi-Fi connectivity was never a problem – the Optimus One stayed connected without fail and was quick to reconnect after a period of inactivity.
A nice feature for a budget smartphone is the inclusion of a proximity sensor in the face of the phone, so expect it to baffle and impress the first time it turns the screen off when you press it to your ear then turns it back on again when you finish your call. Very clever.
LG Optimus One: internet
There's no denying the brilliance of the stock Android web browser, and that's exactly what you get on the Optimus One: unadulterated internet.
There's support for two-fingered multi-touch zooming in here, although the phone's entry-level 600MHz processor struggles to move pages about smoothly. This means magnifying text is a little slow and clunky, while the phone's screen resolution leaves words looking a little rough around the edges.
At 480x320, the Optimus One has a higher resolution display than the likes of the HTC Wildfire, but you'll still find text a bit rough around the edges and not exactly easy on the eye.
The Orange San Franciso and its much higher resolution display wins this particular battle with ease.
However, the Android browser is the model of usability. It's simple and light on options compared to third-party alternatives such as the Dolphin browser and the Firefox 4 beta that's doing the rounds, but fast and incredibly user friendly.
The best thing about browsing on an up-to-date Android OS is the Favourites button beside the URL. Press this and you're able to add the current page to your phone's bookmarks, or access the bookmarks list itself along with your History and Most Visited sites.
You'll also find another decent little LG widget here to speed up your browsing. It's similar to HTC's bookmarks widget included with the HTC Sense. The LG version generates little thumbnails of your bookmarked sites and sticks them in a scrollable widget for quick access to your favourite bits of internet directly from the Home screen.
There's one big omission here, though: Flash Player 10.1 support. The high-profile Adobe tool for Android 2.2 phones isn't supplied with the Optimus One, plus it's not available as a download through the Android Market. Presumably, this is because the Optimus One's screen resolution is too low. So you can't access BBC iPlayer or embedded YouTube clips here. Whoops.
LG Optimus One review: camera
The Optimus One's camera is a relatively low-spec 3MP model, with no accompanying flash. What you do get is a macro mode and plenty of preset scenes and filters, plus full integration with Android 2.2's social sharing options. This means chucking a picture on Facebook as soon as you've taken it is a breeze.
There's a manual slider for a digital zoom too. However, as with all digital cameras, it results in pretty lousy pictures. You'll just have to walk closer to the thing you're taking a photo of if you can't see it well enough.
Of more use is the face-tracking option, which does a good job of picking out the whites of your subjects' eyes. Plus there are custom settings for taking shots at night, portraits, sports scenes and more. You're also able to turn on a continuous shooting mode if you don't mind having the resolution of your photos busted down to VGA scale.
As is the norm with lower-end mobile digital cameras, the Optimus One's macro mode produces the best results. If you have an interest in taking photos of small things that stay very still, this will do you. See the full size image here.
Wider shots are just about acceptable. Everything's quite soft, creating a weird impression of motion blur, but at least there's not much blockiness on display. You can live with the results. See the full size image here.
When inside, the camera struggles in low light conditions. This pizza looked much more appetising at the time, with the Optimus One not capturing the vibrant reds of the tomato sauce and struggling to record the detail of the tiny slices of green chilli under low lighting. See the full size image here.
Users can manually select the ISO level if that helps, with 100, 200 and 400 options on offer. It's almost like having a proper camera and knowing what you're doing. See the full size image here.
The video recording tool is rather advanced as well. You can fiddle about with all sorts of settings, muting sound while recording, toggling the preview on and off, picking from a handful of special filter effects and more.
Three video resolutions are on offer – 640x480, 320x240 and 176x144. Clips emerge as 3GP files and look perfectly fine on the PC or Mac, although the frame rate isn't particularly high. The Optimus One does a good job of picking up sound, however, with voices coming through loud and clear.
Bump the resolution down to 320x240 and results are predictable – a smoother frame rate, but smaller window. Best leave it at 640x480.
LG Optimus One review: media
Music playback is handled by the standard Android 2.2 tool. Which means very, very bland menus, along with a list-based and austere approach to your media.
The Android music player functions perfectly well, of course, with Android 2.2 featuring a smart Home screen widget that enables you to play and pause your tunes. Click on it to open the full player. Users can then sort music by artist, album, song title or playlist, with a press of the Menu button adding the current song to a playlist, or even letting you set it as your ringtone. If you don't mind being hated by everyone in the vicinity, that is.
The video player is a bit more advanced, with LG adding in support for all popular online video formats. That said, we had a problem with a couple of standard definition Xvid encodes of TV shows which refused to play and popped up a "video resolution not supported" error. On the plus side, the phone easily handles WMV files and DivX content, so it's more than capable of functioning as a decent portable media player.
The YouTube app is present as ever. You're also able to download the very latest version of Google's app from the Android Market, redesigned screen layout and all.
Some of the more complex and more demanding modern apps such as TweetDeck run well, with little in the way of slowdown. But there's one much more important question: can it run Angry Birds?
Yes. Thank God for that.
LG Optimus One review: Applications
There's a very obvious and embarrassing error, here – opening LG's own App Advisor app results in a force close error every time. This is particularly crazy, since we're using a boxed, retail version of the phone. It just doesn't work.
If it ever does start working on your phone, App Advisor is LG's attempt at curating the Android Market, serving users a hand-picked collection of recommended new apps every couple of weeks. Perhaps this will fire into life once the phone's been on sale for a while and someone at LG's flipped the relevant switch...
Still, thanks to the Optimus One coming with Android 2.2, access to the Android Market is straightforward as soon as you've signed in with a Gmail account. There's over 160,000 apps on it and not all of them are rubbish.
LG has also stuck the popular, if slightly pointless, augmented reality app Layar on the Optimus One, plus you get the full range of Google apps: Latitude, Maps, Navigation, Places and YouTube.
If you're pretending you need a new mobile phone for work purposes, there's a copy of stripped-down mobile word processor ThinkFree Office on here too, which lets you cobble together important business documents and save them in DOCX format for use on proper computers.
Another useful Android 2.2 feature is the Car Home. Oddly enough, rival Android handset maker HTC chooses to remove this option from its version of Android 2.2. The Optimus One's Car Home replaces the phone's front end with two screens full of massive buttons, designed to make mucking about with your phone while cruising along at 77mph a little less dangerous.
From here, you can get straight into Google's amazing Maps Navgation sat nav tool, which comes complete with voice search for picking out your destination while keeping your hands in the ten-to-two position on the steering wheel.
GPS performance is good once you've waited ages and ages for the initial satellite lock, and there's no better GPS tool around today than Google's free app once it's up and running.
LG Optimus One review: battery and connectivity
The Optimus One's battery life is good. The phone includes a large 1,500mAh hour battery, runs the power-saving Android 2.2 OS and features a modest 3.2-inch screen. When these three factors come together, you end up with a phone that's good for a solid two days of light to moderate use.
It's still not as great as a 1990s Nokia, but up there among the best performers in today's power-guzling smartphone world. Internally, the Optimus One comes with all the usual Android phone hardware spec sheet bullet points: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, an upgradeable microSD card and FM radio.
The Optimus One doesn't come with any obvious way to install the USB drivers required to connect it to a PC, but thankfully LG's UK support site has already been updated with the stuff required.
In order to get the USB driver, you must first install LG's Mobile Support Tool, from where you'll eventually be pointed at the correct driver download site. The Optimus One is listed under its model number, P500, if you're struggling.
Once that's on your computer, it's Android business as usual. Plug the phone in via USB and you're prompted to mount it as an external drive to copy files across. One of the odd things about Android is the way it assumes users are going to understand how to turn on USB storage and use their phones as external hard drives. Not particularly intuitive for the mainstream consumer, that.
Finally, being an Android 2.2 phone means you get the fantastic USB Tethering and Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot options onboard, letting you smash your mobile package's data allowance by using your Optimus One as a 3G broadband modem.
LG Optimus One review: hands-on gallery
LG Optimus One review: official gallery
LG Optimus One review: verdict
The Optimus One is a solid phone, but there's little in the way of outstanding features to get excited about. The main selling point here is your chance to get Android 2.2 on a budget. That's it.
But in the crowded 3.2-inch smartphone scene, it deserves a second look. There really is no cheaper way to get Android 2.2 out there right now. The way LG has left Android relatively untouched means a basic but functional experience, and it's a refreshing change compared to the overly customised manufacturer skins out there that add needless layers of complexity to the user experience.
LG's text message and bookmarks widgets are nice additions to Android, and the rest of the company's minor user interface tweaks are largely for the best – the simple alarm on/off toggle widget, for example.
The capacitive TFT touchscreen is a welcome upgrade over the one found in the company's resistive-based Optimus GT540. It's not the most sensitive screen around, but it's certainly no disgrace.
The Optimus One's battery life is fantastic, thanks to the Holy Trinity of modern smartphone longevity measures: a large 1,500mAh battery, the power efficient Android 2.2 and a modest 3.2-inch screen. It'll outlast nearly everything.
Experienced Android users will find the Optimus One's lack of processor power and slightly jerky web browsing a deal breaker. It's just not quite smooth enough for regular web use.
The 480x320 screen resolution is starting to look a bit last-generation, with on-screen text pretty rough around the edges. Games and apps look fine, mind, so it's acceptable if you can handle jagged text.
Featuring a simple back-to-basics approach by LG, the Optimus One is a sturdy and affordable way to get into Android – especially since it's the first really cheap phone to come with Android 2.2.
However, the 600MHz processor and lower resolution screen place this near the bottom of the current Android pile in performance terms. While it's perfectly usable, it's more of an entry-level choice for newcomers or those on a budget than an Android powerhouse.
But it's nearly there – 10 per cent more processor power would've negated these minor hitches. If you're careful with your widget choices and configure the browser zoom so pages are readable without much manipulation, the Optimus One is a decent enough Android phone.
Sadly for LG, the affordable Android phone scene is fiercely competitive, with the formidable Orange San Franciso offering a faster processor and bigger, higher resolution screen for less money.
But with prices for the Optimus One starting at £15 on a monthly contract, it's still a decent way for newcomers to get into Android on a budget.