Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 3:58:15 PM
Social networkers are well catered for LG?s SNS client.
A memory card is needed to operate the camera. The fact that LG hasn?t included one in the box is a sin.
LG is forming something of a reputation as the manufacturer of choice for Android phones on a budget. First there was the LG GW620 InTouch Max, a cracking entry-level smartphone complete with access to the Google Android Market, and now they've added to their portfolio with the equally affordable and all access Android, LG Optimus GT540.
The most notable difference between the LG Optimus and the LG InTouch Max is the omission of the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Instead, the Optimus is controlled primarily by the three-inch touch-screen, with the sole exceptions being the ever so slightly raised call, home and call end keys and the adjacent side buttons. More about the touch-screen shortly, but first let's focus on the LG Optimus' build. The manufacturer has reprised the design seen in the LG Viewty Smart, with the top and bottom of the phone consisting of curved rounded edges. We like this smooth approach both in terms of aesthetic value and comfort in the hand and pocket. It's also fairly svelte and feels far lighter than its 115.5 grams.
Sandwiched between the three aforementioned hard keys and the screen are a virtual menu key and a virtual back button. While these touch-sensitive keys have worked well in the past, we're afraid to say that we found them too unreliable on the Optimus. There is a short haptic pulse each time you press one of the keys, but particularly with the back button, we'd have to adjust our thumb position and press on it multiple times to guarantee it recognised our command. In contrast the Optimus' touch-screen is actually pretty cool. This is despite the fact that LG has fitted the handset with a resistive touch-screen. Handsets that come with an "affordable" price tag tend to be fitted with resistive touch-screens, rather than the superior capacitive variety. As a result the overall user experience suffers. Thankfully this is not the case with the LG Optimus. Finger swipes were slick and icons acknowledged our key presses without any hiccups. In fact, if were to be really pernickety, we might say the touch-screen is a little too responsive as we on occasion accidently hit a hyperlink when in fact we just wanted to scroll down a page.
The LG Optimus is fitted with some uber-sensitive accelerometers, auto-correcting the display into portrait or landscape depending which way you hold the phone, in lightening fast speed. When typing text messages or emails, you may like us, opt to use the phone in landscape as this will reveal a virtual QWERTY keyboard. The alternative is a vertical T9-esque keyboard that we found just too fiddly to perfect a texting rhythm.
While the Optimus is very much an Android device, LG has done an impressive job of leaving its own mark on the device. Indeed you actually have the option of reverting from the standard Google Android look, to LG's own take on things. There are a number of fundamental differences with LG's home screens. Firstly at the bottom of each home screen is a virtual call key, found on the left, and on the right a messaging key. As with other Android phones, the main menu is accessed by pulling up the tab found on the bottom of the screen. However, what's really cool is that you can divide up your menu into sub sections that you can name and edit yourself. For example, choose your most used features and create a row entitled favourites, or group all your media capabilities under entertainment. It's a lovely feature, though it can be a bit fiddly to set up as each task requires you to press the menu key each time you want to add or remove an icon. We would have preferred a simple drag and drop process.
Finally, the other benefit of using LG's own home screens is that you can choose between three and seven home screens (as opposed to Android's solely three). All can be customised with various shortcuts and widgets and with seven home screens you could feasibly dedicate a screen to features of a similar ilk, in much the same way that you can with the menu. To switch between the two formats, simply hold down the home key, while shortcuts and widgets can be added in a similar fashion only this time by holding your finger down on the home screen.
Undoubtedly one of the most utilised widgets will be the Social Networking Client. Using the SNS feature, you will be able to sync the LG Optimus with your Facebook, Twitter and Bebo accounts. You can choose from displaying your own status feeds, any updates from your contacts or any private messages you receive. Click on any of these feeds and you'll be granted full access to the respective social networking site. However, a little word of warning, to have multiple feeds on one home screen you will have to make sure you have sufficient room, as in contrast to Samsung phones, you can't place one feed on top of another.
Whether it was via Wi-Fi or on HSDPA, our web experience on the LG Optimus was phenomenally quick. Even when we opened up multiple windows, we continued to surf the internet waves without any hesitation. You'll also be prompted to allow Google to use your current destination. The benefit of doing this is that your Google searches will be prioritised according to your location. For example, when we typed in 'restaurant' we received a list of websites for eating establishments nearby. Though there's no multi-touch or double tap zoom facility, by moving your finger from left to right you will reveal the zoom keys and in the left hand corner another virtual key that can be used to navigate around a web page. Press this key and a section of the page will become magnified enabling you to move it around until you find the relevant segment you wish to view. It works pretty well, though we would have preferred it if an additional tap was needed to zoom in, rather than each time you lift up your digit, the Optimus beams on in.
There's no flash player on the LG Optimus, so though the phone has the resources to (i.e. Wi-Fi and a decent size screen), you won't be able to catch up with any missed programs with BBC iPlayer, or watch any other embedded videos that rely on flash support. That said we were able to enjoy a seamless YouTube experience, with videos quick to load and no buffering required.
The LG Optimus' camera credentials are a mixed bag. There's plenty of features; such as beauty mode which eradicates any blemishes from your subjects face, smile detection which will only take a snap when that subject breaks out into a cheesy grin, multiple face detection that helps maintain sharpness and the panorama mode which enables you to take widescreen shots by automatically aligning three photos together. It was also a breeze uploading our pics direct to our social networks and videos to YouTube. However, along with the three-megapixel camera, there's no flash and it also takes an age for the camera to load up, so spontaneous shots are a no no. You'll also need to invest in a memory card as the measly 130MB of storage onboard the Optimus is not enough to even allow you to take one snap, let alone an album. However, once you have made this purchase, you'll be able to view all your snaps and videos in a 3D gallery which not only looks rather snazzy, it's also practical as it's faster in locating specific snaps. You can also tag your photos, much in the same way as you would with Facebook.
Another feature we were quite taken with was the quick search key found on the right hand side of the phone. Indicated by a magnifying glass, press this key and type in anything from a generic search term to a specific feature on the phone and it will find it. For example, start typing 'CAM' and a list will be formulated starting with access to the camera, followed by a Google search for Cameron Diaz. We're all for shortcuts and this is one that can definitely save you time.
The LG Optimus GT540 is far from perfect. With other more powerful handsets now running on Android 2.1, the fact that the Optimus operates on 1.6 may make it seem dated in comparison. The touch-screen, while responsive enough is still not as slick as the capacitive variety and the fact that LG hasn't included a memory card to make up for the miserly onboard storage irked us beyond belief. However, for value of money, we felt spoilt. We're fans of its curved design, the SNS client is great for all your social networking needs, and though it may run on 1.6, you still have access to the Android market and a host of other benefits Google brings to its phones. Android on a budget is becoming an increasingly popular concept and the LG Optimus GT540 is a good example of why.