Excellent tweaks to Android;
Capable 5MP camera;
Decent budget performance
Some build issues;
No front-facing camera
LG’s original Optimus L Series was a set of three affordable consumer smartphones, and this year sees the release of the sequels, the Optimus L Series II. The four-inch LG Optimus L5 II is the piggy in the middle, sitting between the dinky L3 and the dual-core L7, and it’s a great value handset with some unique and thoughtful features.
Looks-wise, the Optimus L5 II has changed considerably from the back and not at all from the front when compared with the original L5. Head-on, it still rocks an attractive glass panel with minimalistic design – all you’ll see is a black border, plus the LG logo up top and a narrow home button down below. Flip it over, however, and you’ll see the ugly grooved plastic rear has been replaced with a much more attractive smooth plastic rear. The brushed metal design gives it a more high-quality look, even if it does still feel distinctly plasticky.
The join of the back plate onto the front isn’t quite as sturdy as we’d like, and it’s incredibly easy to pop the rear off, revealing the battery, SIM card slot and Micro SD memory card slot. There’s also a hint of flex where the two sides meet. That said, the back plate never came off of its own accord, even when bouncing around inside our pockets. We’re not sure if the Optimus L5 II would survive a drop from a decent height, and it certainly feels rather light compared to similar-sized phones.
Our only other minor complaint is the stiff power button, which occasionally we pushed to no avail. You need to really jab it to turn the screen on or off. Better is the Quick Button, a spare button on the top left edge that can be used to launch your favourite app. On the LG Optimus G Pro we found we kept hitting it by accident, but we didn’t have that problem on the L5 II, and the button also activates the camera shutter when you’re snapping away.
One of the highlights of the Optimus L5 II is the range of smart features that LG has pumped into Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, to make it even more usable. Take the desktops, for instance. Not only can you now resize app icons to make them extra large, similar to resizing Windows Phone’s live tiles, you can also create your own icons using the camera. Apps can be organised into folders as usual, but you can now scroll through folders without opening them. You can even personalise the screen swipe effects, change the shortcuts that appear on the lock screen, and tweak pretty much every aspect of the OS you see fit.
Notifications are well handled too. The Android notifications bar at the top of the screen houses any missed events and alerts as usual, but the home button beneath the screen also flashes different colours to warn you of any important stuff. For instance, a red glow shows the battery is charging, green and yellow flashing means an incoming call, and a pure green glow reveals a waiting email or text. Again, it’s fully customisable - you can toggle individual items, to choose whether the button glows or not. It isn’t the kind of sleep-disturbing flashing we’ve seen on some other phones, more of a calm pulsating nudge, so we’re happy to keep it switched on.
Last but not least is Quick Memo. This allows you to scribble notes right on your desktop, with the option of keeping those notes there as you open up other apps. For instance, you can scrawl a phone number during a call, then open up your contacts list and enter the number while it’s still written on your screen. It’s such a simple but genius idea.
At this price point it’s a bit much to expect dual-core powerhouse performance, but the LG Optimus L5 II holds its own surprisingly well with a single-core 1GHz CPU. We played some recent games including Iron Man 3, and can honestly say that our constant demises were down to rubbish reactions rather than ill-timed stuttering. Occasionally an action such as pulling down the notifications bar will be a little jittery, and the phone sometimes has to play catch-up when we type too quickly. But overall, the Optimus L5 II runs smoothly enough to keep you satisfied.
Battery life is about average for this size of phone. We got around 24 hours of use with the screen on full brightness and both Wi-Fi and GPS enabled, provided we didn’t spend too long gaming or streaming video. If you want to watch non-stop YouTube clips or enjoy some movies, you can expect around five hours from each charge.
Screen and media
At four inches, the LG Optimus L5 II has a spacious enough screen to enjoy apps, movies, games and anything else you want to consume on the go. Web browsing is a smooth experience, and while the 800 x 480 resolution means text can sometimes appear a little blurry when zoomed out, it’s easy enough to zoom right in with a flick of your fingers. The panel is clearly budget, lacking the warmth and quality of more expensive models, but it’s bright enough to counter harsh glare and does the job for enjoying a TV show or some YouTube action on the train.
With just 4GB of built-in storage, you’ll need to invest in a Micro SD memory card if you want to carry a decent collection of songs and videos around. Thankfully memory cards are cheap enough online these days.
The LG Optimus L5 II sports a five megapixel camera that performs well for the price. Close-up macro shots came out particularly well, capturing plenty of detail in sharp focus, although some of that sharpness is lost in broader scenic photos and some vibrant colours look a little washed-out. In dim conditions the lens understandably struggles, but you have a flash for those pub snaps and night shots. Overall, our shots look good when viewed back on a monitor or television, with very few duds that we had to delete.
As well as standard photos you can shoot video and take panorama shots (which capture a 180-degree landscape). There’s also a ‘continuous shot’ mode, something that’s rarely seen on a smartphone this affordable, which takes six pics in quick succession (roughly a second and a half in all). It’s a great way to ensure you don’t miss that action shot. Our only real complaint is the lack of a front-facing lens for video chats.
LG’s Optimus L5 II is a fantastic refresh of the original, with a more attractive look and stronger specs. Best of all is the fantastic range of features that bolster Android, from the ability to fully personalise your icons and desktops, to the colour-coded light indicators hidden in the home button. For an affordable smartphone, the Optimus L5 II packs in a lot and delivers in every area.