Last year LG brought out an Android smartphone called the Optimus, and if left alone it could have killed the company’s smartphone ambitions stone dead, with its poor, unresponsive screen and middling spec.
Fortunately for us, LG didn’t leave it there, and bounced back with the Optimus One, a low- to mid-range handset boasting a praiseworthy capacitive screen and running the latest Android 2.2 operating system.
Design and build
The Optimus One’s casing immediately raises the bar on its predecessor, with its metal highlights and ruggedly rubberised plastic casing replacing the original metallic-looking, but cheaper, plastic shell.
The distinctive top and bottom curves of the original have gone too, replaced by more standard handset aesthetics. It won’t stand out so much in a crowd, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
It measures 114 x 59 x 13mm and 129g and beneath the 3.2in screen are the standard four Android hard buttons for home, back, menu and search. On the side is a volume rocker with 3.5mm headphone jack and power/lock button on top and a micro USB charge/sync port at the bottom. The supplied 2GB microSD memory card is nestled under the back cover.
Interface and OS
It’s good to see the latest version of Android on board a lower end handset like this. Version 2.2 (codenamed Froyo by those sweet-toothed wags at Google) gives you the ability to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot as well as free navigation from Google Maps.
There’s a little bit of LG customisation on top of the standard Android layout with seven homescreens available to brush through and populate with widgets and shortcuts from the menu.
There’s also a dock at the bottom of the screen with shortcuts for phone, contacts, messaging and browser – popular apps all, but you’re stuck with them cos you can’t customise the dock to suit yourself. You can organise your menu into different categories though, such as ‘games’, ‘business’ etc, a little like LG’s S-class interface.
It’s not a slow handset as such, but its 600MHz processor shouts its budget status to the rooftops, and you’ll notice it’s not quite as quick as premium Androids like HTC’s 1GHz-packing Desire or the iPhone, though it’s no slouch.
The original Optimus’s nightmare of a frustratingly insensitive resistive touchscreen is the most welcome change of all for the Optimus One, which now has a joyously responsive capacitive screen which jumps to brushes and pushes without hesitation or hassle – just how it should do in other words.
We’re used to this from the likes of HTC and Samsung, but for LG it's a welcome sight and puts it back in the serious smartphone game. There are others that are a bit faster, perhaps a mite more responsive still, but you’ll tend to pay more for them – for this price range this one does very nicely thank you.
It measures a healthy 3.2in (just a smidgeon smaller than the iPhone’s 3.5in) and has a respectable if not particularly outstanding 320 x 480-pixel resolution.
The three megapixel camera is no more than you’d expect from a handset at this price, but the quality of its pics is still noticeably better than a similarly specced snapper from HTC, for instance.
There’s no flash, but it has a few fun features including face tracking and macro setting for close-up shots, plus digital zoom and a range of scene modes. You’ll need to be careful with your light, but it delivers fairly accurate colour balance and fairly sharp imaging.
That sharpness drops a bit for video, which only offers 640 x 480-pixel resolution, though it will pass muster for YouTube if you hold the camera steady enough.
Apps and browser
It comes preloaded with Facebook and Twitter apps and they’ll prompt you to sync with your contacts when you log in. There’s also a growing list of social networking add-ons and apps available from the ever-expanding Android Market.
The Android browser is intuitive and easy to use, plus the screen’s multi-touch functionality means you can pinch to zoom – always welcome, though this is noticeably more jerky than you’ll find on pricier handsets.
There’s no support for Flash video with the Optimus One though – you can download the latest Flash Player from the Android Market but apparently this handset doesn’t meet the hardware requirements for it. Bummer.
There’s a YouTube app on board though, and the free Skyfire browser you can download will give you some more Flash playing ability than the standard Android browser.
Media and connectivity
There’s fast internet access via HSDPA or broadband over Wi-Fi and syncing with your computer is courtesy of the microUSB port, allowing you to drag and drop your pics, videos and tunes onto the handset.
Video playback isn’t as smooth as it might have been, and there’s no option to stretch the film to fit the screen, which is always a plus when it’s available. You can get that option however by downloading an alternative media player, such as RockPlayer.
The Android music player is decent enough, though you’ll probably want to upgrade the tinny supplied headphones at the earliest opportunity – easy via the 3.5mm headphone jack or Bluetooth.
There’s also an FM radio on board as well as 170MB of onboard memory which you can boost to 32GB via microSD card.
Performance and battery life
Battery life is okay but not exceptional, no doubt helped by the slightly underpowered processor. I managed to get a good day and a half of fairly heavy use out of it before it needed a recharge.
- Nicely sensitive capacitive screen is a joy to use
- Good social networking integration
- A lot of functionality for a reasonable price
- At just 3MP, the camera is a but underpowered by today's standards
- The 600MHz processor can be a little sluggish
- Video playback could be smoother
Verdict: The Optimus One marks a massive leap forward from the disappointing Optimus original and keeps LG firmly in the smart phone game, at least for now. It’s very much a lower end Android, but it does a more than decent job within its budget limitations.
More info: LG Optimus One spec
Price: From £15pm with contract, £200 PAYG, £200 SIM-free