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Virgin Mobile LG Optimus V review

LG Optimus V 11In case you didn’t get the memo, Android is getting big. Ahem, ok so that’s an understatement, the platform is becoming hugely popular in the smartphone world as a competitor to Apple’s iPhone. Previously the preserve of monthly contract plans, some no-contract carriers now offer Android smartphones for a song, dance and some green. Virgin Mobile just launched the LG Optimus V Android 2.2 smartphone for an upfront cost of $149.99, and is asking for a measly $25 for a month’s worth of unlimited data, texts and 300 voice minutes. Is this the craziest deal of all time, or is the phone perhaps a stinker? To find out I scoped out seven (!) Radio Shacks until I found one with the smartphone in stock, and then I bought the sucker. Here’s my review after two weeks of daily usage.

LG Optimus V 5Virgin Mobile is shipping the LG Optimus V in a cardboard easy-open container, which is a welcome change from the sealed plastic ones used for previous models. Inside the box you’ll find the phone itself, a two piece USB charger (a cable with a separate plug attachment), headphones with handsfree capability, battery and manual.

For a budget smartphone, the LG Optimus V is a real looker. The main body of the phone is made of two soft touch pieces of black plastic that appear more premium than they sound. Between them across the top of the phone is what looks and feels like a brushed aluminum strip that houses the power button, headphone socket and volume controls. Further down the sides of the LG Optimus V are dedicated buttons for the camera and voice commands, as well as a slot for a Micro SD memory card. A USB charging port sits on the bottom of the smartphone.

The upscale look continues on the front of the LG Optimus V with the four standard Android buttons encased by shiny silver surrounds. It’s good to see hardware buttons rather than the software buttons of some Android devices that only light up when the phone is in use. Around the back things get a little cheaper looking, although it’s difficult LG Optimus V 2(and also less important) to make a phone’s battery cover look impressive. The back is simply a plastic cover with a cutout for the speaker and a silver surround for the camera. Can’t get excited about that, it looks okay, but you’ll spend more time looking at the front anyway.

In a world where most smartphones look pretty much the same, the LG Optimus V fits right in. So while the LG Optimus V is a budget device, most people looking over your shoulder would never know it.

In terms of interior specs, the LG Optimus V sports a 600MHz processor, 320×480 pixel capacitive touchscreen, Bluetooth 2.1 including A2DP & AVRCP for music streaming and remote playback control, a 3.2 megapixel camera without flash, A-GPS, WiFi and the whole shebang weighs in at 4.6 ounces (130 grams).

The LG Optimus V carries Google’s ‘with Google’ branding, so I was hoping for a pretty vanilla Android experience…and that’s pretty much what I found. From what I could see, apart from a couple of Virgin Mobile apps, the LG Optimus V appears to be running something very close to stock Android 2.2. So far all the apps I’ve downloaded from the Android Market have worked perfectly, such as Skype, Pulse and my new personal fave Google Translate. Bear in mind you can only make Skype calls over WiFi with the LG Optimus V.

LG Optimus V 10Even though the LG Optimus V doesn’t have the fastest processor on the planet I found the 600MHz CPU to be perfectly capable as a daily driver for the phone. In my mixed usage of email, browsing, YouTube, streaming audio over Bluetooth and playing Angry Birds, I only occasionally noticed hangs or delays. The LG Optimus V has generally been reliable, although it has spontaneously restarted itself twice in my two weeks of usage.

One welcome addition in the LG Optimus V is that it ships with Swype installed. This allows for fast typing by moving your finger across letters on the smartphone’s virtual keyboard. I was impressed with Swype on the Samsung Epic 4G and it’s all the more useful on the LG Optimus V since the Optimus lacks a hardware keyboard. Swype isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely competent. I wrote this whole review on the LG Optimus V using Swype.

The screen on the LG Optimus V is not super high-res, but at 320×480 it’s dense enough for 3.2 inches of real estate, and I’ve found it to be perfectly usable. Then again, I’m not the kind of person who’s going to get out a magnifying glass and complain if I can see individual pixels. More importantly the screen can be cranked up to be up bright enough to be legible outdoors for occasional things like checking Google Maps or sending texts. Wearing polarized sunglasses also helps to minimize screen reflections when trying to read the LG Optimus V’s screen on sunny days.

LG Optimus V 7One thing I absolutely love about the LG Optimus V so far is its battery life. I’ve found it easy to get through a day with regular usage. I don’t spend all day on my phone mind you, but I do have it set up to pull email from multiple accounts regularly, stream music during my commute and update various feeds in the background. It’s refreshing to not have to turn off things like Bluetooth and background services during the day just to make sure I have enough juice for my journey home. Your mileage may vary though depending on how you use the LG Optimus V.

I’m guessing this power efficiency comes from a few factors. Firstly, the LG Optimus V has a slower processor than the 1GHz+ CPUs on the top end juice guzzling smartphones. Secondly, backlighting the LG Optimus V’s 3.2 inch screen probably uses less power compared to backlighting a 4+ inch screen on larger smartphones. Lastly the LG Optimus V uses 3G rather than 4G, which tends to require a lower power draw from the radio.

On that subject, I’ve seen some forum discussions questioning whether the LG Optimus V is restricted to 1x RTT. I can happily confirm that the LG Optimus V uses 3G where possible and downgrades to 1x RTT if the 3G signal is too weak.

In terms of connection speeds, in downtown Manhattan I’ve been experiencing download speeds that I think are fine for a phone with a smallish screen. In terms of specifics, I’ve measured consistent download speeds of around 1.1Mbps and upload speeds of around 0.4Mbps. For app downloading, watching HQ YouTube videos and listening to Pandora, that kind of speed is absolutely fine. It’s worth checking coverage in your area before you take the plunge though, and bear in mind that Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network. So if your area has good Sprint 3G coverage then

LG Optimus V indoor photo 2

The Optimus V captures a decent amount of detail on this indoor shot of Halo with good ambient lighting

you should be fine. Having said that, Virgin Mobile does have a 30 day return policy, so you could always take advantage of that if you’re not happy.

There are a couple of downsides to the LG Optimus V. Firstly, it’s camera is okay for quick snaps but nothing to write home about . It only has a 3.2 megapixel sensor and lacks a flash, so photos in well lit environments come out far better than those taken in dimly lit rooms. I’d really like to see a decent 5 megapixel sensor with a flash as standard on all smartphones. Secondly although the LG Optimus V can record video, it’s not capable of capturing HD footage. Again, I think being able to shoot in 720p should soon be the minimum for smartphones. Lastly the LG Optimus V only ships with a 2GB Micro SD card, so it’s worth setting aside some extra green if you need more storage for your extensive music collection. Given the LG Optimus V’s price though, these issues are easily forgiven since on balance this smartphone is far more capable than its price would indicate.

Check out our review of the new Virgin Mobile Motorola Triumph!

Overall I’ve been seriously impressed with the Virgin Mobile LG Optimus V. It handles run-of-the-mill smartphone tasks competently, looks good and is cheap to run. I was worried that the LG Optimus V might be a let down because of its low price, but in reality it’s possibly the best smartphone value on the US market today.

Neil Berman


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Feb 27, 2011 - Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , ,

12 Comments »

  1. cool

    Comment by k | Mar 10, 2011 | Reply

  2. nice review. thanks.

    Comment by jason | Mar 23, 2011 | Reply

  3. Hows battery life last with continues surfing
    P

    Comment by Anonymous | Apr 7, 2011 | Reply

  4. Nice review, and I admire your Swype skills. :-) (I use the standard Android keyboard. Please don’t mock me. :P)

    I’m curious how your review might change in light of the current $200 price point. I already have the phone (sweet $130 sale price at Best Buy last month), but am looking for opinions on the current value as some people I know are considering the phone.

    Comment by Voyagerfan5761 | Apr 23, 2011 | Reply

  5. How do you transfer videos and pictures to the micro SD and how do you email videos?

    Comment by Xica | Jun 7, 2011 | Reply

  6. You do nice work! and the cat is a nice touch! I’ll find a place at Rock That LG Optimus V for a link to this review – It is a very nice job!

    Comment by Rock That LG Optimus V | Jul 4, 2011 | Reply

  7. Love your cat :-)
    Great review.
    I have a great deal of difficulty with the Optimus’ buttons. They are far too recessed, too small and lack good lighting for poorly lit environments. I feel I’m left out in the dark using the Optimus compared to the buttons back-lighting on the Intercept or even the old G1.
    I also really like the older layour of the 6 button set up at the bottom of the phone rather than putting the on/off button in the classic lower place rather than on top of the phone.
    To me, the buttons deficiency is almost enough to sway me back to the Intercept even though the Optimus does fell a bit faster under the hood.

    Comment by Randy | Jul 15, 2011 | Reply

  8. Two quick related questions.

    Can the Optimus V use a microSDHC card or just a microSD card?

    Computers have taught me that memory is Good. But with a smartphone, where’s the point of diminishing returns? I’ll likely want a bunch of apps, some music, not sure about video but interested. 8gb or 16gb?

    Bonus query: Users at Amazon report using the phone with WiFi and without the 3G. No data plan. Just activated phone and built-in WiFi. 35/month may be a problem for me (a Social Security guy). Is no 3G doable? Workable? Seems like the Optimus has to be activated on purchase…

    Comment by Chuck Miller | Aug 14, 2011 | Reply

    • Hi Chuck,

      I currently have a 16GB MicroSDHC card in my Optimus V. It’s not full, but I have a lot of music on there and photos as ever just keep coming. If it’s a question of a small price premium, I would buy a 16GB card rather than 8GB. It will probably last you longer – for example in a year’s time you might want to put it into a different phone that can record HD video (mucho storage required).

      When I first set up the Optimus V, I started by using WiFi only to make sure it worked ok. I then activated it with a data plan it a few days later. That was months ago, I don’t know if the situation has changed for new Optimus V units. But for what it’s worth, I was also able to use the new Motorola Triumph on WiFi only before activating it with a data plan.

      Good luck!

      Neil

      Comment by theONbutton | Aug 15, 2011 | Reply

  9. Useful information. Thank you.

    I bought an Optimus V at Amazon today. Will get a 16gb SDHC before stockpiling apps. Price online seems $23-27 and +$5 locally.

    I’m not Johnny-All-Over-The-Place (the places I spend time at have WiFi) so IF I can transfer my VM phone number and 800 Anytime minutes to the new phone without signing up for a data plan, I may try that for a while. I wonder: if I start with the $35/month data plan and then have to cancel it, will VM let me go on using the phone (and WiFi)? Or do smartphones have to have data plans?

    Comment by Chuck Miller | Aug 15, 2011 | Reply

  10. I have exchanged two Optimus V’s because my battery wears down within hours without making any calls, playing games or basically doing anything other than having the phone turned on. What can I do to improve the battery life? At one point, I took my phone to Best Buy and my Wifi was turned on, but now it’s off and I’m still having problems. Suggestions?

    Comment by Karen Ruthman | Aug 27, 2011 | Reply

  11. How strong is the supplied battery? I guess some are 1400 whatevers and others are 1600 or possibly more. If the battery that comes with it is 1400 or less (I haven’t figured out how to remove the back case yet) you might get better performance with a higher-rated replacement battery.

    My usage doesn’t require sustained battery life. Overall, I am very happy.

    Comment by Chuck Miller | Aug 29, 2011 | Reply


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