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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

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch review

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 8

Sitting all over America today are people who yearn to upgrade to a smartphone without paying through the nose on a monthly basis for the privilege. Meanwhile sitting in various Virgin Mobile warehouses is the LG Rumor Touch smartphone. Tying these two things together are Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk unlimited data and text plans, which start at a very reasonable $25 per month with 300 voice minutes. So is this the disruptive force that will make smartphone adoption ubiquitous?

First impressions of the Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch

The LG Rumor Touch is a new addition to Virgin Mobile, offering a 3 inch touchscreen with slide out keyboard, email/web/social-networking integration and downloadable Java apps. It runs a proprietary LG Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 9operating system that supports touch throughout. Other notable features include a regular 3.5mm headphone socket, Bluetooth, a micro SD card slot and a 2 megapixel camera with video recording capability.  There’s no fancy OS here or App Store, but the specs are a good match for social-networking-cash-maximizing-wanna-get-something-that-works-and-doesn’t-break-the-back people.

Speaking of dosh, the LG Rumor Touch costs $149.99 and you then have a choice of no-contract pay monthly unlimited data, web, text and plans that have different voice minute allowances. The $25 plan buys you 300 mins, $40 gets you 1,200 mins and $60 buys unlimited talk time. Even better, while there is sales tax applied to the monthly cost, there are none of those pesky hidden charges that can take a $70 monthly contract cost up to around $80-90 when the bill arrives. The Beyond Talk sales tax, at least in New York, takes the $40 plan to just under $44 at the time of writing. And since there’s no contract you can cancel at any time or go up/down plan levels. So when compared to typical voice+data contracts over two years these Virgin Mobile plans can deliver significant savings.

While that all sounds great it’s clearly only useful if the LG Rumor Touch is any good, so is it?

Using the Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch

The LG Rumor Touch feels good in the hand. It appears to be well made and the slide out keyboard feels like it has a solid locking mechanism. The whole device is reasonably light at 4.59 ounces and is compact enough to hide in a pocket with ease.

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 11The social networking and email integration works well enough, although I had difficulty getting new email notifications to come through willingly from online email services.  I found that generally had to load up the email app each time I wanted to access my email, even though I had told the Rumor Touch to run the app to the background when not in use.  This would probably not be an issue for a light user who might only check their email once or twice a day, but I found it annoying to have to wait the few seconds for the email app to load each time I wanted to check my mail.   There’s Facebook integration out of the box and apps like Google Maps and Opera Mini can be easily downloaded.  I was impressed with how quickly the Rumor Touch downloaded and rendered Google Maps data, including satellite images.

On the subject of web content, Opera Mini is definitely a worthy download for the LG Rumor Touch as the built-in web browser is fairly weak. It tends to display information in more of a WAP format compared to how a state of the art smartphone would fully render a page. The Rumor Touch does download information fairly quickly though, as Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint 3G network to provide its service. However one online issue I encountered frequently was that the LG Rumor Touch often failed to play YouTube videos. I have to assume the issues were due to network congestion because while on some occasions YouTube video streaming worked fine, trying to stream the same videos on other days failed. Even when YouTube playback was successful the LG Rumor Touch often thought about the task for upwards of 30 seconds before starting to play the video clip, which is too long in my opinion.

The music player and camera can both make use of the LG Rumor Touch’s micro SD card slot, so with a high capacity card installed it’s possible to carry a large amount of media. The music player works well enough but unfortunately does not play in the background when other apps are in use. That was surprising, especially since most other apps on the LG Rumor Touch can be sent to run in the background.

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 5The camera is decent for general use, although its 2 megapixel resolution lags behind some of the competition. It’s fine for occasional snaps though. There’s also video camera functionality offering QVGA resolution, which is only 320×240.  It records video, but not to a high standard and is no rival for the HD-capable cameras on high-end smartphones.  Nevertheless the feature is useful as long you keep its limitations in mind.  It will play back at acceptable detail on a screen the size of the one on the LG Rumor Touch, but larger computer screens will not flatter the output of the video recorder.

The touchscreen does its job, but it’s resistive rather than the capacitive technology found on the likes of the iPhone and some other touchscreen smartphones. This means it’s more responsive to fingernails or stylus input than broad finger flings. Once you get the hang of it though it’s perfectly passable but don’t expect pinch-to-zoom or any of that funky stuff. The screen colors are vivid and the display is bright.

If touchscreens aren’t your thing, the LG Rumor Touch has a fully featured slide-out keyboard. The keyboard includes a dedicated row of number keys, which is a welcome feature, as well as button for instant access to emoticons. The keys themselves are easy to press and offer good feedback. I found it was easy to type with the LG Rumor Touch with good accuracy.

Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch 14Battery life was good on the LG Rumor Touch. I managed to get almost two days of general usage between charges, which I consider to be perfectly acceptable for a data phone. I find that current smartphones need a daily charge (some even need an intra-day fill-up) so it’s always nice to know that a phone has some leftover juice if I forget to charge it overnight.  Kudos also to LG for adopting the standard mini USB charging port for the Rumor Touch.

Call quality on the LG Rumor Touch was good, and these days we expect nothing less from a modern phone. Callers heard me fine and I heard them fine in New York City. I did not experience any dropped calls during my time with the LG Rumor Touch.

Is the Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch a good buy?

For a smartphone newbie or light data user, the LG Rumor Touch is a good choice at an excellent price point. It provides enough functionality to enjoy social networking, email and basic web browsing on the move in a compact user-friendly package. While it trails the better featured smartphone market leaders by some margin in many areas, its price point is also stratospherically lower than most competitors over a two year period.  If you’re considering buying the LG Rumor Touch as a genuine iPhone contender though, you will be disappointed.  More demanding users who want better smartphone functionality on a budget might prefer to consider Virgin Mobile’s BlackBerry Curve 8530 which sits at a slightly higher price point.  Stay tuned, our review of the 8530 is coming soon…and as promised here is our Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 review.

All details, including monthly plan features and costs are accurate as at the time of writing and may change in the future.  Consult Virgin Mobile for the most up to date information.

Neil Berman

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Jul 17, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

theONbutton@CES: LG booth walkthrough

LG and Samsung both have colossal booths at CES this year, each of which feels like being in a mini-village of technology.  Here’s a walkthrough of LG’s floor space.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 9, 2010 Posted by | CES, Computing, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Mobile, News, Video Features | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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