First announced at the CES tech show in Las Vegas, the LG Optimus GT540 forms part of the Korean brand's lineup of Android handsets and is largely targeted at first-time smartphone users. Considering that this is a mid-range phone, the finish is surprisingly slinky, with a brushed metal finish, a striking curved design at the edges and a svelte 12.7mm profile. Available in black, silver, pink and white, the phone weighs in at just 115.5g, and is light enough to slip into a pocket or bag without feeling too cumbersome.
The familiar selection of buttons includes Back and Home keys although, unlike most Android devices, the search button is located on the side of the phone, next to the camera button. There's also a Micro-USB port for attaching the power adaptor, although you may struggle to get the protective cover off if you don't have long nails or if you're simply not very dexterous. On the other edge, you'll find the the sensibly placed volume up and down buttons.
At 3 inches, the screen is certainly large enough to comfortably view videos or browse the web, and the 480 x 320-pixel resolution results in surprisingly sharp graphics on the menu screens. However, the high-end properties of the slick design and the large display are sadly let down by the resistive, rather than capacitive, touchscreen. This makes it far less responsive than high-end displays, and you won't be able to pinch-zoom, as you can on more expensive phones. But then, if this is your first smartphone, this might not be quite so much of a problem.
Running on Android 1.6, the phone seems a little dated with its lack of support for the most recent user interface enhancements and updated browser found on version 2.2. It's powered by a 600MHz Qualcomm processor and is loaded with 256GB of RAM which seems to be enough processing power to get things done, although it can get a bit clunky if you're multi-tasking with several apps. The phone's on-board memory is expandable to 32GB with a microSD card.
The standard home screen has been tweaked by LG and includes a clock along with icons for Contacts, Email, the Browser and SNS for calling up all your social networking accounts in one handy place. There are also icons for phone calls and text messages. Sweeping left or right takes you to the extended home screens which can be customised to include your most frequently used features. Pressing the icon above the Home button will take you to the app screen where you'll find all the usual links such as Google Mail, Contacts and the Android Market, along with any that you've downloaded.
Text messaging is pretty straightforward with the "buttons" being far enough apart so that even the most ham-fisted of users shouldn't have too much trouble. Alternatively, you can flip the handset onto its side which offers up a QWERTY keyboard, rather than the the alphanumeric keypad that you get when in portrait mode.
Web browsing is fairly responsive and relatively quick, although we did find that we had to make several attempts at selecting the URL box each time as, when not in use, it occupies a tiny space at the top of the screen. Typing URLs into the box is made a lot easier if you tip the handset on its side and use the QWERTY keyboard, rather than standard keypad. Although, the resistance touch technology isn't as effective as a capacitive screen, the large display size makes navigating around websites that bit easier. The Optimus is pretty well set up, connection-wise, as it supports Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth and GPS.
The phone has some pretty neat social networking credentials including its dedicated client that enables you to manage all your sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo, from one place. The handset also lets you access social network sites directly from your contact list, thanks to phonebook integration. You'll also get Auto Face-tagging, which remembers your friends' faces in photos after you've tagged them once.
The 3-megapixel camera isn't much to write home about, and requires very bright shooting conditions, thanks to its lack of a built-in flash. Having said that, the images aren't bad but they do tend to look a bit soft, especially the ones that are taken indoors. The dedicated camera button on the side of the camera is a nice touch, though.
The 3.5mm jack means that you can plug in your headphones to listen to the device's music player, or you listen to the radio thanks to the built-in FM tuner. The music player supports playback of MP3, ACC, AMR and WAV audio files. The handset also offers support for a comprehensive range of video files including MPEG4, WMV, DivX and Xvid. The video playback quality is okay for short clips, but probably not really sharp enough to watch entire TV programmes.
You can get hold of the LG Optimus GT540 for free on a monthly contract (from £15 per month) or for around £150 on a PAYG basis. Or, if you'd rather not be tied in to anything, you can pick it up for about £169.99, SIM-free.
Although it is let down by its resistive touchscreen and the somewhat dated Android 1.6 OS, the LG Optimus T540 is still a good choice for first-time smartphone users, thanks to its slick design, multimedia support and large screen.