The LG Optimus One (P500) is an affordable Android smartphone looking to capture the hearts of those who can’t stretch to the likes of an HTC Desire HD or Samsung Galaxy S. It brings with it the latest iteration of Google’s Android operating system - Android 2.2 - in a compact form factor.
Measuring 113.5 x 59 x 13.3mm and weighing 129g, the LG Optimus One is a tidy looking device. It follows the design of many of LG’s touch phones of the past and we think it is better designed than the GT-540, offering a more conventional shape, even if the design doesn't lift it above the generic. Finished in plastics, it is solid enough in the hand and mercifully free from creaks when you use it.
The screen doesn’t pack much of a punch when it comes to the tech specs: it is a 3.2-inch 320 x 480 pixel resolution touchscreen, and offers neither the sharp touch response or the detail that higher spec devices do. That said, the size and a resolution work well enough with the Android operating system, so in daily tasks there is little to worry about.
In terms of hardware buttons, you have the normal menu, home, back and search arrayed across the bottom of the screen. Rather than giving you four simple buttons, the central home and back are set on a rocker encircled with a chrome strip which adds interest, but otherwise adds nothing from a functionality point of view.
Elsewhere you get a volume rocker, power/lock key and the usual 3.5mm and Micro-USB connections. Around the back is a 3-megapixel camera, but there is no sign of a flash. Pull off the plastic back cover and you’ll find a 1500mAh battery and a slot for a microSD card, which you’ll want to use to expand the 170MB of internal memory. Cards up to 32GB are supported and our review model came with 2GB bundled in the box.
Power on the Optimus One and you are greeted with Android 2.2, with LG adding a light customisation to the interface. At its core you get the connected offering of Android, so out of the box you can login to your Google accounts and have your email, calendar and contacts fall into place after a quick synchronisation. You are also offered Facebook and Twitter, with the official Android apps for both services offering to integrate with your contacts so you get your friend’s latest update in their contact card.
Android 2.2 also offers a range of advanced features, you get the Google Maps offering with free navigation, you also get to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, so if you have a generous data package you could hook-up your laptop to surf on the move. One of the headline Android 2.2 features isn’t supported however, and that is Adobe Flash video support. Head over to the Android Market to retrieve the app and you’ll find it isn’t available because the Optimus One doesn’t meet the hardware specs for the app. It’s a minor blow, but outlines the difference between this and higher-spec devices.
In terms of performance, however, we found that the Optimus One ran Android 2.2 smoothly enough. Basic tasks, like cruising between your email, messages and browsing the net is fast enough, even if it lacks the immediacy and punch that some of the superphones give you. That’s acceptable at this price point and we also found that the Optimus One was stable enough and not blighted by obvious freezes or delays. On the app front though, setting down to play a little Angry Birds did see the occasional stutter, but it's still playable if you can accept the slightly imprecise display interaction.
We originally thought the display was resistive because it has the sort of flex that a resistive display shows. It also responds to being pressed with objects. We tested a couple of devices and found both to be the same, allowing some interaction with the end of a pen that you won't find in other capacitive devices - although it seems to be limited to harder presses towards the centre of the display. We think this is likely due to the flex triggering the sensor behind. (Thanks to the commenters who raised this question with us - we've made a few edits to this review to reflect this correction.)
Relying on an on-screen keyboard, we found there was just about enough screen space to use a full QWERTY portrait keyboard over the default 12-key multi-press type. In landscape you get much more space and a much better result, but we couldn’t achieve the sorts of speeds we’d get from devices with a more precise touch response. LG has made a few tweaks to the keyboard, but the standard Android keyboard is in place if you prefer.
There are devices out there that demonstrate a much better touch response, but given the budget status of the Optimus One, we feel the display is good enough. The area where it is most annoying, though, where the experience does suffer, is scrolling through lists where it often selects something rather than move. This means that browsing long lists of contacts and roaming around the browser window can be something of a chore.
LG’s tinkering isn’t as severe as you’ll find from the likes of HTC or Samsung and we sort of like that. The LG interface looks a lot like the default Android 2.2 offering, but with a little more added. A bottom dock sits on the homepages, offering up your immediate concerns - calling, contacts, messaging and the browser, with a central menu button.
You can customise the number of homepages you have, with the option of five or seven which scroll from side-to-side. The customisation menu only offers these two options, graphically displayed with yellow squares, in case you don’t know what five or seven looks like. It would have been just as simple to allow you to select the boxes and have the number you actually want, instead. In the normal Android way, you can then add shortcuts and widgets to your heart’s content.
LG has also altered the way the menu is organised. Instead of just having a run of applications in a list, you can create categories and add them to the menu. This will then subdivide your main menu so you can break out games, or social networking in a different area. By default there is a “downloads” section which fills with anything you collect from Android Market. Some might find that there is enough space on the home pages to get easy access to the apps that matter without the need to change the menus to any degree.
LG offers its own “App Advisor” app which basically recommends Android applications. It’s a bit of fun and whilst reviewing the phone it was highlighting Halloween apps, so if you want a little inspiration you might find something of interest, although the Market’s “Featured” or “top” apps in the different categories makes it pretty easy to find new stuff anyway.
There is multi-touch support in both the browser and maps, but the response of the screen means this isn’t a smooth experience and is rather clunky. Double tap zooming will also get you around, but in the browser you see the limitations of the screen size and resolution, and you’ll have to do a fair amount of zooming and dragging to get to grips with a website. That said, the Android browser is pretty solid and navigation is fast. Although you don’t get official Adobe Flash support, we found that Skyfire (available in the Market) would serve up Flash video so we could enjoy some of our favourite non-YouTube content without issue.
When it comes to dealing with regular video, the Optimus One threw up a number of faults with video playback, often citing that the resolution wasn’t supported - this even applied to some SD clips. Installing RockPlayer resolved most of these issues and that’s the real benefit that Android offers you: software variety. Even so, the low resolution means that video isn't fantastic.
The 3-megapixel camera on the back is typical of the Optimus One’s status as an affordable device and offers average results, generally lacking detail and suffering from heavy fringing in high contrast situations. Video capture offers a 640 x 480 resolution with reasonable performance in the middle distance - the fixed focus nature means that close objects will be out of focus, and distance object often lack detail. The camera has had some modifications by LG, so you can tinker with settings although we don't think that the scene settings really make a huge difference.
When it comes to music, the LG Optimus One speaker leaves a little to be desired and is a little tinny, but that’s pretty much to be expected. The bundled headset offers hard plastic headphones which can be immediately bettered by swapping them out for a set of third party headphones. Disappointingly you get no music control from the lock screen, although volume can be changed. There is also an FM radio.
In terms of connectivity you get Wi-Fi and HSDPA for your data and Bluetooth. GPS is included too as well as motion sensor and proximity sensor, so the phone will shut off the screen when you put it next to your face and rotate the keyboard accordingly as you move the device around.
We found the battery to give you just over a day - heavy use will see it drained much faster as you’d expect, but it certainly doesn’t fall away as it does on some high-end devices under the same conditions.
Dependent on contract
The LG Optimus One feels like a better device than LG’s GT-540 Optimus. We prefer the design and we like that the buttons are to the point, unlike the Huawei Ideos, which goes a little overboard on controls. The offering of Android 2.2 means you get some nice high-end features, even if getting Flash videos means moving to a new browser.
The low resolution display is an obvious weakness of the Optimus One, with a bit of a question mark over its support in the centre, but it isn’t a deal breaker - if you can get the Optimus One at the right price, you’ll find yourself with a phone that offers almost all the goodness that Google’s mobile OS has to offer.
We’d like to see it priced alongside the HTC Wildfire at £15 a month, because that would be a great deal. As it is, there are a few shortcomings you’ll have to swallow, but as it is, the LG Optimus One is relatively unfettered and as such, doesn't do much to offend.