Redefining entry-level Android phones, one carrier at a time

LG Optimus One

Let's not mince words: The LG Optimus One is not a top-end phone, nor was it designed to be.  If you're expecting some sort of dual-core wünderphone, look elsewhere.

But -- if you're looking for a very pocketable, well built, speedy communications device you've found the right place.  Hit the break and check out how LG is changing the way we think of low end Android phones.

First impressions and hands-on

It's always fun to keep track of your first thoughts when trying something new, and when you're dealing with Android phones it's pretty darn helpful as well.  Let's revisit, video style.

YouTube link for mobile viewers

And before we get too far along, the specs of this particular model (more on that in a bit):

  • 3.2-inch capacitive screen, @ 320 x 480
  • Qualcomm MSM7227 clocked at 600 MHz
  • 512 ROM, 512 RAM
  • 802.11 b/g, A-GPS, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 3.1 MP autofocus camera
  • GSM850, GSM900, GSM1800, GSM1900, UMTS900, UMTS2100 radio bands

Now is a good time to get clear on just what we're looking at here.  This particular version isn't one we're going to see stateside.  It's a SIM unlocked phone with a base unbloated and unbinged version of LG's Froyo.  No worries though, because Sprint is carrying the Optimus S, T-Mobile is carrying the Optimus T, and Verizon will be carrying the LG Vortex.  Of course the carriers will have to meddle with "enhance" the OS a bit, but you basically have the same phone. 

The biggest and best specification of them all is that this phone runs Froyo (Android 2.2.1) out of the box.  Yes, Gingerbread is just around the corner, but as of now it's shipping with the very latest and up to date version of Android.  And for once, the changes the manufacturer did to vanilla make it better.  More on that when we talk software.

 The hardware

LG Optimus One 1  LG Optimus One 2

Again, smaller and entry-level (I'm starting to rethink that term) doesn't have to mean bad.  The Optimus feels like a great phone.  I'm going to skip past subjective terms like "good in the hand" and say that the Optimus is a well-built piece of equipment and if you use one, you'll feel that, too.  There are no gaps or creaks in this unit, and everything is flush and trim.  Yes, it's plastic (with a soft coat finish), but it feels far from cheap.

Everything you need is there, but don't expect any bells-and-whistles.  The 3MP camera has autofocus, but no flash.  There is no front-facing camera, or HD output of any kind -- it's not that kind of phone.  The volume rocker is good and firm, as are the physical buttons (this unit has three, the middle one rocks and is used as Home and Back -- a combination that works well this way).  The battery door fits nicely, and isn't loose or wiggly.  It may be just the basics, but they are done well.

 Optimus One 3  Optimus One 4

Optimus One 5  Optimus One 6

Optimus One 7

Last but not least is the phone itself.  The phone functions well.  Calls sound fine with little interference, on both sides of the conversation.  In windy areas (or nursing a beverage in front of a fan to simulate windy conditions) the wind noise is noticeable, but oddly enough the other party doesn't seem to notice as much as you will.  The speakerphone isn't quite as clear as I would like, but it's usable if you must.  Bluetooth connects and works well, for calls, phone book, and media playing.  As a telephone, the Optimus is above average.

Optimus One 11

The Software

Optimus One homescreens

LG's additions to the software actually make this phone more attractive, at least on the base unlocked version.  The big additions come with the launcher, but LG has thrown in some nice widgets and added DivX VOD support to the OS, as well as subtle touches to the UI of the dialer and contacts.  There is no Adobe Flash support in the browser, and ThinkFree Office is included. 

Homescreen settings  App drawer settings

The OS is nice and responsive, both in real world usage and in benchmarks.  Things like opening the app drawer and scrolling through menus are exceptionally fluid.  Of course it won't run big, heavy apps nearly as well as say a Galaxy S phone, or the Incredible, but working through the UI is noticeably better.  I'm not sure if it's faster, or if the polish on the software is doing it, but something makes a difference.

Benchmarks tell about the same story.  While not the highest scoring phone out there, they are respectable scores and unheard of in a phone that you can pick up with little or no investment when subsidized.  Check 'em:

YouTube link for mobile viewing

I couldn't offer up what I think is a fair review without talking about a little hacking.  While LG doesn't ship instructions how to root the Optimus in the box, they aren't going to any extremes to prevent it by locking things down.  For those so inclined, a few minutes will open the phone for you to tinker at will.  The Optimus will never be the star of the independent development community, but there's at least a few accomplished hackers working with it in our very own forums.

Now it's decision time.  I'm not one to use something for five minutes and rush out with an opinion.  I don't think you can truly evaluate the good and bad about something as complicated as a smartphone without spending a while using it.  I've put the Optimus through the ropes, and I'd advise anyone looking for a great little phone, at a great pricing point to have a look at it.  If you want to play Asphalt 5 on your phone, look elsewhere because the graphics ability, as well as the screen size and resolution isn't going to cut it.

What you do have is a solid entry-level smartphone, plain and simple.