Hello Android: LG Optimus V Review

closeThis post was published 7 years 6 months 8 days ago. A number of changes have been made to the site since then, so please contact me if anything is broken or seems wrong.

I’ve been using NET10 as my cellular carrier for nearly two years. I got their most basic phone (the LG 300G) at a Wal-Mart in Colorado Springs, CO, in June 2009 and have been paying $15/month ever since for 150–200 minutes (10¢ each, or 5¢ per text message).

I got tired of that phone’s slowness and tiny keypad rather quickly, as I tired of NET10’s baseline service. I got a number and access to the network, but that was all. They also gave me a number that was prone to receiving calls from collection agencies and spam text messages. (Finding a way to block such junk proved to be impossible, as I detailed in my pseudo-review of NET10 from February 2010.)

Getting a new phone was only a matter of finding the right one. It took a while, but it did happen.

Acquisition

This February, I passed by a Radio Shack store and saw an Android phone with a decent price tag on a poster in the front window. I stopped in for a few minutes to see what it was all about. It was there that I met the LG Optimus V, a $150 Android phone with a minimum $25/month contract-free service plan from Virgin Mobile U.S. (including 300 minutes and unlimited texting & data).

I had to run to a show that evening (the life of a stage manager is never simple), but the seed had been planted.

Over the coming weeks, I kept thinking about that phone. I researched it a bit and found that it was a recent release, only a month out of the gate. I found that Virgin Mobile had put out one other Android phone, the Samsung Intercept, that had a physical keyboard but (as kept coming up in the reviews I read) horrible performance. Nearly every Optimus V review I read was positive. Score!

I even dreamed about having the Optimus V one night. Despite drooling over the iPod Touch, iPad, and so on with all the other geeks of the world, not once did I dream about having any of them. I took that to be a sign. When I saw it on sale at BestBuy.com for $130 a few days later, that clinched it.

But BestBuy.com was sold out of the phone, and so were all the nearby stores. Nobody else had it on sale, so I wasn’t about to just go out and find it elsewhere. I waited and hoped that it would be back in stock before the sale ended.

Another few days went by. Then I checked again and, lo, the Optimus V was back in stock! I pounced. All told, the total sale price including tax and shipping was less than the regular product-only cost. I called it a good deal, and began my plans to test it. Best Buy has a pretty good return policy, after all.

I placed my order on a Wednesday, and so didn’t get the phone until the following Monday. Those five days were frustrating! But when I did get it, I took pleasure in carrying it to the local library to set it up.

First Impressions

My new phone was shiny, and awesome. Navarr, the awesome dude who hosts this site right now, saw my posts on Facebook and said he’d just gotten an Intercept and that it couldn’t play Angry Birds, the immensely popular game. So what was the first app I downloaded? Angry Birds. The Optimus V ran it perfectly.1 Score!

Did I mention that it was a steal at $130? (Current price: $200. Virgin Mobile and/or LGE must have decided they needed a bigger profit margin.) All my comments will use that price for value assessments.

Two Months Later

It still is awesome, and shiny too, but I’ve taken to carrying a microfiber cloth with me so I can periodically wipe the screen and casing. Both of them do collect significant quantities of finger oils and grime in the course of a day’s use (especially if it’s a tech set-up day). That’s one of the few issues I’ve had with the device. (The other issue is an incompatibility between the stock Music app and the Last.fm app. It wouldn’t be a big deal if Music didn’t open automatically, both when I select a media file from the File Expert browser and sometimes when I unplug the headset. I’m working on replacing it completely with Songbird for Android, a mobile version of my favorite desktop media player.) I’m sorry to say, I never started carrying a microfiber cloth for any other purchase. A new phone was just so long in coming, I guess.

As yet I have not activated the service plan. That is on hold until I can offload my old NET10 phone, which has about 1400 minutes (or about $140 worth) of airtime on it. The Optimus V is currently my pocket computer, subsisting on Wi-Fi until I get the data service turned on. It’s already been very useful for finding bus routes, thanks to Minneapolis Public Wi-Fi. It will be twenty times as useful once I get rid of my old phone and sign up for Virgin Mobile’s service.

Battery

Battery life was reported to be pretty bad, but overall I haven’t had any issues with it. Granted, I don’t have the cellular radio active (why bother, if I have no service plan yet), but I can get in several hours of Wi-Fi or 10+ hours of reading in ReadItLater2 without having to plug in. I’m hoping the forthcoming software update from Android 2.2 to 2.3 will include even higher efficiency.

Performance

Generally, the phone is very responsive to inputs. It unlocks quickly (using the Draw Pattern option), and seems to only slow down if an application is misbehaving. As mentioned, Angry Birds (both the standard and Rio variants) performs well, and listening to music or watching even standard-definition video clips is stutter-free.

YouTube videos, of course, work well as long as I have a good connection. Streaming audio, such as TuneIn world radio, works also.3 I haven’t tested Pandora yet, but I have a feeling that as far as the phone is concerned it will work well. (Some reviews on the Market indicate issues with the app, but that’s not the phone’s problem.)

On occasion, it would slow down to a crawl and seem to freeze just after connecting to a Wi-Fi network if it hadn’t been synced in a while. I now turn off the auto-sync unless I want apps to sync, and that problem has more or less disappeared.

Every so often, I do get the phone to crash. Usually it just hangs, ignoring all button presses until I remove the battery and reboot it. Occasionally it’s rebooted itself in the middle of a stuck app uninstall. But those occurrences are pretty rare; I’ve gone upwards of a week without ever rebooting the system.

Storage

External

I’m still using the 2GB microSD card that came with the phone. Its current contents include 1.09GB of music, every SD-enabled app I have (to free up internal space), one chapter of an OverDrive MP3 audiobook (30 or 40 MB), an EPUB ebook or two (1–2 MB each), and several dozen articles downloaded for offline reading in ReadItLater.

I plan to get a larger card in the next few months, as 2GB isn’t nearly enough for all the content I want to carry around. I’ll price 16GB and 32GB microSD cards and hopefully find a good deal on the latter, the largest the Optimus V supports.

Internal

I have issues with the internal storage memory. It’s not that it’s bad memory or anything; there just isn’t enough of it. The total internal storage available to the user is 178MB, but only about 160MB is usable; past that, the phone will start complaining that it is “Low on [internal] space” and refusing to sync until space is cleared.

Apps to Watch

Some apps are worth noting for their strange or annoying storage habits.

Browser

The Android Browser app appears to store its cache in internal memory, and doesn’t provide a setting to change that. If you get a low space warning and have been browsing recently, check the Browser’s cache through Settings->Applications->Manage Applications->Browser and clear it if it’s more than a few hundred KB. Sometimes it’s not so intelligent about throwing away cached items that aren’t needed any more.

Facebook / Twitter

Both Facebook4 and Twitter must reside in the phone’s memory, and can’t be moved to SD. They both consume 2–4MB of “Data” storage on top of the 3–5MB they use for code, a usage level that pretty much hovers.

Neither can be moved to the SD card. I haven’t figured out if they really can’t be moved, or if moving is somehow broken because there are (outdated) factory-installed versions in the phone’s ROM.

Anything from Google…

Also note that Google’s applications (including Maps, Gmail, Reader, and most other offerings) generally can’t be moved to the SD card. This means that Maps uses over 10MB of my internal memory, and Gmail another several megabytes.

Goggles can be moved, but it’s an exception in Google-land. As a heavy user of Google services, I grudgingly allow space for those apps; but I would very much prefer that they allow themselves to be moved to the SD card.

Ditto to my comments on Facebook & Twitter about moving being possibly broken by outdated factory-installed versions of Google apps in the phone’s ROM.

…But Especially Books

Google’s Books app has a huge storage appetite. I currently can’t use it, because when I allow it to sync and download my books, even with no books stored locally, it uses 8MB of “Data” storage for—as far as I can tell—nothing. The latest update (1.3.4, released in mid-May 2011) improved on the 9+MB use of the previous version, but it’s still an issue.

I did report the issue in the forums, but I will be pushing again as I think the app team considers the issue resolved by the update. It’s not.

Sorry for ranting. I really enjoyed reading the free books from Google’s store until I needed the internal memory consumed by Books for more apps.

Display

In a word, readable. Even in full sunlight, I can crank up the brightness and have a usable phone. The higher brightness settings do suck the battery a bit, but they’re handy when I need to check on a bus from a stop during the day.

The only thing I might wish for, display-wise, is an ambient lighting sensor to automatically adjust the brightness in different lighting environments. But that’s not something I’d expect to find on a low-end phone.

Text Input

I tried Swype, and disabled it. As far as I can tell, the stock Android 2.2 keyboard is plenty good. Apps that disable its correction features aside5, Android Keyboard’s auto-correct, -complete, and -capitalization functions make typing a breeze. It’s much easier than a T9-style keypad.

Audio

In general, audio is good. Decent fidelity all around, though not always loud enough.

Oh, and it accepts standard stereo headphones. Don’t be put off by the four-conductor earbud set that comes with the phone; typical three-conductor, 3.5″ plugs will work just as well for listening (obviously without the button control).

Be aware, though, that if you’re trying to plug into an external audio system, the phone’s output signal is pretty weak. It’s good for driving earbuds and headphones, but you’ll have to crank up the gain on (for example) a performance sound system.6

Speaker

The speaker could be louder. It can be hard to hear music playing from it in a noisy setting, such as while walking along a busy street.7 😛

Kidding aside, I usually don’t need to crank the volume up all the way. 75% is sufficient for most situations.

One small detail: Sometimes the speaker sounds a bit tinny when playing music, but that could be the quality of my down-converted music8 as much as the speaker.

3.5mm Jack

It’s really hard to hear music in earbuds or headphones when a car or truck drives by… 😛

Seriously, the output jack emits a good-quality signal. There is one caveat, however.

There seems to be a background hiss whenever I’m using the headphone jack, maybe due to a cheap audio system. (Uh, duh, it’s a cheap phone.) It’s only annoying in silence or quiet moments in the audio, though.

Otherwise, it’s quite satisfactory.

Price Jump

It was unexpected, but not surprising, when I saw the price go up soon after I bought the phone. $150 was a great deal for everything the phone could do, and I’ll bet it was selling like hotcakes. Matching the price point of the Samsung Intercept, Virgin Mobile’s other Android phone, makes business sense.

At $200, it’s a slightly worse deal, but it’s still a fully featured Android phone with no contract. (Compare to T-Mobile’s $40-with-two-year-contract price for the nearly-identical Optimus T.)

Conclusion

Bottom line: I like the Optimus V. I recommend it to anyone who wants to try out Android without spending $60+ per month. I even recommend it at the $200 price point of today, though don’t get it if you don’t plan to use it as a phone some day.

Oh, and thanks to Ringtone Maker I now have one awesome alarm clock. That right there is a great reason to get an Android phone. 😉

Omissions? Mistakes?

Did I miss any facet of the Optimus V that you’d like to know about? Get something completely wrong? Sound off in the comments and I’ll update the post accordingly.


Notes:

  1. OK, so it occasionally gets slow. I haven’t come across a single other Android device, especially at this price point, that didn’t have an issue here and there. I’ve even witnessed Angry Birds hanging on a Nook Color. []
  2. ReadItLater is the only paid app on my phone; I got it for 99¢ in April, thanks to a launch sale. Everything else I use at present is free. []
  3. I sometimes like to tune in to Israeli radio stations. []
  4. Oddly enough, the package name is com.facebook.katana. Some unofficial app stole the package ID com.facebook, but I don’t know why Facebook didn’t just use com.facebook.android… []
  5. I tried several note-taking apps before discovering Catch, a great app that takes photos & audio as well as text, and also syncs notes to the Web. Other options offered no advanced text-entry features, but Catch did. Aside from a few weeks between the 3.0 and 3.0.1 updates when an oversight in the new version disabled the auto-completion features, Catch is a rock-solid app that I recommend for any Android—or iOS [iTunes link]—device. []
  6. This tidbit came from trying to use the phone as a source of work music in the theatre. I initially thought there was something wrong with it, until I remembered that I had a gain control on the board I could crank up. []
  7. Of course, I only know one person who even tries to do this. He complains that the Optimus is horrible at it, but his phone ain’t any louder. []
  8. All the music on my phone is 96kbps MP3, converted using fre:ac Portable from originals as high-quality as FLAC and as bad as—yes—96kbps MP3. []

dgw

I am an avid technology and software user, in addition to being reasonably well-versed in CSS, JavaScript, HTML, PHP, Python, and (though it still scares me) Perl. Aside from my technological tendencies, I am also a theatre technician, sound designer, violinist, singer, and actor.

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