The LG Optimus Elite is the first eco-friendly prepaid phone to sport NFC and Google Wallet. And it manages all of this while still being under $200. But is this enough to make it a great phone?
What’s in a name? When it comes to buying a cell phone, nothing much. Most people realize that these phones are named to market them. Is the DROID Incredible really that incredible? Does the Samsung Smiley really makes users smile? For some people, the answer to that is no. But for some, the answer is hell yeah! Names are just name, it is how the phone treat you that matters. So why all this talk about name? Because I am reviewing the LG Optimus Elite!
This is the newest member of both the Sprint and Virgin Mobile line-up. I had the opportunity to check out the Virgin Mobile version, but there are both pretty much the same things in most respects. That includes the fact that they both have NFC and Google Wallet. I am came in to the review not looking for something that would live up to it name, but a phone that would offer an experience that was worthy of being a member of the Optimus line. The Optimus V was one of my favorite phones on Virgin Mobile due to its solid performance. So how does the LG Optimus Elite perform? Check out my review to see what I thought.
If really pocketable phones are your thing, then you are definitely going to look the LG Optimus Elite. It is not only slim and pretty small(117 x 63 x 10 mm). I loved how easily it slipped in and out my pocket and phone case. At 120 g, this is also a light phone too. These two combine to make a phone that you will hardly notice floating around your phone. Design wise, the Elite is doesn’t stray too far from the norm. You can take that as you want to. Personally, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. When something isn’t broke, then sometime just adding a little flair is enough. If you saw the press pictures of the phone you may have thought that the bezel around the front made it look a little like the iPhone 3GS. But in person, you will realize that the two look worlds apart.
Ok, now to take the tour around the LG Optimus Elite. The first and most important thing on this phone is –of course– the screen. It is the part of the phone that you will spending the most time looking at.. The Elite sports a 3.5 inch touchscreen. This is not one of those fancy screens, but the TFT panel is not that bad in many respects. At a resolution of 320 x 480 and a pixel density of 160 dpi, this is not the most densely packed screens. But even with that, you will only notice that lack of pixels when browsing the web and watching some low quality videos. As far as the responsiveness of the screen goes you will hear no complaints from me. I had no issues with is not realizing I was touching it, not responding in a timely matter, and messing up a command. It can register five points of contact but once you get past four is will get a little cramped.
On the top you will have a earpiece grill. This is one of the few metal parts on this phone, and it is a nice looking piece. Does it sound as good as it looks? I will touch on that a little later in the review. Also hidden along the top are the phones sensors. There is no ambient light sensor on this phone . This is one of those sensors that manufacturers are skip and still get certificate, but I sometime I wish they wouldn’t It is important to know since that means no automatic brightness. But the phone does get along nice even without it. There is a standard proximity sensor which is way more important to have.. Without it you may face-dial someone, or hand up with a slip of the jaw. There is no notification light on this phone. But LG did come up with a way to try to make up for it. More on that soon.
Below the screen are the phones capacitive buttons. These are standard for Android phones; at least until consumer can be made use to the idea of an Android phone without them.They are the Home, Menu, Back, Search configuration. They backlight behind them are bright enough. And they also have a second function. LG added a setting to the menu(Settings>Display) that makes then a notification light if the LCD is off. So if you have a message, e-mail, voicemail, or social network notice they will flash letting you know that there is a something waiting for you. Not a bad idea for devices with no LED notification. Design wise, LG added a dot pattern on the bottom. it fades as it gets closer to the screen. It is an interesting touch and breaks out the blandness of a mostly black front.
When taking a look at the sides I think the first thing I should talk about is that bezel. Like I said earlier, those press shots made it look pretty iPhone-ish. These days, things like that could leave you in court fighting the Big A. But those shots made it look a lot worse than it really is. For one, the bezel is plastic.Honestly, It wish they went with metal. The plastic seems a little cheap to me. It starts out a little thick but thins out in the center, then thickens again at the bottom of the phone. This is part of the effect that LG went with for the side. There is a tri-color thing going on. The black back cover and bezel do not meet in the center due to a gun-metal plastic piece. The contract of colors in industrial but nice.
The right spine is void of buttons. That means no camera button. I wish this trend would have not caught on. I for one am a fan on physical camera shutters.It offers more control over focusing. But what can you do, it is just not there. The left spine is where the volume rocker lives. It is a single piece button with a slight notch in the middle. It is more than well-defined so finding it by feel is not an issue. On the top is the 3.5mm headphone jack in the left corner and the power/screen lock button on the right corner. Like the volume rocker, the power button is easy to feel out. It is not as well-defined as the volume rocker but that isn’t a bad thing. The bottom of the phone is where you will find the microUSB port and a pinhole mic.
The back is textured. This is supposed to keep the phone from slipping out your hands like a wet bar of soap. So far, it seems successful at stopping that. Located in the center near the top is the LG Optimus Elite’s 5 mega pixel auto-focus camera. The the right of that is a single LED flash. To the left of the camera is a self-portrait mirror; a rarity on Android devices.
The back of the Elite is VERY important. I empathize that because if the cover becomes damaged then one of the major features of the phone may become unless. Of course I am talking about NFC. The back cover is actually where the NFC antenna is housed. It is made of plastic and not that thick. But thanks to how the back is designed once it is on the phone it is pretty secure. Prying and peeling off the back cover reveals the phone’s battery. This one gets its juice from a 1520mAh battery. Given that this isn’t running on a battery-hogging 4G network it seems an proper size. Removing the cover also gives you access to the phones microSD card slot. My unit did not ship with one(I actually thing VM does not include on this it). Something I notice when replacing the back cover; you have to put it on a certain way. In my experience, every time I secured the bottom left corner first, the bottom right cover would not fully seal. Why this and if this is something particular to my review unit I could not tell you. But It is important to know.
With all of this, it is easy to forget that this is a green phone. This is actually the third LG device this year that went through UL’s ISR 110 (Interim Substantially Requirement)certification. The LG Optimus Elite actually managed a platinum certification. That means out of a possible 109 it scored at least a 80 on the test. That is no small accomplishments. Everything from the packaging, to the amount of power the charge draws, right down to the energy used to make the phone have to meet some pretty strike standards.
Here is where things get a little interesting. If you look at every site that has specs on this phone they will tell you that the CPU in the LG Optimus Elite is clocked at 800MHz. This is what both Sprint and Virgin Mobile say about it too. But My unit was not clocked at 800MHz. Every test I ran on this phone has the actually max speed at 1.02GHz. Is this some kind of happy accident with my unit? Not according to the forums. Many virgin Mobile users have reported this. I can not say if this is true for the Sprint one however. The chipset in the Elite is the Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM7x30. So that means a Scorpion CPU and an Adreno 205 GPU.
Other than the higher than expected clock speed on the CPU this phone is as advertised internally. You get 512MB of RAM with 358MB free. For internal system storage there is 889.77MB free; which is an odd number. As far as internal SD storage there is 1.97GB free for you to fill with pictures or music. There is no microSD card shipped with this phone so I would recommend you pick one up. The Elite can handle up to an 32GB one.
The LG Optimus Elite is running Android 2.3.7; also known as Gingerbread. I know, it isn’t Ice Cream Sandwich. But what can you do? It is a pseudo-stock version of Gingerbread. There are actually a few reasons why this is not fully stock. More on that soon though. Like other stock-ish versions of Android Gingerbread you have five home panels. You can add widgets and shortcuts to the panels; as long as there is space for it. If you need to make more space, touch and hold what you would like to get rid of until you feel it vibrate. Then you can either move it to a different panel or drag it to the bottom to remove it. Because this is stock there is no rearranging them or getting rid of the home panels you don’t feel like you need.
The bottom of the screen has three icons. There are launch the dialer, app drawer, and Mobile ID. Normally where Mobile ID is you would find the Browser. This change was made to make changing themes easier.The location will also peak your curiosity about what that does. It is a clever way to get users to use your feature. Holding the app drawer will launch a preview of your five home panels on the bottom. From this you can jump between them. By long pressing on the screen you can access the home screen customization menu. As far as wallpaper you have the stock wallpaper, the ID wallpaper, and live wallpaper.
One of the reasons why I call this phone semi-stock is Mobile ID. This is a feature from many of Sprint’s phones that has made its way over to both Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile devices. Mobile ID allows you to download different packs that includes wallpaper, apps, widgets , rockets, fireworks, and other kinds of goodness. Well, maybe just wallpapers, apps, and widgets; but still some nice stuff. You will have to be on 3G to browse or download any of the packs. I still find this a bit odd but what can you do. Switch between the packs is a relatively painless endeavor which is a big plus.
Going through the app drawer you will find a few Virgin Mobile apps. There is Activate, Mobile ID, My Account, and Virgin Mobile Live. There is a Virgin Mobile app called Downloads which will bring you to a store to download ringtones, callback tones, and other personalization options. The thing is, there is a second app called Downloads on the phone. The other one is the stock Android app that shows you things that you have downloaded on the phone. They have different icons but i really thing Sir Richard may want to consider changing the name of his app; just saying. Virgin Mobile also throws in some apps available in the market like BuzzFeed and Yelp. There is also a Tuning Fork app thrown in. Just in case you need to figure out if that chord was really a Drop D.
There are also a host of Google Apps pre-installed on the LG Optimus Elite. You get the apps you have come to expect like the YouTube, Maps Latitude, and Navigation. But you also get Google+; Google’s social network. You get all the Play apps including Books and Music. With NFC on-board you get Tags to read NFC tags. Also since the phone has NFC; and runs on Sprint’s network; you get Google Wallet too. More on that a little later.
As far as input methods go, this is where being a small device can be a bad thing. Out of the box you have the stock Gingerbread Android keyboard and Swype. With Swype you can simply drag your finger from letter to letter to write words. I found that due to the size of the screen typing on with the Android Keyboard is a little difficult when holding the phone regularly(portrait orientation). The keys are a little small so I ended up with a lot of errors. Holding it the long way(landscape) will offer you a bit more room making typing more comfortable. Swype is definitely my choose for keyboards on the Elite. Even if you use it like a regular touch keyboard the keys are slightly larger; making typing noticeably easier.
The LG Optimus Elite has the stock Android Webkit Browser. Features like pinch-to-zoom work nicely once the page has loaded fully. There will be times where you will notice it struggled slightly; especially when there is a lot going on the page. But for something with a 800MHz(or 1GHz if you have mine) it does a good job. Re-flowing text happens within seconds; which is always good for reading articles without sliding the page from side to side. This is especially important when you have a phone with a small screen and low resolution like this one. You will have to zoom in to read text. I found an odd bug in the option menu. Normally when you hit the menu bottom you will an indication of how many windows you have open. But you won’t get that on the Elite. So you will have to either remember how many you had open or tap Windows to see. That is a small issue but could be annoying. Hopefully they will address the issue in an update.
Performance on the LG Optimus Elite was pretty good for everyday task. Apps launched within 2 seconds of tapping on it and were ready for action quicker than I expected. That could be due to the slightly faster clock speed. I had one issue with an app crashing. That was one of the times I played Temple Run. Other than that, the phone should be able to handle those pick-up and play games that we all love. When it comes to more graphic-intensive games, I tried out Shadowgun on it. It did better than I thought it would but i still wouldn’t recommend playing games like that on the Elite. It had issues keeping up the frame rates during gun battles which involved a lot of movement( and a lot of bullets). If you are hoping to play the latest and greatest games on the Elite , I would say this is not the phone for you.
As customary with my reviews, I put the Optimus Elite through the normal benchmark test. Benchmarks are like standardized test for smartphones; they don’t always show what the phone is capable of. But you will find a chart with the Elite’s scores below:
Sound Quality & Reception
The LG Optimus Elite is running on Sprint’s 3G Network. This a EVDO Rev. A phone. Cellular connection on it was good. There were times I only had one bar but I never completely lost cellular service. Data however is a whole other beast. This phone had an issue keeping a data connection. It would go from fully functioning to no there. This constant jump could end up affecting your battery life. As far as data speeds go, I averaged about 0.18Mbps down and 0.25Mbps up. I ran a side-by-side SpeedTest against the LG Optimus V and found that data speeds on it were averaging higher.
When it comes to sound quality the Elite truly lives up to its name. This phone was one of the clearest devices I have talked on yet. The ear piece doubles as the phones speaker. I thought because of this that when I places a call on speakerphone I would lose some of the quality; but I didn’t. Even with the volume turned up all the way it remained very clear and audible.
The LG Optimus Elite has a 1520mAh battery living inside of it. Strictly looking at the numbers and the type of phone this is in, this is a good size battery. So you would think that battery life would be good on it, right? Well, you would be right! I was able to get about 14 hours of battery life out of it on average. During one of my heavier usage days I managed to 5 hours and 53 minutes of playing and web surfing out of the Elite before it hit the 50% mark. On a light usage day(some web browsing, Foursquare check-ins, and a Google Wallet purchase; but mainly a lot of nothing) I manage to get 1 day, 1 hours, and 57 minutes out of the battery before it hit 5%. During my time reviewing the Elite I had my Facebook account and three GMail accounts linked to it. I feel like the battery life would have been a little better(though not much) if the phone did not lose its data connection as often as it did.
One of the big highlights on this phone is that in not only includes a NFC(Near Field Communication) antenna; but is one of the few phones that ship with Google Wallet. Sprint is so far the only major carrier to really get behind this feature. For those who don’t know what NFC is let me explain it. Near Field Communication is a form of radio communication between devices. This allows you to exchange data between to devices that are close to each other without contact. In Android phones, it can be used to exchange data like contact info, read information off of unpowered NFC tags, and simply establish a connection without having to go through a lengthy set up. This does includes Tags for reading NFC unpowered NFC tags. But the funniest thing you can do with it one devices like the LG Optimus Elite is use Google Wallet to make payments! Google Wallet also integrates Offers; giving you exclusive deals only available when making a purchase through NFC.
So how does it work in real-life? As long as you have a data connection Google Wallet works great. But a few times when trying to make payments in stores like CVS and Walgreens I could not do makes the purchase. It could have been an issue with the terminal. But I think this was due to the data connection issues plaguing this device.I found that with my data connected, I had no issue making a purchase through Google Wallet at a different CVS.
The camera is another place where the LG Optimus Elite earns its semi-stock status. instead of the standard Android camera interface they decided to ship this with the LG camera app; much like the T-Mobile G2x(when it was on Android 2.2 Froyo, before they ruined it with the Gingerbread update and the stock camera app). The interface is similar but at the same time different. And that is a good thing. On the right side you have the toggle to change between taking stills and videos, the on-screen shutter, and a preview of the last image/video taken. The left side is where you will find the controls for the zoom, the exposure levels, the scene modes(you have Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Sunset, and Night), and flash controls, and the settings menu. The settings menu is where you can do things like change the white balance, ISO, the image size, geo-tagging, color effects, and even the shutter sound. Other than the more graphically pleasing look of the LG Camera app, you also have the added bonus of tap-to-focus; a very handle feature only rarely seen on the stock camera app.
That LG camera software is taken advantage of by the phones 5 mega pixel auto focus camera. The combo leaves you with a camera that only takes about 2 seconds to tap-to-focus and can take a picture within 2 second of tapping the screen. Actually, between 1.2 and 1.9 seconds according to my very unscientific test that involved the phone and a stopwatch. The focus on the camera is bit soft; leaving you with images that have soft edges. But the details are there and color reproduction is nice. I did find that brightly colors subjects would some times come out over saturated though
That 5 mega pixel camera is also capable of shooting video. When you switch of shooting videos that camera app will first ask you if you want to shot a MMS or Long video. This way it will automatically switch the recording size to fit your needs.The controls on the side only change slightly when recording video. The controls for the flash will now let you turn the LED on and off for recording in low-light areas.The scene mode button will now be a recording size button; allowing you to choose from the available recording resolution. As far as the recording resolutions go you have four options; TV(720 x 480), VGA(640 x 480),QVGA(320 x 240), and QCIF(176 x 144). There is no continuous auto-focus while recording or taping to refocus. In fact, you can’t really focus at all. That is a little disappointing. The video can be grainy at times but it does handle changes in light conditions with no issue and frame rates rarely drop.
The word elite aliases the thought of something that is in a special class. And that is probably what LG and Sprint were hoping to convey by naming this phone that, an Android phone that is in a class of its own. In that respect, the LG Optimus Elite is that. There aren’t many phones of like it. For $149.99 you get a phone that can double as your wallet. There also aren’t many times where you can get more than you expected from the CPU without having to go through the hassle of overclocking. But the data connection issues, low-res screen, and oddly limited camera puts a damper on some of the my excitement. Some of these issues can be addressed with an update. Others are things you sometimes have to deal with when you go for the low-cost phone. And that low-cost is part of the reason this phone is Elite. With a nice feature set and great price, it truly is the budget phone in a class of its own.