August 28, 2014

Review: LG Optimus U (U.S. Cellular)

While we all drool over the current cutting edge in Android phones, the likes of the Atrix and Droid Bionic that were announced at C.E.S., another kind of revolution is happening at the other end of the spectrum. A great example is the LG Optimus U, which debuted on U.S. Cellular last month. The sibling of the Optimus T, Optimus S and Vortex, it’s a capable Froyo phone that’s only $30.

(If you’re a current U.S. Cellular customer and in their “Belief Program,” it’s $30 after rebate without requiring any new contract commitment. New customers will need to sign on for two years.)

U.S. Cellular Says: “The LG Optimus U is a good fit for first-time smartphone customers who are looking to explore a wide range of games, multimedia entertainment and time-saving Android applications.”

What We Liked:

  • Despite a 600 MHz processor, the OS and all but the most demanding apps run smooth and fast, thanks in large part to Froyo’s performance enhancements.
  • Froyo’s tethering and hotspot functionality, a real differentiating feature on a low-end phone. (Though they do require a tethering plan from U.S. Cellular.)
  • Toggles for sound, wifi, bluetooth, GPS and airplane mode on the notification shade, a handy feature familiar to anyone who’s used a Galaxy S phone or CyanogenMod 6.x
  • Photo taken with the Optimus U's camera.

    LG’s custom camera app is really great, with useful shooting modes (like Macro, Face Tracking and Portrait) as well as loads of manual controls (like ISO and exposure compensation). Combined with a dedicated camera button, the experience is closer to what you expect from a a point-and-shoot camera than from a phone camera.

  • The build quality is really nice, managing to be small and light without feeling cheap and flimsy. Plenty of metal bits contribute to its sturdiness.
  • Battery life is respectable, lasting a day with moderate use.
  • LG has promised an update to Gingerbread for the Optimus One line, which the Optimus U is part of.

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Froyo is customized a bit, and to our eyes, the cosmetic changes are not an improvement.
  • Though not as bad as the bloatware some carriers include, most of the included apps (aside from Swype and the above-mentioned camera app) are just taking up space. Particularly egregious are “Twitter for LG” and “Facebook for LG,” both inferior to the official apps.
  • There are limits to what the Optimus U can handle. As you’d expect, it’s not as capable as a phone with a more power under the hood. It really does run like a champ for the most part, but it does get a little bogged down when trying to handle several things at once.
  • Though consistent throughout the Chicago area where I tested it, U.S. Cellular’s 3G data speeds max out at around 1 Mb down.

Specs:

  • 3.2″ Capacitive touchscreen
  • 600MHz Qualcomm MSM7627
  • 3.2 megapixel camera
  • MicroSD slot with 2Gb card included
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth v2.1
  • Android 2.2 (Froyo)
  • 1500mAh battery
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack

The Bottom Line: The Optimus U is not an “entry level” phone, it’s a great Android phone for anyone on a budget. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to even the most experienced Android user, if they needed a phone and just didn’t have much to spend.

Phones like the Optimus U mean that folks who never thought about getting a smartphone can do so, and without the compromises of earlier entry level Android phones. And that’s great news not only for Optimus users but also for Android as a whole.