While the Android invasion's most advanced handsets get the lion's share of glory, value-priced devices can make a big impact, too. Case in point: the LG Optimus T. This low-cost Android 2.2 phone (free for the black version, $29.99 for burgundy and silver) lacks the 4G capabilities of higher-priced phones on T-Mobile, but it boasts a slim and sturdy design, can act as a mobile hotspot, and has Wi-Fi calling. Add to that Google Voice Actions for controlling many phone functions verbally, and you've got one well-equipped smart phone for the money.
Measuring 4.5 x 2.3 x 0.5 inches, the candy bar-style LG Optimus T is relatively svelte and is sculpted with smooth, pocket-friendly curves. Highlighted with silver accents, our model sported a rubberized burgundy surface (it's also available in black or silver) which defeats fingerprints and provides a sure grip. Those with tight trousers may both curse and praise the Optimus T's texture for friction-prone placements and for securely staying put. At a substantial 4.5 ounces, the phone does feel a bit hefty, and is almost as heavy as the more rugged Motorola Defy (4.7 ounces). That said, we liked its decidedly classy presence, especially compared to low-end Android phones like the Sanyo Zio.
Taking up most of the Optimus T's front is a 3.2-inch TFT touchscreen. Four standard Android buttons sit below the display. Discrete Menu and Search keys flank an oval button that doubles for Home and Back functions; all buttons are backlit. You'll find a microUSB port at the phone's base and a 3.5-mm headphone jack and power button on top. To access the included 2GB microSD card, you must remove the battery cover and flip open the card tray; fortunately, you don't have to remove the battery itself. On the back of the Optimus T is the 3.2 -megapixel camera, which lacks a flash.
The Optimus T's 3.2-inch touchscreen has a resolution of 480 x 320 pixels. Though not as sharp as competing devices such as the Motorola Defy (a pleasantly high 854 x 480) it's on a par with the Motorola Droid Pro. The screen, while small, was bright enough to see in daylight without any trouble. If conditions change, you'll have to set the brightness manually since the Optimus T lacks an ambient light sensor.
By default, text entry on the Optimus T is accomplished using the Swype keyboard, which lets users glide fingers from key to key, connecting letters to swiftly spell words. It is, however, an acquired skill. The standard Android keyboard is available, too, which was responsive. One complaint we have is that since the display is relatively small, hitting the right keys can be tricky for large fingers.
The Optimus T runs a mostly stock version of Android 2.2 (Froyo) with slight tweaks to the app tray and web browser. There are the usual five home screens, which you can flip through with the swipe of a finger and customize with the apps, shortcuts, and widgets of your choice. Pulling down the notification window shade reveals system alerts. A menu soft-key, framed by phone and messaging shortcuts, opens the application tray.
While nothing new to Android 2.2 handsets, T-Mobile highlights that Google Voice Actions technology is built into the Optimus T. Pressing the search button for a few seconds from any location launches the voice input window. Speaking commands such as search, e-mail, find, or text will open the appropriate app and begin the requested operation. We successfully commanded the Optimus to find local restaurants and create text messages to specific contacts. Our spoken words were also transcribed as text correctly.
Specs and Performance
Despite running a relatively slow 600-MHz Qualcomm MSM7627 CPU and equipped with 512MB of internal memory, the LG Optimus T felt nimble enough in everyday usage. Menu navigation was prompt, and apps opened with no noticeable delays. Also, YouTube videos played smoothly. However, our double taps and pinching gestures to zoom in and out on web pages took longer than we'd like.
Because of its CPU, the Optimus T scored a low Linpack for Android score of 3.75, which is well below the current average of 8.2. Other devices fared much better, namely the Motorola Droid Pro (13.5), and the current king, the T-Mobile G2 (28.69). In fact, the Optimus T was edged out by the sluggish Sanyo Zio which notched a 3.83. Nevertheless, this phone felt more responsive than the Zio, because the latter has the overhead of the Sprint ID interface.
E-Mail and Messaging
For communication, the LG Optimus T has the usual Android Gmail client as well as a mail app which supports both standard e-mail plus Microsoft exchange for corporate accounts. The phone's messaging app, complete with emoticons, is there to take care of texting. T-Mobile also bundles its Visual Voicemail application, but it doesn't convert voice to text. For that you'll want to download the more capable Google Voice software.
Using the stock Android browser, surfing the web on the Optimus T was mostly pleasant. Loading up mobile sites for the CNN, ESPN, and the New York Times took about 4.5 seconds over T-Mobile's 3G network. The full LAPTOP Magazine homepage, however, required 22 seconds. The option to switch between desktop and mobile views, typically located under the browser settings, is missing; this means you won't be able to default to full versions of sites when possible. With a screen this small, though, it's not a serious issue.
Like the Motorola Defy, the Optimus T can act as a mobile hotspot to share its wireless data connection over Wi-Fi. Also hidden in the phone's settings menu is the capability to tether the device to a PC over USB and provide a web connection this way. Both tethering and the HotSpot feature are combined in an extra data plan that adds $14.99 to your monthly bill.
The Optimus T's 3.2-MP camera took pretty good shots but is better suited for outdoor use. Though serviceable, indoor images looked a bit washed out. You do have a bunch of picture settings at your disposal including Brightness, Landscape, and Night to name a few. The camera also lacks a flash, so nighttime party pics are not recommended. When shooting video, the Optimus T maxes out at VGA (640x480) quality.
While videos played smoothly on the Optums T, its small screen isn't the best canvas. However, the Optimus T's diminutive speaker (located above the screen) does get pretty loud. Though it doesn't have much bass, the speaker isn't quite as tinny and high-pitched as other handsets we've listened to.
Call Quality and Battery Life
The LG Optimus sounded quite clear during call testing. Folks on the other end said we sounded good and the line lacked any distortion or static. The Wi-Fi calling app provided by T-Mobile lets users place phone calls over Wi-Fi networks when T-Mobile's signal is weak or unavailable. Voice quality using this function was good, though it did suffer when we drifted away from our Wi-Fi access point. We encountered choppy audio at a distance of about 20 feet, though this was in an office environment with some interference. Just keep in mind that Wi-Fi calls still count against minutes in your voice plan.
The Optimus turned in great battery life as well, lasting a lengthy 6 hours and 14 minutes on our Laptop Battery Test (Web surfing via 3G), nearly an hour longer than the Android smart phone average. However, the Motorola Defy, managed an even better 6:52.
Quite well equipped for a smart phone this affordable, the LG Optimus T is a great choice for bargain hunters. Its low price of $29 (free for the black version), solid design, and ease of use will appeal to smart phone newbies. The biggest competitor to the Optimus T in this price range right now is the very similar Optimus S on Sprint, which offers Sprint ID packs for customizing the phone but lacks Wi-Fi calling. If you can overlook its mediocre camera and small display--which we can do easily at this price--the Optimus T will satisfy.