Hoping to hit the sweet spot between power and affordability, the $49.99 LG Escape for AT&T offers a 4.3-inch qHD display, 4G LTE speeds and dual-core power. The design is also thinner than you'd expect at this price, and you get some of the same innovative features inside the more premium LG Optimus G. Is this one of the best bargain smartphones on the market?
We've seen plenty of value-priced phones that scream "budget" with bulky designs. That's not the case here. The Escape weighs 4.5 ounces and measures 5 x 2.5 x 0.37 inches, making this device lighter than the $99 Motorola Atrix HD (4.9 ounces) and almost as thin (0.33 inches). The Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE for Sprint is 0.5 inches thick and 4.9 ounces.
The plastic back of the Escape has an attractive but somewhat slippery patterned design, but the ridged black plastic band that surrounds the device ensures a firm grip. This band has chrome accents on either side, which gives the Escape a more premium vibe. Beneath the display are three capacitive buttons (Back, Home, Menu).
A pair of speakers sits along the bottom of the device along with a micro USB slot, and the headphone jack sits up top. The power button is on the left while the long volume rocker is on the right.
Display and Audio
Reading text on the Escape's glossy 4.3-inch, 960 x 540p display was nice and crisp, particularly on CNN.com and GameInformer.com. When we went to VGCats.com to read a few comics, the qHD IPS display was a little washed-out.
The handset's display measured 279 lux on our light meter, falling below the 300 lux Android phone category average. The Nitro HD and the Atrix HD were considerably brighter at 324 and 561 lux, respectively.
When we watched the definition trailer of "The Master," color was rather dark. Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character's face was oversaturated, giving him an angry visage even while happily hugging a woman. In addition, pixilation was rampant during darker scenes. Viewing angles were shallow, with color inversion with a slight move to the left or right.
The Escape's twin speakers can fill a small room, but that doesn't mean you should crank them up. Azealia Banks' "Liquorice" was overcome by painfully brassy cymbals and distorted synthesized instrumentals. We struggled to hear the artist's bombastic flow and flowery alto over the din.
The Escape features a number of keyboards, including the standard stock Android keyboard. Similar to the LG Intuition, the Escape also features four LG keyboards (QWERTY, Phone, Handwriting and Shape writer). We preferred the Shape writer keyboard with its Swype-like trace writing functionality. It shaved a few seconds off of composing emails and texts. Each of the keyboards features haptic feedback with strong vibration.
Running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with an Optimus 3.0 overlay, the Escape follows LG's convenience-first model. Swiping anywhere on the lockscreen unlocks the phone. Users can visit the Settings menu to switch clocks and widgets and add a total of four shortcuts to the bottom of the screen.
Users can also customize the seven home screens. The main home screen features a Google search bar, a Yahoo! widget with date, weather and time and space for 8 apps. Pinching a home screen took us to another screen where we could change the default home screen.
A small thin line toward the bottom of the display marks the current page. It also separates the apps from the omnipresent shortcuts (Phone, Messaging, Web and Apps) bar at the bottom of the display. We liked having the ability to swap out apps in the shortcuts bar, which made personalizing the device easy.
We activated the Recent Apps menu by holding down the Home button. Similar to the Optimus G, long-pressing an app launches a smaller menu for viewing app info or removing it from the list. We could also create custom app icons from LG's generic photo cache or from photos in our gallery. We also created folders on the home screen by dragging icon on top of one another. Resizing folders is as easy as long-pressing and dragging one or more of the blue corners surrounding the folder.
AT&T has added a welcome twist to Web browsing in the form of the Browser Bar. Located at the bottom of the display or right above the keyboard, the bar is comprised of two pages. The first page primarily deals with social networking and sharing. There are buttons to recommend pages on Facebook, tweet links to Twitter and share via email or text messaging. There's even a button to launch a mini-Facebook browser. The second page launches Yahoo! affiliated news such as Sports, Entertainment and Popular articles.
We appreciated the convenience of the bar when sharing a few GIFs with our Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Our favorite component of the Browser Bar is the ability to create buttons for our favorite Web pages.
AT&T and LG have bundled a considerable amount of branded apps on the LG Escape. However, most of the AT&T apps can be uninstalled, freeing up space if necessary. AT&T apps include Messages, Locker, Live TV, Code Scanner, FamilyMap, Navigator and myAT&T.
On the LG side of things, there's Note Pad, which comes in handy for jotting down a quick note or two. There's also VideoWiz, a fun and easy-to-use video editor. After importing a clip, we chose a backdrop from one of LG's six choices and added a music track. SmartShare comes in handy for sharing media files between DLNA-capable devices.
QuickMemo, one of our favorite LG apps, is also included. The app takes a screenshot that you can then doodle on with one of four pen types in 16 colors. You can then easily share your creation via email or social networking.
Third-party apps include Twitter, YouTube, Qik Lite, Amazon Kindle and YP Mobile.
The LG Escape stood its ground during our real-world testing. We ran through a few levels of "Bad Piggies" with four apps running in the background, and three open Web browsers. Navigating between menus and home screens was nice and zippy, as was launching the camera.
The phone and its 1.2-GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8960L processor with 1GB of RAM performed well during our benchmark testing. On Benchmark CPU, the Escape notched 4,756, well above the 2,782 Android phone average. That was more than enough to defeat the LG Nitro HD's 1.5-GHz ARMv7 dual-core processor, which scored 1,482. The Motorola Atrix HD and its 1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor scored a slightly higher 4,857.
The Escape also offers solid graphics performance. The device scored 7,279 on An3DBench, slightly above the 7, 138 average. The Atrix HD and Nitro HD notched 7,214 and 7,353, respectively.
4G LTE and Web Browsing
AT&T's 4G LTE network continues to impress with its blistering speeds. Mobile sites such as CNN.com, NYTimes.com and ESPN.com took an average of 2.3, 3.1 and 4 seconds to load on the Escape. Loading the desktop version of Laptopmag.com took only 5.4 seconds. On Speedtest.net, the Escape delivered an average download speed of 24.1 Mbps and an average upload speed of 12.4 Mbps.
The Escape's 5-megapixel rear camera proved lackluster. Many of our images had washed-out colors and lacked detail. For instance, a shot of a golden rain-speckled tree leaf took on a dull yellow color. The leaf's veins and the raindrops were almost undistinguishable. Video delivered more of the same, with black livery cabs taking on a gray hue and fuzzy text on the taxis and street signs.
Images captured by the 1.3-MP front camera were plagued with graininess. However, our skin tone appeared nice and warm, despite the fluorescent lighting.
Overall, both cameras delivered swift camera speeds, taking less than a second to snap off photos. LG has also included the "Say Cheese" feature, which automatically snaps a picture when the phrase is uttered.
The LG Escape consistently delivered clear calls when we dialed both mobile phones and landlines. However, there was some fading in and out in our home in the Bronx. The speakerphone was nice and loud, but there were a few instances of echoing on our end.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE), the LG Escape lasted a pretty impressive 6 hours and 32 minutes. That's 34 minutes longer than the 5:58 category average. The Motorola Atrix HD and the LG Nitro clocked in at 4:52 and 3:53, respectively.
With LG, budget is definitely not a dirty word. For $49.99, smartphone shoppers get a slim device with strong performance on AT&T's LTE network. In addition, the Escape offers a suite of fun features, such as QuickMemo. Those looking for a better display and stronger Kevlar design will want to shell out the extra $50 for the Motorola Atrix HD. Overall, though, the LG Escape is a great choice for bargain hunters who don't want to skimp on performance.