Paying as little as $55 a month for unlimited data and talk time sounds pretty sweet, right? The $99.99 LG Optimus V on Virgin Mobile is a budget-friendly smartphone that doesn't tie you down with a two-year contract, and with a plan that's far less expensive than the major carriers. It's not the most cutting-edge handset out there: We're talking a 3.2-inch QVGA display and modest 3G speeds. If it's simple you're looking for, however, the Optimus V delivers, offering snappy performance and a responsive touch screen. But how does it compare with other contract-free smartphones?
It's not remarkably thin or stylish, but the Optimus V keeps it simple design-wise. It's a dead ringer for the LG Optimus S, except it's done up in matte black. It's not classy, mind you; the 3.2-inch touch screen is separated from the rest of the device by a bezel, and the physical Menu, Home, Back and Search buttons are outlined in metal rather than blending seamlessly into the device's matte surface.
Up top, you'll find the 3.5-mm headphone jack and power button, while the volume rocker and shortcut buttons for Voice Dialer and the camera sit on the right. A microUSB port is on the bottom, and a microsD card slot for expansion up to 32GB sits on the left. Turn the phone over, and you'll see the V's 3.2-megapixel camera, two small vents and logos for Google and LG.
Like the front, the LG Optimus V's back has a soft-touch matte surface that provided a good grip. It weighs a scant 4.7 ounces, and its petite shape felt comfortable in our hands. At 4.5 x 2.3 x 0.5 inches, the phone isn't quite as svelte or as light as the LG Marquee (4.4 x 2.5 x 0.36 inches, 3.95 ounces), but the Optimus V isn't the phone for those who care about a super-slim profile, anyway.
Display and Audio
The LG Optimus V's small 3.2-inch touch-screen display has a QVGA resolution (480 x 320 pixels), which is far from cutting-edge, but good enough for viewing websites--if you're okay with zooming in constantly. What the screen lacks in resolution, it makes up in brightness: It averaged 487 lux on our brightness test, which bests the smartphone average of 303 lux, but is well below the LG Connect 4G (616 lux) and the LG Marquee (586).
Though we quickly tired of having to zoom in each time we wanted to read a blog post, the Optimus V's touch screen was very responsive. Scrolling could be a bit smoother, though; we notice a bit of lag every time we swiped downward.
Audio on this phone is sub-par, with tracks by The Who and Nicki Minaj as well as YouTube videos sounding tinny and faint. In addition to offering poor sound quality, the front-mounted speaker doesn't get loud enough; even on full volume, songs sounded too quiet for our tastes.
Even though it has a small 3.2-inch screen to work with, the Optimus V's keyboard is pretty solid. It's the standard Android layout, but we made fewer errors than we expected when using the very small keys. LG also stocks the Optimus V with the Swype keyboard, which some users may prefer.
Software and Interface
The LG Optimus V runs Android 2.2 Froyo, which is practically ancient, considering that Ice Cream Sandwich is currently in the midst of a rollout for many recent smartphones. (LG said Android 2.3 Gingerbread is coming soon, however.)
You'll find the usual customizable five home screens, along with on-screen shortcuts at the bottom of the display for the phone, apps page and Web browser.
As with every Android phone, swiping down from the top notification bar reveals the notification shade, which displays new emails, social networking updates and voicemails.
Pressing the Voice Dialer button opened a screen where we could tell the phone to perform any number of tasks, from calling a contact to opening an app, such as the Web browser. The phone accurately interpreted our voice, but we found it annoying that we had to confirm our command by pressing OK on the screen.
Virgin Mobile preloads the Optimus V with a few proprietary apps. These include airG, a chat service and Virgin Mobile live, a music-streaming app. There's also Twidroyd, an Android Twitter client, SCVNGR, a location-based gaming app, and the navigation app Poynt on board.
In addition to preloading Google's Play store for downloading apps, the Optimus V gives you access to the Handango third-party app store. It includes staples such as Facebook, but given the choice you'll probably want to go for Play, which offers a wider selection of paid and free applications.
Aside from the Play store, preloaded Google apps include Gmail, Maps, Search, YouTube, and the standard Android messaging app.
With a 600-MHz processor under the hood, the Optimus V is no super-powered handset. However, we found the phone to be quite responsive. We didn't experience any noticeable delays when swiping between home screens, though we sometimes saw a delay while typing on the on-screen keyboard. Thankfully, pinching to zoom was pretty smooth, something the low-res screen pretty much requires.
On Benchmark CPU, the LG Optimus V offered a lowly score of 424, which is leagues behind the smartphone average (2,380) and even the handset's older brother, the LG Optimus S (739). The Optimus V performed a bit better on the graphics-testing benchmark An3DBench, scoring 5,888. While that's 1,000 points higher than the LG Marquee, it's still 1,100 points below the category average, and about 1,500 points less than the Connect 4G.
Web Browsing and 3G
The Optimus V rides on Virgin Mobile's 3G network, which proved snappy enough to render most Web pages. NYtimes.com took just 5 and CNN loaded in 6.8 seconds, but ESPN.com loaded in 18.4 seconds, and Laptopmag.com took a leisurely 33.5 seconds,. We surfed the Web and ran apps without a problem, and video played smoothly.
Camera and Camcorder
The LG Optimus V has a 3.2-megapixel camera on the back (no front camera here). Pictures taken with ample light turned out quite well; the camera actually captured the brilliant blue sky in a photo snapped on a Manhattan rooftop. We wish there was pinch-to-zoom and touch to focus here, but at least our images came out clear enough. While we like that there's a dedicated camera button, there was about a second-long delay between hitting the shutter and capturing the image.
While the Optimus V is a capable shooter, it's not as strong in the video department. Videos (640 x 480 pixels) shot both indoors and outdoors showed accurate colors, but we noticed a lot of jerkiness, and audio sounded muffled.
Plans and Value
Virgin Mobile sells the LG Optimus V for $99.99, and customers can choose from three Beyond Talk plans: $35 a month for unlimited data and 300 anytime minutes, $45 a month for unlimited data and 1,200 minutes, or $55 a month for unlimited data and minutes.
If you choose the $55 monthly plan, you'll spend $1,420 over a two-year period. That's comparable to the $1,449 you'd pay in the same time frame for the LG Marquee on Boost Mobile. If you picked up the LG Connect 4G with a comparable plan on MetroPCS, it would cost $1,759.
Sprint currently offers the LG Viper 4G for $99 with a two-year contract, which will eventually deliver 4G LTE speeds. The cheapest unlimited data plan with 450 minutes would cost you a total of $2,020 over two years when you include the device.
When we made some test calls in lower Manhattan, voices on the other line came through loud and clear. People reported that we sounded a bit far away, though they had no trouble hearing us.
On our LAPTOP Battery Test, the LG Optimus V's 1500mAH battery lasted 4 hours and 49 minutes, which falls short of the Android smartphone average of 5:46. Still, this device outlasted the Marquee (3:44) and the Connect 4G (3:53). In anecdotal usage, with the phone's screen off when not in use, we got through an 8-hour day with a little less than half the battery charge remaining.
The $99 LG Optimus V has a small and comfortable design, a responsive touch screen and decent performance. Compared with other no-contract phones, the Boost Mobile LG Marquee has a brighter screen and takes better photos, but it delivers worse battery life. We prefer the LG Connect 4G and its faster speeds, but for new smartphone users and those who just want a comfortable Android experience without the bells and whistles, the LG Optimus V on Virgin Mobile will fit the bill, and make your wallet happy to boot.