The LG eXpo is part of a new crop of powerful smart phones featuring Qualcomm's 1.0-GHz Snapdragon processor. But that's not what makes this Windows smart phone stand out; it's an optional Pico projector ($179) that you can attach to display just about anything you want on a wall or screen. We would prefer a capacitive touchscreen, but overall the eXpo is a good device for work and play.
It's easy to tell that the eXpo was designed for the business crowd, and not just because it has a physical keyboard that slides out from the 3.2-inch (800 x 480-pixel) touchscreen. It has strong edges and lines, but the corners and backing are slightly rounded to give it a good feel in the hand. Opening and closing the eXpo is very satisfying; we appreciated its firm clicks and lack of flimsiness in the fully open or closed positions.
The eXpo is a bit smaller and lighter than its main competitor on AT&T, the HTC Tilt2. It measures 4.5 x 2.2 x 0.6 inches and weighs in at 4.6 ounces. Despite this, it still feels a tad bulky and hefty, especially if you're used to a BlackBerry device. Whether it was in our coat or pants pockets, the eXpo always reminded us that it was there.
The face of the eXpo is almost all display, but because it is a resistive, plastic touchscreen, we didn't find it to be a fingerprint magnet. (The metal bezel around the edges, on the other hand, might need occasional polishing.) Below the LCD is the standard Send, Back, and End button layout with the addition of a clickable optical trackpad that doubles as a fingerprint sensor. Unfortunately, the trackpad is more of a novelty because it is recessed, making it difficult to accurately scroll through menu items. Also, it often missed our touch inputs.
On the backside, the eXpo houses a 5.0-megapixel camera (with flash) and a small speaker. The battery door cover is extremely easy to remove, which is convenient for replacing it with the optional projector.
At the top of the phone is a power/lock button and a micro-USB port for charging or using the proprietary headset that comes with the phone. We're disappointed that this smart phone lacks a 3.5mm headset jack for use with your own headphones.
At left, there is a standard volume rocker for adjusting phone or call volume. On the right side, you'll find a dedicated camera button and a customizable shortcut key. By default, this key opens up the phone's task manager to show which applications are currently running with the option to close the ones you don't need.
While this is a touchscreen device, it comes with a stylus that makes touch inputs more accurate. It's also interesting (and a little cumbersome) that LG decided to attach the stylus to the phone with a small lanyard instead of a built-in slot.
The eXpo's keyboard is somewhat of a mixed bag. The keys are large, well spaced, and very tactile: there is no mistaking whether a button is clicked by either feel or sound. However, the layout isn't the best for speedy or comfortable typing because the keys are perfectly aligned instead of being staggered; reaching for keys on the corners can get a little awkward.
The location of certain keys may also take some getting used to, such as the placement of the exclamation point and question mark on the lower left side of the keyboard instead of the right like a standard keyboard or most other smart phones. Numbers are arranged like a typical number pad on phones and accessed with the function button, which isn't an issue. However, some users might prefer to have numbers aligned along the top of the keyboard.
Click to enlargeLG made a fine attempt in adding its own UI on top of Windows Mobile 6.5. The home screen features a simple and easy-to-use layout, although it's a little dull. The Start button appears on the upper-left corner of the screen with the signal strength and battery indicators on the right. On the main screen there is a customizable list layout of items you use frequently, such as the calendar, browser favorites, e-mail, and phone.
When clicking the Start button, the honeycomb WinMo menu pops up along with the LG Menu. This addition shows four rows of icons that are divided into applications, communications, multimedia, and settings, and it delivers an iPhone-like appearance. This attractive menu places almost everything you could possibly need from each of those categories right on the screen. You see only four icons at a time, but you can scroll left or right to reveal the applications within that row's category.
Powered by the 1.0-GHz Snapdragon processor--the same as in the Nexus One--the Expo was fast in responding to inputs, and apps opened without any lag.
Messaging and E-mail
The eXpo, like all other Windows Mobile devices, uses Microsoft Outlook as its default e-mail client. Setting up a new account took us less than two minutes, thanks to the phone's ability to automatically check for the correct e-mail settings. Once set up, you can customize the intervals at which e-mails are retrieved. If you're using a Microsoft Exchange account, you'll have access to direct push e-mail.
If instant messaging is important to you, the eXpo comes with AOL, Windows Live, and Yahoo built in.
For better or worse, depending on your preferences, the default browser on the eXpo is Internet Explorer Mobile. Most Web pages look like they would on a desktop browser, which is a plus. It also supports double-tap gestures to zoom in on text or images. Unlike the HD2, however, this smart phone doesn't support multitouch gestures.
With varied results and long load times, the browsing experience on the eXpo wasn't very pleasant. Using AT&T's 3G network, some Web sites rendered very quickly, while others took a very long time and were missing some elements on the page. Laptopmag.com, for example, failed to render completely, and the little that did load took 68 seconds. Slate.com took 74 seconds, and was missing an image and a link. ESPN's mobile Web site loaded in 9 seconds, and NYTimes.com's mobile page materialized in 7 seconds. Over the eXpo's Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), the load times for the latter two Web sites were about 1 second each.
Click to enlargeThe apps that come with the phone are basic and almost standard with most AT&T Windows Mobile phones, such as Microsoft Office Mobile, MobiTV, and XM Radio. Microsoft does have an app store called Windows Marketplace for Mobile. From there, you can download apps such as Facebook, Guitar Hero 3, Twikini (for Twitter), and hundreds of others in many different genres. Unfortunately, it's not as prolific as the iPhone App Store or Android Market; Windows Marketplace for Mobile has less than 1,000 apps, while Android Market has approximately 20,000 and the iPhone App Store exceeds 140,000. However, outside of the Windows Marketplace for Mobile, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of applications available through several different outlets created by developers who have been building apps for Windows Mobile for years.
The eXpo comes with AT&T Navigator ($9.99 per month) for turn-by-turn navigation. In Los Angeles, the phone acquired our location in about 6 seconds, and we got clear and accurate directions with voice navigation to a hotel in San Francisco in about 8 seconds. If there were any incidents on the road, or if we took a slight detour, the system would reroute our destination based on our current location. The voice was loud and very clear, although it sometimes became muffled or garbled.
To our dismay, the eXpo does not have a 3.5mm headset jack. Instead, there is a micro-USB port that supports the headset included by LG. Sound quality through the provided headset was decent, but nowhere near as nice as third-party earphones.
The music player is intuitive and easy to use. You can load your own songs onto the eXpo or purchase music through AT&T's MEdia Mall. XM Radio is included in the phone, and comes with a one-day trial if you'd like to try it out before committing to a subscription. It launched very quickly and started playing music within seconds. We didn't encounter any hiccups or buffering issues.
If you like watching videos, Windows Media Player works quite well for TV shows and moviess and it opens by default when you watch YouTube videos on the Web. Video quality could get a little choppy at times, but it was bearable.
If you're a shutterbug and use your phone's camera as much as we do, you might be a little disappointed with the eXpo's 5.0-megapixel shooter. Images turned out to be grainy even when taken in ample lighting, and weak color saturation made pictures look washed out. Surprisingly, the flash worked great up to a six-foot range--even in extremely dark conditions--and very little detail was lost in flash photos.
The camera also doubles as a video recorder that can record for as long as memory capacity will allow. The video quality shot on the phone was decent, but nowhere near great. Colors looked just as washed out as still images, and video did get choppy every now and then. The frame rate was 20 frames per second at the maximum resolution of 640 x 480, which isn't the smoothest for playback but is decent when you want to capture candid moments on video.
Click to enlargeOne of the bigger selling points of the eXpo is its ability to project images, slides, and videos onto a wall or screen using the optional projector accessory. The projector attaches very easily because it replaces the battery door. LG says that the projector can display images up to 66 inches diagonally; in testing, we found that meant the phone had to be about 10 feet away from the wall. At that distance, it's difficult to see what is being projected in rooms that have some lighting; however, even in perfectly dark rooms, you're not going to get an optimal experience. A Kobe Bryant highlight video played from YouTube wasn't the cleanest, and would occasionally get choppy; it was also a little bit blurry once the device got past 3 feet from the wall.
There is a focus slider switch on the projector, and it can make images very crisp up to about 10 to 12 feet. Beyond that, however, it gets too blurry. Brightness and other settings can be accessed by pressing and holding the camera key while the projector is on.
It's nice to know that the projector doesn't drain the battery too fast. After using the projector for about 10 to 12 minutes, we were able to get through the rest of the day with normal use (phone calls, e-mail, Web browsing, and text messaging) and still have about 25 percent battery life remaining. The projector attachment is definitely a novel accessory, but at $179 you may want to give it some thought before taking the plunge.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Overall, we were satisfied with the eXpo's call quality. Our callers sounded natural, and the phone's volume is so powerful that we found ourselves dialing it down to the lowest settings in quiet rooms. In loud environments, we were able to hear our callers clearly with the volume turned all the way up. On the other end, our friends reported the same with our voices, although we were told that we sounded a bit tinny with the occasional echo. Calls also sounded good over speakerphone, and our callers said they couldn't tell the difference between being on speaker or the earpiece.
The eXpo has a 1500-mAh battery that is rated for 3 hours of talk time and 10 days of standby. During our review period, we were able to get through an entire day with moderate phone calling, frequent e-mails, light Web browsing, and listening to music on our commutes without worrying about battery life.
The LG eXpo is a solid choice for business users who need to stay connected and keep their lives organized. Thanks to the 1.0-GHz Snapdragon processor, during our entire review period we didn't encounter any lag at all, even with several applications running at once. We prefer the Tilt2 because of HTC's gorgeous Sense UI and slightly better keyboard. But for $199, the eXpo is a phone worth considering, especially if you like the idea of projecting on the go.