Look ma, no contract! The $319 LG Connect 4G, MetroPCS's flagship phone, plans to dispel the prepaid stereotypes with a 3-punch combo of 4G LTE speeds, a 1.2-GHz dual-core processor and affordable, no-commitment data plans. You can literally save a grand versus the competition over two years. But will you be happy living with this Android 2.3 smartphone?
Click to EnlargeThe LG Connect 4G has a rather unassuming design. A glossy 4-inch touch screen display dominates the front wrapped in a shiny black bezel. A chrome LG logo and a VGA front-facing camera sit at the top of the display while the standard Android capacitive buttons (Menu, Home, Back, Search) line the bottom.
A thick glossy plastic band surrounds the top half the Connect 4G. From there, dark gray matte plastic tapers into the rear panel which has a herringbone-type pattern that gives the phone a firm, textured grip.
Click to EnlargeA 5-megapixel camera and the LED flash sit at the top of the panel above a light gray MetroPCS logo. A slim speaker resides along the bottom below a light gray LG insignia.
The power button and headphone jack sit along the top of the handset while the volume rocker and microUSB port sit on the left.
Measuring 4.6 x 2.5 x 0.5 inches, the Connect 4G weighs 4.8 ounces. By comparison, the 4.8 x 2.6 x 0.4 inch Motorola Triumph, which has a 4.1-inch display, weighs 5 ounces.
Display and Audio
Ed. note: Originally, this review erroneously stated the display resolution at 480 x 320. We have updated it to reflect its actual resolution of 800 x 480.
Click to EnlargeThe 4-inch NOVA display on the LG Connect 4G has a resolution of 800 x 480, and we like that it's protected by Gorilla Glass. While the screen delivered relatively vivid color, there was a fair amount of graininess in images and logos on CNN.com and Yahoo.com. We also experienced noticeable washout when we tilted the headset forward or back past 45 degrees. At 225 lux, the Connect 4G falls just below the 233 Android phone category average for display brightness.
Don't expect to DJ a party with the Connect 4G. The slim rear speaker failed to fill even a small room. Dialogue during "The Avengers" was passably loud, but when we shifted to music, the volume seemed to drop out. We could hear D'Angelo's sweet tenor, but the instrumentals - the piano, drums and background vocals were nearly non-existent.
Click to EnlargeThe Connect 4G comes with two virtual keyboards. We liked the large white keys on the LG keyboard, as well as their generous spacing in portrait and landscape modes. We also appreciated having the ability to access special characters by long pressing a button.
Swype, one of our perennial favorites, is also included. While it doesn't have a lot of spacing between its large keys, Swype tracing technology makes for speedy texting and emailing.
Software and Interface
Click to EnlargeThe LG Connect runs a modified version of Android 2.3.6 (Gingerbread). The lockscreen features the usual large digital clock with the date just below. A large notification window displays missed calls and messages. Swiping up on the lock screen reveals seven customizable homescreens, the majority of which were chock-full of MetroPCS apps and widgets.
Click to EnlargeThe Applications page features four columns that are separated into two sections. The Applications section features every application on the phone while the Downloads section features every downloaded app. We liked that we could minimize the Applications section for quicker access to the Downloads section, but it would have been nice to access our apps via scrolling pages instead of one monster list.
The Connect 4G comes packed with a solid suite of software and utilities. LG includes SmartShare for wirelessly sharing multimedia content between DNLA devices. Other sharing software includes LG Wi-Fi Cast, which shares music, video and images between Android devices on the same Wi-Fi connection.
In terms of social apps, we liked being able to keep tabs on our friends and their comings and goings via Loopt. However, MetroPCS IM and Social was our favorite. It kept track of our prolific social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live and the soon-to-be-defunct AIM. We do wish, however, that the app took things one step farther and aggregated everything into one stream. We could also do without the huge ad at the top of the screen.
Click to EnlargeOther MetroPCS apps include MStudio, a music store where consumers can purchase music and ringtones. There's also myMetro, which displays users' current balance and plan, MetroNavigator, Metro411 and AppStore.
The Connect 4G also comes with a number of Yahoo-branded apps including Answers, Movies and Sportacular, an app that lets sports fanatics keep track of their favorite teams displaying scores and stats. There's even a Check In section so friends can see what you're watching.
Third-party apps include Google Talk, Rhapsody, Polaris Office and Pocket Express, a free news app.
Powered by a 1.2-GHz dual-core processor, we enjoyed relatively snappy performance from the Connect 4G. Navigating through homescreens and menus was seamless, as was pinch to zoom on webpages. Most apps opened after taking a second to load.
During Benchmark CPU, the Connect 4G scored 2,177. That's 414 points above the 1,763 Android phone category average. However, the Motorola Triumph and its 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU notched 2,223. On An3DBench, which measures graphics performance, the Connect 4G scored an impressive 7,404, well above the 5,933 category average and the Triumph (6,444).
Web Browser and 4G LTE
Click to EnlargeMetroPCS' 4G LTE network has quite a bit of get up and go. During our testing, the LG Connect 4G loaded the mobile versions of NYTimes.com, ESPN.com and CNN.com in 2.9, 4.6 and 5 seconds respectively. The full desktop version of Laptopmag.com loaded in 11.6 seconds. On Speedtest.net, the Connect 4G averaged download speeds of 4.5 Mbps and 4.0 Mbps uploads. That's good but rather slow compared to the 30 Mbps down and 10.9 Mbps up achieved by the LG Spectrum on Verizon Wireless' 4G LTE.
MetroPCS 4G LTE service currently covers 14 markets and their surrounding areas, including New York, Atlanta, Detroit, San Francisco and Las Angeles. While there are no roaming charges, the phone will drop back to 3G speeds outside those areas.
Camera and Camcorder
Click to EnlargeThe 5-megapixel camera on the LG Connect 4G captures images and stills in 720p. During our test shots of flowers at our neighborhood deli, we saw a persistent white haze coupled with a lack of sharpness. However, colors were nice and vibrant with deep reds, purples and oranges. There was about 2 seconds of lag between shots.
Our video of New York City traffic was slightly better. There was no trace of the white haze, but the graininess remained, making it difficult to read the signage on the bright yellow taxis. When we panned up to the sky and back down to street level there was about a second or two of color adjustment.
Similar to the rear-facing camera, images from the VGA front-facing camera were grainy but with bold colors. During a Skype video chat over 4G LTE, our caller reported a slightly grainy image with loud audio. Images were rather pixilated on our end, but the audio was nice and clear. There was approximately a second of latency on both ends of the call.
While the LG Connect 4G's $319 price tag might cause some initial sticker shock, MetroPCS' plans offer a lot for relatively little. The $40 plan includes unlimited calling, long distance and web access with 100MB of multimedia streaming. The $50 plan is identical, but bumps up the streaming to 1GB. There are two $60 plans: The 4G LTE with Rhapsody plan includes unlimited web and calls along with unlimited multimedia streaming; the 4G LTE with Video plan includes unlimited everything plus unlimited access to video in MetroStudio.
Over 2 years, LG Connect 4G users would spend $1,279 on the $40 plan, $1,519 on the $50 plan and $1,759 with the $60 plan. By comparison, the $49.99 Pantech Burst on an AT&T two-year contract with a 450 minutes of voice, unlimited texting and 4GB of data would end up spending $2,209, as would consumers buying the $49.99 Pantech Breakout on Verizon with 450 minutes, unlimited messaging and a 3GB data plan. That's a savings of about $500 to $1,000, depending on the plan.
We made a few test calls to landlines and cell phones in New York and New Jersey. Landline calls were nice and loud even when we switched over to speakerphone. Calls to cell phones weren't as stable. We experienced a few dropped calls despite having four bars. A few callers reported hearing a slight echo while others reported loud and clear audio.
The LG Connect 4G lasted 3 hours and 53 minutes during the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing via 4G LTE). That's 1 hour and 53 minutes below the 5:46 Android phone average. The Triumph didn't fare much better, scoring 3:45.
Click to EnlargeThe phrase "prepaid phone" automatically conjures up images of chintzy disposable handsets with less-than-reliable service and mediocre features. However, the LG Connect 4G offers a solid design with fairly good 4G LTE speeds and good overall performance. The $319 price tag is a bit steep, but the inexpensive plans more than make up for the cost of admission. While we wish its battery lasted longer, the LG Connect 4G is a good deal for those looking to go the no-contract route.