We’ve reviewed a lot of midrange Android devices, and most of them fall short of the mark. It’s the first reasonably priced Android device we can wholeheartedly recommend. Even if it doesn’t have high-end specs, it’s ideal for anyone who wants to avoid the extra monthly charges Sprint adds to the otherwise excellent, HTC Evo 4G.
Design, Call Quality, and Apps The Optimus S measures 4.5 by 2.3 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.6 ounces. It feels comfortable in the hand, with a tapered design and a sturdy soft touch finish in a pleasant slate gray color. Sharp silver accent lines grace the top edge and sides. The 3.2-inch glass capacitive touch screen LCD has 320-by-480-pixel resolution, which is still common for Android. The panel itself is a little small, but it was sufficiently bright, vivid, and responsive to touches. Four physical function keys rest below the screen. Typing on the on-screen keyboard was a little cramped as expected, but was fine otherwise.
The Optimus S is a dual-band EV-DO Rev. A (850/1900 MHz) device. It also has 802.11b/g Wi-Fi; it connected to my WPA2-encrypted network without issue. Voice quality was very good overall. Callers sounded warm and clear in the earpiece, and everyone said I sounded good. I tested the Optimus S on a very windy day outdoors; callers heard the wind, but not oppressively, and said a nearby leaf blower was almost inaudible. Reception was average.
The voice dialing worked without training over Bluetooth, but not very well. It would sometimes guess wrong and start dialing someone I hadn’t spoken to in months. The speakerphone sounded too tinny, but it did go quite loud and was easy to understand. Battery life was excellent at just over 6 hours of talk time.
Like the Samsung Transform and Sanyo Zio, the LG Optimus S supports Sprint ID, the carrier’s new customizable Android interface. The Sprint ID themes replace not just the wallpaper and menu colors, but also the app compliment, ringtones, and screen widgets. It works well, with Disney, ESPN, and other useful themes available from Sprint. The only downside is that installing the themes is more cumbersome than it needs to be; fortunately, they’re all free.
On the OS front, Android 2.2 (“Froyo”) is on board, which is a huge plus. It brings many performance and feature improvements, including Flash 10.1 in the browser and the ability to install apps on a microSD card. It also boosted performance; while the 600 MHz Qualcomm MSM7627, ARM11 CPU is a slower, older part, the Optimus S never felt slow. In addition, the Optimus S works as a mobile hotspot for up to five Wi-Fi devices. At $30 per month extra, it costs less than a dedicated modem and it means you don’t have to carry and charge an extra device. And with unlimited texting and data plans starting at $70 per month (with 450 voice minutes), the Optimus S is a solid deal for a smartphone with or without the mobile hotspot feature.
Otherwise, this is a high-quality Android smartphone. The Optimus S syncs Microsoft Exchange e-mail, contacts, and calendars, as well as other popular e-mail accounts. Android Market offers access to over 100,000 third-party apps, nearly all of which should work fine on this up-to-date Android 2.2 device with a normal screen resolution. Google Maps Navigation delivers voice-enabled, turn-by-turn GPS directions for free. You can download Facebook, Twitter, and other apps from Android Market for a solid social networking experience. The Web browser is excellent, although the phone’s ARM11 processor means it won’t be able to run Adobe Flash. One note: an Exchange bug seems to drain the battery very quickly in standby mode; this is Froyo-specific, though, not the fault of the Optimus S.
The side-mounted microSD card slot works with 32GB cards; my 16GB SanDisk card worked fine, and there’s also 127MB of free internal memory. MP3 and AAC music tracks sounded clear and punchy. The music player was fast, responsive, and displayed large album art thumbnails when available. The standard-size 3.5mm headphone jack on top means this phone can be your primary music device. Standalone video files played smoothly in full screen mode, with clear stereo sound over Bluetooth. Viewing angles were better than average as well. Two small gripes: the Optimus S refused to play 720p files, which is reasonable given the screen resolution, but automatic transcoding would have been nice; and when using Bluetooth (but not wired) headphones, the power-saving circuitry chopped the first second off of every track I cued up in the music player.
The 3.2-megapixel auto-focus camera has no flash. Test photos were detailed and well-rounded, with a slightly soft focus but no obvious flaws both indoors and out. Shutter speeds were quick, and the auto-focus didn’t drag down the proceedings too much, either. Recorded 640-by-480-pixel videos were smooth, well-lit, and usable at an even 17 frames per second. There were virtually no adjustable settings for the camera and camcorder; what you see is what you get. Fortunately, what I got was good.
The LG Optimus S is an easy pick for a budget, feature-packed smartphone on Sprint. It won’t become outdated quickly, it’s well-tuned out of the box, and it offers plenty of high-end functionality. The HTC EVO 4G (without keyboard) and the Samsung Epic 4G have faster processors and larger screens with more pixels, and they offer faster 4G Internet speeds in major cities. But they also cost more up-front and per month.