This week I was going to talk about anti-competitive shenanigans on the part of Apple and Comcast, but this news is more current, more important, and more just-plain-awesome. The reason is that there now exists an excellent smart phone that does not require a contract and allows unlimited data and messaging, plus some voice minutes for less than the price of the average cell carrier’s unlimited data plan alone. This phone’s name is Optimus V, and it is available on Virgin Mobile.
First off, let us get the caveats out of the way. This phone does not do 4G. The 3.2-megapixel camera does not have a flash. Its screen is not covered with glass and it does not have a gigahertz processor or several hundred megabytes of internal memory. It does not have a keyboard or an OLED display and it is not an iPhone. Heck, it does not even have a brightness sensor to automatically dim its 3.2-inch display to save juice.
Other than that, it is perfect.
The first thing you notice when you hold the Optimus V is that it is built like a brick. The materials used are not particularly high-end, but they do not feel cheap either. LG opted to use physical buttons instead of capacitive controls on this phone as well as others like it. Otherwise, the handset has no moving parts, lowering costs without sacrificing build quality. The choice to use tactile rather than haptic feedback was actually a great move on LG’s part in my opinion, having used multiple phones where the alternate method was executed, though the chief cause of haptic disdain (did the phone recognize my tap or is it asleep at the wheel?) is a complete non-issue here.
Another physical point about this phone. It is on the small size. Sure, the iPhone 4 is thinner, but the Optimus V definitely fits the average criteria for ‘pocketability,’ and its weight strikes a balance between quality and… well… being an absolute brick. The phone is large enough to allow for easy texting with its touch screen keyboard in landscape mode, yet the call-making process will not remind you of bringing a dinner plate to your ear. One item of note is that, unlike the Optimus V’s cross-carrier cousins, this phone sticks to standard black plastic for its back rather than soft-touch material, probably in an effort to lower costs. This has minimal impact on build quality or the perception thereof.
The Optimus V’s specification sheet pales in comparison to higher-end smart phones upon first glance. Its 600 MHz single-core processor is no match for gigahertz-or-better Snapdragon, Hummingbird, and TI OMAP chips powering Droids and Galaxies the world over. However, the V’s secret weapon is a separate, 400 MHz modem processor and a 300 MHz graphics chip, the Adreno 200, to be exact. To reiterate, this phone has a dedicated GPU, along with a chip whose sole purpose is to make data transfers go along at a steady clip. Combine this with a relatively vanilla build of Google’s almost-latest build of Android (2.2) and you get a device whose performance can only be described as “fluid.”
Another way to describe the Optimus V’s display is “sharp,” thanks to the relatively high pixel density of its 3.2-inch, 320×480 screen. It is no retina-enabled iPhone 4, but it packs more pixels per inch than older iPhones, and outdoes the other two prepaid Androids, Virgin Mobile’s Samsung Intercept and T-Mobile’s Huawei Comet. Notably, both of these phones cost more than the Optimus V. On the audio front, the phone’s loudspeaker is a little on the tinny side but otherwise, perfectly fine. Phone calls are clear, and quality through the phone’s full-sized headphone jack is excellent.
Going back to the phone’s operating system for a minute, the Android flavor found on the Optimus V is almost as plain-vanilla as you can get. Virgin Mobile has added a few backgrounds and preinstalled a smattering of applications, including front-ends to their activation and account management systems, but that is it. This is actually a good thing; “stock” Android is synonymous with lean, mean phones, while overlays by the likes of Motorola, Samsung, and HTC just slow things down.
If you want to customize your experience on your own, there’s nothing stopping you; but this is not an iPhone. Virgin Mobile has locked down a feature or two, most notably wireless tethering, yet you can easily circumvent this restriction by downloading the Quick Settings app from the Android market, going to its customize screen, moving the Wi-Fi Hotspot control into view and then hitting the ‘On’ button.
At this point, you are probably wondering how much Virgin Mobile’s second smartphone will set you back, up front and per month. That’s actually the kicker in this instance. You can walk into Target, RadioShack, or BestBuy in a few days and walk out with the Optimus V for $150 plus tax without signing a contract… provided the phone is still in stock when you get there.
How can LG and Virgin Mobile price the phone so cheaply? Economies of scale. LG has, or will soon have, a variant of the Optimus One for every major and regional United States carrier except AT&T, which is seven in all, with very few design differences between them. Samsung has followed a similar trend with its Galaxy S series. However, LG’s lower-end focus means that the Optimus V made it into Virgin Mobile’s lineup while a Galaxy S variant did not.
The other half of the phone-plan equation is even better. For $25 per month, you get 300 minutes, unlimited messaging, and unlimited data. Data access for a smart phone is by itself $25-$30 practically everywhere else, and you have to sign a contract to get that price! If more minutes are needed, $40 per month gives you 1200, and $60 does away with the minute cap altogether. A few carriers, most notably CricKet, can match the high-end price point of Virgin Mobile’s Sprint-based Beyond Talk plans. However, the $25 option simply has no peer at this time. Put another way, the bang-for-the-buck meter just had to rescale itself.
In summary, the Optimus V will not make you switch from an iPhone on specs alone, nor will it shatter any speed records or win any photography contests. However, it is a very solid phone with an excellent price both up front and per month, giving me no choice but to highly recommend it for anyone who does not have the budget for a top-of-the-line iPhone or Android, or the expensive rate plan that accompanies such a phone.
Have questions or comments about the Optimus V or some other piece of technology? Go to http://oredigger.net and post a comment to this article! Also, come back next week for a story of conspiracy and intrigue… seriously.