Nate's Straight Talk Express: Highs and lows of the LG Ally

Nate Allen
Columnist from  Indianola, IA
| July 28, 2010

LG Ally

I just spent a couple of weeks with the LG Ally from Verizon Wireless.  Full disclosure, I did not use the Ally as my personal device during this period because the phone’s number had obviously been recycled and the phone was getting calls pretty consistently that I had no desire to answer.  So I used it during the evenings and weekends to check emails, twitter updates and to tinker with the operating system.  Overall, I feel pretty confident that, other than call quality and signal strength, I got a good feel for the operability of the device.  For commentary about call quality, check out Aaron and Noah's in-depth reviews of the device.

First, I’ll start off with my favorite part of the device, the QWERTY keyboard.  The sliding mechanism is rock-solid with a perceptible spring to the open and closed positions.  While open, there is very little wobble in the screen portion of the device.  The keys are brightly backlit, slightly offset, well spaced out, and each key is ever so slightly angled towards the center of the device.  Key presses provide the user with an audible “click” in a similar fashion as a Blackberry device does.  The combination of these factors make for a very comfortable and even enjoyable typing experience. I’m used to typing on a vertically oriented keyboard, both virtual on my Eris as well as the hard keyboard on my Blackberry, so I found myself rotating my right hand down almost around to the bottom of the keyboard so as to avoid stretching my right thumb over the d-pad, which takes up about ¾ of an inch on the right side of the keyboard.  My personal preference would be for manufacturers to ditch the d-pad and either not use a navigation tool or take a note from HTC’s playbook and switch to the optical trackpad on the front of the device.

Unfortunately, that’s where my positive remarks about the Ally end.  I think anyone coming from a featurephone wouldn’t notice as many negatives as those users who have used other Android devices.  Unfortunately for the device manufacturers and wireless carriers, reviewers of these devices aren’t their target market, so those who have experienced high-end devices are not going to find as many positives in the low and mid-range devices like the Ally. 

LG equipped the Ally with a custom home “theme” that, by visual appearances alone, looks pretty nice with a white shortcut bar across the bottom containing shortcuts for the dialer, contacts, messaging, and the browser apps (in that order).  Unfortunately, this theme ‘skin’ lacks any kind of customizability whatsoever.  These app shortcuts are static in every way in that a user is not able to create any user-defined shortcuts in this area and the static shortcut bar remains as the user swipes left and right through the homescreen panels.   It didn’t take long for me to switch to the vanilla Android home UI, and then to my favorite home replacement app, LauncherPro.

One of the most serious issues I had with the Ally is hard to describe, so bear with me.  I would call the problem a lack of screen sensitivity, but I think that would be an oversimplification.  The screen is adequately sensitive at times, but very lacking at others.  It feels like it is a lack of proper communication between the operating system and the hardware.  On most Motorola and HTC Android devices that I’ve used, a flick of the thumb will quickly and smoothly take me from one homescreen panel to another, but on the Ally I have to be almost deliberate with the length of the swipe of my thumb, or else the “rubber-banding” action of the software will snap the homescreen panel back to its current location.  When I do register a swipe long enough to do the trick, the movement looks and feels herky-jerky.  I think this experience contributes in a major way to the feeling that the device “lags,” as both Noah and Aaron both reported. LauncherPro, with its speed tweaks, helped marginally, but not enough to change my opinion of the device.

Pretty much everything else about the Ally is a vanilla Android experience, so the Ally’s great keyboard really makes for a great typing experience, while the screen sensitivity issues really make every part of the experience worse.  I know there are others out there who have the Ally and love it, but I’m sure there are others who have a similar experience as mine.  I’d like to hear from you either way. Leave me a note in the comments with your experience with the LG Ally.

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