The LG Optimus M. Not so long ago, MetroPCS was just another prepaid carrier with basic prepaid phones and cheap prepaid plans. You could buy a cheap phone for twenty bucks and get unlimited everything (talk, text, and web) for $40 a month. The phones weren't revolutionary, but they were cheap, and you couldn't beat the monthly price. Back then, MetroPCS' motto was "Unlimited Yourself" - take the chains of two-year contracts off, join the Free Mobile World and enjoy budget plans with no contracts.
MetroPCS has recently changed their motto to "Wireless for All". It seems that Metro' wasn't content to just offer great monthly plans with no contracts and cheap phones for those who were on a budget and couldn't afford to worry about what phone they had or which platform was the best. No, they want everyone to have something to enjoy, even those who can afford a decent handset and simply don't want to worry about a contract. With this new strategy in mind, they've rapidly deployed their 4G LTE network, started offering a 4G-capable device (the first one, according to Metro'), and are now offering new Android handsets. It's true, the Optimus M and Huawei Ascend are not "iPhone killers" or or even EVO 4G replacements, but they're reasonably priced and the Optimus M, in particular, is a high performer that seems to come out of left field. You wouldn't expect this basic little low-end Android device to be able to do much or do it well, for that matter, but it does. It exceeded my expectations and will probably exceed yours. That is, if you're willing to give MetroPCS, that 'tiny regional prepaid carrier', a chance.
Design & Features
The LG Optimus M looks, for lack of a better word, sexy. For a phone, I mean. The metallic beige finish really makes it stand out from other mid-range smartphones and the curved back and edges, along with the chrome edging around the front panel, makes it look sleek and stylish. It's not large, only 4.5-inches tall, 2.2-inches wide, and .6-inches thick. So it's about the same size as the iPhone 4, just a little thicker. It features a 3.2-inch display, again, about the same size as the iPhone 4's display. (The Optimus M is obviously not an iPhone competitor, but it's nice to have something familiar to compare it to in terms of size.)
The display is very clear and bright. It has a resolution of 320 x 480, so text isn't always smooth, but it's still a nice display to look at. Below the display are the four standard Android buttons for Menu, Home, Back, and Search. These are physical buttons with a rougher physical texture for easy identification. The right side of the device contains the dedicated camera key and volume rocker buttons. The top of the phone is where you'll find the Power/Screen lock button and the 3.5mm headphone jack. The left side is blank. The microUSB charging port is on the bottom of the device. There is a microSD card slot located underneath the battery cover, but it is not necessary to remove the battery to access it. This slot supports up to 32 GB of external memory and comes pre-loaded with a 2 GB card.
Usability & Performance
The Optimus M ships with Android 2.2, which is a huge plus, considering some devices that came out earlier this year don't even have 2.2 yet. The device does not have just a stock build of Android though, as LG has added their custom skin to the OS. With this custom UI, you're given a new homescreen dock, a few custom widgets, including a beautiful clock and weather widget, and a different App Drawer layout that divides your downloads from the apps that came with the device. You have the option to have either five or seven homescreens to use for shortcuts, apps, and widgets.
One thing to note is that the device does come with a lot of pre-installed apps from MetroPCS. I understand that each carrier wants to put their mark on a device, but the apps that Metro' installed on the Optimus M are completely unnecessary. There is a custom e-mail app, something you won't need at all since Android comes with its own e-mail app as well as a dedicated Gmail app. MetroPCS also installed their custom navigation app, although I don't why anyone would want use to use anything besides Google Maps, easily the best map and navigation app around. Along with this you're also given a MetroPCS App Store that has nothing you'll need or use, and a MetroPCS web browser, though Android has its own and you have plenty of browser options in the Market. Unfortunately, all eleven apps cannot be uninstalled.
Along with the stock Android keyboard, you're also given the option to use Swype, a keyboard that allows you to swipe from key to key in a sort of "connect the dots" fashion in order to type out a word. This may be useful for those who find the 3.2-inch screen to be too small for normal thumb-typing, though it will also help to use the phone in landscape mode for a larger keyboard. In my testing, typing was easy and the display size didn't cause a problem at all.
I was surprised by how well the 600 MHz processor performed. You could make the argument that megahertz alone do not always define how quick a phone will be, but 600 MHz is a low number no matter how you slice it. Regardless, the phone was quick and I experienced no lag at. Load times were short, transitions were smooth, and I could easily run multiple applications at once without having to worry about the phone slowing down dramatically.
The 3.2 MP camera offered pretty good picture quality. It was nothing too impressive, but it was better than other 3.2 megapixel cameras I've tested, probably because LG put a little more work into this one since it's on a smartphone. There is no flash, but it does have an autofocus and captures VGA quality video. It's also nice to have the dedicated camera button on the side of the device.
Call quality on the Optimus M was good. There were a few callers who said they couldn't hear me very well, but that was on the phone with Customer Service using a "1-800" number so that could have been part of the problem. When calling other people in the Dallas area, I could easily hear them and vice versa.
One thing I did have a few problems with was data speeds. The Optimus M is a 3G phone and uses EV-DO technology for data, however, speeds were consistently not up to 3G standards. The phone does support WIFI, so you have that option when near a WIFI hotspot.
The Optimus M ships with a 1,500 mAh battery and performance was pretty standard. With moderate use for web browsing, downloading apps, and having widgets and apps running in the background, the battery lasted one full day before I had to charge it again. It did seem to take slightly longer to charge than other smartphones that I've used. Charging it overnight wasn't a problem because I could let it sit as long as it needed to, but if I only had a half-hour or hour to spare, it wouldn't do much for the battery.
The Optimus M is a great option for MetroPCS customers and should definitely not be brushed off as a cheap low-end smartphone. The overall build of the phone, processor performance, and custom UI by LG come together excellently and make for a very pleasant experience. Unfortunately, if you don't like custom UIs and prefer stock Android, MetroPCS currently has no options for you, but LG's skin isn't too heavy and really the only thing you'll notice is the dock at the bottom of the homescreen.
The Optimus M also has a somewhat reasonable price tag of $229. It may seem like a lot, but it's only about $30 more than what you would pay for a smartphone on-contract with another carrier, but you don't have to worry about the contract. Definitely check this one out if you're a MetroPCS customer and are in the market for an Android smartphone.
The Good: Speedy processor performance; Stylish design; LG custom UI adds nice visual touches to stock Android.
The Bad: Pre-loaded with a lot of carrier "bloatware"; Data speeds were not the best.
The Verdict: The Optimus M is an excellent mid-range smartphone that greatly exceeded my expectations.