LG Escape review: Priced to sell, but not to perform

I wasn't a fan of the "beauty shot" mode, which promises to mask skin blemishes in pictures taken with the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. It sounds intriguing, but I thought it was useless. As I went darker, I began to look like I was sunburned, and as I went lighter, my skin took on a ghostly appearance. Yes, my glowing skin did look younger, but it also looked obscenely airbrushed.

Kent German/CNET

Josh Miller/CNET

So, yes, it's a feature-rich camera. It's just too bad it doesn't have the image quality to match. Not everything was horrible, but even a well-lit room in CNET's headquarters produced mixed results. Darker colors were bright and accurate, but lighter areas like the lighter countertop were blown out. Images on the edge of the shot lacked focus, as well. Without a flash, our standard studio shot was darker than it should be with washed-out colors and blurry definition.

Kent German/CNET

Outdoor shots were similarly variable. In bright afternoon light, the green leaves and the stone wall in the flower box shown above showed fine detail and the purple petals were bright. The red petals, however, were pale and the white flowers blended together into one mass. In a morning shot, there's a ton of noise and the camera was unable to focus on one point (you can tap to focus). Also, the sky looks like an Impressionist painting. However, lastly, while I don't expect most camera phones to do well at night, the Escape didn't let me down.

Kent German/CNET

Kent German/CNET

The video recorder can shoot video up to a full-HD, 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution or scale down to just 176x144 pixels for multimedia messages. There are many editing options and you can deactivate the sound for silent movies. Like with the still camera, there are a couple of bizarre options that may leave you either entertained or...not. When filming a person, for example, you can add an effect to make them have bug eyes, a bigger nose, or a Glasgow-smile-type mouth. They're all kind of creepy, so I was more partial to the funky backgrounds like space or a sunset. Video length is limited only by the available memory.

The media player has a standard Android design with features like album art, playlists, and shuffle and repeat models. Loading tracks is easy using a USB cable or a memory card. The video player shows no surprises either. Video is a bit higher-quality than still photos, but still unimpressive. I noticed a fair amount of graininess and faded colors. Nonetheless, you'll find a dedicated YouTube app and AT&T Live TV.

Browser
The browser shows Android 4.0 enhancements and a Skyfire Horizon toolbar extension, which lets you quickly access social media pages, like Facebook and Twitter, while browsing the Web. It's all very standard with a user experience that doesn't stray from the Android line.

Performance
The Qualcomm 1.2GHz processor keeps the Escape humming along. There was no delay in opening apps or in switching between applications. What's more, the device never got bogged down when running multiple applications at once. I had to visit the Task Manager only once during my trial period. The phone powered on from a cold start (with no background applications running) in 23 seconds and the camera launched in barely 2 seconds.

LG Escape Performance
Average LTE download speed 8.87Mpbs
Average LTE download speed 13.55Mbps
App download 646KB in 9 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5 seconds
CNET desktop site load 12 seconds
Boot time 23 seconds
Camera boot time 1.5 seconds

LTE data speeds couldn't compare with those of higher-end AT&T 4G phones. After five tests on the Ookla Speedtest.Net app, I clocked an average download speed of 4.75Mbps and an average upload speed of 0.80Mbps. Compare that with the performance of the Galaxy S3, which delivered average download and upload speeds of 8.87Mbps and and 13.55Mbps, also in San Francisco. Still, the data speeds should be fine for casual users. The CNET News app (646KB) downloaded in 9 seconds, which is respectable. The CNET mobile site downloaded in 5 seconds and the full CNET site in 12 seconds.

Call quality
For making calls, the Escape is a true world phone with support for the 850/900/1800/1900 bands. On LTE, it uses the 4 and 17 bands, which limits access outside AT&T's network, but it will default back to the 850/1900/2100 HSPA+ 3.5G bands if LTE isn't available. As such, you will have some high-speed data access overseas.

Call quality on the Escape was admirable, with a clear signal and little static or distortion. Voices sounded mostly natural, though I noticed that a couple of my friends sounded rather breathy. It wasn't always there, but the whispering effect never went away completely. I didn't experience any dropped calls in my testing period and there were no audio cut-outs. On their end, callers said I sounded fine and I didn't have much trouble with automated calling systems.

LG Escape call-quality sample Listen now:

The volume level gets very loud, so I could hear well even when I was calling from noisy places. That carried over to the speakerphone, which almost had a thunderous quality. As you'd expect, though, the level of distortion increases as you turn up the sound. The Escape is compatible with M3 and T3 hearing aids.

Battery
The Escape has a 2,150mAh battery, but the results were less promising than I'd hoped. Over the course of a day, the Escape drained almost completely as I made calls and cycled between features. What's more, when I left the phone unattended overnight after a 35 percent charge, it was almost dead the next morning. To be sure, large displays and speedy processors are battery drainers, so results will depend on how much you're using both (and which brightness setting you use). When I ran the CNET Labs Video playback battery drain test I got better results. The handset latest for 8.3 hours when playing a video loop. That's quite good, but my experience when multitasking wasn't as sharp. The Escape has a digital SAR of 0.74 watt per kilogram.

Conclusion
The Escape occupies a unique place in AT&T's handset stable. Considering just the specs it could almost be high-end, but the entire package keeps it more midrange. Of course, it's not designed to compete with AT&T's high-end devices like the Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 5 and it offers much more than its Android brethren in the same price range. Its closest competitor is probably the Motorola Atrix HD. That handset also offers a great screen and a fast processor, but low battery life, a lot of bloatware, and poor photo quality held it back.

So where does that leave it? Well, it leaves it in the same place as many of LG's phones before it. It has a lot to offer, but there's nothing really special about it. Absolutely, the price is excellent. And if you're looking for more Android phone for less, it's worth buying on that basis alone. But if you want better performance, it's worth shelling out more for a flagship smartphone. Just remember that a lot of new and interesting AT&T devices, including the LG Optimus G, are due before the end of the year. So if you think the Escape blends into the background now, just wait a few weeks.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Service Provider AT&T
  • Weight 4.5 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.3 in
  • Technology LTE
About The Author

Senior Managing Editor Kent German leads the CNET Reviews and Download editors in San Francisco. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he still writes about the wireless industry and occasionally his passion for commercial aviation.