In the battle of the really cheap Android phones, the $80 LG Realm for Boost Mobile does OK, but doesn't win -- and that's even after accepting the 3G-only data speeds and entry-level specs like limited storage capacity and a low-resolution screen.
In the case of the Realm, a few LG software extras stand out -- like a glowing LED home button and double-tapping to turn the screen off and on -- but when it comes to specs like the screen quality and storage capacity, Boost Mobile's Motorola Moto G (2013) is ultimately the better buy, even if it does cost $20 more.
Design and build
The Realm is basically a version of the LG Optimus L70 that's compatible with the CDMA technology rather than with GSM networks as was the L70, so if you're familiar with the former, you pretty much know what you're getting here.
For the most part, the Realm looks like your basic black rectangular smartphone, with rounded corners and a slim silvery rim to break up the all-black look. The plastic backing has a subtle pattern of black-on-black squares, which adds a little dimension, though it's the pulsing, glowing LED indicator around the physical home button that gives the Realm a little distinction.
Size-wise, its 4.5-inch screen will please those with smaller hands, or who prefer to use phones one-handed, since the Realm stands at 5 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.38 inch thick (127.3 by 66.8 by 9.7 mm). It's a little weightier than I'd expect (4.8 ounces, 136 grams), but the heft never got in my way. In fact, being able to easily slip the phone into my pocket is what I noticed most.
In terms of the LCD display quality, the 800x480-pixel resolution screen is appropriate for the 4.5-inch size, though its 207ppi pixel density is far from stunning and outdoor legibility in sunlight is predictably challenging. Aliasing and pixelation are evident when you look at high-resolution images on the low-res screen.
Above the screen, you'll find the front-facing camera and a speaker grille. Below it are the capacitive buttons and the home button, which also calls up Google Search with Google Now. A Micro-USB charging port lies beneath, and up top is the standard 3.5mm headset jack. Volume controls are on the left spine, with the power/lock button on the right. Flip the phone over to find the rear camera with LED flash. Prying up the cover exposes the microSD card slot. Accomplish this by sliding a nail into the charging port and pulling back.
OS and apps
LG's decision to outfit the Realm with Android 4.4 is one of the phone's best benefits. The up-to-date OS gives the phone some stability and features that are on-par with the hoity-toitiest Android phone out there, like Google Now.
In addition, it also racks up the LG add-ons replete within the phone-maker's custom Android layer. LG touts the Knock Code, an optional security feature that has you tapping a sequence into various quadrants of the display, buy my favorite is double-tapping the screen to lock and unlock it.
An app quick-launcher called QSlide, and a Quick Memo app are other LG touches; you can also access Quick Memo by sliding up from the bottom edge of any screen, just as you do to raise Google Now.
Troll the settings and you'll find some useful extras, like the option to turn off screen brightness between 12am and 6am each night. Still, I'd rather have automatic screen brightness and retain my right to read my screen in the wee hours when insomnia strikes.
Battery saver that can jump on when the battery hits 30 percent. You can configure it to turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; vibration and auto-syncing; and to reduce screen brightness and shorten the screen timeout. I always like LG's Guest Mode.
While you will find Bluetooth 4.0 to pair wirelessly with devices, the Realm does not appear to support the NFC protocol.
Between them, Boost Mobile and LG can account for a load of extracurricular apps. An LG backup app and Mobile ID profile packs are two. You'll also find a third-party app update center and Boost Music, among many other programs hat you can either use, hide, or ignore.