LG Optimus Elite hands-on: Super green but far from premium

Sprint's eco-friendly LG Optimus Elite feels like yesterday's smartphone

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I was able to spend some hands-on time with the LG Optimus Elite at the recent EcoFocus event in New York, a press event where vendors showcase their greenest gadgets. Expected to hit Sprint stores in time for Earth Day 2012 (Sunday, April 22), LG proudly trumpets the Optimus Elite's ultra-environmental pedigree, which the company says meets the tough UL Environment Platinum standard.

First, the phone is crafted from 50 percent recycled plastic. Second the handset apparently doesn't rely on parts that use hazardous or carcinogenic materials such as halogens, PVC plastics, phthalates, and Mercury. Lastly, the Optimus Elite is powered by a more efficient AC adapter that automatically shuts itself off when not actively charging.

This sure sounds great but in person the phone itself is pretty underwhelming. Let's just say it's a good thing the new LG Optimus Elite comes with a rock bottom $29.99 sticker price. Despite its premium name and vaunted environmentally conscious construction, the Elite looks and operates like a budget handset. Available in two hues, white and black, at 0.39 inch thick the handset by no means thin. Still, at 4.6 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide, the Optimus Elite is compact enough to fit comfortably in hand.

LG Optimus Elite
Measuring 0.39 inch thick, no one will ever call the compact LG Optimus Elite svelte. Brian Bennett/CNET

The trade-off for the phone's small stature is its miniature 3.5-inch display, which unfortunately renders a low HVGA (480 by 320 pixels) resolution. Compared with the sharp qHD (960 by 540 pixels) and HD (1,280 by 720 pixels) pixel counts today's modern smartphones ship with (such as the HTC One S and Samsung Galaxy Nexus ), the Elite's screen looks bland and blocky.

Encased in rounded edges and curved corners, I thought the Optimus Elite's design does have a bit of swagger, especially the white-hued model. Of course I prefer metal not plastic phones and the device looks suspiciously like an old iPhone 3G except for the Elite's textured back plate. Located here is the phone's 5MP camera and LED flash, which likely won't wow anyone with its image quality.

LG Optimus Elite
On back of the LG Optimus Elite is its 5MP camera and LED flash. Brian Bennett/CNET

Also a letdown is the LG Optimus Elite's archaic 800MHz single-core processor and 1GB of internal memory. The handset does have a micoSD card slot for extra expansion though. Flipping through the phone's Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS, the handset felt responsive enough but definitely not nimble. I'm sure that things will bog down further after filling the device up with lots of apps too. The Elite's slow 3G data connection won't help improve performance either.

So in a nutshell, after playing briefly with the LG Optimus Elite I'm left wondering who would purchase a smartphone like this? I'm sorry but being green for green's sake isn't enough to drive mass appeal. Certainly Android fans on Sprint will pass this one over for perhaps an LG Viper , which costs $99 but promises fast 4G LTE, and Ice Cream Sandwich in the future. Another option is to save up for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which is just days away from shipping.

 

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