Budgethandsets are getting so good that it's making us all tingly. The LG Optimus One P500 is available now for free on the low contract price of £20 per month, which means it will soon become even cheaper. It's also available for £250 SIM-free. For those prices, you'll get nine-tenths of the great features of Android 2.2, the latest version of Google's mobile operating system.
Android hit with the ugly stick
The Optimus One isn't the best-looking budget smart phone (check out the HTC Wildfire for a budget Android phone that looks the business). But it's not hideous either. It's just rather plasticky. We like the clicky physical buttons on the front, despite their ugly chrome trim, because they're easier to use than the touch-sensitive kind that are popping up with increasing frequency.
We could go on and on endlessly about the great features of Android, but we'll limit ourselves to giving just a few examples. Its email support is excellent, offering the ability to add all your accounts, including Outlook email using Microsoft Exchange. There's a separate email client if you use Gmail or Google Apps, and Android supports multiple accounts too.
Android is Google's mobile OS, so it's no surprise that Google services are the best part of this phone. Google Maps has advanced features that you won't find on non-Android phones, such as support for My Maps and layers. Google has also released plenty of good apps in the Android Market, which you can download and install for free. We love Google Listen, a podcasting app that downloads your favourite podcasts over Wi-Fi, and Google Sky Map, which will appeal to star gazers.
We're not so impressed with the skin that LG has put on top of the default Android user interface. It does offer a couple of handy features, though. For example, you can divide the menu into categories so you can sort out your apps and icons. We also like the handy switches in the notification bar for turning Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off. This idea does seem to have been pinched from Samsung, though. It's also interesting that you can choose between having five home screens to swipe between or seven.
Unfortunately, LG's tweaks generally aren't pretty. The quick-launch bar along the bottom of the screen isn't as good-looking as the default Android bar, since the dialler icon almost spills out of the dock. And the special widgets that LG has included look clumsy, especially in comparison with the groovy widgets that HTC phones come with. You don't have to use the widgets if you don't like them, but the result of their poor design is to make the Optimus One look as cheap as it is. LG either needs to hire a decent graphic designer, or leave Android alone, as on the equally cheap Huawei Ideos.
LG has also slapped its own keyboard on the phone. It has a 12-key arrangement in portrait mode, rather than the default Android Qwerty keyboard. We can see the logic here -- big buttons make more sense on a small, 3.2-inch screen. But it's easy to change back to the Android keyboard, and, after testing both, we think the Qwerty keyboard works well even in portrait mode. The keys are small, but the software did a great job of figuring out which one we were aiming for. We suggest you try out both keyboards for yourself, which you can do by holding your finger in any text box and selecting 'input options'.