U.S. Cellular has really ramped up its smartphone lineup this year, particularly in the Android department, with some great additions, such as the Samsung Mesmerize and HTC Desire. The LG Apex is the latest member of the family, but it doesn't quite shine like the others.
Similar to the LG Ally from Verizon Wireless, the Apex is notable in that it offers an excellent full QWERTY keyboard and affordable price tag. However, the Android 2.1 smartphone also suffers from slightly sluggish performance and shorter battery life, so if you need a high-performance machine, you're better off with the Mesmerize or Desire. If your top wants are a keyboard or a budget-friendly price tag, the Apex is definitely the better option than the similarly featured Samsung Acclaim Originally priced at $79.99, the LG Apex is now available for $49.99 after an $80 mail-in rebate.
Compared to other QWERTY sliders, such as the T-Mobile G2 and Samsung Epic 4G, the LG Apex is rather compact at 4.57 inches high by 2.22 inches wide by 0.62 inch thick and weighs 5.39 ounces. The handset isn't as wide as the others, so it feels more comfortable to hold. It's certainly not the thinnest of phones, but we found that it could fit into a pants pocket without problem. The Apex also has a solid construction, with a nice soft-touch finish on back.
Now, the one trade-off of the more trim design is a smaller display. The Apex has a 3.2-inch capacitive touch screen, whereas the G2 and Epic 4G have 3.7-inch and 4-inch displays, respectively. However, with an 800x480-pixel resolution and support for 242,000 colors, we found the Apex's screen to crisp and bright so we didn't find the smaller size to be a huge issue. There's also pinch-to-zoom support and a built-in accelerometer.
The touch screen was responsive in that apps and menus launched when we tapped the appropriate icons, but we found swiping and scrolling actions to be a little sluggish. For text entry, the Apex offers the standard Android keyboard, but the smartphone allows third-party apps, so you can download and install Swype (currently in beta) if you wish. Of course, you may find that you don't use the onscreen keyboard all that much since the Apex has a physical keyboard.
To be honest, when we first saw the keyboard, we weren't thrilled to see a D-pad on the right side, since we didn't have the best experience with the Motorola Droid, which also had a D-pad. However, LG somehow makes it work. Unlike the Droid, we could comfortably hold and type with both hands without needing to adjust for the D-pad. The buttons are raised above the phone's surface and are a good size and separated, so we didn't have too many mispresses. We also appreciated the dedicated number keys, as well as the home, menu, and search shortcuts.
Below the display, you get touch-sensitive menu, home, back and search keys, as well as physical talk and end/power buttons. On the left spine, there's a volume rocker and a Micro-USB port, while the microSD expansion slot and camera button are located on the right. A 3.5mm headphone jack sits atop the phone, and on back, you'll find the camera and flash.
The LG Apex comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 4GB microSD card, a wired stereo headset, and reference material.
The LG Apex offers a midrange set of features. It runs Android 2.1, bringing along with it such Google services as Google Maps Navigation, Google Talk, Google Latitude, and YouTube. The smartphone also comes preloaded with the ThinkFree Office Suite, as well as a number of U.S. Cellular services: My Contacts Backup, Your Navigator, and Tone Room Deluxe.
You can, of course, download more apps from the Android Market, which now has a catalog of more than 100,000 apps. Since the Apex is still running Android 2.1, you can only save apps to the phone's main memory (Android 2.2 supports app storage on SD cards), which is only about 102MB, so keep that in mind as you go about downloading apps.
As a phone, the LG Apex has a speakerphone, speed dialing, voice commands, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging. Bluetooth, 3G, GPS, and integrated Wi-Fi are also all onboard, but there's currently no voice-dialing over Bluetooth. The smartphone offers support for a number of e-mail accounts and social networks, including Gmail, POP3 and IMAP, Microsoft Exchange, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, and merges contact information from your various accounts. Calendar appointments and e-mail are also combined into a unified view, though you can opt to keep your various inboxes separate.
When you're ready for some down time, you can use the smartphone's standard Android media player to listen to your favorite tunes. The interface is pretty basic, but it can handle MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+ files and supports on-the-fly playlist creation, album art, and shuffle and repeat modes.
Finally, the Apex has a 3-megapixel camera with an LED flash and autofocus. There a number of editing options available, such as various scene modes, ISO settings, white balance controls, color effects, and a self-timer. The camera can also record video up to 640x480 in size. Picture quality was OK--clear enough that we could make out all the objects in the image, but slightly on the darker, grainier side.
We tested the dual-band LG Apex in New York using roaming U.S. Cellular service and call quality was decent. Audio was slightly tinny our end, but without distracting background noise so we had no problems carrying on a conversation. Friends had similar comments. They said there wasn't anything distracting about the call quality, but did mention that the audio wasn't as full or rich as some of the other phone's we've tested.
LG Apex call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone quality was good. Though there was a bit of that hollowness that often plagues speakerphones, the sound was clear and there was plenty of volume to hold calls in noisier environments. We paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones with no problem.
With roaming 3G coverage, CNET's full site loaded in 26 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN loaded in 5 seconds and 7 seconds, respectively. YouTube videos loaded within several seconds, and you have the option to switch to high-quality clips, which took a little longer to buffer, but played back without interruption and with synchronized audio and video.
Powered by a 600MHz processor, the LG Apex struggled in the performance department. There were slight pauses with even simple tasks, such as launching apps and switching between screens, and though there were never crippling, the delays were noticeable.
The LG Apex ships with a 1,500mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 7.5 hours and up to 14 days of standby time. We are still conducting our battery drain tests but will update this section as soon as we have final results. During our review period, however, we noticed that battery life wasn't the greatest. Even with minimal use, the battery drained faster than most, so it's definitely a concern. According to FCC radiation tests, the Apex has a digital SAR rating of 1.38 W/kg and a Hearing Aid Compatibility Rating of M4/T4.