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The LG Lotus was probably the first fashion-forward messaging phone we ever encountered, back in 2008. It sported an unusual square design, and we were enamored with the version that had the decorative purple tattoo. Apparently fashionistas were enticed as well, as it even made its way to New York Fashion Week that year.
Fast-forward to 2010 and LG has introduced an improved successor to the Lotus, dubbed the LG Lotus Elite. It still has that familiar square design, but it is much sleeker than before. More importantly, it now has a stunning touch screen as the external display, from which you can quickly access oft-used functions like messages and contacts without having to open the phone. We were disappointed that most of the features are still the same, but at least it now has integration with social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The LG Lotus Elite is priced quite competitively at only $99.99 with a two-year service agreement and a $50 mail-in rebate. It also earned a nomination for our Best of CES awards in the cell phones category at CES 2010.
The LG Lotus Elite carries on the fashion phone reputation of its predecessor with an unquestionably bold and unique design. Measuring 3.43 inches wide by 2.44 inches long by 0.75 inch thick, the Lotus Elite pays homage to the original Lotus with its square shape but has a style all its own. Indeed, the Lotus Elite is much sleeker and curvier than the blocky Lotus, with rounded corners and shiny chrome detail along its borders. The phone feels like it is solidly constructed; the hinge seems sturdy as well. LG wisely debuted the Lotus Elite in a stunning bold red decorated with a whimsical floral tattoo, which appears to be a ploy to attract the female demographic.
However, the biggest design update for the Lotus Elite is with its external display. It measures 2.4 inches diagonally, which takes up quite a bit of room on such a small phone. It also boasts 262,000 colors and a 320x240-pixel resolution, which makes everything look sharp and colorful. Not only that, but the display is now a touch screen. Indeed, you can use your finger to tap through options just as you would with any touch-screen handset. The display is resistive, not capacitive, so it's not quite as responsive as the screen on the iPhone or the Nexus One, but since the external touch screen on the Lotus Elite has access to only a limited menu of options, it's not that big a deal.
The first thing you'll notice when you activate the external touch screen is that it has animated wallpaper--the one we have has an animation of a flying butterfly, for example. You will also see the typical indicators like battery and signal strength, plus the date and time. There's also an icon for any missed calls or messages. Beyond that, you can customize it so that you can access your messages, photo gallery (or slide show), speed dial contacts, recent call history, and contacts list without having to open the phone. You simply swipe horizontally across the screen to flip through them. You can also use the external display as a camera viewfinder. You can adjust the external display's screensaver and, if you want, you can calibrate the touch screen for added accuracy. On the whole, we found the external touch screen intuitive to use.
On the left side are a 2.5mm headset jack, the volume rocker, and the charger jack, while the camera key, screen lock key, and microSD card slot are on the right. On the back of the phone is a tiny little metal loop on which you can tie a cell phone charm if you wish. The LG Lotus Elite even comes with an optional red leather strap to attach to it.
Interestingly, the 2.0-megapixel camera on the Lotus Elite is located right on the hinge of the phone. When the phone is closed, the camera lens appears on the upper left of the phone's rear. When the phone is open, the lens appears on the hinge in between the display and the keypad. Since you'll be using the internal display as a viewfinder at that point, it makes it much easier to take self-portraits.
Flip open the phone and you'll find another 2.4-inch display with the same color support and pixel resolution. Unlike the external display, though, the internal one is not a touch screen. It does feature Sprint's OneClick interface, which is a center carousel of shortcut tiles along the bottom row of the home screen. This lets you quickly access phone functions like your messages, your account details, Sprint Navigation, your Yahoo Mail, and more. Notable shortcuts include quick views of your Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace accounts, plus a Google menu that gives you access to Google search, Gmail, and YouTube. You can easily add and remove shortcut tiles from the OneClick carousel.
You can adjust the display's brightness, the backlight time, the font size for messages, the browser, the notepad, the dial digits, and applications, and you can have picture IDs for contacts, unsaved numbers, and private/unknown numbers. The main menu can be arranged in either grid view or list view.
Underneath the display and the hinge are the navigation controls. They consist of two soft keys, a rectangular four-way toggle plus a middle Menu/OK key, a dedicated speakerphone key, a Back key, and the Talk and End/Power keys. With the exception of the toggle, the speakerphone, and the Back key, the keys are mostly flat. Still, there is enough separation between each that we could still navigate by feel.
Beneath that are three dedicated shortcut keys labeled Social, Email, and Text. The Social key can be mapped to one of three social network applications--Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace. The Email and Text keys are fairly self-explanatory: the Email key leads to the e-mail in-box, while the Text key leads to a new text message.
Right underneath that is the full QWERTY keyboard. It's spacious, and all keys are raised above the surface for quick and easy typing. The number keys are highlighted in orange, and we like that the space bar is larger than the rest of the keys. The emoticon key is a nice touch as well.
The LG Lotus Elite has a 1,000-entry phone book with room in each entry for six numbers, three e-mail addresses, a memo, a URL, an instant-messenger username, a street address, a birth date, a job title, and a company name. You can save the entries to caller groups, pair them with a photo for caller ID, or with any of 33 polyphonic ringtones and any of four vibrations. Essential features include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, an alarm clock, a calendar, a calculator, a notepad, a world clock, and a stop watch. Slightly more advanced features include USB mass storage mode, wireless backup service, voice command and voice dialing, a voice memo recorder, a document viewer, stereo Bluetooth, and a mobile Web browser. The Lotus Elite also has A-GPS and support for Sprint's location-based services like Sprint Navigation and Sprint Family Locator.
Messaging is at the forefront of the Lotus Elite's features. Of course it has text and multimedia messaging, but it also has instant messaging (AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo), and e-mail. You can set up e-mail from a variety of Web providers like AOL Mail, AIM Mail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and Gmail, plus other POP or IMAP servers. You can also set up your work or corporate e-mail, which is especially easy if your company uses Outlook Web Access (OWA). If your company does not use OWA, you have to sign up with Sprint's own Mobile Email Personal Account that requires you to download software to your office computer.
Since the Lotus Elite is equipped with EV-DO Rev. 0, you get access to Sprint's array of broadband services. They include Sprint TV for live on-demand television shows, Sprint Movies for pay-per-view movies, Sprint Radio for streaming radio, plus Sprint Music for purchasing and downloading songs over the air. Each song is $0.99 and includes a simultaneous download to the PC as well. The music player on the Lotus Elite has a very bare-bones interface that mirrors that of the Sprint Music Store. You can create and edit your playlists, and you can also transfer your songs via USB. Options include repeat, shuffle, and the capability to send the player to the background. You are encouraged to store additional tracks via a microSD card.
Like with the original Lotus, the Lotus Elite has a 2.0-megapixel camera. It can take pictures in four resolutions (1,600x1200, 1,280x960, 640x480, and 320x240), and three quality settings. Other settings include four color tones, brightness (auto and manual), five white balance presets plus a manual mode, nine fun frames, a 4x zoom (but only when not in the highest resolution), a self-timer, a night mode, and four shutter sounds, and a silent option. There's also a camcorder, which can record videos in either as much as the memory card will allow, or a shorter video version. Videos can be recorded in three resolutions--QVGA (320x240), 176x144, or 128x96--and three quality settings. Other camcorder options are similar to that on the still camera. Photo quality was not as good as we had hoped. We had to hold quite still for the image not to be blurry, and the colors seemed muted and dull.
As we mentioned earlier, you can customize your Lotus Elite with graphics for wallpaper and screensavers. You can take your own, or download more from Sprint's mobile store. The same goes for any ringtones or alert sounds. The Lotus Elite also comes with a few games and applications--demo versions of Family Feud and Minigolf Las Vegas 4 Prizes, Frogger Evolution, NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile, NFL Mobile Live, and Social Zone. Like with the graphics and sounds, you can download more of those from Sprint as well.
We tested the LG Lotus Elite in San Francisco using Sprint's network. Call quality was quite impressive on the whole. We heard our callers clearly without any distortion, and their voices sounded natural. Automated-calling systems recognized our voice just fine.
Callers also reported very good call quality. They said there was hardly any background noise or static, and we sounded so clear that it was almost that of landline quality. They did say our voice seemed slightly robotic, but it wasn't a deal breaker. Speakerphone calls, on the other hand, was quite poor. They said we sounded rather muffled, even when we spoke relatively close to the microphone. We thought they sounded tinny, albeit with a lot of volume.
The same goes for the music audio quality: the phone's tiny speakers were just not enough to put out quality bass. The overall audio was quite tinny and thin as a result. We would certainly recommend a headset for better audio.
EV-DO speeds were acceptable. Though the speeds are not as fast as EV-DO Rev A, we still managed to stream video from Sprint TV without any buffering issues. We also downloaded a 1.5MB song in just 40 seconds.
The LG Lotus Elite has a rated battery life of 5.9 hours talk time. We were impressed with the tested talk time of 7 hours and 3 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Lotus Elite has a digital SAR of 1.2 watts per kilogram.