LG hasn't had much luck with impressive keyboard phones. The LG Optimus Slider runs on Android Gingerbread and has a poor camera, and the LG Rumor Reflex is too basic for my taste. But when Sprint introduced the LG Mach at MobileCon about a month ago, it had a lot of potential.
For one thing, it natively ships with the new(ish) Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS, and it has a swift dual-core processor. Its additional specs and features also make it competitive with other higher midrange devices.
The handset is available from Sprint and is priced at the $100 sweet spot after a two-year contract and mail-in rebate. For anyone on this carrier looking for a midlevel keyboard phone, the LG Mach is definitely worth considering.
The LG Mach's design is nothing new, and it has a similar look to the Optimus Elite or the Escape with its rounded corners, lack of a physical home button, and chrome-colored border. It measures 4.65 inches tall and 2.56 inches wide. Its profile is 0.48 inch, making it relatively thin as far as sliders go. However, at 5.92 ounces, it feels pretty dense and heavy in the hand.
On the phone's left are a Micro-USB port and a volume rocker. Up top are a sleep/power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the left is a shortcut key to access the camera.
Though the back plate is plastic, it has a brushed-metallic finish that elevates the general feel of the device and makes it look more luxurious. The back hosts a 5-megapixel camera and LED flash. On the bottom-right corner there are two small narrow slits for the audio speaker. Using a small indent at the bottom edge, you can pry the plate off to access the 1,700mAh battery and microSD card slot.
The 4-inch WVGA touch screen has a 480x800-pixel resolution. It isn't as impressive as the camera on the LG Nexus or the Optimus G, but the display's decent in its own right. Icon apps are crisp, text is sharp, and when set to maximum brightness, colors are vivid. Although gradient patterns look somewhat streaky, on the whole, images are rich and HD movies looked smooth. Above the display to the left is a VGA front-facing camera. Below are three hot keys for back, home, and menu.
Underneath the display is a five-row sliding QWERTY keyboard. Though you can feel the top portion of the handset slide against the buttons, the snapping mechanism is sturdy and slides out easily. The keys light up when in use and are generously sized (though the spacebar could be bigger). There's a row just for numbers, and there are four navigational arrows and a function key for symbols. There are also buttons for the "@" symbol, search, and .com. Each key is spaced well and raised slightly above the surface, so they're easy to press without being too bulbous.
Software and OS
The phone runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and comes with a number of Google's services, like Gmail, Car Home, Plus, Latitude, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, Search, Shopper, Talk, and YouTube. The Google Play stores for Books, Movies, and Music are included as well.
Sprint loaded two of its own apps, one of which is Sprint Zone, where you can check your account information and balance. The other is Sprint ID, which you can use to customize your LG Mach with preselected apps, widgets, and other items depending on which ID profile you choose. For example, if you select the E! package, you'll get E! apps and widgets pertaining to the celebrity news channel. You can also choose a Business Pro package, which includes tools designed to aid with business travel plans, financial investments, and backing up data. Note that deleting an ID package won't uninstall the apps that you downloaded -- you'll have to remove those apps manually. So far, there are 42 packs available. Unlike on other LG devices, you can remove the Sprint ID portal from the home screen's dashboard if you don't want to use it.
Other goodies include two file-sharing apps (SmartShare and FileShare), two video editors, the Polaris Office mobile office suit, and a Qualcomm Enhanced Location app that zeros in on your location and saves battery power. And of course, there are more-basic apps, such as a native browser, navigator, and e-mail client, a calculator, music and movie players, a clock with alarm functions, an address book, a news and weather app, a stock app, a notepad, a voice dialer, and a voice recorder.
The handset's equipped with LG's user interface, Optimus UI 3.0, which isn't as stylishly simplistic as the vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich skin. The icons are boxy (but luckily customizable under four different themes ranging from sleek to cutesy), and the widgets look clunky (especially the unattractive weather widget). There are a few welcome changes, however, like the fact that you can access up to four apps of your choosing from the lock screen by simply swiping over each one's icon. There's also LG's signature note-taking app, QuickMemo. With this you can jot down with your finger or stylus quick notes or sketches directly over screen images, which you can then save and share. You can also customize the color and style of your pen tip.
Camera and video
The 5-megapixel camera offers a variety of options. It has auto and touch focus; a flash; a 15x digital zoom, face tracking; geotagging; a timer; continuous, panoramic, and HDR shooting; and Time Catch, which lets you choose and save the best shot before the shutter was pressed. It also has a brightness meter ranging from -2 to +2, five image sizes (ranging from 1,280x768 pixels to 2,560x1,920 pixels), seven scene modes including smart shutter, five ISO options, five white balances, four color effects, and four shutter sounds.
Video-recording options consist of the same digital zoom, flash, brightness meter, geotagging, color effects, and white balances. In addition, there's audio muting and you can choose from six video sizes (ranging from 1080p to QCIF). There's also the silly faces mode, which will distort your face (for example, bulge out your eyes, squeeze your mouth inward) while the video records, and a background module, where you can change your background to outer space, a sunset, a disco, or your own custom image.
The front-facing camera offers the same brightness meter, white-balance options, color effects, timer, and geotagging feature, but there are only two scene modes (normal and night), no face tracking, and one image size (640x480 pixels). There's also a mirror image option that saves a vertically flipped version of your photo, a beauty shot meter that lets you adjust the brightness and blurriness of an image, and a voice command shutter function called Cheese Shot.
Video features for the front-facing camera are nearly identical to those of the rear camera, including the quirky effect modes, except there is no digital zoom or flash, and there are only three video sizes, ranging from QCIF to VGA.
Photo quality was decent and adequate for a camera in its class. In well-lit outdoor photos, colors were true to life and bright. While some objects outside the main focus area were blurry, the picture overall was clear and sharp. In dimmer and indoor lighting, dark hues were harder to distinguish, and there was a noticeable amount of digital noise and graininess. Colors also looked more washed out.
Video quality was impressive. When I shot in 1080p, objects (both stationary and moving) were in focus and crisp with well-defined edges. Recordings played back smoothly with a good frame rate, audio picked up well, and colors were accurate and true to life. There was little lag between my moving of the camera and what I saw on the viewfinder, and there were no rendering issues.
I tested the LG Mach in San Francisco. Call quality was mediocre. Although I could understand what my friends were saying, their voices sounded muffled and scratchy. During times of silence, I could hear a low but continual static noise in the background. Likewise, my friends said I sounded stuffy. As with past LG devices, speaker quality was poor. Voices, especially on max volume, sounded tinny and harsh. Audio from music and movies sounded similarly sharp as well.
Listen now: LG Mach call quality sample
The handset runs on Sprint's 4G LTE network, but I could only clock in 3G speeds in San Francisco. On average, the phone loaded CNET's mobile site in 15 seconds and our desktop site in 27 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took about 13 seconds, while its desktop version took 25. ESPN's mobile site took 33 seconds, and its full site loaded a minute and 14 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.12Mbps down and 0.02Mbps up. And, on average, it took 9 minutes and 45 seconds to download the 23.32MB game Temple Run.
|LG Mach: Performance testing|
|Average 3G download speed||0.12Mpbs|
|Average 3G upload speed||0.02Mbps|
|App download (Temple Run)||22MB in 9 minutes and 45 seconds|
|CNET mobile site load||15 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||27 seconds|
|Power off and restart time||37 seconds|
|Camera boot time||2.88 seconds|
The handset is powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU. There was no hesitation with basic tasks like unlocking the screen, opening the camera app, and transitioning back to the five home screen pages. Switching between portrait and landscape mode (for instance, like when I opened up the keyboard) also showed little lag. Graphics-intensive games like Riptide GP performed well. Though I've seen smoother and higher frame rates on higher-end phones like the Nexus 4, images still rendered bright and crisp, and the app didn't stutter or freeze. On average, it took 37 seconds for the phone to reboot and 2.88 seconds for the camera to launch.
During our battery drain test for video performance, the phone lasted 7.15 hours. Anecdotally, it has decent battery life. Starting with a full charge, a 2-hour movie with brightness on maximum drained about 90 to 95 percent of its battery, and with heavy use throughout the day, a charge will be needed. According to FCC radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 0.49W/kg.
Looking at Sprint's current lineup of slider phones, I don't recommend the Mach over the Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE. True, that handset is nearly twice the price of the Mach, but with that extra $100, you'll get an 8-megapixel camera, a beautiful 4.3-inch display, and a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor -- all in a stylish design.
However, after the Photon Q, the Mach is definitely an excellent choice. Yes, the Kyocera Rise is free, but its hardware specs are unimpressive. And if you're eyeing the $50 Samsung Transform Ultra, consider paying that extra dough since the Mach's OS is newer, the camera is better, and the internal speeds are faster.