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LG Optimus Elite (Sprint) review: LG Optimus Elite (Sprint)

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Stop me if you've heard this one, but I'm going to tell you about my experiences using an LG Optimus phone. All right, I know that's a bit snarky, but it's difficult not to make a joke when you've seen so many members of the Optimus family (more than a dozen when you factor in the various carrier versions). The new LG Optimus Elite has more in common with its Optimus S granddaddy than it does with the high-end LG Optimus 3D Max that LG unveiled at Mobile World Congress earlier this year. Behind a very simple design and a 3.5-inch display is a midrange feature set that runs on Android Gingerbread and an 800MHz processor. Outside of the Google Wallet support, there's not much to get excited about, but not all phones have to be exciting. Call quality is fine, but it could be better.

LG Optimus Elite - white (Sprint)
6.3

LG Optimus Elite (Sprint)

The Good

The <b>LG Optimus Elite</b> succeeds at the basic while throwing in a few extras like Google Wallet and Visual Voicemail. Camera quality is quite good.

The Bad

The Optimus Elite has a small, low-resolution display and a plastic build. There was some distortion in call quality.

The Bottom Line

The LG Optimus Elite packs a couple of interesting extras, but at its core it's no more than an average Android phone with a less than elite design.

The Optimus Elite is available with Sprint in titan silver and white for $29.99 with a two-year service agreement and a $50 mail-in rebate. I reviewed the titan silver version, but the features are the same for both models. You also can buy it with Sprint's prepaid subsidiary, Virgin Mobile. There it will cost you $149.99, but you won't sign a contract.

Design
You have to wonder why LG added "Elite" to the handset's name since there's really not that much elite about it. And that starts with the Optimus Elite's design. Indeed, with its straight lines and utilitarian look, the Optimus Elite puts function over form. At 4.58 inches tall by 2.47 inches wide by 0.39 inch deep, the handset is about the same size as the iPhone 4 and it also sports a 3.5-inch display. Personally, I prefer a display more in the range of 3.75 inches, especially if you're watching movies or playing graphics-rich games. I said the same in my iPhone 4S review, but I won't make as big as a fuss here considering the Optimus Elite's price.

LG Optimus Elite (pictures)

See all photos

An added bonus, at least for some users, is an eco-friendly shell that's crafted from 50 percent recycled plastic and is ULE Platinum-certified. The handset doesn't contain harmful materials such as PVC plastics, phthalates, halogens, or mercury and the packaging is entirely recyclable.

Below the display are four touch controls. Josh Miller/CNET

The Optimus Elite weighs 4.25 ounces, which gives it a solid feel for its size. The back cover is plastic, something that I didn't love, and it has a textured material. On the whole, the handset should stand up to your daily routine and it sports Corning's Gorilla Glass, but I wouldn't recommend banging it on a concrete floor. You'll need to remove the battery cover to access the microSD card slot, but I was glad to see that you can leave the battery in place.

In addition to bordering on too small, the 16 million-color display has an average 320x480-pixel resolution. It's fine for everyday features like messaging and e-mail and your basic apps, but media content won't look fantastic. Colors were relatively bright, though, and blacks were dark. You have five home screens to customize as you wish.

Below the display are four touch controls: Back, Home, Menu, and Search. Like with the display above they're responsive to your touch. Up top is a 3.5mm headset jack and a power control and around the corner on the left side is a volume rocker. The Micro-USB port is on the bottom of the phone and the camera, self-portrait mirror and flash are on the back. As a touch-screen phone, the Optimus Elite has a virtual alphanumeric keypad and QWERTY keyboard. The latter has the standard Gingerbread design while adding Swype.

Features
Outside of Google Wallet, the Optimus Elite's feature set doesn't extend far beyond the basics. The phone book's size is limited only by the available memory, with each contact holding multiple fields, including phone numbers, street addresses, URLs and e-mails, and a company name. You can pair contacts with a photo and video and sync your entire list with Sprint.

All the essentials are present including text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a calendar (that you can sync with Google), support for both Gmail and other e-mail POP3 services, voice dialing, an alarm clock, a Web browser, and voice search. As for connectivity, there's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB mass storage and syncing. One thing missing that I would like to see is a file manager.

Android 2.3 Gingerbread won't please the most devoted Android enthusiasts, but they're not the audience for this phone in the first place. As it is you get all the changes that Gingerbread brought, including the enhanced cut-and-paste functionality and the ability to see how much of the battery that individual apps are used. Sprint hasn't said when and if this phone will be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich, but given its middling specs, I wouldn't hold my breath.

The Optimus Elite has a flash and a self-portrait mirror for its 5-megapixel camera. Josh Miller/CNET

Though the Optimus Elite is hardly a multimedia powerhouse, the 5-megapixel camera is one of the phone's better features. You're given a wide range of options, including an adjustable ISO and an adjustable white balance, four color effects, a self-timer, four shutter sounds, geotagging, a digital zoom, a brightness meter, and special modes for portrait, landscape, sports, sunset, and night. The tap to focus feature is especially welcome when you're taking photos against a light background and I like the ability to view a photograph for up to five seconds after you've taken it. The camcorder also comes with a decent set of editing options including the ability use the flash as a steady light. You can record up to a 720x480-pixel resolution, but keep in mind that you'll be using more memory the higher you go. Videos meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds, but you can shoot for longer in standard mode. You can view all of your work in the user-friendly Gallery app.

As an Android phone the Optimus Elite comes with all the standard options, which is quite a lot. You'll find Google Navigation and Maps, a dedicated Google+ app, Google Books, a news and weather app, Google Talk, Google Shopper, Google Places and Latitude, and Google Messenger. I would be fine if the handset stopped there, but I was pleased to find NFC support and Google Wallet. There's also a separate Android app for managing NFC tags that don't involve shopping.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Sprint phone without a selection of app added by the carrier. You may love them or consider them bloatware (I'm of the latter camp), but they include SprintZone, Sprint TV and Movies, Sprint Music Plus, and Sprint NBA Mobile. Fortunately, you can remove everything but SprintZone. Indeed, I removed the NBA app immediately without any problems and it didn't come back to haunt me again. I can live with SprintZone given that it helps you manage your bill online. It's a bummer, however, that Sprint doesn't let you uninstall its SprintID feature. The carrier touts SprintID as a convenient way to customize your phone, but I have to agree with CNET's Lynn La that it's more trouble than it's worth. Check out her LG Viper review, also an eco-friendly Android phone, for more details.

Rounding out the app list is a selection of third-party titles like TeleNav GPS Navigator, Polaris Viewer for Office docs, and YourTube. One particularly great feature of the Visual Voicemail app is the ability to transcribe voice mails into text. It will cost $1.99 a month -- not outrageous, though not entirely welcome either -- but it worked quite well in my experience. It isn't a stickler for punctuation, but it's great for drivers. You can purchase many more apps from the Android Market provided that your wallet and the handset's memory can handle the damage. You have a generous 1GB of internal memory for storing your content, and the microSD slot can take cards with capacities up to 32GB. And of course, a nice feature of Gingerbread is at the ability to transfer files between the phone's internal memory and the memory card. For more amusement, there's also the standard Android media player that you can pack with videos and music purchased from Google or transferred from another device.

Performance
I tested the dual-band LG Optimus Elite in San Francisco using Sprint service. Call quality was acceptable, though not without its faults. The signal was strong and clear and the volume was loud, but there was the tinniest bit of distortion on my end. It didn't happen for everyone either, but some voices were a little fuzzy. The resulting effect is difficult to characterize, but it was almost as if some of my friends were exaggerating their "s" sounds. On their end, callers said that I sounded fine, but they noticed some background noise.

LG Optimus Elite call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone calls were pretty good, actually, The volume level doesn't get as loud as I like, but I could hear clearly as along as I wasn't in a noisy place. Callers could hear me, as well, provided that I was close to the phone. Naturally, speakerphone calls did produce some slight distortion, but it was nothing out of the ordinary.

The 800MHZ processor keeps the Optimus Elite going. If the handset was packed with more features or if it carried a higher price tag, I'd complain about the internal speed. For this handset, though, it does the job. For the Optimus Elite, it's relatively fine, though I still wonder about adding "Elite" to the handset's name.

Bright colors, like this red carpet, looked great in adequate light. As you can see in the upper right corner, however, bright areas were blown out. Kent German/CNET
In bright daylight the camera also performed well. Kent German/CNET

On the other hand, I was impressed with the Optimus Elite's photo quality. Of course, photos taken in bright light fared best. Colors are at an acceptable midpoint between being too muted and too oversaturated. The camera couldn't handle very bright light and the edges of most photos showed some noise, but by and large I was pleased with the results. Videos were fine, though not as great as still shots. The feed wasn't jerky and audio kept up, but there was a lot of grain in the picture. As such, they're fine for embarrassing your friends the day after a wild evening out, but I wouldn't record my vacation using the Optimus Elite.

The camera struggled a bit in darker rooms. You can see the image noise and muted colors. Kent German/CNET

The Web browser can show full HTML pages, though it will default to mobile pages when they're available. In most cases I'd prefer the second option since the fancy graphics won't look great on the display and the 3.5-inch screen size can make for a lot of scrolling. As a reminder, the Optimus Elite runs on Sprint's 3G EV-DO network so speeds will be a little slower if you're used to WiMax, HSPA+, or LTE. The CNET mobile site, for example, opened in 19 seconds and the full CNET site in 1 minute, 10 seconds. In further testing, the full New York Times site opened in 40 seconds and Airliners.net opened in 43 seconds. All in all, not bad. The browser also has Flash player for your video needs.

During our battery tests, the Optimus Elite lasted 7.17 hours. According to FCC radiation tests it has a digital SAR rating of 1.0 watts per kilogram.

LG Optimus Elite - white (Sprint)
6.3

LG Optimus Elite (Sprint)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 6