As someone who's getting more baffled by the ever-expanding screen sizes of smartphones, for me it's nice to see a relatively compact Android device, like the LG Optimus F3, coming out of the pipeline from time to time.
But just because it only has a 4-inch screen doesn't mean it also goes light on the features. In fact, its dual-core processor, decent camera, and long-lasting battery all contribute to a quality experience using this 4G LTE handset.
Currently available for free after users sign a two-year carrier agreement with Sprint, (or $240 prepaid with T-Mobile) the Optimus F3 is good for people who prioritize a modestly sized smartphone. For those who don't mind just a little more wiggle room with their displays, however, Sprint offers plenty of those for free too. If you're a T-Mobile customer on the other hand, the F3 is a great deal, and if you want a bigger screen, you'll need to cough up a bit more money.
The LG Optimus F3 is small -- really small. Measuring just 4.57 inches tall, 2.44 inches wide, and 0.4 inch thick, the device is compact and can easily fit in front jeans pockets. Comfortable to operate with one hand, it's also lightweight at just 4 ounces.
On its left and right edges are a volume rocker and sleep/power button, respectively. Meanwhile the top houses a 3.5mm headphone jack and the bottom has a Micro-USB port for charging.
The battery door features a textured line design that keeps fingerprints off with its matte coating. It comes in both silver and dark purple, and it can be easily removed by sliding your fingernail underneath the Micro-USB port. Once it's off, you can access the 2,460mAh battery and both the SIM card and microSD card slots. The back also houses the 5-megapixel camera with flash, and two small slits at the bottom left for the audio speaker.
The 4-inch IPS touch screen has a 800x480-pixel resolution. Though it's no top-tier 1080p display, it's impressively clear and bright in its own right. True, there is a bit of aliasing on the edges of text, but letters and icons still look clean, stock wallpaper photographs appear crisp with little color banding, and the touch screen is responsive. Above the display is a VGA front-facing camera, and below are two hot keys (for back and menu), along with a physical home button that has a colorful LED light surrounding it for notifications.
The handset ships with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and comes with a number of Google's services, like Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Latitude, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, Search, Shopper, Talk, and YouTube. The Google Play stores for Books, Magazines, Movies & TV, and Music are included as well.
Sprint loaded some of its own apps, one of which is Sprint Zone, where you can check your account information and balance. There's also a ringtone portal called Sprint Music Plus, as well as Sprint TV and Movies, and Sprint ID.
ID enables you to customize your phone 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 apps and widgets pertaining to the celebrity news channel. 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 40 packs available, and once you start up your Optimus F3, the Sprint Default ID pack annoyingly starts downloading automatically.
Aside from providing an Accessible Education ID pack (which is aimed at young users who have a hard time reading due to difficulties learning or seeing), the device also comes with one more accessibility feature for the visually impaired: TalkBack by Google. Tucked under Settings, it's a text-to-speech feature that reads back to you the handset's features, notifications, and apps as you navigate through the phone.
Other goodies include two file-sharing apps (SmartShare and FileShare), a video editor, the Polaris Viewer 4 mobile office suite, a language translation app, and a Qualcomm Enhanced Location app that zeroes in on your location and saves battery power.
A few software goodies from the T-Mobile model include My Account, which gives you information about your phone and data plan; a trial subscription to the caller ID service Name ID; and apps that help set up your visual voice mail and mobile hot spot. Lastly, the media streaming service T-Mobile TV offers a 30-day trial to channels like Fox News and ESPN.
Of course, there are basic apps too, such as native browser and e-mail clients, a calculator, a calendar, music and movie players, a dictionary, a clock with alarm functions, an address book, a weather app, a memo pad, a voice dialer, a to-do list, and a voice recorder.
The Optimus 3.0 user interface comes with a few of LG's signature software features. These include the option to customize app icons (with two different themes); LG's signature note-taking app, QuickMemo, which lets you jot down quick notes or sketches directly over images onscreen; and QSlide, a multitasking function, which you can use to view and resize apps (like the browser and video player) while using other apps or viewing the home screen.
There's also VuTalk, which lets you create annotations on documents and photos on your device while sharing it in real time with another VuTalk-enabled handset through either a network or Wi-Fi connection. Lastly, although the phone doesn't come with NFC-enabled Tag+ stickers, it does come with the LG Tag+ app already loaded. Together, these two would let you customize and activate certain settings on your Optimus F3 on cue, like automatically launching Bluetooth and Navigation when you're in your car.
Camera and video
The 5-megapixel camera offers a variety of options. It has auto and touch focus; a flash; digital zoom; face tracking; geotagging; a timer; five shooting modes, including panoramic and HDR; and Time Catch, which lets you choose and save the best shot before the shutter was pressed.
It also has a brightness meter (from -2 to +2), five image sizes (ranging from 1,280x768 pixels to 2,560x1,920 pixels), seven scene modes, five ISO options, five white balances, four color effects, four shutter sounds, and the voice shutter function, which lets you operate the shutter by saying certain words like "cheese" and "whiskey" (don't ask me why).
Video-recording options consist of the same digital zoom, flash, brightness meter, geotagging, color effects, and white balances. In addition, you can choose from six video sizes (ranging from 1080p full HD to MMS), and take still photos while recording. 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, with which you can change your background to outer space, a sunset, a disco, or your own custom image.
The front-facing camera offers the same voice shutter function, brightness meter, white balances, 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, and a beauty shot meter for adjusting the brightness and blurriness of an image.
Video features for the front-facing camera are nearly identical to those of the rear camera, including the quirky effects, except there is no digital zoom or flash, and there are only three video sizes, ranging from VGA to MMS.
For a 5-megapixel shooter, photo quality was good. Colors were true to life, objects were in focus with well-defined edges, and while you can see digital noise, the amount wasn't overly distracting. What I was mostly impressed with, however, was the speed of the camera. The shutter speed is fast, and I didn't have to wait at all for the camera to ready itself for the next photo.
Video quality was also on par. Both moving and still objects remained in focus, audio picked up well, and I didn't notice any lag between the viewfinder and my moving of the camera. However, while shooting cars on the road during an overcast day, I did notice in my footage that dark colors tended to blend together, making them hard to distinguish.
I tested the LG Optimus F3 in San Francisco and call quality was mediocre. While none of my calls dropped, I did hear a notable amount of static, and a few times I heard several short clipping sounds. Fortunately, however, during times of absolute silence I didn't hear any extraneous noise or buzzing. Sound quality was also low, even on maximum volume, and several times I had to ask my friend to repeat himself. On my end, I was told I sounded a little muffled, but on the whole, clear.
Speaker quality could've been better. Calls sounded tinny, and at times, unpleasantly sharp. Music also sounded a bit flat, with little to no bass.
Likewise, calls on the Optimus F3 over T-Mobile's network were unimpressive. My tester said my voice sounded muffled. On speakerphone, she said that I sounded like I was in a tunnel and she was only able to hear me clearly when I held the microphone right next to my mouth.
On my end, her voice was also muffled and when I switched to speakerphone, the audio was distorted even with the volume turned down.
LG Optimus F3 (Sprint) call quality sample
|LG Optimus F3 (Sprint)||Performance|
|Average 3G download speed||0.35Mbps|
|Average 3G upload speed||0.89Mbps|
|App download (Temple Run 2)||33.41MB in 22 minutes and 18 seconds|
|CNET mobile site load||35 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||53.3 seconds|
|Power-off and restart time||34.51 seconds|
|Camera boot time||2.41 seconds|
|LG Optimus F3 (T-Mobile)||Performance|
|Average 4G LTE download speed||9Mbps|
|Average 4G LTE upload speed||8.5Mbps|
|App download (Temple Run 2)||35MB in 26 seconds|
|CNET mobile site load||4.7 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||5.1 seconds|
Like the camera, the 1.2GHz dual-core processor is zippy. Powering off and restarting the handset took 34.51 seconds on average, and it took about 2.41 seconds to open up the camera. Simple but necessary tasks like swiping through the app drawer, switching from landscape to portrait mode and vice versa, and transitioning back to the home screen pages were executed without a problem. Playing the graphics-intensive game Riptide GP also went smoothly. I did not experience any stuttering or unexpected quitting with the app, though the frame rates weren't as high as you see on higher-end phones.
During our battery drain test the 2,460mAh lithium ion battery lasted an impressive 9.98 hours for continuous video playback. Anecdotally, the Optimus F3 had an excellent battery life. With minimal to medium usage, it could last a workday without a charge, and the phone has a reported talk time of up to 16 hours. According to FCC radiation standards, Sprint's Optimus F3 has a digital SAR rating of 1.09W/kg, while the T-Mobile version measured 1.16W/kg.
If you're looking for an ultraportable Android handset that tucks away neatly, the LG Optimus F3 is good choice. For Sprint customers, I'd easily recommend it over the similar 4-inch, 5-megapixel-camera-toting LG Viper, given the former's beefed-up battery life and newer OS.
But if you're willing to consider a larger phone while accepting shorter battery life, the carrier offers so many better alternatives that are also free (with a carrier contract).
For example, the 4.8-inch Samsung Galaxy S3 and the 4.7-inch Optimus G may be many months older, but they're superior in almost every way. Not only do they both run Jelly Bean, but they're faster and have better cameras. Suddenly, all that extra heft doesn't look so bad anymore.
As for T-Mobile customers, the Optimus F3 is one of the best deals you can get with a prepaid Android handset.
At just $240, it's affordable, but it still doesn't skip out on quality. To give you an idea, the Optimus F6 is an excellent handset that sports a bigger screen and great call quality. But at $50 more, it may be too big of a jump for some customers to purchase.
The T-Mobile myTouch Q, on the other hand, is the same price as the F3, but it's bulky (even for a QWERTY phone), has a poor screen, and runs an older version of Android. Frankly, if you want a solid handset at a good value, it's best to consider the F3.