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LG Optimus L3 review: LG Optimus L3

The LG Optimus L3 is very cheap on pay as you go, but its tiny low-res screen will never let you forget exactly how little you spent on it.

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Natasha Lomas
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Natasha Lomas

Mobile Phones Editor, CNET UK

Natasha Lomas is the Mobile Phones Editor for CNET UK, where she writes reviews, news and features. Previously she was Senior Reporter at Silicon.com, covering mobile technology in the business sphere. She's been covering tech online since 2005.

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The Optimus L3 is part of LG's L series range of smart phones, which aim to offer stylish bodies for a bargain price by cutting down on the premium features you see in other phones.

orig-lg-optimus-l3-main-front.jpg
3.5

LG Optimus L3

The Good

Cheap on pay as you go; MicroSD card slot.

The Bad

Tiny, awfully low-res screen; Creaky, scratch-prone body; Glitchy software; Underwhelming hardware.

The Bottom Line

The LG Optimus L3 is certainly cheap but there are alternative Androids around this price that offer superior hardware and software. There's no logical reason to inflict this phone on anyone. Kids, make sure your parents read this review.

The L3 sits at the very bottom of the L range, with a child-sized 3.2-inch screen and Android Gingerbread software, powered by an 800MHz processor.

Its lowly specs are matched by a bargain-basement price tag. You can pocket the L3 for a very easy-on-the-wallet £70 on pay as you go, or £120 SIM-free. You could also grab this budget blower free on a two-year contract starting at around £7 a month.

Should I buy the LG Optimus L3?

Certainly not on a pay-monthly contract. Even on pay as you go, the sub-£100 end of the Android market is crowded these days -- so there's little reason to buy the L3. If you shop around, there are much better devices out there for a similar price.

LG Optimus L3 front
The L3 is small in stature and its muscle is diminutive too.

Sure, the L3 is very cheap on pay as you go, but its tiny, low-res screen will never let you forget exactly how little you spent on it. Nor will its creaky, scratch-prone body and sometimes glitchy software. In short, it's the phone of nobody's dreams.

For a little more cash you could bag the slicker Samsung Galaxy Mini 2 or the original Galaxy Ace. And if you're willing to save up a few tenners, the excellent Huawei Ascend G300 will deliver a 4-inch screen and a 1GHz chip to your palm -- resulting in an altogether superior Android experience that's well worth the extra outlay.

Even if you can't spend £100, don't think you have to pocket the L3. You still have options. Budget alternatives to consider include the original Samsung Galaxy Mini, the ZTE Kis and the T-Mobile Vivacity.

The Samsung Galaxy Y offers a similarly budget experience to the L3, and has an equally awful screen, but the Y has better build quality and offers more reliable software, so it may also be worth considering.

Design and build

The L3 has a compact design, with a teeny 3.2-inch display surrounded by inches of black bezel. Below the screen are two touch-sensitive buttons for navigating around Android (menu and back) -- which only light up when you press them -- and a rather small and sharp-edged physical button to bring you back to the home screen.

On the front is the phone's single speaker and the front edge is banded with what looks to be metal edging. The rounded inside corners of this surround make it a little reminiscent of a chunkier iPod nano. The overall look is relatively classy for a budget blower, but as soon as you pick it up, it has a very cheap feel.

The back of the phone looks less impressive than the front. Its black plastic casing has curved edges and a rough, stippled texture that's absolutely guaranteed to capture all the grime that lurks at the bottom of your school bag and return it to public view, suspended in the plastic. After a few days' use, the back of my L3 review unit looked very second-hand indeed.

Towards the top of the backplate, there's a 3-megapixel camera peeking out from a smoothed-off section, which looks like a cyclops wearing a visor.

LG Optimus L3 back
No, it's not a one-eyed monster wearing a helmet, even if it looks like one.

At about a centimetre thick, the L3 isn't super-thin. The relatively thick waist helps to give it heft so it doesn't feel too fragile. But build quality isn't amazing -- apply some pressure and the L3 produces more creaks and groans than Bela Lugosi's Dracula rising from a hard day's slumber.

The screen is not made of especially tough stuff. After a short trip in the pocket of my bag, travelling with a few other objects, I pulled it out and found it had gathered a collection of surface scratches. I dread to think what it would look like after a few days in an average school bag.

On the top edge of the phone is a 3.5mm headphone jack and a power key. The latter is very low lying so it can feel hard to press. Elsewhere, there's a volume rocker on the left edge, which is nice and responsive, and on the base of the phone is a micro-USB port for charging the phone and for moving your photos and files back and forth.

Crack off the plastic back and you'll find there's a microSD card slot to expand the L3's measly 1GB of storage, along with a removable battery. Squirreled away underneath the battery is the phone's SIM slot.

Screen

The 3.2-inch screen on the L3 has a measly 240x320-pixel resolution, which equates to 125 pixels per inch. This is very poor indeed, even for a budget phone, so it's clearly one of the main areas LG has cut back on to keep the price down.

LG Optimus L3 back
The L3 is certainly very pocketable but that's the best thing you could say about it.

The result is a display that's not only small but also unpleasantly hazy. Icons, photos and videos have a fuzzy rather than crisp look, and web browsing is very unpleasant because text isn't sharply delineated.

The screen's viewing angle is also poor so if you're trying to read a website with the device sitting flat on a table, rather than held at an angle in your hand, you'll find yourself squinting at a shimmery, illegible block.

The budget nature of the screen is evident in how it feels too. The touchscreen isn't hyper-responsive -- requiring a fairly insistent press to register your finger. But push down too hard and your digits will be inked in a slowly fading pool of iridescence -- a characteristic typical of cheaper screens.

This is not a phone for impressing people with the quality of your photo collection or doing a lot of web browsing. The best this dinky blower's impoverished pane can offer is sending a few texts, poking your mates on Facebook and snacking on mobile versions of websites.

Typing is very cramped, as you'd expect on such a small screen, so fat-fingered folk should definitely look for a bigger blower.

Android 2.3 Gingerbread

The L3 runs Google's Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system. This is two versions behind the latest Android mobile OS -- trailing 4.1 Jelly Bean and 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

LG Optimus L3 Android
In this budget incarnation, Android 2.3 is a very constrained creature.

It's not surprising to get Gingerbread on a phone this cheap -- most phones at this price do. Although it's worth noting that Huawei's excellent Ascend G300 has an upgrade path to Ice Cream Sandwich and has powerful enough hardware to cope with ICS. So again, if you can spend a little more cash up front, you can bag yourself a considerably superior phone.

On the L3, you get the Android staple of multiple home screens to fill with apps and widgets of your choice. With such a small screen, there's precious little room to play with though.

LG's software topper doesn't add anything to write home about, giving you a fixed five home screens, a launcher bar that can't be customised, and an app tray with a dedicated downloads area sectioned off at the bottom.

You also get access to Google Play store, where you can download your own pick 'n' mix of apps from the thousands on offer -- choosing from the likes of Facebook and Twitter, to Spotify and Angry Birds. Just don't expect every app you're after to work well on this budget blower.

Power and performance

The L3 is only packing an 800MHz processor, which isn't beefy by any means but hey, it could be worse. HTC stuck a 600MHz chip inside the woefully under-powered Desire C.

Factor in the L3's very low screen resolution and tiny screen and performance -- when the phone works -- isn't terribly slothful. At least, not for a budget blower doing basic mobile tasks. So that's not saying much.

In benchmark tests, the L3 displayed its barrel-scraping credentials, scoring only 1,192 in Quadrant's CPU benchmark and 2,516 in Antutu's test. It ran GL Benchmark's Standard Egypt test of 3D graphics at a foot-dragging 21 frames per second.

LG Optimus L3
The L3 can snack on mobile websites but that's about your lot.

Its web browsing performance was slightly better but the lowly screen res means it's never enjoyable. The L3 managed 709 on Vellamo's test -- about the same score as the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play and the HTC Sensation.

The L3 is fairly nippy with mobile websites, and the phone can handle basic, lightweight apps and mapping. That said, even a pretty simple app like Angry Birds runs with noticeable slowdowns and stutter.

The Facebook Android app isn't super-quick but it's generally usable, at least to view content, although it can become very sluggish when loading certain sections.

Also noteworthy -- if you're planning to trick out the L3 with loads of your favourite apps, you'll definitely need to expand the storage by adding your own micro-SD card.

Stability and reliability are another worry for the L3. During testing, I ran into a problem with the Play store. After it updated from the pre-loaded Android Market to Google's new-look Play store, it stopped working altogether. Clicking on the icon returned a warning message: 'Sorry! The application com.android.vending (process com.android.vending) has stopped unexpectedly. Please try again' -- with an option to 'Force close' the app.

Repeated attempts at force-closing failed to resurrect the store. I ended up having to roll back the update to Android Market -- via the 'manage applications' setting -- and go through the update process again.

After this, it seemed to work. But there were other flaky moments when using the phone -- such as apps quitting and error messages materialising -- so reliability is questionable.

LG Optimus L3
After a few hours at the bottom of your bag, the L3's plastic rear will look more grimy than sexy.

Call quality was okay -- voices sounded a tad muffled but the volume goes pretty loud so you shouldn't have too much trouble hearing people, even when chatting outdoors. I found the curved shape of the phone a little hard to hold onto when talking for long periods. It slipped out of my digits more than once.

The L3's lone speaker can produce quite a lot of noise. Audio quality isn't amazing but at least there's no annoying crackle when you crank it up to the top of its range.

The L3 has a 1,540mAh battery. With such a low-res small screen, at least you won't have to worry too much about battery life. Using it moderately easily lasted a day -- even several days. If you're using the phone especially heavily, you'll need to charge it more often -- typically every day.

Camera

The L3 has a 3-megapixel camera on its rump. This has a fixed focus so lots of your shots will end up blurred -- especially if you're trying for close-ups. There's also no flash, so forget snapping shots of your mates capering around in the dark.

When you're standing the right distance away from your subject, results are passable, with fairly realistic colours.

LG Optimus L3 camera
Expectations weren't high but the LG produces a decent snap of these colourful flowers (click image to enlarge).

Clarity and detail levels aren't amazing but shots will suffice for Facebook fodder.

LG Optimus L3 camera
Detail levels aren't super-crisp on this shot but the quality is fine for filling Facebook (click image to enlarge).

The L3's lens can shoot video up to 480x640-pixel resolution. Clarity is pretty poor, but again, it will serve for basic YouTube clips. The audio direction is slightly off -- the phone's mic picks up sounds from the side of what you're shooting -- but at least clarity isn't terrible.

Conclusion

On pay as you go, the L3 is very affordable but there are far too many corners cut to make it a worthwhile buy. A very poor screen, glitchy software and creaky hardware all but guarantee that this is the phone of no one's dreams. If you spend a little more cash, you can pocket superior devices such as the excellent Huawei Ascend G300.

Even if you're on a tight budget, there are alternative Androids around the L3's price that offer superior hardware and software. So there's no logical reason to inflict this phone on yourself or anyone else.