Editors' note: In light of the 2012 release of the LG Optimus M+, we have lowered the rating on this review.
LG broke new ground recently with its introduction of the Optimus line of Android handsets--affordable entry-level phones with surprisingly lust-worthy features. The company first made the Optimus T and Optimus S available on T-Mobile and Sprint, and Verizon had their own version made, dubbed the LG Vortex. Now LG has spread its Optimus wings to smaller carriers, such as MetroPCS, too. Appropriately named the LG Optimus M, the device also marks MetroPCS's first-ever Android smartphone. It has many of the goodies the other Optimus phones offer--Android 2.2, a 3.2-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi, and GPS--but it does lack certain features like tethering and hot-spot capabilities. The Optimus M is available from MetroPCS for $229, but bear in mind that's without a contract.
While the Optimus T, Optimus S, and Vortex look very similar to each other, the Optimus M is slightly different. At 4.57 inches long by 2.22 inches wide by 0.63 inch thick, the Optimus M doesn't quite have the curves and contours of its cousins, and it has a boxier silhouette. It's even slightly heavier at 5.39 ounces when compared to the Optimus S's 4.6 ounces. Despite its weight, the Optimus M feels a bit cheaper due to its hard plastic casing--the other phones have a soft touch surface for a slightly more luxurious feel.
On the front of the Optimus M is a nice 3.2-inch LCD with a 320x480-pixel resolution that looks similar to the other Optimus phones even though it only sports 65,000 colors. It's still sharp, colorful, and the smooth capacitive touch screen made it easy to tap and swipe around. You can adjust the brightness, the backlight timer, and the animations between window transitions. The screen also has multitouch, pinch-to-zoom, and a proximity sensor that shuts off the screen when you place the phone to your face during a call.
Like the interface on the LG Vortex, there are shortcuts to the phone dialer, the contacts list, the main menu, text messaging, and the browser along the bottom row of the home screen. The phone dialer app is pretty straightforward, as is the messaging interface. We're happy that the Optimus M comes with the Swype keyboard built-in, as an alternative to the standard Android touch keyboard.
Underneath the display are the usual Android hot keys in a row. The Menu key is on the far left, the Home and Back keys share a single panel with an indent in the middle, and the Search key is on the far right. At the bottom of the phone is the Micro-USB charging jack, while the 3.5mm headset jack and screen lock/power key are on top. The volume rocker and camera key are on the right spine. On the back of the phone is the camera lens. You have to remove the battery cover to access the microSD card slot.
Like the other Optimus phones, the Optimus M ships with Android 2.2. Even though it isn't the latest Gingerbread OS, LG has mentioned the phone is upgradeable to Android 2.3. However, Android 2.2 still has a number of notable features. They include voice dialing over Bluetooth, app storage on a memory card, a new camera viewfinder, app sharing, and Facebook integration in the contacts list.
Unlike most Android 2.2 phones, the Optimus M doesn't support in-browser Flash video due to hardware limitations. Additionally, the Optimus M does not have tethering or Wi-Fi hot-spot capabilities, perhaps due to carrier restrictions. As the other Optimus handsets offer tethering and hot-spot abilities, we're disappointed the Optimus M doesn't.
All is not lost, however; the Optimus M has other redeeming features. They include EV-DO Rev. 0, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth with A2DP streaming, and GPS. You can use GPS with Google's own Maps and Latitude apps, plus MetroPCS's own navigation service. Of course, the Optimus M comes with a variety of Google services like Gmail, Google Talk, and Google Voice Search. If you would rather use another e-mail account, you can enter in your own POP3/IMAP logins. The Optimus M works well with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync for those with corporate accounts.
Basic phone and PIM features include a speakerphone, a vibrate mode, conference calling, voice dialing, visual voice mail, a calendar, and text and multimedia messaging. The phone book is limited only by the available memory, and there's room in each phone book entry for multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, IM handles, and more. As we mentioned earlier, you can integrate the phone book with Facebook contacts, and with other social networks like Twitter and MySpace as well.
Aside from the basic apps, the Optimus M has a few MetroPCS-specific apps as well. They include mail@metro, MetroPCS's e-mail service, Metro411, metroBackup, MetroNavigator, MetroPCS Easy WiFi (a Wi-Fi hot-spot finder), MetroWeb browser, Mobile IM, and MyExtras, a discount offer app. There are also a few third-party apps like Boingo WiFi, Loopt, Mobile Banking, MocoSpace, Pocket Express, Thinkfree Office, UNO, and VirtualCard.
If you're a long-time Android fan, you won't find anything surprising with the Optimus M's audio and music player. The phone only has 150MB of internal memory, but it can support up to 32GB microSD cards for extra storage.
The Optimus M has a simple 3.2-megapixel camera, like the ones on the other Optimus phones. It has plenty of settings, like adjustable ISO, white balance, color effects, focus modes, and more. We were pleasantly surprised with the picture quality. While not as good as higher-end camera phones, pictures still looked sharp and colorful. The colors did seem a little dim, and the low-light shots were not as good, but the images still looked quite good for a 3.2-megapixel lens. The phone also has a video recorder that can record VGA, QVGA, and QCIF clips.
We tested the LG Optimus M in San Francisco using MetroPCS. Call quality was good on the whole. We heard our callers clearly with plenty of volume. We did hear the occasional static blip, but it was very minor. Their voice sounded like a solid landline-quality call.
On their end, callers reported good call quality as well. They did say our voice sounded a little processed, and they could definitely tell we were on a cell phone. Otherwise, they heard no distortion or buzzing, even when on the speakerphone. There was more echo effects when the speakerphone was on, but that's to be expected.
The EV-DO Rev. 0 speed on the Optimus M was good, but not as fast as we would like. The CNET mobile page loaded in around 15 seconds, while the full HTML page loaded in a minute. We had almost no downtime, though--we enjoyed solid 3G coverage around the CNET offices and in downtown San Francisco.