LG Optimus Regard review: Don't hate it for being basic

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MSRP: $249.99

The Good The LG Optimus Regard brings a straightforward design, LTE support, and enjoyable call quality for a great value.

The Bad The Optimus Regard's poor photo quality diminished the appeal of its tricked-out camera. Speakerphone audio is distorted at all volume levels, 3G data speeds are slow, and there are no dedicated camera controls.

The Bottom Line Cricket's LG Optimus Regard is an excellent choice as an entry-level Android phone, but look elsewhere if you care about photo quality or don't have adequate 4G coverage.

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6.7 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Don't be swayed by the use of "Optimus" in its name, as the LG Optimus Regard for Cricket Wireless isn't out to impress. Its compact design is unassuming, its feature set is mostly entry-level, and it runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. So, in other words, it's about as far from the Optimus G Pro as you can get. Yet, those aren't reasons to avoid this affordable, easy to use, and LTE-ready handset.

The Optimus Regard costs a reasonable $249.99 for Cricket's contract-free service, which places it right in the middle of the carrier's Android lineup. You can spend quite a bit more for a fancier device like the Galaxy S3, or less for a simpler model like the Kyocera Hydro, but the Optimus Regard occupies a sweet spot in terms of value, performance, and the usual Android goodies. It's sad, though, that for such a tricked-out camera, photo quality is so poor.

You could say that Optimus Regard is yet another plastic Android rectangle. Indeed, it is, but I don't mean that in a bad way. I don't expect cheap phones to offer premium or striking designs so I won't knock the Optimus Regard for being dull. It is a little smaller then I prefer (4.37 inches long by 2.29 inches wide by 0.45 inch deep), but I like that it's rather heavy (4.72 ounces). Those extra ounces give it a sturdy feel despite the plastic battery cover.

Above the display are a camera lens and sensor, while below are the standard Ice Cream Sandwich touch controls of Back, Home, and Menu. Above is a front camera lens with sensor. The main camera lens is around back next to the flash. On the left spine are the volume rocker and the Micro-USB charger port, and up top are the power control and the 3.5mm headset jack. Unfortunately, the handset lacks a dedicated camera control.

A static icon tray sits at the bottom of the display, and below that are three touch controls. Josh Miller/CNET

Display and interface
One consequence of a handset being compact is a smaller display, 3.5 inches in this case, an issue only compounded by a thick bezel. Four years ago, a 3.5-inch display would have been perfectly adequate on a smartphone, but in an age of apps and media, it just feels too cramped, even for a budget device. Of course, you may feel differently if you have smaller hands than I do. The resolution (480x320 pixels) on the TFT display isn't fantastic and the brightness control has a small range. Also, colors can look a little unnatural, especially in the lighter hues (the Optimus Regard supports 16.7 million of them). For a phone at this price, though, the display does its job and the multitouch interface is fast and responsive.

The display's resolution is fitting for an entry-level phone, but at 3.5 inches it can feel cramped. Josh Miller/CNET

There are five home screens that you can customize with apps, folders, and widgets. Also, you can choose which icons to drop in the static tray at the bottom of all home screens. On the lock screen, I like that you get a choice of four shortcuts that will take you to the phone dialer, your contacts list, the messaging app, and the camera. Of course, you can't access those shortcuts if you protect your lock screen with a PIN. The virtual keyboard and keypad show the standard Ice Cream Sandwich design.

The Optimus Regard responds to a few gesture controls. The first action -- moving an icon on the home screen by pressing the icon and tilting the phone -- is clunky and not very useful. The other actions are better, even if we've seen them before. You can silence an incoming call, pause a video, and stop an alarm by flipping the phone over.

Features and OS
Outside of the aforementioned camera and LTE support (presently, Cricket has just three 4G phones), there's little about the Optimus Regard that stands out. I'm not criticizing, but I just want you to keep your expectations in check. In fact, it delivers the essential tools for communication and organization, which should be enough to satisfy smartphone beginners.

Though you might find the use of Ice Cream Sandwich to be disappointing, it's hardly surprising. Yes, you can argue that we're approaching the first anniversary of Jelly Bean (and that Ice Cream Sandwich is now more than a year old), but basic Android phones like the Optimus Regard are usually an OS version behind. Also, remember that the Optimus Regard hit stores last November, which is just when Jelly Bean made its first appearance in the LG Nexus 4. When you think about it, there's no way Google would have allowed a Jelly Bean- and LTE-equipped Optimus Regard to outshine its more-hyped and 3G-only sister. LG hasn't said when the Optimus Regard could get an update; technically, it is capable of handling the upgrade.

The compact Optimus Regard travels well. Josh Miller/CNET

Software and apps
As an Android smartphone, the Optimus Regard has all the usual Google features, including Gmail, Google+, Google Talk, Google Latitude, Google Maps and navigation, local search, and YouTube. Of course, the Google Play store has a ton of additional apps and software for download.

Fortunately, Cricket doesn't stock the Optimus Regard with too much bloatware. Aside from the usual shortcuts for accessing your account and backing up your phone, Cricket 411 performs local search and Cricket Navigator provides driving directions. Neither app delivers a better experience than its Google counterpart so I never used them outside of a brief trial. The same goes for Cricket's app store (called Storefront); it has a fair number of titles and background wallpapers, but I'll stick with Google Play.

The Optimus Regard also comes with two games: Block Breaker 3 and Uno. They are just trial versions, though, so you'll have to pay to play eventually. You'll also get a calendar, messaging and e-mail (including Microsoft Exchange), a calculator, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, an alarm clock, voice commands and a voice recorder, a weather app, Polaris Office, and a notepad. To keep everything under control, there's a convenient task manager.

Camera and media
The Optimus Regard's main camera tops out at a 5-megapixel resolution (you can downgrade to 1-megapixel images if you like). That's rather low-powered as smartphone cameras go these days, but there are many more features than I expected. Among them are three color effects, a self-timer, geotagging, adjustable white-balance and brightness meters, a 4x digital zoom, three ISO selections, seven scene modes, face tracking, and four shutter sounds plus a silent mode.

Of all the photos, this was the best. Colors were faded, but not by much. Kent German/CNET

The continuous-shot mode, which takes six photos in rapid succession, is typical fare, but the time-catch mode is unusual and pretty cool. It will take up to six quick shots between the time you press the onscreen control (remember that there's no physical button) and when the shutter actually closes. Given the very short shutter lag (barely a second), you might think that the feature wouldn't reveal a lot. I noticed, however, that my hand shakes quite a bit even in that little span of time. After viewing all of the photos, you can choose which images you want to save and which to discard.

There was little image noise in our standard studio shot, but there was a dark tone overall. Kent German/CNET

There's also a panoramic mode and an HDR (high dynamic range) feature. The latter features takes multiple shots in an effort to try to properly expose all areas of a photo, but it didn't make much of a difference (more on photo quality in a minute). Another quirky feature is that you can set the camera to take photos when you say "cheese," "LG," "smile," "whiskey," or even "kimchi." In case you were wondering about the country where LG is based, wonder no more.

The camera's difficulty with keeping both light and dark areas in focus is especially evident in this close-up photo of flowers. Kent German/CNET

So, yes, that's a lot of features. But the problem is that even with all of them, photo quality didn't measure up. There wasn't a lot of image noise, but colors were muted and almost every photo I took was too dark, even when I was outside in bright sunlight and when I used the flash inside. You can brighten your shots with the well-stocked photo-editing tool, but that shouldn't be a requirement for every shot. What's more, even though you can tap to focus on different areas of a shot, the camera had trouble distinguishing between light and dark areas.

I took this photo in the shadow of a building. I tried focusing on different areas of the scene, but the final image was still too dark. Kent German/CNET

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