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The first entry-level LG Optimus phone to arrive in the U.S. was the LG Optimus T for T-Mobile. Modeled after its international cousin, the Optimus One, the Optimus T had surprisingly great features for a basic smartphone. These included 3G support, Wi-Fi, and mobile hot-spot capability for up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices. It also shipped with Android 2.2, which was the latest Android OS at the time. More surprising was its price--you could get it for under $30 with a contract.
Since then, several more entry-level Optimus handsets debuted, each with a different carrier (the Optimus S, the Vortex, the Optimus M, the Optimus V, and so on). The one major carrier that was missing from the list was AT&T. That is, until the LG Phoenix. While it doesn't share the Optimus name, it certainly has the same lineage. The design stays true to the Optimus brand, and the features are similar as well. Of course, it wouldn't be an Optimus handset if it wasn't affordable--the LG Phoenix is only $49.99 with a two-year contract with AT&T.
As you might expect, the LG Phoenix looks very similar to most Optimus phones. At 4.46 inches long by 2.32 inches wide by 0.52 inch deep, it's slender and lightweight, with the same curved corners and hint of silver along its sides. It has a smooth matte finish that results in a comfortable grip, and the 3.2-inch capacitive display is just as colorful with 262,000-color support and a 320x480-pixel resolution. Even the placement of the camera lens, the volume rocker, the power button, and the headset and charger jacks is the same as on the Optimus T, for example.
That doesn't mean the Phoenix is an exact clone of the other phones, though. Its Android button placement is slightly different--the Menu key comes first, followed by the Home, Back, and Search keys. The Home and Back keys are housed on a single panel with a strip of silver underneath.
There are also slight differences in the user interface. While it has the same Android 2.2 Froyo interface as the rest, it ships with a custom LG virtual keyboard in addition to the default Android keyboard. Unlike some of the other Optimus phones, the Phoenix does not ship with Swype. However, you can download Swype on your own. The shortcuts along the bottom of the home screen look similar to the ones on the Optimus U--they are for the phone dialer, the contacts list, the main menu, the messaging app, and the browser.
As we mentioned, the LG Phoenix ships with Android 2.2. We hope it'll be upgradable to Android 2.3 in the future--LG has promised it, but we have not had confirmation from AT&T. Yet, we're still happy with version 2.2 as an operating system for an entry-level smartphone. Some of Froyo's more valuable features include voice dialing over Bluetooth, app sharing, and phonebook integration with Facebook and Twitter contacts. Even though Android 2.2 does support Flash video in the browser, the Phoenix doesn't have this feature due to hardware limitations. You can still play Flash video, but only with YouTube or third-party applications.
While it's not the most powerful Android phone on the market, the Phoenix is no slouch, either. This quad-band phone can work internationally and supports AT&T's 3G network. It also has stereo Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, and portable hot-spot capability for up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Just remember that AT&T requires you to be on the 2GB data plan to have this feature. The feature itself costs $20 extra for another 2GB of usage, bringing the total allotment to 4GB a month if you want the hot spot. On a separate note, the Phoenix does have unlimited Wi-Fi at all AT&T Wi-Fi hot spots in the country--this includes Starbucks, McDonald's, and several hotels.
As far as apps go, the Phoenix has all the usual Android apps and widgets. This includes many Google services like Gmail, Google Latitude, Google Maps, Google Places, Google Talk, Google search with Voice, and YouTube. If you're not keen on using Gmail, the Phoenix can also send and receive e-mail from your own POP or IMAP accounts. It's compatible with Microsoft Exchange as well. The Phoenix also comes with Thinkfree Office, an app that lets you read and edit MS Office documents.
AT&T has also included a slew of AT&T-branded apps on the Phoenix. They include AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T Hot Spots (a hot-spot finder), AT&T MyWireless, AT&T Navigator (a turn-by-turn directions app), AT&T Radio, YPmobile (Yellow Pages app), and Live TV, an AT&T U-verse app that lets you watch live television if you happen to be an AT&T U-verse subscriber. We're generally not opposed to these apps, but we don't like it that you can't uninstall them.
Aside from the full HTML Web browser, the Phoenix has apps for Facebook and Twitter, and you can add widgets of both apps to your home screen that show you the latest updates from your friends and people you follow. Other apps on the Phoenix include a video player for WMV, MP4, and 3GP formats, plus a music player for MP3, WMA, and unprotected AAC/AAC+ formats, both of which are the standard Android media players. There's also DivX video playback, and you can transfer media via USB mass storage. It doesn't come with Amazon's music store, but you can get that from the Android Market.
Let's not forget that the Phoenix is also a phone. With that, it has a speakerphone, a vibrate mode, voice dialing, visual voice mail, text and multimedia messaging, and the typical PIM tools like a calculator and notes.
The LG Phoenix has the same 3.2-megapixel camera as the other Optimus handsets, and the quality is similar. Images look pretty good, though we think the colors could be more vibrant. You can shoot videos with the Phoenix as well. The phone only has 160MB of internal memory, but it can support up to 32GB microSD cards.
We tested the LG Phoenix in San Francisco with AT&T Wireless. Call quality was good, but not without its flaws. We could hear our callers very clearly, and enjoyed decent volume and voice quality on our end. There was a little bit of hiss, but it was not bothersome.
LG Phoenix call quality sample Listen now:
Callers too heard us clearly. However, they said our voice quality was much muddier, with occasional fuzziness. It was very noticeable that the call came from a cell phone, and our voice sounded quite digitized and blown out at times. We could still carry on a conversation, but they did have to ask us to repeat ourselves if we spoke a little more softly than usual. Speakerphone calls were decent, though callers did say we sounded a touch more muffled.
We experienced rather poor 3G coverage in the San Francisco office. Loading the CNET mobile page took around 50 seconds, while the CNN mobile page took around 35 seconds. The full CNET front page took more than 3 minutes to completely load. While we don't think this is indicative of genuine 3G speeds, the Phoenix consistently showed us the 3G symbol at the top. Either AT&T's 3G speeds really are that slow here, or the Phoenix is not being truthful when it displays that 3G symbol. We'll have to do additional testing to find out.
As for the phone's performance, even though the Phoenix only has a 600MHz processor, we found the overall navigation experience to be quite zippy. There were few delays or hiccups when scrolling through menus or flipping through the home screen.
The LG Phoenix has a rated talk time of 7.5 hours and a standby time of 20 days. According to the FCC, it has a digital SAR of 1.23 watts per kilogram. Our tests showed a talk time of 7 hours and 30 minutes. .
Though it's not a high-end Android smartphone by any means, the LG Phoenix is still a pretty good option for those who want to dip their toe in the Android pool without spending a lot of money. Our primary gripes had to do with spotty AT&T coverage, but that could differ depending on where you live. As long as you don't expect anything too advanced with the Phoenix, it offers a really great bang for the buck for entry-level smartphone customers.