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LG Splendor (U.S. Cellular) review: LG Splendor (U.S. Cellular)

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To be honest, I wasn't too disappointed when it looked like the Splendor's international predecessor, the LG Optimus L7, wasn't going to hit U.S. shores anytime soon. During my time with the device, it was frustratingly slow, and while its NFC capabilities were neat, it wasn't enough to merit a solid recommendation.

LG Splendor (U.S. Cellular)
7.0

LG Splendor (U.S. Cellular)

The Good

U.S. Cellular's <b>LG Splendor</b> is an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich device with a zippy processor, a bright display, and a thin build.

The Bad

The Splendor's 3G data speeds are slow, its output speaker is poor, and its camera quality is mediocre.

The Bottom Line

The LG Splendor doesn't have the fastest network connection, but it's an affordable and snappy handset that's loaded with Android 4.0 and a swift CPU.

So when I heard that U.S. Cellular was bringing the handset over anyway, and calling it the LG Splendor, I didn't have very high expectations. But after spending time with the device, I happily stand corrected.

Like the Optimus L7, the Splendor runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, sports an impressive 4.3-inch screen, and has decent battery life. In addition, the Splendor has a faster 1GHz processor than its global counterpart, making it a breeze to handle. And while it isn't NFC-enabled, I'm willing to go without this novel piece of technology if it means getting more reliable performance.

Currently, U.S. Cellular is offering the phone for the affordable price of $80, after you send in a mail-in rebate.

Editors' note: Because they are essentially the same device, sections of our review of the LG Optimus L7 have been used here.

Design
The LG Splendor's humdrum design is nothing to write home about. With its sharp corners, plastic backing, and tapered edges, the device looks similar to all the other minimalist Optimus handsets that came out last summer. It measures 4.92 inches tall, 2.64 inches wide, and 0.34 inch thick, and its slim body weighs 4.48 ounces. It's one of LG's smaller phones, and can snugly fit in a front or back jean pocket. It's easy to pack into a small purse and handling it with one hand is a cinch.

On the Splendor's left side is a volume rocker, up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a sleep/power button, and at the bottom is a Micro-USB port.

LG Splendor camera
The LG Splendor packs a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera. Josh Miller/CNET

At back center is a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash. Below that to the left are two small slits for the output speaker. Unlike most devices, the Splendor doesn't have an indentation to make it easy to pry off the back of the handset. Instead, you'll have to just insert your fingernails anywhere within the seams of the back plate. Once you remove it, you can access the microSD slot, SIM card, and 1,700mAh battery.

Though generally I don't mind plastic battery covers since they keep a phone light and durable, the Splendor is an exception. There are ways to give plastic a more luxurious feel, by giving it a matte coating or unique texture. But the Splendor just has lined grooves like a 3D baseball card, which makes it feel cheap and almost like a toy.

The handset sports a 4.3-inch IPS display with an 800x480-pixel resolution and 450 nits of brightness. Though these specs aren't as impressive as those of other phones, like the LG Optimus 4X HD, the screen is still decent in its own right. App icons were crisp, text was sharp, and colors were vivid at maximum brightness. Although gradient patterns looked somewhat streaky, on the whole, images were rich and highly saturated.

Above the display in the right corner is a proximity sensor and to the left is a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. Below is a physical home button, with a back and menu front key on either side of it that light up when in use.

LG Splendor in the glass (pictures)

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Features
Just like its international counterpart, the Splendor runs on a 1GHz processor. However, the U.S. model performed noticeably faster. Basic tasks like unlocking the screen, opening the camera app, and transitioning back to the five home screen pages took a shorter amount of time than on the Optimus L7. With the L7, the lag was so slow that sometimes I wasn't sure that the display had registered my tap because it would be a while before an app finally launched. In contrast, the U.S. Cellular device was zippy and swift to use.

The handset runs on the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, and comes with Google goodies like Chrome, Gmail, Search, Plus, Latitude, Local, Play Books, Movies, Music, and Store, Messenger, Maps with Navigation, Talk, and YouTube.

Other preloaded content includes a few Amazon apps like Shop, Kindle, Amazon MP3, Amazon Appstore, IMDb, Zappos, and the audiobook app Audible. It also holds a finance app for keeping track of your stocks; a news and weather app; mobile office suite Polaris Office; SmartShare, a content distribution app; ToneRoom Deluxe; DailyPerks, which keeps track of local deals and offers; an emergency alert app; a bowling game; LG's note-taking and sketching app, QuickMemo; Facebook; and Twitter.

Basic features present are texting, a native e-mail client, a Web browser, a video player, a navigator, Bluetooth 3.0 support, a calendar, a clock with alarm settings, a memo pad, a calculator, and a voice recorder.

LG's Optimus 3.0 UI features customizable icons. Josh Miller/CNET

The Splendor is equipped with LG's newest user interface, Optimus UI 3.0, which isn't as stylishly simplistic as the vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich skin. The icons are boxy (but luckily customizable), the widgets look clunky (especially the unattractive weather widget), and even though I like that it's sporting the Roboto font, the keypad and app drawer still look a little outdated. There are a few welcome changes, however, like the fact that you can access up to four apps of your choosing from the lock screen by simply swiping over its icon. Personally, I prefer Android's minimalistic interface, but it's refreshing to see LG actively changing and taking chances with its products' UIs.

A couple of other services include Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hot-spotting, and a power saver module that lets you customize which features (Bluetooth, auto-syncing, display brightness) to turn off or adjust when your battery gets low.

Camera and video
The 5-megapixel camera offers a variety of options: autofocus, touch focus, a flash, a 15x digital zoom, face tracking, geotagging, a timer, continuous shooting, and panoramic shooting. It also has an exposure meter, five image sizes (ranging from 1,280x768p to 2,560x1,920p), six scene modes, four ISO options, five white balances, four color effects, and the Cheese Shot function, which lets you operate the shutter through a voice command.

The front-facing camera offers the same exposure meter, white-balance options, color effects, timer, and geotagging feature, but only two scene modes (normal and night) and one image size (640x480p). There's also a mirror image option that saves a vertically flipped version of your photo and a "beauty shot" meter that lets you adjust the brightness and blurriness of an image. This comes in handy when you're taking self-portraits and want to soften the photo.

Video recording options consist of the same digital zoom, flash, exposure meter, geotagging, color effects, and white balances. In addition, there's audio muting and you can choose from five video sizes (ranging from HD 720p to QCIF). There are fewer front-facing video options; it has the same exposure meter, white balances, color effects, geotagging, and audio muting, but there are only three video sizes (ranging from VGA 480p to QCIF).

Photo quality was perfectly adequate. There was no lag between the feedback and my moving the camera. However, edges weren't crisply defined as I've seen from other 5-megapixel cameraphones, and colors were a bit muted. In dimmer lighting, edges are especially blurred. As for the front-facing camera, there was some understandable graininess. The smaller number of megapixels did lead to more digital noise and poorer focus, but you can still make out faces easily.

LG Splendor (indoor)
In this indoor shot, colors appear more muted than in real life. Lynn La/CNET

LG Splendor (outdoor)
Though there is more lighting in this outdoor shot, edges are not very well defined. Lynn La/CNET

LG Splendor SSI
In this standard studio shot, a yellow hue takes over the background. Josh Miller/CNET

LG Splendor (front)
Shots taken with the front-facing camera understandably contain more digital noise. Lynn La/CNET

Video recording also was passable. As previously noted, the Splendor is faster than the L7, so recording was smooth with no lag. Images were crisp, colors were true to form, and the lens for the most part kept moving images in focus. Unfortunately, audio picked up a low but constant humming sound during recordings.

Performance
I tested the quad-band (800/1700/1900/2100) LG Splendor in San Francisco. There were no problems with signal quality -- I did not get any dropped calls, extraneous buzzing, or audio clipping in and out. Sound quality was respectable. Voices were audible, but maximum volume could have been louder. I was told that my voice sounded clear and was easy to understand.

Unfortunately, the output speakerphone quality was poor. Calls, as well as music, sounded harsh and severe, making it unpleasantly sharp to hear. You can also hear the sound bouncing off the back plate of the phone. Turning the volume down helped somewhat, and I could still hear what was being said, but it was unpleasant regardless. Listening to music or watching videos on speaker yielded similar results.

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Using U.S. Cellular's 3G network, the data speeds were slow. On average, the Splendor loaded CNET's mobile site in 19 seconds and our desktop site in 48 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took about 12 seconds, while its desktop version took 44. ESPN's mobile site took 20 seconds, and its full site loaded in 34 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.17Mbps down and 0.64Mbps up.

During our battery drain test, the handset lasted 9.07 hours. Anecdotally, it had a decent battery life. After spending a few hours with this device playing games, watching videos, and chatting with my friends, I found the battery had only drained by about two-thirds of its total capacity, though it does need a good charge or two throughout the day. According to FCC radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 1.19W/kg.

Conclusion
Though it doesn't operate at the fastest network speed, nor have the best camera, the LG Splendor is a reliable and affordable option for U.S. Cellular customers. Not only is it marked at a competitive price, but the device also has a zippy processor, a recent version of the Android OS, and a vibrant display that is ideal for anyone looking for an updated but inexpensive midrange phone to get by with.

LG Splendor (U.S. Cellular)
7.0

LG Splendor (U.S. Cellular)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7