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LG Venice (Boost Mobile) review: Pricey but zippy and reliable 3G handset

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Outside its upcoming lineup of high-end phones such as the Nexus 4 and the Optimus G, LG has had a long history of creating decent and reliable, if somewhat unremarkable, midrange handsets.

LG Venice (Boost Mobile)
7.0

LG Venice (Boost Mobile)

The Good

The <b>LG Venice</b> has a svelte design, a 1GHz CPU that runs swiftly and smoothly, and excellent call quality.

The Bad

The Venice's audio speaker is harsh and tinny, its camera's auto white balance is inaccurate, and it only runs on 3G.

The Bottom Line

Boost's LG Venice has respectable midrange specs including a snappy processor and a vivid screen, but if you want 4G data speeds, look elsewhere.

The LG Venice is no exception. It's a variant of the unlocked LG Optimus L7 and the LG Splendor on U.S. Cellular, but it delivers the same specs (such as the 4.3-inch screen, the 1GHz CPU, and the 5-megapixel camera) on the prepaid Boost Mobile network.

At $219.99, the device is the priciest 3G phone in Boost's lineup. But you do get a lot of bang for your buck due to its svelte design, swift and smooth processor, and bright display. In addition, for a limited time, users who purchase the Venice will also receive 50GB of free cloud storage from Box. Given all this, it's easy to see why it has a slight edge over others like the Samsung Galaxy Rush and the LG Marquee.

Design
In comparison with the LG Splendor and the Optimus L7, I like the LG Venice's slightly altered look the best simply due to its bright silver back plate, which sets it apart. Other than that, however, its 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 4.41 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 Venice'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 Venice (back)
The LG Venice's shiny silver back plate. James Martin/CNET

At the 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, this handset 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 and 1,700mAh battery.

Though generally I don't mind plastic battery covers since they keep a phone light and durable, the Venice is an exception. There are ways to give plastic a more luxurious feel, by giving it a matte coating or unique texture. But this device 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 Nexus 4, 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.

Sinking into the LG Venice (pictures)

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Features and OS
The Venice runs on Android 4.0 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 apps include a news and weather app; the mobile office suite Polaris Office; SmartShare, a content distribution and file sharing app; and two Boost Mobile apps. One is Boost Zone, a help portal that also lets you check your phone balance and fees.

The other is Mobile ID, which you can use to customize your device with preselected apps, widgets, and other items depending on which ID profile you choose. For example, if you select the E! package, you'll get E! apps and widgets pertaining to the celebrity news channel. You can also choose a Business Pro package, which includes tools intended to aid with business travel plans, financial investments, and backing up data. Note that deleting a Mobile ID package won't uninstall the apps that you downloaded -- you'll have to remove those apps manually. So far, there are 26 available packs available. Personally, I don't like how Mobile ID so integral to the UI. You can't remove the Mobile ID app from the home screen's dashboard, so if you don't use it, the only choice you have is to ignore it.

Basic features present are texting, a native e-mail client, a Web browser, a video player, Bluetooth 3.0 support, a calendar, a clock with alarm settings, a memo pad, a calculator, a voice dialer, and a voice recorder. In addition, there's a power saver module that lets you customize which features (Bluetooth, autosyncing, display brightness) to turn off or adjust when your battery gets low.

LG Venice (lock screen)
Though it isn't a novel feature, the Venice lets users launch apps from the lock screen. James Martin/CNET

The handset is equipped with LG's 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) and the widgets look clunky, especially the unattractive weather widget. 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 their icons. There's also LG's signature note-taking app, QuickMemo. It lets you jot down with your finger or stylus quick notes or sketches directly over screen images, which you can then save and share. You can also customize the color and style of your pen tip.

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 by saying, "Cheese."

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 there's 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 respectable, but mediocre. Outdoor images looked good -- objects were in focus and well-defined, but edges did look slightly blurred or washed out. Colors were true to life and had good contrast. Unfortunately, indoor photos did not fare as well. Even with ample lighting, photos contained a lot of digital noise, and dark hues were hard to distinguish. The auto white balance also overlaid white objects with a tinge of yellow.

LG Venice (outdoor)
With ample outdoor lighting, colors in this photo are accurate and objects are in focus. Lynn La/CNET
LG Venice (indoor)
In this indoor photo, dark hues are hard to distinguish, and the white walls look yellow. Lynn La/CNET
LG Venice (SSI)
The white balance on the Venice is pretty terrible. James Martin/CNET
LG Venice (front camera)
The Venice's front-facing camera understandably shows greater digital noise. Lynn La/CNET

On the other hand, video quality was perfectly adequate. Moving objects remained sharp and in focus and colors were accurate. The digital zoom was responsive, and there was no lag between my moving of the camera and the feedback. In addition, audio, like the sound of speeding cars or a nearby voice, picked up well and was clear.

Performance
I tested the tri-band (850/1700/1900) LG Venice in our San Francisco offices. Call quality was excellent. Voices sounded strong and clear and I didn't hear any extraneous buzzing or static. Though I did experience one dropped call during my testing, overall, calls were consistent and reliable and volume levels were fine. Likewise, I was told I sounded clear, and my signal was steady. Speakerphone quality, however, 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.

Listen now: LG Venice call quality sample <="" p="">

Using Boost Mobile's 3G network, data speeds were slow. On average, the phone loaded CNET's mobile site in 27 seconds and our desktop site in 55 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took about 15 seconds, while its desktop version took 44. ESPN's mobile site took 19 seconds, and its full site loaded in 36 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.22Mbps down and 0.47Mbps up. It also took a whopping 13 minutes and 46 seconds to download the 23.32MB game Temple Run.

The device runs on a 1GHz processor. It performed similarly to the Splendor, in that both were noticeably faster than the international counterpart, the LG Optimus L7. 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. Sometimes on the L7 the lag was so long that I wasn't sure that the display had registered my tap because it would be a while before an app finally launched. In contrast, this handset was zippy and swift to use. On average, it took 48 seconds to power off and restart the Venice and 2.68 seconds to launch the camera.

Graphics-intensive games like Riptide GP also performed well. Though I've seen smoother and higher frame rates on higher-end phones like the Nexus 4, images still rendered crisply and vividly on the device. However, I did run into one problem over and over again: whenever I launched the game, it'd display in portrait mode, despite my holding the handset horizontally. I'd have to quit and relaunch the app a couple of times in order for it to finally register in landscape.

Performance: LG Venice
Average 3G download speed 0.22Mpbs
Average 3G upload speed 0.47Mbps
App download (Temple Run) 22MB in 13 minutes and 46 seconds
CNET mobile site load 27 seconds
CNET desktop site load 55 seconds
Power off and restart time 48 seconds
Camera boot time 2.68 seconds

During our battery drain test for video playback, the phone lasted 6.05 hours. Anecdotally, the phone had 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. Charging time, though, could be faster. When I charged it for 40 minutes, the battery percentage only increased about 25 percent. According to FCC radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 1.23W/kg.

Conclusion
If you're interested in having a faster 4G connection, then the Venice isn't for you. Instead, look at Boost's two other devices, the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G and the HTC Evo Design 4G (though frankly, I'd go with the latter since it's only about $30 more than the Venice).

But if you're fine with 3G, then this phone is definitely a strong contender. In addition to its slim profile, it has a bright and crisp 4.3-inch display, runs on the new(ish) Android 4.0 OS, and has a respectable 5-megapixel camera. All in all, if you don't mind the slower data speeds, the Venice's midrange specs and reliable performance make it worthy of consideration.

LG Venice (Boost Mobile)
7.0

LG Venice (Boost Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7