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LG Volt review: LTE and a beefy battery for tight budgets

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We see a lot of budget smartphones here at CNET (see our roundup of best no-contract phones for $250 or less, for example), and they all straddle that fine line between cutting costs and delivering a satisfying amount of functionality. The LG Volt is a prime example: it's available without a contract on Boost Mobile for just $100 (about £65, or AU$130). That gets you LTE connectivity and great battery life. But you're also stuck with middling cameras and a low-resolution display.

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6.6

LG Volt

The Good

The LG Volt offers great battery life and LTE connectivity for a paltry sum.

The Bad

Dull, uninspired hardware and a low-res screen are the causalities of that low price. Call quality is also disappointing.

The Bottom Line

Affordable LTE connectivity and a long-lasting battery may be hampered by meager call quality, but the low price tag just might sway the right folks.

If you're looking for a smartphone that'll impress your friends, play the latest games or take great pictures, this is not the phone for you. The Volt is aimed squarely at folks with tight budgets, or who simply don't want to spend all that much on a cell phone. The Volt is not an especially impressive device, but LTE connectivity at a low price coupled with long battery life could make for a satisfying experience for folks on tight budgets.

Design and build

  • 4.7-inch, 960x540-pixel resolution TFT (234ppi)
  • 5.18 inches by 2.6 inches by 0.41 inch (131.6 x 66 x 10.4 millimeters)
  • 4.8 ounces (136.1 grams)

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The Volt is rather plain. Nate Ralph/CNET

The LG Volt is a generic black plastic slab with a 4.7-inch display. There's nothing in the way of glitz or adornments: the squat, oval home button sits on the front, flanked by capacitive back and menu buttons. The volume controls sit on the right side, while the lock button is on the left. The headphone jack and an infrared emitter sit up top, while the Micro-USB charging port, flanked by stereo speakers, lives on the bottom.

The screen has a paltry 960x540-pixel resolution, which rules out watching HD videos or ogling high-resolution images. But the display is otherwise just fine: off-axis viewing angles aren't especially wide, but colors look clear and consistent, even as the phone shifts around. A pixel density of 234 pixels per inch means that text from Web pages and messages looks rather crisp, too.

The uninspired design is right in line with the price, but if you're a Boost Mobile customer, I'd personally lean toward the Motorola Moto E 4G LTE . That phone is little smaller and lacks a removable battery, but is offered at the same price and it's charming, in its own chubby little way.

Software and features

LG's Optimus UI isn't too dramatic a shift. Nate Ralph/CNET

This is a Boost Mobile phone, which means you're going to have to wade through a lot of preinstalled apps. Most of them are just shortcuts to the Google Play Store, so you'll be left with a fairly clear device if you spend a few minutes clearing off the junk.

The phone is saddled with the older Android 4.4 KitKat operating system, which is a bit of a bummer. Google has made efforts to keep apps and features separate from the operating system, so you can still use things like Google Now or the latest versions of the Mail app. But you're still missing out on the snazzy design changes Google has made with Android 5.0 Lollipop .

LG's QSlide feature (left) opens specific apps in a new window on your screen. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

You'll be getting the LG Optimus UI instead. It's not a dramatic departure from stock Android, and primarily focuses on swapping out icons and tweaking the color scheme a tad. LG's own apps are also fairly useful. There's Quick Remote, which turns the phone into a universal remote for your TV, care of the aforementioned infrared emitter. There's also QSlide, which allows you to plop select apps onto your display in their own floating windows, for a bit of impromptu multitasking. The Volt also offers NFC connectivity, so once Android Pay rears its head you should theoretically be able to use it.

Performance and battery life

  • 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400
  • 8GB of storage
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 32GB of expandable storage
  • 3,000mAh removable battery

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The 3,000mAh battery doesn't disappoint. Nate Ralph/CNET

The 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core processor isn't going to win any awards, but it's right in line with the price. You'll run into trouble with more hardware-intensive games, but I've been revisiting Grand Theft Auto 3 and it works fairly well here. Casual games and most of my favorite Android games work just fine too.

LG Volt benchmark results

Quadrant 8,802
3DMark Ice Storm 2,873
Geekbench 3 (multicore) 1,153
Geekbench 3 (single-core) 341
Restart time 42
Camera boot time 1.7

The Volt's performance on synthetic benchmark tests was right in line with competitors, too. These synthetic tests don't translate directly into real-world performance, but they offer a general idea of how you can expect the phone to perform in the real world.

There's only 8GB of storage, but pry off the back of the case and you'll find the microSD card slot, with support for up to 32GB of extra storage. There's also a 3,000mAh removable battery, should you feel the need to pack a spare. I didn't need one: the phone is rated at 24 hours of talk time, and lasted for an average of 16 hours and 21 minutes in CNET's video playback battery drain tests.

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Screenshots by Nate Ralph/CNET

But this is a budget smartphone, so connectivity is arguably the most important factor here. Boost Mobile piggybacks off of Sprint's network, and performance here in San Francisco isn't bad: I saw an average of about 13.2Mbps down, and 8.96Mbps up.

LG Volt (Boost Mobile) average data speeds

Average 4G LTE download speed 12.2
Average 4G LTE upload speed 8.96
Temple Run 2 app download (46.2MB) 53
CNET mobile site load 4
CNET desktop site load 5

Podcast

Call quality was less satisfactory: I never ran into issues with dropped calls when I was in a location with a strong signal, but the folks I spoke to complained that I sounded dull, and a bit muted -- listen to the voice quality sample above for a taste of what to expect. That said, your own experiences with data and call quality are going to vary based on your location, and factors like the time of day.

Camera

  • 8-megapixel rear camera
  • 1,080p HD video (30fps)
  • 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera

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The 8-megapixel rear shooter doesn't impress. Nate Ralph/CNET

I wasn't expecting too much out of the LG Volt's 8-megapixel rear shooter, and it performed in line with my expectations. Given strong, indirect sunlight and a static subject, you'll get a usable, albeit noisy, image. The camera struggles to offer much beyond that.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

The edges and curves on the objects aren't as sharp as I'd like here, but the colors are reproduced faithfully, and the drop in detail isn't too bad.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

The colors here look dull and faded, which is disappointing. The LG Volt's 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera has similar trouble, resulting in dull, muted skin tones. And while the rear camera is capable of recording 1080p video, it suffers from the same limitations as the still camera.

Conclusion

The LG Volt isn't going to blow you away, but you're getting LTE connectivity, and no contract, for just $100. In terms of performance it isn't too bad, either, lining up right alongside the pricier Huawei SnapTo . Both the Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime and Huawei P8 Lite will offer better performance and stronger cameras, but they both cost twice as much as the Volt.

The LG Volt makes a strong showing for the price, and while I'm still smitten by the Motorola Moto E 4G LTE at this price level, that's largely a matter of personal taste. If you're looking for great battery life and don't care if your device looks a little dull, the LG Volt is a fine, budget choice.

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6.6

LG Volt

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 6Camera 5Battery 10