If the LG Vortex looks familiar to you, that's because it's essentially Verizon's version of the LG Optimus T from T-Mobile and the LG Optimus S from Sprint. It has many of the same specifications--it's billed as an entry-level Android smartphone and it ships with Android 2.2, Wi-Fi, GPS, a 3.2-megapixel camera, and EV-DO, and it can act as a 3G mobile hot spot. However, Verizon has added its own flair to it, for example by giving it Bing search and Bing maps, with no way to switch those services over to Google. It's also not nearly as affordable as the other two Optimus devices, at around $79.99 after a $100 rebate and a two-year service agreement with Verizon Wireless. We do think the Vortex is a great device for first-time smartphone users, but it's just not as good a deal as the competition.
As we mentioned, the LG Vortex looks very similar to the LG Optimus handsets, especially the LG Optimus T. It measures 4.47 inches long by 2.32 inches wide by 0.52 inch thick, and is dominated by a large touch screen in the middle. It's wrapped in a soft-touch plastic coating and has rounded corners for a comfortable feel in the hand. At 4.5 ounces, the phone is lightweight and is very pocket-friendly.
The aforementioned touch screen is a 3.2-inch 262,000-color LCD display. We really like it even though it's not as vibrant as the Super AMOLED display on other Verizon Android handsets like the Motorola Droid X. The 320x480 resolution results in sharp images and text, and graphics are colorful as well. You can adjust the screen timeout timer, the brightness, and the animations when opening and closing applications. We like how responsive the capacitive display felt, and we're glad to see the phone has a proximity sensor and an internal accelerometer.
The Vortex has the standard Android 2.2 user interface for the most part. You get the usual five customizable home screens along with four shortcuts along the bottom. They correspond to the phone dialer, the contacts list, the main menu, a messaging inbox, and the Web browser. The phone dialer app has a roomy virtual keypad and a generous number input area, and you can easily access the call log, contacts list, favorites list, and a new text message from it as well. As for text messaging, we're happy to see that the Vortex has the Swype keyboard installed to provide an alternative to the standard multitouch Android keyboard.
However, the Vortex does have a few user interface differences when compared with the Optimus T. For example, instead of the Google search widget, it uses Bing. You also get Bing Maps instead of Google Maps. As far as we know, it's not possible to change these services unless you go through the trouble of rooting the phone. Bing is not a bad experience by any means, but we do think that users should be able to switch these services to Google if they want, especially as Android is seen as a Google-friendly operating system.
The physical keys are where the Vortex differentiates itself from the other Optimus handsets. It has all four keys in a single silver panel, with grooves separating each one. They're also arranged slightly differently--the Vortex starts out with the pop-up menu key, then the Home key, the Back key, and the Search key. On the right spine is the volume rocker, while the left spine is home to the microSD card slot. On top are the 3.5mm headset jack and screen lock/power key, the Micro-USB port is on the bottom, and the camera lens is on the back.
As we mentioned, the LG Vortex ships with Android 2.2, which is the latest Android firmware as of the Vortex's launch date. Android 2.2 had several improvements over 2.1, such as voice dialing over Bluetooth, app storage on a memory card, a new camera viewfinder, app sharing, Facebook integration, and a universal inbox. Even though Android 2.2 technically supports Flash 10.1 in the browser, the Vortex does not have this feature due to hardware limitations. The only way you can play videos is via YouTube or a third-party application.
The Vortex has plenty of other features that will make power users happy, though. You get both Wi-Fi and 3G in the form of EV-DO Rev. A, and you can use the Vortex as a 3G Mobile hot spot for up to five different devices. Keep in mind that you need to sign up for the Mobile Broadband Connect plan for $20 a month if you want to use this feature. There's also Bluetooth with A2DP, object push, dial-up networking, and file transfer support. The Vortex also has GPS, which you can use with the aforementioned Bing Maps as well as Verizon's own VZ Navigator.
Verizon has included a few of its other apps on the phone as well, such as Backup Assistant, Mobile IM (a hub for Windows Live, Yahoo, and AOL Instant Messenger), City ID, My Verizon Mobile (for quick access to your Verizon account information), V Cast Tones, V Cast Videos, and V Cast Music. LG has included a couple of its own apps too--there's a Twitter app and a Facebook app that were both designed specifically for LG. The functionality of both is similar to other Twitter and Facebook apps, except with LG branding.
Other apps that come preloaded on the Vortex include Amazon's Kindle, Scrabble, Skype Mobile, Slacker, Tetris, an RSS reader, a News and Weather app, a calculator, a calendar, and ThinkFree Office. Of course as an Android phone it comes fully loaded with Google apps like Gmail, Google Talk, YouTube, and Google Voice Search. The browser is the standard Android WebKit browser. Unfortunately, these preloaded apps can't be uninstalled. You can always get more apps via the Android Marketplace.
The Vortex wouldn't be a phone without solid phone features that include a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, text and multimedia messaging, a voice recorder, and visual voice mail. Do note that Verizon's visual voice mail costs around $2.99 a month. The phone book is limited only by the available memory, and there's room in each entry for multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, IM handles, and so on. You can merge contact information from multiple e-mail accounts, and even from your Facebook and Twitter accounts. You can access e-mail from your own POP3/IMAP servers plus Exchange if your workplace supports it.
As the Vortex is billed as an entry-level phone, we wouldn't expect anything too extraordinary in the multimedia department. The music and video players are standard Android fare, with support for popular media formats like MP3, WMA, unprotected AAC, DivX, WMV, MP4, 3GP, and 3G2. You can sync music from PC to phone, create and manage playlists, and store music on the microSD card. The phone comes with a 2GB card installed, but it takes up to 32GB cards.
The 3.2-megapixel camera on the Vortex can take pictures in five different resolutions and three picture quality settings. It has a slew of other features like an adjustable ISO, white balance, color effects, a timer, brightness, six scene modes (Automatic, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night, and Sunset), four focus modes (Auto, Macro, Face tracking, and Manual), five shot modes (Normal, Continuous, Smile shot, Beauty shot, Art shot), and 2x digital zoom.
Picture quality was pretty good for a 3.2-megapixel camera; images looked sharp, but colors did seem rather washed out. The video recorder can capture video in 640x480, 320x240, and 176x144 resolutions in either a long storage mode or shorter MMS lengths.
We tested the LG Vortex in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless. Call quality was good, but not great. On our end, we heard our callers quite clearly, but we did encounter the occasional voice distortion, especially if we were moving during the call.
Callers said they, too, heard us loud and clear most of the time. However, they did say our voice quality sounded quite harsh and digitized and not as natural as they would like. Speakerphone calls were pretty good--callers said they couldn't tell much of a difference when the speakerphone was on.
We were very impressed with the EV-DO Rev. A speeds on the Vortex. We loaded the mobile CNET page in just 5 seconds and the full CNET page in 25 seconds. YouTube videos only took a few seconds to buffer, though the video quality was rather blocky and pixelated.
The LG Vortex has a 600MHz processor, which may be far dinkier than the modern 1GHz processors on higher-end smartphones, but we found it suitable for our needs. There was hardly any delay or lag when launching or switching apps, or when swiping between home screens. We did experience the occasional app crashing, though--the browser crashed on us a couple of times--but this happened rarely. Zooming in and out of Web pages did seem a bit choppy as well.