Google's Android platform has made huge waves in the pre-paid market over the last year or so, and the LG Optimus Spirit is a good example of what you can now get for minimal outlay. A successor to the popular LG Optimus One, the Telstra-exclusive Optimus Spirit provides good value for money at $149, though it can be a little sluggish to use at times.
Design and display
Like most smartphones that retail for under $200, the LG Optimus Spirit is not going to wow anyone. It looks like a standard phone with a black plastic case — gloss black on the front and sides and a metallic, glitter-like finish on the back. Build quality feels excellent for the price — the Optimus Spirit doesn't creak or rattle.
We like the Optimus Spirit's physical buttons below the display (menu, home, back and search). These keys click reassuringly when pressed, are back-lit for night time use, and provide good tactility. Many competing Android smartphones use touch-sensitive keys, which are often unresponsive or easy to accidentally press.
LG has equipped the Optimus Spirit with a 3.2in capacitive touchscreen. It obviously lacks the vibrancy and crispness of the screens found on more expensive smartphones but it has a respectable resolution of 320x480, decent viewing angles, and is bright and clear. The screen is responsive to finger presses and swipes but is a little hard to see outdoors in sunlight.
Software and performance
The LG Optimus Spirit runs the 2.3 Gingerbread version of Google's Android operating system. The latest version is 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich but don't expect the Spirit to get this upgrade: latest OS upgrades are normally reserved for higher end smartphones, like LG's Optimus 3D.
With that being said, the benefits of a 4.0 upgrade on the Optimus Spirit will be minimal, since its a budget phone with a small screen and a slower processor. As it stands the phone offers all the regular features and functions of an Android device, including access to the Android Market for third-party apps, an excellent notifications taskbar and automatic and seamless synchronisation with Google services including Gmail. One benefit of Android that doesn't apply to the LG Optimus Spirit is Flash support for Web browsing; the phone's modest specifications mean that it doesn't have enough processing power to offer full Flash support.
LG has skinned the standard Android interface with a UI overlay called LG Home. It offers customisable quick access icons at the bottom of each home screen (set by default to phone, contacts, messaging and menu), and a main menu than cleanly separates Android default and downloaded applications. We love the quick toggles in the notifications drop-down for silent mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and sync; a tap of each box allows you to quickly turn these settings on or off.
The Optimus Spirit's default on-screen keyboard is a little cramped, so typing text messages and e-mails can be a painful process. The compact screen also makes scrolling around Web pages and clicking links rather annoying. However, multi-touch support (meaning you can pinch the screen to zoom in and out) is a real plus at this price. Disappointingly, the Optimus Spirit is a little sluggish during general use. Of particular annoyance is the jerkiness of animations when you are sliding through home screens. Some apps, like the camera and maps, also take a while to load.
The LG Optimus Spirit has a 3-megapixel camera that takes average pictures and lacks a flash for night-time photography. Colour reproduction is excellent for a low-end camera phone though, and provided you keep the handset still shots are clear.
Other features of the LG Optimus Spirit include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. Telstra has given the phone a Blue Tick rating, which means it should deliver enhanced reception and coverage in regional and rural areas of Australia. Only 150MB of internal memory is on board, but a microSD card slot for extra storage is included and the phone comes with a 2GB microSD card in the box.
Battery life is about what we would expect from an Android phone: the Optimus Spirit should last a full day, but it will need to be charged almost every night with persistent use.
The LG Optimus Spirit is available now exclusively through Telstra for $149.