Stop me if you've heard this one, but I'm going to tell you about my experiences using an LG Optimus phone. All right, I know that's a bit snarky, but it's difficult not to make a joke when you've seen so many members of the Optimus family (more than a dozen when you factor in the various carrier versions). The new LG Optimus Elite has more in common with its Optimus S granddaddy than it does with the high-end LG Optimus 3D Max that LG unveiled at Mobile World Congress earlier this year. Behind a very simple design and a 3.5-inch display is a midrange feature set that runs on Android Gingerbread and an 800MHz processor. Outside of the Google Wallet support, there's not much to get excited about, but not all phones have to be exciting. Call quality is fine, but it could be better.
The Optimus Elite is available with Sprint in titan silver and white for $29.99 with a two-year service agreement and a $50 mail-in rebate. I reviewed the titan silver version, but the features are the same for both models. You also can buy it with Sprint's prepaid subsidiary, Virgin Mobile. There it will cost you $149.99, but you won't sign a contract.
You have to wonder why LG added "Elite" to the handset's name since there's really not that much elite about it. And that starts with the Optimus Elite's design. Indeed, with its straight lines and utilitarian look, the Optimus Elite puts function over form. At 4.58 inches tall by 2.47 inches wide by 0.39 inch deep, the handset is about the same size as the iPhone 4 and it also sports a 3.5-inch display. Personally, I prefer a display more in the range of 3.75 inches, especially if you're watching movies or playing graphics-rich games. I said the same in my iPhone 4S review, but I won't make as big as a fuss here considering the Optimus Elite's price.
An added bonus, at least for some users, is an eco-friendly shell that's crafted from 50 percent recycled plastic and is ULE Platinum-certified. The handset doesn't contain harmful materials such as PVC plastics, phthalates, halogens, or mercury and the packaging is entirely recyclable.
The Optimus Elite weighs 4.25 ounces, which gives it a solid feel for its size. The back cover is plastic, something that I didn't love, and it has a textured material. On the whole, the handset should stand up to your daily routine and it sports Corning's Gorilla Glass, but I wouldn't recommend banging it on a concrete floor. You'll need to remove the battery cover to access the microSD card slot, but I was glad to see that you can leave the battery in place.
In addition to bordering on too small, the 16 million-color display has an average 320x480-pixel resolution. It's fine for everyday features like messaging and e-mail and your basic apps, but media content won't look fantastic. Colors were relatively bright, though, and blacks were dark. You have five home screens to customize as you wish.
Below the display are four touch controls: Back, Home, Menu, and Search. Like with the display above they're responsive to your touch. Up top is a 3.5mm headset jack and a power control and around the corner on the left side is a volume rocker. The Micro-USB port is on the bottom of the phone and the camera, self-portrait mirror and flash are on the back. As a touch-screen phone, the Optimus Elite has a virtual alphanumeric keypad and QWERTY keyboard. The latter has the standard Gingerbread design while adding Swype.
Outside of Google Wallet, the Optimus Elite's feature set doesn't extend far beyond the basics. The phone book's size is limited only by the available memory, with each contact holding multiple fields, including phone numbers, street addresses, URLs and e-mails, and a company name. You can pair contacts with a photo and video and sync your entire list with Sprint.
All the essentials are present including text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a calendar (that you can sync with Google), support for both Gmail and other e-mail POP3 services, voice dialing, an alarm clock, a Web browser, and voice search. As for connectivity, there's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB mass storage and syncing. One thing missing that I would like to see is a file manager.
Android 2.3 Gingerbread won't please the most devoted Android enthusiasts, but they're not the audience for this phone in the first place. As it is you get all the changes that Gingerbread brought, including the enhanced cut-and-paste functionality and the ability to see how much of the battery that individual apps are used. Sprint hasn't said when and if this phone will be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich, but given its middling specs, I wouldn't hold my breath.
Though the Optimus Elite is hardly a multimedia powerhouse, the 5-megapixel camera is one of the phone's better features. You're given a wide range of options, including an adjustable ISO and an adjustable white balance, four color effects, a self-timer, four shutter sounds, geotagging, a digital zoom, a brightness meter, and special modes for portrait, landscape, sports, sunset, and night. The tap to focus feature is especially welcome when you're taking photos against a light background and I like the ability to view a photograph for up to five seconds after you've taken it. The camcorder also comes with a decent set of editing options including the ability use the flash as a steady light. You can record up to a 720x480-pixel resolution, but keep in mind that you'll be using more memory the higher you go. Videos meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds, but you can shoot for longer in standard mode. You can view all of your work in the user-friendly Gallery app.