Budget Android smartphones are on the rise, and you need look no further than the LG Optimus line of handsets to see that. We first saw the LG Optimus T, which was priced at $29.99 with a T-Mobile agreement, and then we found out you can get the black version for free under contract. The LG Optimus S for Sprint may not be quite so cheap, but it's still pretty affordable. It has many of the same features as the Optimus T--it ships with Android 2.2, has Wi-Fi and 3G, and it can act as a portable Wi-Fi hot spot. The Optimus S is also one of a few phones to support Sprint's new Sprint ID packs, which let you customize the phone with certain personality profiles. The LG Optimus S is available for $49.99 with a new two-year contract from Sprint.
When we first saw the LG Optimus S, we thought we were looking at a clone of the LG Optimus T. Indeed, the two phones are very similar, not just in terms of features, but also in design. Both phones measure 4.47 inches long by 2.32 inches wide by 0.52 inch thick, and both are coated with a smooth soft-touch finish that leads to a comfortable feel in the hand. The Optimus S comes only in charcoal gray.
On the front of the Optimus S is a roomy 3.2-inch LCD display that supports 16.7 million colors and 320x480-pixel resolution. It being an entry-level phone, you won't get high-end graphics as seen on a Droid X or a MyTouch 3G, but we think it still looks great. Images are colorful, text is sharp, and it felt intuitive and easy to use. You can adjust the brightness, the backlight timer, and the transitions between opening and closing apps. Aside from multitouch and pinch-to-zoom, the Optimus S also has a proximity sensor and an internal accelerometer.
Underneath the display is where you start to see the differences between the Optimus T and the Optimus S. The Home and Menu keys are switched, and while the Optimus T housed the Home and Back keys in one panel, the Optimus S separated them out into individual keys. Both have the Search key on the far right. The Optimus S has a slightly wider volume rocker on the right spine, and it also has a voice command key and a camera key, while the Optimus T had neither. The Optimus S houses its microSD card slot on the left spine, but the Optimus T hid it behind the battery cover. Both phones have a 3.2-megapixel camera on the back. Rounding out the exterior of the Optimus S are the Micro-USB charging port on the bottom, and the 3.5mm headset jack and Screen lock/Power key at the top.
The interface is also where you'll see a difference between the Optimus T and the Optimus S. Both ship with Android 2.2, and both have five customizable home screens, but the Optimus S can be further customized with Sprint's Sprint ID pack system. A "Sprint ID" is essentially a profile of preconfigured wallpapers, shortcuts, widgets, and settings. You can switch between different profiles by tapping the Sprint ID icon on the home screen. The idea behind the Sprint ID system is that instead of having to personalize your starting home screens from scratch, your selected Sprint ID will do it for you. Read our full review of Sprint ID for more details.
Along with the ID button on the home screen, you also get shortcuts to the phone dialer and the main menu. The phone dialer app is fairly self-explanatory and is similar to the one we've seen on other Android phones. As for messaging, the Optimus S only comes with the default multitouch Android keyboard--you'll have to download and install Swype on your own if you prefer that.
Even though the Optimus S is billed as an entry-level smartphone, it's still chock-full of features. It ships with Android 2.2, which has a number of improvements over Android 2.1. They include voice dialing over Bluetooth, app storage on a memory card, a new camera viewfinder, app sharing, and Facebook integration. The one downside is that even though Android 2.2 supports in-browser Flash video, the Optimus S doesn't have the hardware horsepower for it.
Yet, we're not upset, as the Optimus S has plenty more to offer. It has 3G with EV-DO Rev. A and Wi-Fi with hot-spot capabilities. Bear in mind that you do need to pay around $30 a month for the extra tethering/hot-spot option. Other connectivity features include Bluetooth with A2DP and GPS. You can use GPS with Google's own Maps and Latitude apps as well as the Sprint Navigation app.
Basic features on the Optimus S include a speakerphone, vibrate mode, conference calling, voice dialing, visual voice mail, a calendar, and text and multimedia messaging. The phone book is limited only by the available memory, and there's room in each phone book entry for multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, IM handles, and more. You can merge contact information from multiple e-mail and social networking accounts too. For e-mail, you can use Gmail, your own POP3/IMAP server accounts, and it also supports Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync.