Android smartphones are the rage these days and smartphone OEMs from all around the world are selling them like hot cakes. At least, that would hold true for Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone vendor. However, things have not been so rosy for its South Korean compatriot LG, especially in the smartphone space. Last year, LG started off the dual-core arms race with the Optimus 2X, but in terms of sales and reviews their product was slightly behind the curve.
The LG Optimus Sol is yet another Android smartphone with the Optimus branding, but it enters a market which is already flooded with a number of Samsung, HTC and Sony smartphones and we are discounting the number of Indian handset brands that are entering this space with competitive pricing. Let’s see if the Optimus Sol has what it takes to crack this highly lucrative low end of the market.
The LG Optimus Sol is a decidedly boring device to look at. To say the designers were quite uninspired while designing the device would quite an understatement. The device borrows a lot of its heritage from the Optimus 2X which was also quite a bland looking device. But, the one thing the Optimus 2X was not, was cheap, and unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Optimus Sol whose glossy plastic exterior is not only a finger magnet, but also very flimsy. That said, I must admit the device feels quite nice to hold. At 9.8mm thickness the device offers a perfect feel in the hand, which neither is too thin, not too thick.
As is the case with most modern smartphones, the 3.8-inch Ultra AMOLED display of the Optimus Sol takes center stage. We also get a front facing camera. Below, the display we have three capacitive keys which light up when we touch them. These keys also provide gratifying haptic feedback, which always is a good thing. Unfortunately, like the Sony Xperia S, these keys are invisible in the dark.
Coming to the sides of the device, we have the usual suspects the volume rockers on the left, the power key, the microUSB on the 3.5mm jack on the top are all housed on the top. We also get a microSD card slot, which can hold up to 32GB of storage.
When one looks at the back of the Optimus Sol, the Galaxy S comes to mind, which also had a glossy plastic back case, punctuated with the camera sans the flash. In this case we get a very cheap plastic back, which easily peels off, sometimes, though disturbingly easy. To make matters worst, the glossy plastic makes the device an irritating fingerprint magnet and at the same time it gets scratched very easily. Our review unit, came in a pretty battered condition and inspite of its condition it did not take a lot of effort to unwittingly scratch the device further.
The LG Optimus Sol is targeted at the mid-range, especially for people who have been using old Nokia devices who are fed up of the archaic Symbian OS and looking for a change. The Optimus Sol packs in a single core 1GHz Snapdragon processor and couples it with 512MB of RAM. We also get a 5-megapixel camera with 720p video recording, but bewilderingly LG has not provided a flash.
LG touts a 3.8-inch Ultra AMOLED panel with a WVGA resolution of 800×480 pixels, which is of the Pentile variety like the Super AMOLED HD panel on the Galaxy Nexus. This, of course, means we get RGBG layout (a green pixel between every red and blue pixel), which translates into slightly less sharpness when compared with a display with a standard RGB pixel layout.
Hardware wise, the Optimus Sol is pretty much par for the course, though we are starting to see dual-core devices in this segment so the Optimus Sol could have a hard time keeping up with them, unless, of course, LG drastically reduces the price.
The Optimus Sol runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, with a custom LG overlay running on top. LG likes to call this launcher, the Optimus UI and I must say it is one of the nicer launchers in terms of performance. On the flip side, looks wise the overlay is decidedly hideous. I mean cartoony icons, reminiscent of eastern anime cartoons.
Apart from the visual deformity of the UI, the interface is totally functional. In fact, it is amongst the lighter and smoother Android skins I’ve come across. The UI actually runs at 60 frames per second, which almost means a type of sophistication one expects from a Windows Phone device. The LG UI allows for seven home screens and a Mac OS X Expose-like feature which works via pinching on the home screen. Things are not as smooth as it might look on paper, but it’s generally plenty fast for someone using the device for primarily messaging, calling, browsing, social networking and playing the odd game.
The keyboard on the LG Optimus Sol was pretty nice. It felt a lot like the iPhone, though that also has something to do with the size of the device. Haptic feedback again only improved the experience, though the poor predictive text input forced me to revert to my trusty Swift Keyboard.
LG preloads the device with a few applications, but luckily it does not flood it lot of crapware. For instance, we get a ‘Car app’ which basically arranges the main functions of the device like calling and messaging in a larger tile like interface making it easier for the user while the device is cradled or docked in the car. Another useful feature was Polaris Office, a document editor. This particular piece of software can be found on many a Samsung phones as well.
LG has revamped the stock gingerbread player for the better. Apart from being more visually appealing, the UI elements have been more logically placed. Readers will note that I say this about each and every Android 2.3 device. The fact is that, Gingerbread has a pretty bad stock music app, and that’s why OEMs feel the need to skin it. In my experience, Sony has done the best modification, though the LG one is not too shabby and it’s much better than Samsung’s take on the app.
Performance of the Optimus Sol was very impressive for a phone of its class. The UI was very smooth and I could actually open multiple heady duty applications without any noticeable slow downs.In my general usage, I would have the weather widget, TweetCaster Pro, Facebook and Pulse open all the time as widgets. On top of this I would generally use What’s App, the messenger, Gmail and the phone to make calls. And for all these tasks the device performed brilliantly. Brilliant is not an exaggeration considering I use a Galaxy SII as my daily driver and it hangs on me at times.
In terms of Camera performance, the Optimus Sol was a disappointment. But that was something I was expecting considering LG did not provide a flash, which meant poor low light performance. Regardless, performance of the camera was quite poor with the images generally producing a lot of noise and poor color reproduction
The display on the Optimus Sol was plenty bright though I could notice the jagged edges on icons due to the Penttile nature of the display. Having said that, with the relatively small size of the display the overall crispness of text was pretty good. Plus, because of AMOLED technology the colors really popped. On the whole, I would say, the display on the Optimus Sol was slightly ahead of the competition.
As far multimedia playback was concerned the device could handle 720p video was relative ease and it could play a myriad of formats. The same held true the 720p video capture, though quality of the video was questionable, as I have seen better video from devices like the Xperia Ray. Though, this is also directly related to the device not having a LED flash which hampers its low light performance.
Call quality of the device was unremarkable. Not that it was bad it just was nothing exceptional. I would lose calls often when I would use the device in my basement and the 3G signals would also drop away. The same held true for battery life. This was rather disappointing considering LG had outfitted the device with a large battery. In my usage I would use the device intermittently for calls, IM, SMS, Web browsing, Angry Birds Space, Twitter, Facebook, Pulse, the odd snap and about an hour of music. The device lasted me for about 7 hours and mind you I repeated this for a week.
Without beating around the bush I can confidently say that I cannot recommend the Optimus Sol. That’s as clear I can get. Not that the Optimus Sol is bad device, its just that now we have much better devices in the market like the Sony Xperia U which retails for a lesser price than the Optimus Sol’s price tag of Rs 16,900.
To make matters worst the Optimus Sol reeks of cheap plastic hardware, which will get scratched very quickly, does not have a flash and it runs a two-year-old version of Android. Consumers in the market will be better off spending their cash on either the HTC One V or the Sony Xperia U.
Photo Credits: Rohit Sharma