I have always found the mid-range smartphone segment to be quite interesting. The budget limitations prohibit manufacturers from offering the absolute best they can cook up. However, they can’t afford to be too shabby either, since consumers rightly expect these handsets to be capable performers that are significantly better than the absolute low-end handsets that are typically available for half the price. The trick to coming up with stellar mid-range devices is to make compromises that the customer won’t mind compromising on. The Optimus L5 is LG’s mid-range Android smartphone. Let us see if LG has managed to perfect the balancing game.
With the L-series, LG has been emphasizing a lot on style, and the L5 is undoubtedly among the better looking devices in this price range. The L5 is a fairly slender device with a thickness of just 9.5 mm. The combination of sharp and bold corners, faux metal rims, and intricate matt-finish on the back cover lends it a somewhat premium look that Samsung would do well to learn from.
The LG Optimus L5 E610 sports a 4’’ TFT LCD screen with enhanced brightness that offers good outdoor visibility. Viewing angles are also quite reasonable. Unfortunately, those are pretty much the only positives I could identify in the display. The extra brightness comes at a premium. The L5, much like all other Optimus devices I have tried, lacks contrast, as a result of which, images appear washed out. This problem is compounded by the L5’s abysmal pixel density. LG increased the screen size, but chose not to amp up the screen resolution beyond 320 x 480 pixels. As a result, the L5 has a pixel density of 144 ppi, while Ace Plus has 165 ppi, Desire C has 165 ppi, Ace 2 has 246 ppi, and even Xperia J is rumored to have 245 ppi.
Under the hood, the L5 is powered by a Qualcomm MSM7225A Snapdragon, which is essentially an underclocked version of the chip powering the more expensive L7. The 800 MHz Cortex-A5 processor and Adreno 200 GPU are hardly cutting edge, but they are a notch above what similarly priced Wildfire S, or Desire C offer. However, when compared with the innards of Ace Plus, Xperia P, Ace 2 or even the Xperia Mini, the L5 is found lacking. Thankfully, the L5 comes with Ice-cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) that has been optimized to run on low-end hardware. The half gigabyte of RAM also comes in handy. As a result the L5 is laggy, but not unusable. During my two weeks of usage, I encountered several momentary freezes, but on the whole, the L5 was fairly usable. If you want to play cutting edge games you will have to pony up more dough, but the L5 is good enough for the likes of Angry Birds Space and Fruit Ninja.
The LG Optimus Ux Overlay is mostly unobtrusive and well done. However, I wish OEMs stopped replacing the modern, understated icons of ICS with bright, in-your-face, pastel colored blotches. And LG is not the only one who is to be blamed – this seems to be something all the manufacturers think is a good idea. A few of the extra stuff that we saw in the Optimus 4X trickle down to the L5 (for example, QuickMemo for notes and annotations), but most of the goodies are gone. The default install is mostly junk-free with just a handful of pre-loaded apps like Polaris Office, Smartworld and Smartshare. Smartworld is LG’s own app store, which offers personalized recommendations based on your download history. It’s largely redundant, and in India, it appears to be only suggesting free apps. Smartshare is a much more useful addition that enables streaming of media directly from Windows Media Player (on your PC) or to your HDTV over Wi-Fi. It is essentially LG’s counterpart of Samsung’s Allshare. However, the best bundled app is MobileTV, which is exclusive to the Indian market. LG Mobile TV is actually powered by Myplex Now, which is a free Android app available for all handsets. Mobile TV offers live streams of several dozen TV channels from different categories like news (Aaj Taak, NDTV, TimesNow etc), Entertainment (UTV Movies, Zoom, UTV Bindass etc.), Infotainment (History Channel and NDTV Goodtimes), Music (9XM and Channel UFX), Spiritual (Aastha, Gurbani etc.), and Regional (Asianet, Jaya TV etc.). Mobile TV is also slated to offer movies and other multimedia content on-demand. According to LG India, it will be free for first two months, and then require subscription.
LG’s 5 mega-pixel camera is competent, which is exactly what you should expect from products in this price range. It struggles to produce clear images under low light, but outdoor performance is good enough for most casual photography needs. Although ICS’s instant capture is technically supported, the low-end hardware means that there is a couple of seconds’ delay (more under low light) between shots. Special photography modes available include panorama and continuous shot (keeps on taking snaps as long as the capture button is pressed). Advanced options include ISO and EV settings. However, macro focusing mode is absent.
Video capture is a bit of a disappointment. The L5 only captures VGA videos at 30 fps. This pales in comparison to Xperia Mini, and Ace 2’s ability to record at 720p. Front camera for video calling is also not available.
Optimus L5 Camera Sample (Video)
The L5 packs a 1500 mAh battery, which easily manages to last more than a day with average usage. Call clarity is good and the speaker is quite loud. I didn’t have trouble talking even in the noisy streets of India. Connectivity options supported include Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi, and NFC.
The Optimus L5 makes a lot of compromises. The biggest of them are with the screen and the processor. The low ppi and single core processor means that mobile enthusiasts are unlikely to find the L5 to their liking. Sony’s Xperia Mini and Walkman Live are smaller, but come with better processors, better displays, and 720p recording. Xperia U costs about Rs 3,000 more, but offers a significantly better hardware (Dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9), but doesn’t support expandable memory. If you want micro-SD support, along with a dual-core processor, high ppi display, and 720p video recording, you will have to stretch your budget a bit further to accommodate the likes of Ace 2 and Xperia Sola.
However, the L5 hardly seems like a phone targeted at enthusiasts. LG is clearly gunning for the average consumer. The average consumer doesn’t care too much about the specs as long as the phone feels good. And the L5 feels good. It’s sleek, stylish, and well built. It takes decent pics, and the ICS build is optimized enough to not frustrate the casual user. LG TV is essentially a rebranded version of a readily available Android app, but it’s still something that most consumers will be attracted to.
In the end, I can’t help but feel that LG has sacrificed quality with the goal of appealing to the casual mobile users. Currently the Optimus L5 is selling for about Rs. 13,000. It would become a lot easier to recommend LG’s mid-range device had it been a couple of thousand bucks cheaper. However, right now, unless you really need the big screen, it’s hard to justify buying the L5 over similarly priced Xperia Mini or Xperia Live. In fact, if you can afford to spend a bit more, you will end up with a significantly better device by considering the Xperia U (Rs. 14,000 approx.), Xperia Sola (Rs. 15,500 approx.), or Ace 2.