LG has announced its latest entry-level smartphone, the Optimus L3. SEAN BACHER finds it performs well, despite its sub-standard screen. (and see how to win an Optimus One)
While many smartphone manufacturers are launching smartphones that are packed with features, functions and dazzling high-quality screens, LG is focusing much of its attention on the entry-level market.
This became evident at the end of 2010 with the launch of the Optimus One, a smartphone that retailed for under R3 000, but did not compromise on any features. The phone was extremely successful, becoming the best selling smartphone in LG’s history and was followed by the Optimus Black, the Optimus 2 and now, the recently launched Optimus L3.
(We’re giving away an Optimus One to two readers as an ideal back-up phone. Click here to enter)
We put the LG Optimus L3 through the Gadget Ten Task Test to see how well it copes as an entry-level smartphone.
1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)
The LG Optimus L3 looks and feels very different to the previous Optimus range of phones as it now forms part of LG’s new ‚L‚ series of smartphones, which were launched at the Mobile World Congress earlier this year. This translates into a more compact, almost square-looking phone instead of the stretched candy bar shape synonymous with the previous Optimus range.
The Optimus L3’s guts are protected by an aluminium shell, which gives it style and adds a little weight to the phone, making it feel more expensive than it really is. At the back is a removable plastic cover from where you can access the battery and SIM card. However, this feels a little cheap and, if not taken off carefully, may just snap in your hands.
With the battery and SIM card installed and the back cover in place, the LG Optimus L3 feels solid and compact and looks very stylish.
For an entry-level phone, you can’t fault it on its build and design.
2. Slippability (Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed)
Measuring 102,6 x 61,6 x 11,7mm, the Optimus L3 is really small. An average hand will easily wrap all the way around and it will fit snuggly into most pockets. Unlike many other smartphones, the Optimus L3 will easily go unnoticed when carried around.
It is also very easy to operate with one hand, as a thumb will be able to stretch from one corner to the other ‚ no dislocation needed.
Overall, the Optimus L3 is small and compact, yet not small to the point where it is unusable.
3. General performance (speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking)
The LG Optimus L3 uses an 800Mhz CPU, 200MHz faster than the Optimus One and only has 384MB of RAM ‚ compared to 170MB on the Optimus One. Although these specs are an improvement on the older Optimus phones, they are still worryingly below the current norm. However, the Android 2.3 or Gingerbread operating system ran with ease and the phone booted up quickly. Scrolling through the five home screens was fluid and there was no jolting.
Launching apps was quick and the Internet browser made surfing the Internet seamless. But, as more and more programs were opened, I did notice a delay and switching between open applications was slow.
Gadget’s current benchmarking app ‚ Angry Birds Space – installed easily but didn’t run very well. Although the birds flew through space without jumping or freezing mid-flight, the sound effects were sometimes delayed. This became more of a problem when adverts popped out of the top right-hand corner. The game became nearly unplayable when other programs were running in the background.
The Optimus L3 doesn’t score well here. The phone will slow down even more as additional apps, social feeds and e-mail accounts are loaded.
4. Life as we know it (How’s the battery life?)
The 1 500 mAh battery that comes with the phone is better than those found in many high-end phones. For instance, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 uses a 1 270mAh battery and the Nokia Lumia 800 only1 450mAh.
When fully charged, the Optimus L3 lasted for around 10 hours, during which I was checking my Twitter account, e-mail, Facebook, downloading new apps and taking the odd phone call.
Overall, the LG Optimus L3’s battery was phenomenal and I had to ask myself: If an entry level phone like the Optimus L3 can use such a good battery, why can’t a high-end one like the BlackBerry Torch 9810?
5. Vision of the future (picture, video and browsing quality)
A 3MP camera at the back of the Optimus L3 is capable of taking pictures at a maximum resolution of 2048×1536 pixels. It also allows for video recording and has an autofocus feature.
But, all this is a waste due to the sub-standard display. The LG Optimus L3 uses a 3.2‚ 256 thousand-colour capacitive touch screen, offering a resolution of 240 x 320 with a pixel density of 125 pixels per inch. This screen resolution is worse than the Optimus One, which had a 320 x 480 resolution and a pixel density of 180 pixels per inch.
The screen is so bad that the icons look grainy and, when viewed on a computer, the pictures taken with the camera look nothing like on the phone’s screen.
The screen is one area where LG should not have faltered. This single feature prevents the Optimus L3 from being a very good phone.
6. Talk to me (quality of audio)
The Optimus L3’s loudspeaker is more than adequate to listen to MP3s or YouTube. However, it does get tinny when the volume is cranked up all the way.
Voice quality during a conversation is clear and does not distort. An audio jack and Bluetooth connectivity rounds out the audio options.
Overall – average.
7. Message in a bottle (range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions)
Preinstalled on the LG Optimus L3 are a Twitter, e-mail and Facebook apps. All these are the standard ones found on other Android phones. They are easy to set up and use, and there are dozens of other messaging apps available for download from the Google Play.
8. Keep control (How effective are hardware and software controls?)
A Power button at top right, a Volume rocker on the left and home button below the screen that also launches the application manager make are all within easy reach and nearly impossible to confuse in the dark.
Software buttons include a Menu button which changes according to the app you are in and which also launches a Search option. A Back button returns you to the previous screen when browsing the Internet or going through menu options on the phone.
The software and hardware controls are much the same as on any other Android phone.
9. The new new (innovations, unique features)
The Optimus L3 does not offer anything in the way of innovation, or unique features ‚ but has left little out. It runs on plain vanilla Android 2.3 ‚ meaning LG has not plastered the phone with its own skin.
10. The wallet test (Is it competitively priced?)
The LG Optimus L3 shines here. It sells for a cash price of R1 499, cheaper than the Optimus One and one of the cheapest major brand smartphones available in South Africa.
The Optimus L3’s screen is major drawback, but it doesn’t fall short anywhere else. It is by no means a workhorse, but more of a device for a first-time smartphone user.
* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher
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Amazfit Bip – An unassuming smartwatch competitor
The Amazfit Bip has everything a smartwatch needs: notifications, heart rate monitoring and a month-long battery life, writes BRYAN TURNER.
The Amazfit Bip is one of the most appealing devices in the smartwatch lineup from Huami, a low-cost brand backed by Xiaomi.
Coming in at around R1500 depending on where you shop, the price point puts the Bip into the budget smartwatch space. Combined with a large set of offerings, it makes one wonder: “Why aren’t more smartwatches like this?”
Aesthetically, the rectangular face is similar to the Apple Watch but, on closer inspection, is more reminiscent of the Pebble Time smartwatch. Ergonomically, the Bip has a single button which mostly acts as an unlock button and a back button in menus. The watch strap is made of hypoallergenic silicone and is replaceable.
The Bip has an always-on transflective colour screen with a backlight for darker situations. This kind of display is very similar to a 90’s Gameboy, and happens to be quite the power saver. The display is covered with 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla glass with an anti-fingerprint coating, giving that extra bit of knock resistance.
The unit is 18 grams without the strap and 32 with it on, making for an extremely light smartwatch that’s roughly half the weight of the Apple Watch. While the Bip is rated IP68 in terms of waterproofing and dustproofing (meaning it can withstand 30 minutes of being under 1.5 meters of water), Huami’s website says that it should not be used while swimming, diving or bathing, and should not be taken into a sauna. When the Bip we used got dirty from rock climbing, it was washed with a soap-free cleanser (as Fitbit recommends) and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
The number of sensors in the Bip is astonishing: heart rate sensor, accelerometer, geomagnetic sensor, barometer, and GPS. This sensor set is usually reserved for the premium smartwatch market but budget Bip packs all of these. Most interestingly, the geomagnetic sensor allows for compass readings (as well as assisting the GPS in locating the watch while it’s moving) and the barometer for measuring elevation by detecting changes in pressure.
Battery life has been optimised to a month of regular use, with some reports measuring up to 45-days with the heart rate sensor off. Huami claims the smartwatch can last for 4 months with only step and sleep tracking on. The 190mAh battery was run down in 28 hours with the GPS, barometer and heart rate sensor set to permanently on.
The built-in software is basic and lacks app support but redeems itself in other areas. Firstly, the customisation of watch faces is limited but can be easily changed with a third party app. Notifications are handled well, available for viewing only, and require the phone for replying or other interactions.
The menu options become available with a swipe left, notification settings with a swipe down, past notifications with a swipe up and the weather with a swipe right. The menu has options for checking one’s current status (steps, heart rate, distance, calories), followed by quick activity tracking (running, cycling, walking weather (a five-day forecast with icons), alarms, timers, compass and settings.
The companion app, Mi Fit, is well-designed and syncs quickly with the Bip. Mi Fit is where the watch and sync settings can be fine-tuned. Mi Fit also gives very detailed sleep analytics, including showing how much time one spent sleeping compared to other Mi Fit users.
Overall, the Bip is an attractive smartwatch for those who are looking to purchase a device that provides value for money while being highly-functional.
Samsung A51: Saviour of the mid-range
For a few years, Samsung has delivered some less than favourable mid-range devices compared to the competition. The Galaxy A51 is here to change all that, writes BRYAN TURNER.
It’s not often one can look at a mid-range phone and mistake it for a flagship. That’s what you can expect to experience when taking the Galaxy A51 out into the open.
Samsung went back to the drawing board with its new range of devices, and it shows. The latest Galaxy A range features some of the highest quality, budget-friendly devices we’ve seen so far. The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of the best phones we’ve seen in a while, not just aesthetically, but in what it packs into a sub-R7000 price tag.
Looking at the device briefly, it’s very easy to mistake it for a flagship. It features a four-camera array on the back, and an Infinity-O punch-hole display – both of which are features of the high-end Samsung devices. In fact, it features a similar camera array as the Galaxy Note10 Lite but features an additional lens in the array. The cameras line up in an L-shape, clearly avoiding looking like a stovetop.
Apart from the camera array, the back of the handset features a striking pattern called Prism Crush, a pattern of pastel shades that come in black, white, blue, and pink. For the review, we used the Prism Crush Blue colour and it looks really great. The feel is clearly plastic, which isn’t too surprising for a mid-range device, but the design is definitely something that will make users opt for a clear case. It’s also great to see a design pattern that deviates from the standard single iridescent colours many manufacturers have copied from Huawei’s design.
Along the sides, it features a metal-like frame, but again, it’s plastic. On the left side, we find a SIM and microSD card tray while the right side houses the power button and volume rocker. The bottom of the phone features a very welcome USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, which isn’t too uncommon for mid-range phones.
On the front, the device is pretty much all screen, at an 87.4% screen-to-body ratio, thanks to a tiny chin at the bottom and the small punch hole for the camera. The earpiece has also been hidden inside the frame in attempts to maximise this screen-to-body ratio. When powered on, the 6.5-inch display looks vivid and sharp. That’s because Samsung opted to put a Super AMOLED display into this midrange unit, giving it a resolution of 1080 x 2400 (at 405 ppi) in a 20:9 format. This makes the display FullHD+, and perfect for consuming video content like Netflix and YouTube in HD.
Hidden underneath the display is an in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is very surprising to find in a mid-range device. While it is extremely accurate, it takes some getting used to because the sensor is so large that one needs to put one’s entire finger over the right part of the display to unlock it. Most other types of non-in-screen fingerprint sensors don’t mind a partial fingerprint. The display itself feels nothing like the back and that’s because it’s not plastic, but rather Gorilla Glass 3, to prevent the screen from shattering easily.
What’s interesting about this device is finding accessories which aren’t quite available in phone stores yet. When browsing online for screen protectors, one has to be on the lookout for screen protectors that are compatible with the in-screen fingerprint sensor. Make sure to check out the reviews of users before purchasing them.
In terms of software, Samsung has made a great deal of effort to make the experience slick. Gone are the days of TouchWiz (thank goodness) and now we have OneUI in its second version. OneUI makes the phone easier to use by putting most of the interaction on the bottom half of the screen and most of the view on the top part of the screen, where one’s thumbs don’t usually reach.
Out of the box, the device came with Android 10. This is a huge step forward in terms of commitment to running the latest software for major feature updates as well as for Android security patches to keep the device secure.
It also has most of the cool features from the flagship devices, like Samsung Pay, Bixby, and Link to Windows. Samsung Pay is an absolute pleasure to use, even if it still confuses the person taking your payments. From linking my cards, I have stopped taking my wallet out with me because all merchants that accept tap-to-pay will accept Samsung Pay on the A51.
Bixby is useful if you’re in the Samsung app ecosystem, especially for owners of SmartThings devices like Samsung TVs and SmartThings-enabled smart home devices. Otherwise, Google Assistant is still accessible for those who still want to use the standard Google experience.
Link to Windows is an interesting feature that started with the Galaxy Note10 and has since trickled down into the mid-range. It allows users to send SMS messages, view recently taken photos, and receive notifications from the phone, all on a Windows 10 PC. This can be enabled by going to the Your Phone app found in the start menu.
The rear camera is phenomenal for a mid-range device and features a 48MP wide sensor. The photos come out as 12MP images, which is a common trick of many manufacturers to achieve high-quality photography. It does this by combining 4 pixels into a single superpixel to get the best colours out of the picture, while still remaining sharp. It also performs surprisingly well in low light, which is not something we were expecting from a mid-range device.
The 12MP ultra-wide angle lens spans 123-degrees, which is very wide and also useful for getting shots in where one can’t move back further. It’s not as great as the main lens but does the trick for getting everyone in for a group photo in a galley kitchen.
The 5MP depth-sensing lens supplements the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo – the same lens as its predecessor, the Galaxy A50. It features a 32MP wide-angle selfie camera, which is perfect for fitting everyone into a large group selfie.
The processor is an Exynos 9611, which is an Octa-core processor. It performs well in most situations, and there is software built in to give games a boost, so it performs well with graphically intensive games too. In terms of RAM, there are 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB variants, so keep an eye out for which one you are trying. For the review, we had the 4GB, and it performs well with multitasking and day-to-day tasks.
For storage, it comes in a 128GB model on Samsung’s website, which seems to be the standard size. This is extremely welcome in the mid-range segment and is the largest we’ve seen for internal storage capacity as a starting point.
At a recommended selling price of R6,999, the Samsung Galaxy A51 marks the beginning of a great era for Samsung, because it provides a feature-rich handset at an affordable price.