LG has been earning some headlines for a growing collection of big-screen phones like the 5.5-inch Optimus G Pro. The Optimus F3 (free with a contract; $240 without) is not one of them; at 4 inches, its 800-by-480-pixel screen is among the smallest you’ll see on a non-Apple smartphone. It’s a good deal as a budget-minded workhorse smartphone, as long as you don’t mind a little interface tweaking.
Size, Screen and Software
A compact display doesn’t have to be a liability, but on this $240 phone it is. For that you can blame the extra layers of interface LG and T-Mobile slathered on Android.
Swipe down to invoke the notifications list, and you see that about a third of the screen is occupied by these extras: a “QSlide” menu of apps, a brightness setting, and a T-Mobile widget tracking how many voice minutes and text messages you’ve used up (who cares when they’re unlimited in T-Mo plans?).
LG also replaced the standard recent-apps button with a menu button, so you have to press and hold the home button to multitask efficiently—and may then find yourself mistakenly invoking Siri on any iOS devices once you memorize that action. And it throws up a confirmation dialog when enabling airplane mode, just in case you’re somehow unfamiliar with the concept.
At some viewing angles outdoors, the screen became unviewable—the coating on it somehow spread the sun’s reflection across the entire display.
The plastic and chrome trim feels and looks cheap—again, this is a $240 phone—and reminded me of vintage BlackBerry devices from some angles. The thin plastic back pops off to reveal a micro-SIM slot that you must remove the battery to access, and a microSD card slot with no such restriction.
Get a memory card immediately, because the review model loaned by T-Mobile PR only had 1.1 gigabytes free out of the box. Some of that paltry capacity is eaten up by a generous load of bloatware; a FileShare app that only works with other LG phones seems particularly pointless, given what LG’s tiny market share says about your odds of meeting other people running the same app.
The F3 runs Android 4.1.2, which shipped last October. Given that instant obsolescence, I would not be too confident about LG and T-Mobile shipping newer versions for this model.
Battery Life, Calls and Data
The 2,460 milliamp-hour battery inside is large for such a small screen and paid off with battery life that exceeded LG’s estimates: It ran for 14 hours and 30 minutes in a talk-time test, an hour better than advertised.
Calls sounded good overall. Its noise cancellation worked wonders underneath a noisy urban freeway; in a voicemail I left there, I could barely hear that racket. But when I switched to the F3′s speakerphone, a flood of swishy noises intruded. I didn’t hear any notable sidetone, the faint sound of my own voice, in test calls.
The phone also had trouble hearing me when I tested it with a Plantronics Bluetooth headset: Three times in a row, it heard my attempt to voice-dial a series of digits as a request to dial an unrelated contact by name.
The F3 benefits from T-Mobile’s speedy and increasingly widely-available LTE network, with its almost-as-good HSPA+ as an effective fallback. At worst, the Speedtest.net app clocked the latter at a mere 6.5 Mbps; at best, it recorded almost 32Mbps over LTE. Wi-Fi is an option too—as with other T-Mobile phones, this one can place calls over Wi-Fi—but the phone didn’t detect a 5GHz network.
Unlike many Android phones, this one omits NFC wireless, so there will be no easy Android Beam file transfers for its users.
Camera and Multimedia
Nobody should buy this phone for its cameras. The back, 5-megapixel camera took decent shots in daylight but delivered noisy results indoors—except when its flash blasted a subject.
Video was immensely worse. This phone is the best exhibit I’ve seen yet of the uselessness of touting resolution figures in mobile devices: I can’t remember seeing 1080p (back) and 720p (front) footage look as low-resolution as it did here. And that low quality fell off a cliff in dimly-lit settings, where its video degenerated to a grainy, 10fps mess.
The “F” in F3 can’t stand for “fast”; benchmark tests had the phone exceeding only the 2011-vintage Galaxy S 2. But the small screen and storage capacity already argue against trying to play any action games on the thing.
The standard multimedia-compatibility limits apply here: You’ll need to install third-party apps to play Windows Media or QuickTime files.
For all its limits, the F3 still represents a good value. If you compare this to other, pricier Android phones, the F3 looks weak—but it’s a quality deal compared to hobbled, non-smartphones in T-Mobile’s lineup like the Gravity Q that barely cost less. (If only the Nexus 4 were still an option.) And there’s little financial pain if you decline T-Mobile’s installment-plan pricing to get the phone unlocked immediately. It’s a poor choice for an app-intensive user, but if you mainly use a phone to make calls—crazy thought, right?—it’s a lot better than most devices. Another option: The Nokia Lumia 925 is a nicer phone, with a great camera and faster performance. It runs Windows Phone 8 instead of Android, but you can get one for just $29 up front at the time of this writing, which is an excellent deal.
|Total Integrated Storage||1.27 GB|
|Screen Resolution||800 x 480 pixels|
|Dimensions||4.57 x 2.46 x 0.4 inches|
|Screen Type||IPS LCD|
|Operating System as Tested||Android 4.1.2|
|Screen Pixels Per Inch||235 ppi|
|Available Integrated Storage||1.1 GB|
|Video Camera Resolution||1080p|
|Processor Speed||1.2 GHz|
|Screen Size||4 inches|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||14 hours, 30 minutes|
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc