The LG Optimus GT540 is a Google Android smartphone aimed at first-time smartphone buyers. Possessing a stylish design and capable of DivX and Xvid video playback, the LG Optimus represents good value for money, but it is let down by a mediocre touchscreen.
The LG Optimus GT540 may be aimed at users on a budget, but its build quality and design haven't suffered because of this. It has sleek curved edges at the top and bottom, and the silver version we reviewed has an attractive metallic-looking finish. The Optimus is constructed using good quality plastics, and there are no loose or moving parts; it's a solid feeling handset. The physical camera button is a nice touch and there is also a quick search button and external volume controls.
Manufacturers generally make some compromises with budget mobile phones, and in the case of the LG Optimus GT540 it is the display that suffers most. The 3in screen uses resistive rather than capacitive technology, so its far less responsive as screens seen on higher end Android phones like the HTC Desire. The display will suit those who like to tap screens with their fingernails but it possesses poor viewing angles and is difficult to see in direct sunlight.
Although it is reasonably responsive for a resistive touchscreen, we quickly became frustrated when trying to press or slide towards the edges of the screen. For example, we had to use a fingernail, rather than a fingertip to drag down the notifications bar; a basic action that most Google Android users will undertake frequently. The display also affects text input — keys are tiny in the standard portrait QWERTY orientation, though an on-screen keypad with predictive text input can be selected instead.
The LG Optimus runs the older 1.6 version of Google's Android operating system with a slightly tweaked interface. The most notable change is the SNS or Social Networking Services application, allowing you to add Facebook, Twitter and Bebo updates to the home screen as live widgets. Updates, status and messaging widgets are included and allow you to send a single update to all three social-networking services, read messages and direct mentions and view user profiles, photos and a range of other content.
Though the application does offer access to more features than the Facebook and Twitter clients for Android (available for download in the Android Market) we prefer the interface and the speed of the standard apps. The app is particularly slow at loading photos and messages, even over a Wi-Fi connection. On the plus side, it does offer the option to import contacts from Facebook, Twitter and Bebo one-by-one or en masse. (However it will simply create new entries rather than update any current ones.)
We really like LG's customised 'LG Home' interface. It offers customisable quick access icons at the bottom of each home screen (by default set to the dialler and messaging), a main menu than cleanly separates Android default, carrier default and downloaded applications, and five themes that match the available colours of the Optimus. The afore-mentioned notifications bar also gets handy custom toggles for sound, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS.
The LG Optimus otherwise offers the regular features and functions of Android, including the Android Market for third-party apps, the excellent notifications taskbar and automatic and seamless synchronisation with Google services. Like all Android smartphones, the LG Optimus automatically synchronises your Google calendar, mail and contacts over the air. Despite running an older version of Android, the LG Optimus GT540 felt relatively snappy during testing and we experienced little to no lag or slowdown during most tasks.
Surprisingly, the LG Optimus GT540 is a reasonable multimedia smartphone. It boasts a standard 3.5mm headphone hack, has DivX and Xvid file support and a 3D image and video viewer makes it cool — and quite practical — for browsing through your media collection, especially if you have a large library. We were pleasantly surprised at how smooth the scrolling was. The LG Optimus uses the standard Android music player but there is a wealth of customisable music player applications downloadable from the Android Market.
Web browsing on the LG Optimus is hindered by the resistive display. There is no multitouch support, so you can't pinch the screen to zoom in and out, and it also lacks Flash support. Thankfully text is automatically reformatted when zooming, though we found the browser was generally slower to load pages than many Android phones we've reviewed. Other features of the LG Optimus include a 3-megapixel camera, a built-in accelerometer, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a digital compass and a microSD card slot for extra storage.
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