If you've got around £100 to spend on a mobile phone, then you've got a fair bit of choice, and Android smartphones are certainly within your grasp. Checking current prices for pay as you go handsets at Carphone Warehouse, as I write this review, I find the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini for £99.95, the HTC Wildfire S and Samsung Galaxy Ace on 3, for £30 more.
Orange's popular San Francisco II is just below £100, at £99.99, and T-Mobile has its own Vivacity for £89.99. Vodafone has the Samsung Galaxy Mini for £80. Well, you get the point, there's a lot of competition out there.
It's difficult to see what LG thinks it can add to the market with the Optimus L3, which is the first of a series of ‘Optimus L' branded handsets to hit the ground. Carphone Warehouse proudly advertises this handset at £79.95, reduced from a whopping £159.95. Even at its current price, it feels too expensive to me.
There's no doubting that LG has tried something a bit different with the Optimus L3. It is really quite small and its squat form might appeal to those with smaller hands. Beware, though, as even here there is a demon lurking. At approaching 12mm thick, the phone is a bit chunky, and I could only just reach across it one handed. The childlike hands for which it might be mostly destined, may have trouble.
The use of a single button on the front facia is designed to ape more expensive models (from Samsung) and the design looks clean and neat. The button turns the screen on and becomes the Android Home button, with two touch-sensitive Menu and Back buttons lighting up - when the area left or right of the physical button is tapped. It looks neat, and the touch sensitivity is very good.
The black plastic fascia isn't horrendous, and a strip of silver that runs round the edges is styled to be thick, along the top edges and thinner along the sides. It's both pretty and functional, housing the microUSB connector on the bottom edge, headset and on/off switch on the top edge. The thinner, left, long edge strip, is bisected by a volume rocker. The back cover is slightly stippled and a tad reminiscent of the high end LG Prada 3.0, though not of the same high quality, obviously. My main problem with the LG Optimus L3 is its screen. Measuring just 3.2in and offering a staggeringly low 240 x 320 resolution, it looks decidedly old hat. It is too small for viewing web pages or watching video with ease, and the on screen keyboard was way to tiny for me to use successfully, while tapping out text messages or email.
Pull down the notifications bar and cramping really sets in. There's a music control panel, even when you are not listening to music. This is in addition to shortcuts for speaker, Wi-Fi, GPS and others, so that notifications are squished, into the bottom of the screen. I found scrolling to get to actual message notifications very tedious, and it was necessary, as the handset lacks a notification light.
Furthermore, the dimensions don't give the screen a good, wide view. In fact, there's barely any point in flipping it around for web or video viewing, or to get a much wider keyboard to tap at. There's no auto brightness control for the screen either, so when you want to change this feature, you need to delve into the settings area.
The Android OS version is 2.3.6. That's par for the course, if you are spending around the £100 mark, so I can't really complain about that. However, LG could have added a little more by way of extras to help entice buyers. As it stands there is an FM radio and a copy of Polaris Viewer: for looking at, but not editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. There's not even Twitter and Facebook clients, which are often a staple add-on to the standard Android fare.
LG hasn't boosted the Android stock of widgets. These runs to just nine options, which you can plop onto the five Android home screens. Some of the home screen space is taken up by a shortcut-bar that takes you to the dialler, contacts and messaging, and toggles you between the home screen and apps menu. It isn't ground breaking stuff by any means.
The camera shoots at just three-megapixels and without a flash it really struggles in low-light conditions, though it is just about OK for a handset pitched at this level. You might feel that video stuck at VGA resolution is rather too limiting.
To be fair, it isn't all doom and gloom. There is a full 1GB of storage on board, and often budget models are rather more restricted than that. A microSD card slot lets you add more storage. And the 800MHz processor performed admirably, no doubt given a bit of a lift by the presence of 384MB of RAM. The touch sensitivity of the screen was perfectly good enough, for my liking too.
Probably the best feature is the battery. LG has opted for a 1540mAh battery, and this seems to perform fairly well. I actually got two days from the handset, between charges, much of the time.
Now, bear in mind that I wasn't thrashing the Optimus L3, as I do my usual handset, with lots of web access, video playback, GPS and music playing. A relatively low-level user might manage a couple of days, between charges, with relative ease.
The LG Optimus L3 is a budget phone with good battery life but a poor screen. Its chassis design has some neat features, but overall if your spending power hovers around £80: we'd suggest taking a look at the T-Mobile and Orange offerings, before taking the plunge here.
Cons: The battery life impresses and there are some nice design features.
Pros: The screen is poor, and overall the budget nature of this handset shines through.
Network: HSPA 900/2100, GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Memory expansion: microSD
Display: 3.2in, 240 x 320 pixels
Main camera: three-megapixels
Front camera: No
FM radio: Yes
Size: 102.6 x 61.6 x 11.85 mm
OS: Android 2.3.6