A couple of weeks ago I reviewed LG’s Optimus L3 II, a sub-£100 Android handset that, despite some shortcomings, I thought was reasonably good value for money. The bigger sibling of the Optimus L3 II is the Optimus L5 II currently retailing for around £150 Sim-free. Both the L3 and L5 are updates of last year’s models, by the way.
Now, that price tag is more than double the cost of the £69.99 Optimus L3 II on O2 Pay and Go, and it puts the L5 II at the bottom end of mid-range. So this should be a much better handset in technical terms, and one which shouldn’t suffer from any glaring issues or major compromises. Rather than being a bargain basement phone it ought to be a functional handset designed to work well without doing anything fancy.
The good news is that I think it does its job very well. There are some real positives along the way, and I will say right at the outset of this review that anyone hovering around this price range would do well to put this handset on their shortlist.
There’s a definite air of LG about the design of the Optimus L5 II, with the blocky appearance and silver frame around the front that reminds me of older handsets in the range. I do like the faux metal look of the backplate which is quite well done. The build of the backplate is good too – it wraps around the handset’s edges rather than being a back-only thin affair, and it feels rather more solid than the backplates of some top end handsets – Samsung’s Galaxy S4, for example.
Just as with the LG Optimus L3 II there is a physical home button beneath the screen which has a surround that glows different colours to give you a range of alerts. It would be nice to be able to change the colours, but you’re stuck with what LG has decided you’ll have.
The buttons and connectors are well placed round the edges of the handset with the headset connector on the top, micro-USB on the bottom, on/off switch on the right edge and volume rocker on the left. There’s an additional button on the left edge which you can assign to launch any app you like. It’s a great feature, one I am sad BlackBerry has left behind. By default this button launches the built in Quick Memo app which is a great LG add-on.
Using Quick Memo you can write a note directly onto the screen using your fingertip. This feature was on the Optimus L3 II as well, but there the screen was too small to really use it well. Here the screen size makes it a usable app, though arguably a bit of a gimmick.
The screen is another plus point. It measures 4in, which is pretty much the standard size these days for a mid-range phone, and the resolution is 800 x 400 pixels which is hardly much to crow about. That said, it is surprisingly good. It looks sharp and has reasonable viewing angles. It is very reflective of light though.
One irritation is that there’s no auto brightness so you have to set this by using a slide bar. Fortunately LG has put this in the Notifications area, so it is just a screen swipe away, and you can turn the brightness up very high indeed if you need to.
So far this is all very good, and you may be wondering what the catch is. Well, there is one in terms of general performance, but it isn’t a huge one. The 1GHz single core processor is supported by just 512MB of RAM, and that means the handset runs a little slowly. This probably won’t matter to people who have not been used to sleeker phones, but I felt it a little tardy under the fingers at times.
A real plus is the presence of Android 4.1. Handsets at this price often shy away from the latest Android version, and it is nice to see it here. For one thing, it is more able to cope with lesser processors and it is a key reason that the Optimus L5 II doesn’t stutter too much. Another plus point is access to Google Now, the information hub that learns as it goes along to help deliver the info you really need.
There’s 4GB of memory on board, but out of the box my review sample had 2.1GB free. You can add a microSD card, of course, and the slot, under the backplate, can be easily reached for hotswapping. You can also remove a couple of the pre-installed apps – LG even gives you the option during setup. LG has built NFC into the Optimus L5 II – a nice feature to see on such a low cost handset.
The camera is 5-megapixels and does an average job. It is basic but passable, I guess, which is about what I’d expect for a phone at this price. You’ll be able to take photos to tweet or put on Facebook, but get a proper camera to take keeper shots.
The camera sports that odd voice activated shooting system I mentioned when I reviewed the Optimus L3 II. You can set it up so that you can say “Cheese,” “Smile,” “Whisky,” “Kimchi” or “LG” to take photos. As there’s no front-facing camera this could be useful for self-portraits as well as for shots of groups when you want everyone to be present.
LG’s Android skin has a lot of neat tweaks. You can select from a pair of fonts and no fewer than six different font sizes for viewing. Both of these features help you make the most of the screen size. You can opt for any of seven different ways of switching between home screens too – all offering slightly different animation styles.
The lock screen can accommodate one of several differently styled calendar and clock designs and four user-defined quick launch apps. Oh, and if you hold a finger down on the lock screen and then move it you can see the last app you were using in a circle that grows in size as you move your finger. Lift your finger and you open into the app.
Another skinning feature I like is the way that holding a finger on any home screen opens up access to apps, widgets and wallpapers so you can easily and quickly personalise things.
This all adds up to a compelling mix of features that makes this handset an attractive budget buy.
LG has done a great job with the Optimus L5 II. It is short on memory and arguably could use a better processor, but overall there’s a lot to like here. For a relatively low-end handset the presence of Android 4.1, some clever skinning, and that user programmable shortcut button help make this smartphone into a winner.
Manufacturer and Model
LG Optimus L5 II
GSM 850/900/1800/1900; HSPA 900/2100
1.0GHz single core
4in, 800 x 480 pixels
117.5 x 62.2 x 9.2mm