Budget Android phones are a bit like buses. You wait ages for one to come along and then a whole heap of them turn up at the same time. We’ve already reviewed the Acer E110 and Vodafone 845, and Three has just launched the ZTE Racer. LG is adding to this crop with the fantastically named Optimus, or GT540 if you want to use its more boring model number.
The price of the Optimus may be cheap, but the look and feel of the phone certainly isn’t. In fact this is one of the more stylish-looking Android handsets we’ve come across. The phone is relatively small by smartphone standards measuring just 54mm wide, and the curved edges make it feel slimmer than its 13mm thickness would suggest. LG has used a very convincing brushed metal finish on the front and rear of the phone and you only realise it’s actually made entirely from plastic by taking the battery cover off for closer inspection.
The button layout is a little unusual for an Android phone in that the home and call buttons are grouped together on a single line, while the Option and Back buttons have been placed directly under the screen. And while most Android handsets have the search button on the front, LG has moved it to the right hand edge of the phone above the dedicated camera key. The layout actually works quite well and helps preserve the handset’s clean lines. We also like the fact that LG has placed the standard headphone jack at the top of the Optimus so it doesn’t snag when you’re taking the phone in and out of your pocket.
The GT540 is powered by a Qualcomm processor running at 600MHz. While this is some way off premium Android phones that use faster 1GHz Snapdragon processors, the Optimus still feels fairly nimble in use, although you will experience a bit of slow down here and there if you’ve got a few apps running in the background. There’s a rather limited 130MB of memory for storing apps and files, but you can beef this up using microSD cards of up to 32GB in size.
So far so good, but where the Optimus starts to falter is with LG’s decision to use an older version of Android. The phone runs V1.6 rather than the newer 2.1 release that’s used on most of the latest breed of Android devices. This means you miss out on the interface enhancements introduced in V2.1 such as live wallpapers and the 3D effect in the main menus. You also don’t get some other updates such as the native support for Exchange. Nevertheless, LG has customised the standard V1.6 interface a bit. It has added extra home screens so you’ve more space for widgets and shortcuts and has also placed two shortcuts to the messaging app and dialler on either side of the main menu button.