What's hot: Latest Android OS, pleasant LG customizations and high res touchsceen.
What's not: LG Socialite app is balky and unstable.
Reviewed May 13, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
LG has a checkered past when it comes to midrange and high end phones. They're sometimes a bit too plastic and LG's custom user interfaces haven't wowed US users. Take the LG eXpo with its overly busy and stylus-centric UI and the LG Xenon with its unabashedly plastic build. The LG Ally stands leagues apart, and though it might not have an Iron Man build, it's solid and speaks of reasonable quality. Better yet, LG's custom UI on top of Android 2.1 Eclair (oh my goodness, something besides Google's own Nexus One is finally shipping with 2.1 out of the box!) is tasteful and improves upon Android. Just in case you don't like it, there's a Theme switcher app that lets you switch between LG's UI and Google's standard UI.
LG did little things to make Android easier to use, and that OS could use a little tweaking, so we're glad to see it here. They add a large clock widget with weather on the home screen (hello HTC Sense), and a launcher bar at the bottom with quick links to contacts, the web, messaging and phone. LG provides widgets for the calendar with month and agenda views and LG Socialite for Facebook and Twitter. Socialite integrates with your contacts (if you wish) and offers a tabbed home screen widget that looks good and has decently deep features but tended to crawl and hang. LG also includes ThinkFree Office which can view, edit and create MS Office compatible files (Word, Excel and PowerPoint).
The Android programs launcher gets organized with the standard pre-installed applications up top and downloaded applications segregated below. Now that there are over 30,000 Android apps in the Market with many being free, we tend to clutter our phones with lots of downloaded apps and this gives a semblance of order.
The hardware is solid and is more than worthy of the $99 price tag with a 2 year contract. It's much less bulky and weird looking than that other Android QWERTY slider on Verizon, the Motorola Devour. The Ally is made of solid plastics with molded curved corners that feel good in hand and though it's thick (because it's a slider), the curves make it look and feel slimmer.
The 3.2", 800 x 480 capacitive touch screen is very sharp and bright-- we like. With top dog Android phones running 1GHz processors, the Ally has a 600MHz Qualcomm CPU, and that kicks it out of "Droid" territory in Verizon's lineup, as does the 3.2 megapixel camera. But the LG feels responsive and we didn't find ourselves pining for our 1GHz Nexus One. Since LG's customizations are light, they really don't put strain on the processor as does Motorola's MOTOBLUR and HTC's Sense UI.
Four hardware buttons that are tactile and easy to use, and two capacitive touch buttons for back and search.
The rest of the specs are what you'd expect from a smartphone: Bluetooth 2.1, WiFi, a GPS and a microSD card slot (a 4 gig card is included). There's a standard 3.5mm stereo headset jack (headset not included) and approximately 100 megs of internal storage (not much space for installing scads of apps). Other than Visual Voicemail, there are no Verizon apps-- that means no VZ Navigator or V Cast services. Since the phone runs Android 2.1, you've got Google Maps with spoken navigation to fall back on, and the usual Android YouTube player.
The Ally's 3.2" touch screen is responsive and has quite strong haptic feedback. There's plenty of tech behind the scenes including an accelerometer, an ambient light sensor and a proximity sensor. The display is very sharp but the resolution is quite high for the size-- generally 480 x 800 pixel Android displays run 3.5" to 3.7" (4.3" when the HTC EVO ships in early June). That means text is quite small in the web browser and you'll do plenty of pinch-zooming to make it readable. The user interface is responsive, and we had no issues with lag.
The Ally uses a mix of front hardware and touch sensitive buttons, and we appreciate the tactile feedback of the call send/end buttons, home and menu key. On the side we have a dedicated camera button, volume controls and two rubber doors that cover the micro USB port and microSD card slot (a 4 gig card is included). The mono speaker fires at the rear and the keyboard slider is very solid. The backlit keyboard is one of the better landscape QWERTYs on the market with large keys that have good separation and a very tactile click. They take a bit of effort to press and that's not a bad thing since we rarely saw it register unwanted presses. There's an embedded d-pad on the right (handy for text editing) and keys for the Android home and menu keys. Should you not wish to slide open the keyboard to enter a few words, you can use the standard Android software keyboard, though we found the screen a bit too small for accurate portrait orientation typing.
Phone and Data
The LG Ally has excellent call quality on both incoming and outgoing ends. Our call recipients said we were land line clear, and incoming voice quality was full with good volume. This is a CDMA dual band digital phone that works only on Verizon's network and it has 3G EV-DO Rev. A for data. Data speeds were above average among Rev. A phones and reception is likewise above average. In fact it rivals the Motorola Droid, one of the strongest RF smartphones in Verizon's lineup. Indoors in a residential area with slightly below moderate coverage, the Ally managed -97db signal strength which is the same as the Droid. Data speeds were good with this less than optimal coverage, and the Speedtest.net app averaged 1500kbps for downloads and 640kbps for uploads.
Even if you've got huge fingers, you'll have no trouble with the on-screen dialer-- the numbers are huge (see our video review). The phone comes with Visual Voicemail and Google's voice search, Car Home and Voice Dialer applications. The standard Google phone software includes call history, favorites and a quick link to contacts.
Android has a way to go before we're truly impressed with its multimedia software. The standard Gallery which is a good improvement over the original image and photo viewer is on board as is the standard (decent) music player. LG loves DivX and thus the phone comes with a DivX license, though we suspect most folks are more interested in playing MPEG4 H.264 web compatible videos these days (the same format supported by the iPhone 3GS and most other smartphones). The LG does a fine job of playing videos up to 800 x 480 resolution at 900kbps using the Gallery application. We were pleasantly surprised that it held its own against the HTC Incredible and Nexus One, despite its slower CPU.
Though the camera isn't terribly high resolution, it takes sharp photos with good color saturation and natural exposure by camera phone standards. The 3.2 megapixel shooter has a fast autofocus lens and an LED flash that helps a bit with subjects that are close. The camera can also shoot video up to VGA resolution, 25fps in .3GP format.
It's hard to find fault with LG's first Android phone in the US. It's fast, it's stable and the feature set is great for the price. We have a feeling it will trounce the Devour given the Ally's higher resolution display, more compact and attractive design and better camera. If you want an Android phone with a hardware keyboard but are on a budget, the LG is an appealing alternative to the Moto Devour. It may lack the sex appeal of the HTC Incredible and the Motorola Droid, but it's half the price. And the LG has a better keyboard than the Moto Droid, something worth keeping in mind if you text or email heavily. If you're not wed to the idea of a hardware keyboard and crave USB syncing to Outlook, the $79 HTC Droid Eris is also worth a look.
Battery life is solid for a high end smartphone and we had no problem making it through the day with heavy use. Business users may miss VZ Navigator, though Google Maps' spoken directions are improving with each revision and are decent at this point.
Display:Capacitive touch screen. Screen size diagonally: 3.2". Resolution:
480 x 800 pixels, supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer and keyboard slide.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Performance:600MHz Qualcomm MSM7627 CPU. 256 megs RAM, 512 megs flash ROM with approximately 100 megs available.
Size:4.56" (H) x 2.22" (W) x 0.62" (D). Weight: 5.6 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital with EV-DO Rev. A and 1xRTT.
Camera:3.2MP with autofocus lens and LED flash.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR.
Software:Android OS 2.1 Eclair. LG custom UI (can be disabled), LG Socialite, LG Calendar widget, LG clock/weather widget, DivX license and playback, Visual Voicemail, Facebook, ThinkFree Office (MS Office compatible suite) and the full suite of Google Android applications including Google Maps, Google Talk, YouTube player, Gallery, Music Player, Amazon MP3, Car Home, Camera application, Messaging, Gmail, email, calculator, webkit web browser, calendar, contacts, Android Market, Voice Dialer and Voice Search.