It's rare to see a budget handset that seems to check nearly all of the boxes for quality features, which is why we were initially so surprised by the LG Escape. It might not turn heads with dramatic styling, but the Android 4.1: Jelly Bean device delivers strong OS performance, a sharp screen, and a nicely slim build, all backed by AT&T's 4G LTE network.
We weren't terribly surprised to see a mediocre camera included, but still felt like the Escape was better than it really should be for the price. And then we found the near-fatal flaw: A storage limitation that'll prevent users from downloading and using larger apps. For casual app and game dabblers, that may not be an issue, but what about everyone else?
While the glossy plastic backing may turn some off, the shape and size of the LG Escape makes the handset feel great in the hand. Measuring 4.96-inches by 2.54-inches, with a thickness of just 0.37-inches and a weight of 4.5 ounces, the phone is quite slim, and the design feels well considered without being flashy or eye-catching.
The 4.3-inch display comes in at a resolution of 960 x 540 and looks quite good, with crisp text and vibrant colors. Above the screen are glossy silver AT&T and LG logos, along with a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, while the bottom houses the soft touch buttons: Back, home, and menu.
We mentioned the back of the phone earlier, as the slightly slippery smooth plastic backing won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially with the reflective checkerboard design. Despite its glossy nature, it fits well with the design of the device, though the large etched LG logo is a bit much. Above the logo is the primary 5-megapixel camera lens, while a small opening for the speaker is found near the bottom left.
The sides, top, and bottom of the phone are also made of black plastic, albeit with a ridged design that almost makes it look like it's rubberized. You'll find a power button on the upper right, a volume rocker on the upper left, and a headphone jack up top. The micro USB port is located dead center on the bottom of the phone.
Powering the LG Escape's zippy performance is a dual-core 1.2Ghz processor backed by 1GB RAM, and the result is speedy movement around the OS, quick transitions between menus and apps, and notable games running smoothly and without slowdown issues.
The storage issue is a huge disappointment, though. The Escape only comes with 4GB of internal storage, a good chunk of which is taken up by Android and various preloaded apps. Less than 2GB is actually available for your use, though the Escape supports microSD cards of up to 32GB in size.
None of that would be a huge issue for a budget device if apps could be installed or moved to the external storage, but that's not the case. Advanced users might be able to root the device and find a workaround, but the average user will simply be unable to download larger apps and games – really anything larger than a few hundred MB, as you'll need enough space to both download and install an app.
We simply can't figure out why LG would cripple its handset in such a way. Even the much-lower-end LG Venice on Boost Mobile lets you install apps to the microSD card, and that's half the phone the Escape is in many other regards.
Price is one of the biggest perks of the LG Escape, as the device can be had for just $0.99 with a two-year agreement. For AT&T users that are willing to sign a new contract but don't want to make a big upfront commitment, the Escape has several highlights, plus it's an LTE device with Jelly Bean that'll only cost you a buck on day one. But that storage issue can't be ignored.
Interface, calling, and Internet
The LG Escape runs Android 4.1: Jelly Bean, and while it's not the absolute latest and greatest that the operating system has to offer, it's still relatively recent and runs well on the device. The experience here is mostly stock Android, and aspects like calling, email, and messaging will all seem pretty familiar for veterans of the OS.
LG's UI tweaks only seem to help, rather than hinder. We're fans of the customizable lock screen shortcuts, which let you pick four apps for quick access. If you want the camera and email (or anything else) handy for immediate drag-to-open access, the Escape makes that possible.
Up to seven home screens can be customized with app shortcuts and widgets, and we really like the option to use different images for each page's backdrop. It adds a slick bit of customization and pop to the experience.
Calling and contacts are typical Android offerings on the LG Escape, and both are very straightforward and easy to use. Large number icons dominate the dialer screen, and it'll suggest numbers from your contacts that you might be trying to enter. Meanwhile, contacts can automatically pull your Google and Facebook contacts, and it's very easy to merge duplicate entries. Favorites and groups can also be assigned as desired.
AT&T's 4G LTE service was very good and consistently reliable in our testing. We picked up bits of static here and there, but otherwise had quality results in what we heard from those on the other line, while those we spoke with reported clear-sounding voice on the other end. Speakerphone quality was likewise solid on both ends.
The stock Internet browser on the LG Escape includes an AT&T-specific modification: a browser bar at the bottom of the screen that includes quick access to bookmarks and such via little icons. It hides away when not in use and isn't terribly obtrusive, but it's also easily disabled in the options. Otherwise, the browser will be familiar to Android users, and other options (including the excellent Chrome) are available via Google Play.
Surfing the web and downloading apps and media was a nothing but a delight on AT&T's 4G LTE network. We regularly clocked download speeds in the range of 12-17Mbps with upload speeds closer to 11-14Mbps. Your mileage may vary based on location, of course, and we've seen higher results on the top end on Verizon handsets. However, the speeds here did not disappoint in use.
Camera and video
Here's where the budget part of the equation most notably comes into play. The LG Escape sports a 5-megapixel rear camera, which is definitely on the lower end of the scale for modern smartphones.
We recently reviewed the LG Venice on Boost Mobile, which is a much weaker handset in terms of performance and appeal, but the results from its own 5MP camera are very similar to what we saw here. On a handset that otherwise outshines its lower-end pricing in most regards, this aspect is unfortunately dead on.
To be fair, it's not a bad camera for quick snapshots to post to Instagram or text or email to friends. For on-the-fly photos, it'll do the trick well enough. But for anything that you'd want to view on a screen much larger than 4.3 inches, the lower-quality shots will show their weaknesses, including lacking detail and notable graininess, especially in low-light and indoor settings.
The LG Escape also allows for 1080p video footage shot from its back camera, and while the footage we shot wasn't spectacularly detailed, the results are largely very good for a budget smartphone. However, for both still photos and videos, users who need a really stellar camera in their pocket at all times should consider a higher-end handset, as there are many better options in that regard.
As for the software, the same camera app is used for both still photos and video footage, with a quick tap on the lower right of the screen swapping between the two. It's an auto-focus lens for both needs, and you can easily modify aspects like image size, white balance, and geotagging via the options menu, as well as turn on color effects or a timer as needed.
Battery life, maps and apps
Considering its budget status, we weren't sure whether to expect long-lasting performance from the battery. Luckily, we were pleasantly surprised by the results from 2150 mAh removable, rechargeable battery, which is found beneath the easily removed back cover of the device.
It's rated for eight hours of talk time, and in our testing – using the device for a mix of web browsing, email reading, use of apps and games, and light media streaming, we had little trouble getting a full day out of the device. And if you're a less-fervent handset user, it'll hold up well over multiple days. For a phone of this size and its power needs, the battery size seems just right, especially for the handset's price.
Maps and Apps
The LG Escape expectedly comes preloaded with Google Maps, which is the gold standard for mobile mapping and works admirably here throughout. It offers GPS-aided maps, directions for driving, walking, and public transportation, and can kick you to either Google's own Navigation app or the AT&T Navigator app for turn-by-turn navigation.
AT&T has preloaded the device with a few too many unnecessary apps, sadly, like AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Code Scanner, and Mobile TV – all of which would have been better off as optional downloads. While these apps (and other AT&T ones) can't be deleted outright, they can be disabled and hidden from your apps listing.
Facebook and Twitter are already included on the Escape from the moment you pull it out of the box, but we suspect most users won't be too heartbroken about having those at the ready.
Otherwise, your destination for loading the device up with apps and games is Google Play, the stock Android marketplace, which also serves up access to movies, music, books, and more. While still not as robust a storefront as the iOS App Store, Google Play's app offerings are steadily improving, and there are plenty of free and paid options in both the apps and games realms. Most headline apps – like Netflix, Flipboard, and Instagram – are available, though the games selection is much more hit-or-miss compared to what's found on iOS devices.
Still, there are plenty of great games to be had, and thankfully performance is not an issue with the LG Escape. We tried an array of top games, including the likes of Angry Birds Star Wars, Jetpack Joyride, and Shadowgun DeadZone, and all ran very well without noticeable slowdown or visual degradation.
As noted earlier, however, there's no built-in way to install or move apps to the microSD card, leaving you just about 1.8GB of internal storage for both downloading and installing apps and games. Many top games weigh in at more than 1GB apiece, but you won't have enough space to both download the app and then support the install process. The LG Escape can run slick games, but can't actually store many of them. What a shame.
So much about the budget-priced LG Escape impresses, from the sharp screen to the slim build, zippy performance, and AT&T 4G LTE network. We expected a lower-end camera in the mix, but the combination of limited onboard storage and no provided way to install apps to the microSD card really hobbles the device for the average user.
With that in mind, is the LG Escape still worth considering for certain folks?
Quality components make for a very stellar Android experience here. It runs Jelly Bean (Android 4.1), the 1.2Ghz processor is very snappy, the display is quite good, and the battery life is very solid for a budget device. All told, the phone is much nicer than its price might suggest.
The slim build of the LG Escape also feels great in the hand. While the glossy backing plate won't be for everyone, the proportions feel just right. AT&T's 4G LTE service also steadily impressed during testing, both with data usage and phone call quality.
The storage issue is a major one, as the less-than-2GB actually available internally is the only space you'll have for apps and games. Anyone looking to play cutting edge, console-like games simply won't be able to in most cases. You won't have the space for the larger ones, and even if you tend towards smaller, casual games, you'll have to delete apps often to have enough free space handy.
Additionally, the 5-megapixel back camera is unremarkable, and while it'll take fair snapshots for quick sharing, we wouldn't recommend the Escape for anyone who makes mobile photography a priority. And while we like the feel of the device, the design is pretty simplistic and lacks a premium stylistic edge. That glossy back cover looks a bit cheap, for sure.
At first glance, the LG Escape seems like a sure thing for budget-minded buyers. It runs Android 4.1 extremely well, with a sharp screen, comfortable-feeling design, very solid battery life, and impressive 4G LTE service. For a device available for just a dollar with a two-year deal, it seems quite excellent in most respects.
But the storage problem is a deal-breaker, and a surprising one at that. We don't have an issue with a budget phone offering limited internal storage; we can drop $20 on a large microSD card. But the inability to install or move apps to the external storage means you'll never be able to snag larger apps unless LG addresses the limitation with an update.
For some, that might not be a huge concern. For many others, though, it'll be enough to dwarf the many positive features of the LG Escape, and it should push you to consider other devices – even if you need to shell out extra green upfront.