Someway off becoming a leader of the smartphone scene, LG's Optimus L3 is an entry level handset that counteracts a less than ground-breaking array of specs, largely uninspiring styling and a less than fluid user experience with an impressive performance in the area that is arguably most important to its intended market, pricing.
Lining up for as little as £79.95 on a pay-as-you-go basis across a range of networks through smartphone retailer Phones 4U, the L3 is one third of the new Optimus L series and lines up as the smaller, lower-end sibling to the mid-market L5 and higer-end L7.
Banking on its wallet-friendly price point to separate it from the expansive range of entry-level smartphones, the latest LG offering faces stiff competition from a flurry of more aesthetically pleasing, specs impressive and desirable devices from more coveted brands of the pocketable handset sector, such as Samsung and HTC.
Whilst the handset's sub £100 price tag will appeal to many, the minimalist price point comes at a cost with the handset's dated array of specs seeing the device line up with a number of its core elements, such as the screen and inbuilt camera, falling below the expected standards.
Despite its widespread limitations, thanks to the device's 800MHz processor and few hardware demands, the L3 is rather zippy with the sub-sized smartphone allowing users to freely scroll through the selection of Android 2.3 Gingerbread enabled homescreens and menus with ease, tackling the transitions in a simple, albeit low resolution manner.
On first impressions the handset is largely disappointing with an extremely low-resolution touchscreen display providing heavily grained images and far from impressive visuals. These first impressions are only further compounded the deeper you delve into the handset's core.
On the compact side of the smartphone spectrum, the 3.2-inch LCD TFT capacitive touchscreen offering found on the L3 is a frankly pitiful inclusion. Far from responsive, the QVGA feature boasts just a 320 x 240p image resolution with the low quality images further depleted by the minimalist 256K colour contrast ration and poor 125 pixels-per-inch image density.
Although sure to attract many thanks to its extremely low pricing, the LG Optimus L3 features fewer bells and whistles, and a lower array of hardware feature, than a number of its similarly priced rivals with the £79.99 priced Orange San Francisco offering a superior 800 x 480p resolution display. Elsewhere the Alcatel OT-602 manages to utilise the same 320 x 240p resolution screen, albeit on a smaller scale, for some £50 cheaper.
Not all doom and gloom, there are areas of the hardware wars where the L3 comes into its own and manages to gain some much needed added credit. In a section of the market increasingly dependent on the use of microSD cards for any workable amount of internal storage, the L3 boasts 1GB of memory inbuilt.
Whilst the device can still be expanded up to 32GB via microSD, this full gigabyte base is a marked improvement on many of its sub 256MB touting rivals.
Fulfilling its role as a smartphone, the L3, like virtually all modern devices, offers users the standard collection of connectivity options with the now customary 3G and Wi-Fi abilities further enhanced by Bluetooth 3.0.
In terms of internals, whilst Google's Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS is no longer at the fore of software potential, with no Android 4.0 ICS update to be made available, LG's decision to skin the L3 with its own Optimus 2.0 Lite user interface could be seen as a mistake with a less than fluid experience helping create a device that through a period of long-term use would quickly transform multiple small niggles into a series of massive molehills.
Design and feel
Far from the most beautiful handset on the market, the LG Optimus L3 is a squat, stubby, square device that fails to inspire on an aesthetical front.
Whilst the manufacturer might have wanted to give the handset an air of grandeur and the appearance of a high-end metal construct, in reality the device is a widely plastic affair that despite a strong construction does creak in the hand and offers little reassurance against the inevitable, knocks, bumps and scratches picked up during the course of a handset's lifecycle.
With a somewhat questionable design the handset's fit in the hand is also less than ideal with the abruptly angled corners combining with poorly placed volume controls to create a device that feels aggressive against the palm and which causes awkward, far from ideal holding positions.
With the volume controls running along the upper left section of the device, thumb and forefinger placement when holding the handset in left and right handed manners respectively spells an accidental pressing risks, forcing users to feel on edge and constantly conscious of inevitable unwanted alterations.
With the handset being a likely first buy for a teen or younger user, the L3, in all reality, would be best served by touting a selection of life-proof, knock, drop and splash proof features that will keep the budget device chugging along well after it has been put through the mill.
Despite these desires, the pocketable handset falls somewhat below expectation, and the levels of its marginally more expensive Motorola Defy rival, with the plastic coating proving prone to scratches and less than reassuring in a low level drop test.
Lining up at just 11.7mm thick and a comfortable and reassuring 109 grams in weight, the L3 is a compact and manageable device with few connection ports detracting from what is a largely smooth finish.
Although the top mounted 3.5mm audio jack connection and centralised microUSB changing dock on the base are well positioned, the dock connector is a shoddy affair making swift charging or transfer connections an errant option instead replaced by a clunky, slow, fiddly affair that will infuriate from the first use to the last.
Despite having just three physical buttons, power, volume and home, the L3 once again falls short of the mark with the narrow, elongated home button less than pleasant to use on a frequent basis, sitting flush with the handset's fore and failing to offer any purchase during use.
Whilst Google's Android 4.0 operating system might be nothing more than a long sought-after pipedream for L3 adopters, the handset utilises Gingerbread and the company's Optimus 2.0 Lite UI to offer users a familiar Android environment filled with five homescreens that can be simply adorned at will with the usual array of widgets, shortcuts, files and applications from the recently renamed Google Play Store.
Certainly not the sleekest and most well-honed UI on the smartphone market, LG's Optimus 2.0 Lite offering found on the L3 tailors itself directly to the handset's entry-level user base enabling first-time smartphone users to simply and intuitively riffle their way through the device's full bag of tricks with minimal fuss.
Although the incorporated 800MHz processor keeps users whipping their way back and forth through the handset's menu listings and applications at a frantic pace, more straightforward tasks such as scrolling up and down through a list of options is met with a more jilted, stilted and slowed experience.
Offering multitasking of sorts, an extended press on the home button will see users offered instant access points to the four most recently accessed applications and services, improving the user experience and helping maintain a level of userbility to a device that is plagued in all aspects of its being by a shockingly shoddy display.
On the whole offering a pleasant and simple to follow user experience for the first time smartphone owner, the L3's interface could be further improved and be made simpler to new adopters by replacing the display for a higher resolution offering.
Repeatedly the source of uncertainty, the simplicity of the Android OS is let down somewhat by a screen so heavily grained and pixelated that simple instructions and input methods can be repeatedly mistaken.
One of the most frequently used aspects of the handset's touchscreen based UI, the L3's selection of digital full QWERTY keyboard forms are a collection of cramped, poorly spaced input forms with the low-resolution display further compounding the undersized nature of the keys.
With accidental key presses an unavoidable pitfall that results in lengthy periods of deleting and redrafting, worst offenders of the sub-sized QWERTY offerings are the handset's full stop and forward slash buttons when entering a URL, both of which are small, even by L3 standards, and unnecessarily fiddly to access.
Contacts and calling
Accessed via a homescreen shortcut or the full app menu, the contacts section is a minimalist affair with a selection of easily navigated, albeit wildly uninspiring, contacts able to be added to with easy thanks to the handy step-by-step walk through contact sheet that allows users to input everything from contact name and number to a selection of email and postal addresses, personal notes and even assign set people to particular contact groups for further improved location and accessing.
Allowing users to search contacts via these set groupings, the L3 makes up in part for its lack of social network support with contacts unable to have their Twitter stream or Facebook updates link through directly to their virtual contacts card.
Acting liberally on the 'smart' aspect of its smartphone branding with a truly barebones array of specs, the LG Optimus L3 fares little better on the 'phone' section of its name with calls made and received often accompanied by a hearty amount of muffling and distortion, making it hard to hear conversations, especially when using the handset in a bustling, urban area that is accompanied by a variety of loud noises.
Sadly, for a smartphone, the L3's voicemail functionality is severely lacking in the smarts with the now standard visual voicemail expectations errant, replaced instead by the now dated, clumsy and far from convenient '901' voicemail calling service.
Once again failing to hit the seamless integration standards of its smartphone predecessors and a number of its closest rivals, the L3's messaging abilities prove clunky, cramped and unnecessarily sluggish.
Easy enough to access and open thanks in large to the overlaid Android OS, the handset's messaging services are yet another prime example of the device's back-to-basics price cutting that has been introduced to get the phone's price point as low as possible with little regard to eventual overall usability.
Keeping the handset further behind the times and away from fully appeasing its demanding teen, entry level market, the LG handset fails to provide social integration through its messaging services with users unable to create contacts group and receive all forms of messaging formats through in a single swipe from the standard text and MMS messages to direct tweets, Facebook updates and instant messages.
Yet another downfall of the handset's minimalist display, messaging is further complicated by the handset's poor digital QWERTY keyboard offering little room for precise key strokes and proving prone to unwanted presses and fiddly, time consuming alterations. Whilst these issues are somewhat appeased by switching the handset to a landscape stance, the keyboard remains far from ideal.
Adding a small amount of glitz to the largely gloomy horizon, the L3's MMS features are simple and intuitive to use, with the Android OS once again coming to the handset's rescue with the easy attachment system available to all composing text messages.
Featuring a lesser version of the multi-tabbed, desktop-esque browsers found on the likes of the Apple iPhone 4S, Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X, the LG Optimus E3 boasts a more low-key, reduced feature option with a near WAP offering throwing users back into the mobile browser past and marking just a minimal upheaval on the feature phones that many first time smartphone owners will be accustomed to.
Allowing users to jump online via the standard Wi-Fi and 3G means, the latest Optimus handset does provide the option of truly portable browsing just in a less than groundbreaking, hardly inspiring manner that will no doubt deter many from making the most of their newfound online availabilities.
With just a single pre-installed browser offering, users are forced to either opt for the stilted, and clunky basic Android browser that offers up to four tabbed pages, or turn their attentions to the Google Play store in order to download a replacement online enabling piece of software such as Opera Mini which allows as many as nine web pages to be open simultaneously.
Continuing the theme of moderate abilities let down massively by the hugely disappointing display, web access on the L3 is a troublesome affair with the handset's 3.2-inch TFT screen ensuring text is hard to read and heavily distorted, even when zoomed in. Somewhat unsurprisingly given its price point, text reflow is a no-no with a hearty amount of scrolling required to consume zoomed in content.
Whilst 3G speeds vary widely depending on location and network provider, the handset's Wi-Fi connectivity options, once having progressed through a sluggish and fiddly setup process, are satisfactory although far from the speediest on the market.
Surprising simple and pleasantly functional, the handset's bookmarking features see an easy accessible button line up alongside the browser's URL bar with a simple tap all that is required to create, edit and access bookmarked web pages.
Keeping the in-built camera selection to the skeletal minimum required to simply tick the box on the consumer analysed specs sheet, the L3's 3-megapixel camera is again a disappointment with no flash in tow to help rescue the highly pixelated end products.
Whilst shooting indoors under virtually any circumstances is a sure-fire recipe for low-quality, heavily grained and poorly colour managed images, take the handset outside into natural lighting and the camera is capable of a few small surprises.
Although you wouldn't know it viewing captured shots on the handset's display, transferred to a PC and shots in natural lighting conditions are surprisingly good with crisp edges and a well rounded colour pallet a world away from its indoor snapped counterparts.
Despite offering a selection of environment-based shooting options, the choice of sports, portrait and landscape capture modes appear to make virtually no difference to the results with only the digital zoom having a noticeable, degrading effect, on shots.
Far from the snappiest snapper to feature in an entry level smartphone, the L3's camera can prove a little slow off the mark at times, with the intermittent shutter speed paired with an extremely slow boot up time to ensure that fleeting moment you want to capture is often missed.
Unlike many of its higher end rivals and a select few of its entry level compatriots, the L3 is a single camera affair with no forward-facing snapper featuring to provide improved video calling functionality.
Much like the device's stills camera, the handset's inbuilt video recording functionality is someway off setting the world alight, with a fixed focus lens meaning more detailed or distant aspects of video content can go by unnoticed or simply inaccessible.
With poor colour management and a hearty amount of motion blur, video captured with the L3 is uninspiring and appears dated. Far from encouraging users to create their own content, the VGA 640 x 480p video recording capabilities at 24 frames-per-second produces footage that fails to excite and prompt further use.
With the lack of an inbuilt flash once again limiting the camera's use as a functional video recorder, settings options offered to users are a minimalist affair with reducing the image quality and turning the microphone off the only viable options.
Take a look at our video sample taken with the LG Optimus L3 below.
Anything but a media-centric device, the LG Optimus E3's digital content playback services are severely limited by its woeful display with the 3.2-inch TFT offering, ensuring that users looking for movie or online video playback on the move carry their laptops or tablets with them at all times.
Whilst the handset's inbuilt memory is a pleasantly surprising 1GB, up on many of its similarly priced competitors and a figure that can be increased up to 32GB via microSD card, this storage is not ideal for hearty amounts of audio and video content with playback options set to offer a disappointing representation of the content transferred to the compact blower.
Whilst missing the mark for many counts, the L3 ticks one box of the media requirements shortlist with inbuilt FM radio functionality allowing users to enjoy questionable quality music and discussions on the move in patchy, location based and intermittent form.
A near non-existent viewing angle with the 3.2-inch TFT display offers users little in terms of leeway with any transition from a direct, front-on view resulting in silhouetted images, a lack of definition and very quickly nothing more than a monochrome view of obscure, blurred motion.
Although the inbuilt speaker is well positioned in terms of ensuring against stray fingers blocking the sound, audio playback through the device is a highly tinny affair with little bass resulting in poor quality, shallow audio that almost rattles through the device's plastic form.
Despite the full array of media forms from the inbuilt music player, image galleries and video feeds including YouTube able to be accessed through the homescreen via a selection of shortcuts and widgets, doing so is often followed by disappointing results with a limited selection of features and the continually poor screen deterring from any form of picture editing or video viewing.
Battery life and connectivity
Asides from a manageable price point, the other benefit of having a slim array of specs is that, unlike a number of its rivals, the L3's battery is capable of powering well past the single day period of use and well through a considerable chunk of the week on a single charge.
With a 1500mAh lithium-ion battery, the Optimus branded device is touted as having a 600 hour standby time and up to 12 and a half hours worth of talktime on one run of the battery's juice.
Whist these figures are a little overzealous, the handset was more than up to the task of managing the better part of a week without the need go be plugged in.
Strangely, left unattended the L3 had a tendency to briefly flash to life at random, intermittent periods, an unexplained quirk that is sure to have a negative effect on the device's battery potential and one which at times can prove startling, irritating and wildly inappropriate.
Playing host to the usual array of Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS connectivity options, LG's compact handset offers a range of options allowing users to send, receive and access all manner of data.
Although 3G services can prove a little patchy, the Wi-Fi offering performed well throughout if a little jittery to sync with networks.
Despite being connected to strong, uninterrupted Wi-Fi services, the L3 has a nasty habit of reverting to 3G networks to do its bidding, an unwanted and potentially costly feature that during our time with the device saw a couple of pounds worth of credit wiped and more than 30 top up reminder text messages received in around an hour-long timeframe, close to 150 in a single evening.
Connecting the handset to a PC via the boxed microUSB cable presents a variety of options with simply charging the device or syncing files between devices.
Filling the handset with multimedia goodies is a simple enough task with those opting to transfer existing content, as opposed to downloading via the Google Play Store, can fill their microSD cards with content before being utilised on the handset.
Maps and apps
Unlike many of its entry level rivals, which target the first-time and teenage smartphone markets, the L3 fails to offer a selection of preinstalled applications likely to appeal to such users wants and needs with the now standard social offerings of Facebook and Twitter not added to the handset prior to boxing.
Whilst such apps, services and features can be added by a simple, free jaunt to the Google Play store, the convenience and user-appealing reassurance of their premature installation on many rivals is one which is missing from the Optimus, an omission that sparks a number of questions around LG's planned user support for the device.
What L3 owners will be treated too instead of Facebook and Twitter, however, is the array of barebones Google-branded Android classics with the likes of YouTube and Google Books lining up alongside the handset functionality requiring array of settings and shortcuts and of course the increasingly pushed Google+ service.
Thanks to its Android innards the L3's mapping software comes in the form of the tried and tested favourite that is Google Maps, with the usual array of mapping and direction providing characteristics in tow.
Even when connected using a strong Wi-Fi signal the Optimus' GPS abilities are far from a speedy affair, with image rendering of searched locations chugging along like a dial-up accessed web page.
Furthermore, zooming in and out of maps provides a stunted, slow experience that is further extrapolated when used under a 3G connection.
Adding further woes to the handset's less than impressive mapping abilities, the L3's Google Maps software crashed without warning on a number of occasions with location based information, such as current location required for directions, repeatedly failing to initialise and provide useful, accurate information.
With the Google Play Store ensuring all user's wants and needs are fulfilled, and the handset's 800MHz processor is a match for most apps, games and software add-ons although the desire to play games with such a poor visual is questionable.
Hands on gallery
A handset that fails to ever get into its stride, the L3, although only an entry level machine, fails to inspire or encourage continued use with a number of niggling issues given no hope of large scale success thanks in large to the decision to opt for one of the worst screens on the smartphone scene.
Compact and lightweight, in truth the Optimus L3 provides everything the first time smartphone owner needs, it just fails to push the boundaries or tie these features together in a seamless fashion.
With a strong, multi-day, battery life the handset's 1GB of internal storage stops over a number of its competitors and when packaged alongside a zippy 800MHz CPU makes a strong base level for a handset that could have been so much better.
Hardly a springboard into the ever widening smartphone sector, the L3 sheds a bad light over many similar priced and highly impressive handsets with the device's screen a feature that, without the numerous other issues, could single-handedly reduce the Optimus' potential to its knees.
With a cramped QWERTY keyboard and a jilted user experience, there is little of L3 that encourages users to push the limited potential of the handset, instead acting as a curiosity killer that will see many adopters forgetting about the handset's 'smartphone' tag and using little more than the phone and text features.
Although it is hard to overlook the loveable price tag, there are handsets out there will sub £100 stickers attached that overshadow the L3.
A stubby, plastic device that is certainly not a grower, the Android 2.3 device is to be quickly overshadowed by a number of rivals with its lack of future proofing to see it become a distant memory in a few short months.
That is unless to plump for the device and find yourself stuck with it for the next 18 months.