LG tries to please everyone with its first Android phone. (December 19th, 2009)
LG is one of the last larger Asian phone makers to offer an Android phone, but with the Eve (known as the GW620 abroad) the company hopes to make up for lost time by pleasing everyone -- and at just $50 on contract, it stands a chance of doing just that. In our review we hope to glean whether the Eve is the jack of all trades or just the master of none.
Product Manufacturer: LG
Price: $50 (3 yrs., Rogers)
- One of the least expensive full-feature Android phones.
- Hardware QWERTY keyboard.
- Good call quality and battery life.
- Better than most Android phones in video.
- Resistive touchscreen a major nuisance.
- Keyboard not as good as it could be.
- LG, Rogers actually hurt the interface.
- Limited to Android 1.5.
the design, keyboard and screen
Despite the new operating system, the Eve is actually a very conventional design from LG: it's a thick QWERTY slider without any particularly exotic traits. That will please those of us who want "just a phone," but the thickness may be a pain for those with tight pants pockets; you'll probably want a touch-only phone like the HTC Hero if it's enough of an issue.
The upshot of the design is plenty of room for conveniences: it has an externally accessible microSDHC card slot (a 2GB card comes in the box) and a large 1,500mAh removable battery. We also like that there's a dedicated side button for tasks that need landscape mode, like the camera.
Phones like these live or die based on the keyboard, and here it produces mixed results, if fairly positive. We found ourselves typing reasonably quickly from the outset, but the keys don't provide a lot of useful feedback, and the layout makes it awkward to use some top-row keys as well as to type characters that need the function key enabled. While it's very handy to have the main view unobscured by an on-screen keyboard, we're of the mindset that a hardware keyboard needs to be unambiguously good to justify its existence, and we're not entirely sure that's the case here.
Also, the front buttons are generally well designed, but LG oddly hasn't seen fit to label the menu button as such. It looks like a select button and may initially confuse you until you realize what it's actually for.
The phone's central flaw, though, is its touchscreen. It's bright and sharp, but unlike nearly every other Android phone, it's based on resistive (that is, pressure-based) technology rather than the capacitive screens that are more common. That results in often having to make very deliberate presses down on the screen to trigger commands, and it slows down use of the phone considerably; where on other phones you can make gentle swipes and taps to navigate, the Eve feels more like work and may even not let you use certain apps the way they're intended due to the lack of precision and quick response. You get used to it, and it's not a dire flaw, but it puts the Eve at a disadvantage.
Android and LG's customizations
Like the Hero, the Eve currently uses Android 1.5; we won't rehash its features other than to say that it's still a very good operating system for the web and phone calls, has a genuinely useful mapping tool in the form of Google Maps, and a quite capable if unspectacular media player. Android Market as of this writing now has over 16,000 apps and is likely to fill your needs, even if a few apps (such as Facebook) aren't given as much attention as their iPhone counterparts.
We do wish LG (and Rogers) were more aggressive in keeping the phone up to date, though. Without Android 2.0 or even 1.6, the phone not only misses out on an easier to navigate Android Market, voice recognition and other perks, but it now can't run certain apps at all: Google Maps Navigation and Goggles, for example, are entirely off-limits. Such hesitation to update is fragmenting the Android community and could actually hurt Android's chances at gaining popularity.
Furthermore, this is the first Android phone we've tested where the customizations actually hurt, not help, the phone's ease of use. LG has seen fit to lay out the home screen icons in an inconvenient way -- the browser and Gmail are off to the side, for example -- and the main app screen is organized into categories that actually slow you down as you try to remember where an app is located. LG has added DivX video support, but in North America that's mostly useful to those who rip movies.
And while most Android phones have been largely untouched by their carriers, the Eve is one of the first we've seen where the carrier clearly had too much influence over the front end. Two of the four icons on the main home screen are for Rogers' account management and online store, and the top category in the app menu contains an entire suite of Rogers apps. You can always change the former, but the latter actually pushes both the regular Android apps and the downloadable apps, the ones that users are most likely to launch every day, get pushed to the bottom.
The combination of an old OS and the LG/Rogers tweaks isn't fatal, but it's an unwelcome resurgence of gimmick-laden interfaces and the carrier-above-actual-users attitude, both of which Android was partly designed to avoid.
photo and video quality
As is becoming increasingly common among Android phones, the Eve has a 5-megapixel camera with autofocusing. LG's unit does have the advantage of a flash, but we'd say the actual output is mixed. In the right situations, the Eve can produce decidedly sharp focus with reasonably accurate color, but we noticed that it still falls prey to a few of the pitfalls of cellphone cameras, such as that softened look from a plastic lens and visible noise in low light.
We also had an unusual amount of difficulty getting the autofocus to lock properly: we'd point directly at an object and it would focus on subjects behind it, resulting in the intended subject being somewhat out of focus. It's possible that our subjects just weren't easily detectable, but we haven't had such issues with most autofocusing cameras. Thankfully, the interface is still intuitive, and the side button comes into play by letting you snap photos without having to look at the screen to find the capture button.
Movie recording is what you'd expect for most if not all pre-2.0 Android phones: it runs at a smooth 30 frames per second, but it's capped at a 320x240 resolution and shows compression artifacts even when played locally. In software, there's also no utility to quickly upload a video to YouTube or a similar site, so you're stuck either using another app or a USB connection to transfer clips. Its main advantage is a surprisingly smooth transition from light areas to dark and back; many phones we've tried show fairly abrupt transitions between light levels.
call quality and battery life
As an actual phone, the Eve is good, but not exceptional. On both ends, calls were fairly clear and loud on the 3G network but weren't as crisp and detailed as on the Hero or a couple of other phones we've tried on the same network.
Battery life is, as you'd expect with the large battery, fairly good. There wasn't much of an impact on moderate use, as you only get slightly more battery life at most in a full day of moderate use, but it does help the phone in standby: it generally took three to four days before the phone's charge became uncomfortably low where many others can take two or even just one day.
From the tone of the review, you'd think we disliked the Eve a great deal. That's not true; it's a solid and at times enjoyable smartphone to use. And at $50 on a contract even when new, the phone is by far one of the least expensive ways to get a true smartphone, especially one with as solid a foundation as Android.
Our negativity centers more on a sense of disappointment with missed potential. In the name of trimming the price and trying to make its mark on the phone, LG has taken what could have been a great phone and rendered it merely average. Someone completely new to smartphones or who's used to resistive touch may never notice, but when you've used the the Hero, the iPhone, or even older Android phones like the Dream (G1) or Magic (myTouch 3G), the amount of compromise becomes all too evident. It tries to do many things but does none of them so well as to be a selling point.
Given that the up front price of a smartphone is a relatively small outlay compared to the expense of a smartphone plan over a contract, we'd consider the Eve primarily if the immediate price of the phone really is crucial or if you're trying to cut costs whenever possible. Otherwise, spending an extra $30, $50 or even $150 more on a more advanced device may leave you happier in the end.