Review: LG Connect 4G for MetroPCS
MetroPCS's latest LTE 4G smartphone comes from LG. The Connect 4G offers a decent spec list, but stumbles a a few times on the road to smartphone nirvana.
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MetroPCS's latest LTE-capable smartphone takes shape in the LG Connect 4G. This compact Android device offers a solid set of specs in a solid piece of hardware. If small, solid, and spec'd are what you're looking for in a smartphone, the Connect delivers on those promises — while falling far short on others. Phone Scoop's full report tells you what works, what doesn't, and if the Connect 4G is worth your hard-earned dollars.
The LG Connect 4G is a close cousin to Sprint's forthcoming Viper. The MetroPCS variant is simple in its basic form and look. It's a slab-style smartphone with a medium-sized display and the usual black-and-gray coloring. At 11mm thick, it isn't the thinnest phone on the market, but it is a smidge shorter and narrower from side-to-side than many of the smartphones brought to market recently.
The Connect is comfortable to hold and use. Thanks to sloped side edges, the Connect sits firmly in your palm and it's a cinch to wrap your hand around it tightly. It feels dense and well put-together. It'll slip into a pocket no problem and won't stab you in the leg when getting out of a car or sitting on a couch.
The materials aren't top-notch, but they are far from cheap. The back surface has a nice textured finish to it that prevents the Connect from taking on that dreaded slippery feel. LG did a good job putting this phone together.
The only controls on the front are the standard Android buttons in capacitive form. I liked the slight haptic feedback they provide. It's not as intrusive as on other devices. The volume toggle is located on the left side of the Connect. It's a good button. The shape is excellent and lets users figure out which is up and which is down without any trouble. Travel and feedback are good. The microUSB port is positioned below the volume toggle.
The only other interruptions on the outside of the Connect are the lock button and the 3.5mm headset jack. Both are on top. I was not impressed by the lock button. It doesn't stand out enough from the surface of the Connect, and has mushy feedback, to boot. This is a vital button that I am surprised phone makers get wrong so often.
The battery cover encompasses the entire back surface of the Connect. It requires only a bit of thumbnail power to pry off. Underneath, the battery, microSIM, and microSD cards are all accessible. The microSD memory storage card can be swapped without pulling the power supply. The cover snaps back into place as easily as it comes off.
In all, the Connect has good hardware that doesn't get in the way of usability.
The Connect's display measures four inches and packs in 800 x 480 pixels. This size and resolution are ideal, because the display looks great. It's sharp, clean, and colors look rich and nuanced. The Connect also uses LG's Nova technology, which helps improve contrast and makes blacks look blacker. For such a low-cost phone, the Connect delivers a good screen.
The Connect did much better at hunting down MetroPCS' network in the NYC metropolitan area than the Samsung Attain 4G did. Most of the time, the Connect showed three bars of signal strength when under solid 1x coverage. In LTE areas, the Connect managed to connect, but I noticed inconsistent data performance that didn't necessarily corroborate with what the signal indicator was telling me (i.e., fast data with one bar of coverage, slow data with five bars of coverage, etc.)
The Connect is a pretty bad voice phone. Calls were full of pops and hissing, and conversations cut out entirely from time to time. Compounding matters is the anemic earpiece. Set to full volume, calls were barely audible in an office setting. Throw any background noise at all into the mix, and you'll be pressing the Connect hard against your ear in hopes of eking out a few words. The speakerphone makes no improvement on either quality or volume. In fact, the Connect's speakerphone is the quietest I believe I have ever used. Ringtones and alerts aren't loud enough either, though the vibrate alert is sufficient.
With all the radios on (CDMA, LTE, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth), the Connect didn't have any problem living through an entire, waking day. Only when under the most strenuous usage conditions (streaming audio while surfing the web, Twitter, etc.) did the battery conk out before I went to bed. You can't turn off the LTE radio, but even with it on and used within LTE coverage, it didn't appear to dent battery life too much.
The Connect ships with Android 2.3.6 and a light user interface treatment from MetroPCS and LG.
The Connect offers seven home screen panels for customization and content. Four of them are littered with widgets and apps out of the box, but those can all be rearranged/deleted. The main app drawer is a single screen with all the apps displayed in an alphabetic grid. You can also view the main menu in a list, by category, or in a custom grid if you prefer.
The settings are mostly stock for an Android device and allow users to make a wide range of adjustments to the Connect's behavior without too much trouble.
In terms of performance, the Connect is OK but not great. You'd never suspect that it has a dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon S3 processor inside. The home screen lags from time to time, apps are sometimes slow to open, and I had to repeat some screen presses thanks to unresponsive apps. LG needs to get its software engineers under control, because LG's Android devices — as tested by Phone Scoop — have an inconsistent record with respect to performance.
The Connect uses the stock Android 2.3 calling and contacts applications. From the home screen, press the phone icon and the dialer pops open with the usual options (dialer, call log, contacts, groups) available in tabs across the top. One thing I like is that there's a little shortcut to the SMS app from the phone dialer. This means you can type in a new number and then easily start an SMS convo. with that person instead of dialing the number.
The Connect offers haptic feedback when you dial numbers on the touch display. Call features include mute, speakerphone, add a line, etc.
The Connect will import all of your Google, POP3, or Exchange contacts if you have them. Adding Facebook and Twitter friends is optional. Contacts can hold innumerable phone numbers, email addresses, notes, and so on. The Connect doesn't have any nifty contact widgets for the home screen; only the stock tools are available.
The Connect runs mostly stock Android 2.3 messaging applications, and doesn't offer anything new or unique.
It has the generic email app for POP/IMAP/Exchange email, and the dedicated Gmail application for Google users. Both of these applications are capable and time-tested. The same goes for the stock SMS/MMS app, which offers threaded conversations, as always.
As for IM, the Connect has Google Talk on board, and a MetroPCS-branded IM catch-all app that covers AIM, Google Talk, Windows Live, Yahoo, etc.
On the social networking front, the Connect defaults to the MetroPCS-branded messaging app, which also supports Facebook and Twitter messaging. I'd highly recommend you skip this app entirely and download the native Facebook and Twitter apps. They offer a much richer experience than the generic app.
The Connect is one of the few devices I've seen ship with Google+ and Google+ Messenger pre-installed. These are Google's own social network and social network-focused IM apps. Latitude is thrown in there for good measure.
The Connect uses the new Google Music media player. It has a richer feature set than the older standard music player and lets you stream music that you've stored in Google's cloud. As with other MetroPCS devices, I found the music streaming service didn't work at all when under 1x coverage. It worked better under LTE coverage.
The Connect also ships with the Rhapsody music service on board, which lets you stream music to the device for a monthly fee.
The Connect includes a few avenues for video playback. Aside from the stock Android YouTube and video player apps, the newest version of the Android Market (not yet Google Play) offers video rentals/downloads.
There's one red herring on board in the Yahoo! Movies app. Rather than offer movie rentals or streams, it's simply a link to the Yahoo! movie web site for local listings/show times. This falls under the category of pre-installed apps I'd delete (thankfully, you can).
There's no physical camera button on the Connect, so you have to access the camera from a shortcut or the app menu. (What, no lock-screen shortcut, LG?) It launches in a snap.
The basic shooting screen uses about two-thirds of the display as the viewfinder. On the right, there's a standard control strip with the shutter button and software toggles for swapping to the user-facing camera. Along the left, there's a control strip which offers access to items such as scene modes (portrait, landscape, sports, sunset, night), ISO, metering, shooting mode (normal, continuous, panorama), and more.
When you're ready to take a picture, press the on-screen shutter button. The Connect takes about a second to focus, and then snaps the image. (If you want, press the subject you'd like to be the focus of the image, as the Connect supports touch-to-focus.) The camera goes straight back to the camera app without detouring to a review screen. You can, however, add a review screen through the menu tools
The camera software performs well across the board. It doesn't have any speed issues, and you can capture a series of shots fairly quickly.
The Connect's gallery is the boring old stock Android option. Photo albums float in stacks in the main gallery view and the Connect syncs with your online accounts such as Google+ and Picasa, so you'll see those photos, too.
Unfortunately, the Connect includes only the most basic editing functions (crop and rotate.) There are no other editing tools, nor is there any third-party software for editing photos pre-installed. You have to download one yourself if you're interested in making changes to images.
You can, however, easily share photos to the social network of your choice via the standard Android gallery tools.
The Connect has a 5-megapixel camera with auto-focus and flash. I was a bit disappointed with the results. While images are free of grain and show excellent focus, exposure was way off. You'll see in the sample images that plenty of detail is lost when the sensor is overwhelmed by bright colors. The colors look good, but they are too much for the Connect.
The highest video quality that the Connect can capture is 1280 x 720 (HD 720p) resolution. I was fairly impressed with the video quality. It performed much better than the still camera at handling adverse lighting and bright sunlight. You'll see in the video below that only when aiming the Connect directly at the sun does the resulting video lose any detail. Otherwise it's solid for a 720p HD camcorder.
The Connect ships with the stock Android browser, as well as the MetroPCS-branded web browser. The stock Android browser is a known entity. It works well, though performance was inconsistent. Pages loaded slowly over 1x, and only slightly better over LTE. I had to resort to using Wi-Fi whenever possible, as the 1x coverage doesn't provide an adequate web experience on the Connect.
The Connect can be customized as much as any other Android smartphone. As mentioned, there are seven home screen panels, plenty of widgets, and the app menu can be arranged to your liking.
The Connect is stuffed full of MetroPCS applications. Some include: M Studio, MetroNavigation, Metro411, MetroWeb, MyMetro, and MyExtras — which amounts to a virus if you ask me. MyExtras is a recommendation tool that offers app suggestions. The problem is, it sticks unwanted app advertisements on the home screen, and doesn't go away unless actively dismissed. The MyExtras app cannot be turned off or removed from the phone. The result is users are pestered with these ads about 50% of the time the Connect is woken from sleep. Some of the other apps can be deleted, some cannot. There's still enough space left on the Connect for you to download your own applications.
The Connect supports mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets. I had no trouble pairing with either. Sound quality through mono headphones was awful. Calls routed through my car were only slightly better, but only because I could crank the car's speakers loud enough to actually hear the calls. The Connect also connects with computers and/or other phones for pushing files around.
The Connect offers the standard Android clock on the lock screen, which is visible when the device is first woken from sleep. It's a nice, large digital read-out that's easily visible everywhere except under direct sunlight. It can't be customized, though.
The Connect includes Google Maps and MetroNavigation. Google Maps and its Navigation and Places features make for a powerful set of tools when it comes to routing directions and discovering nearby points of interest. Of course, Google Maps' and MetroNavigation's effectiveness are both dependent on a strong network connection. The Connect's GPS radio performed very well in most circumstances, and was able to pinpoint my location to within 15-25 feet most of the time. Without a speedy and reliable data connection to back it up, however, real-time navigation often lagged.
LG almost succeeds in crafting a good smartphone for MetroPCS in the Connect 4G. Some of the key features, such as battery life, display, and overall usability, score really well. The problem is the features that don't score well, including voice/data performance, and the speediness of the user interface. The result is a mixed bag.
If either voice or data were excellent, I'd have no problem recommending this device as a good voice-only phone, or a good data-only device. With both being less than optimal, it's hard to green light the Connect despite its other strengths.
Add to these the somewhat questionable camera performance and laggy user interface, and the LG Connect 4G becomes a case of the bad outweighing the good.
Hands On with the LG Connect 4G
The LG Connect 4G is designed to be a relatively affordable LTE phone for carriers like MetroPCS. While it's small in size and price, it's no slouch in features.
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