Review: LG Mach for Sprint
LG's latest Android smartphone for the Sprint network arrives in the form of the Mach, a sideways slider that offers a full QWERTY keyboard in addition to LTE 4G and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Here is Phone Scoop's full review.
Is It Your Type
The LG Mach is a compact sideways slider that includes a full QWERTY keyboard, Android 4.0, and LTE 4G. Those who still prefer a physical keyboard will find their needs met in this little phone.
For a sideways slider, the LG Mach is a svelte smartphone. It's thicker than today's leading one-piece devices - such as the Note II or iPhone 5 - but it hardly qualifies as a chubby cell phone. In fact, few sliders are as thin. The Mach is essentially a variant of the LG Viper, only it has the physical keyboard attached to the back.
The Mach's design combines a handful of materials and greyish tones that give the phone a look all its own. It remains conservative with a dash of classy. It's not colorful, but it's also not a black slab of plastic. It has a rectangular footprint that doesn't push any boundaries in terms of design, but it's not entirely boring, either.
Thanks to the smallish form, the Mach fits comfortably in your hand. I had no trouble wrapping my hand all the way around it. The materials are somewhat slippery, which means you won't have any trouble stuffing it in your pocket, nor retrieving it. It also means you might have trouble holding onto it.
I wish the quality of the device were smidge better. The materials come off feeling a bit cheap to me, and the fit and finish isn't even close to the quality LG managed when it put together the Optimus G or Nexus 4. Some of the seams could have been tighter.
The front of the Mach has a chrome accent that frames the bezel and display. The Android controls take the form of three capacitive buttons below the display itself. They’re easy to reach and use, and the modest haptic feedback lets you know when you've successfully activated them.
There are buttons and ports all over the edges of the Mach. The volume toggle is on the left. It’s pretty much perfect. The toggle is easy to find and use, and the travel and feedback are outstanding. The micro-USB port for charging and data is also on the left edge. The lock button and headphone jack on are top. The lock button is another winner. It protrudes quite far from the surface of the Mach, making easy to find. The travel and feedback could not be better. The same can be said of the dedicated physical camera button which is on the right edge.
I found the quality of the slider mechanism to be quite good. It has a smooth action and spring assistance that helps open and close the two halves of the phone. It produces a satisfying "thock" when snapped open or shut.
The Mach has a generous five-row keyboard. The top row is dedicated to just numbers, leaving three rows for letters and the fifth row for controls. I like that it has dedicated period, comma, "@", and Search buttons, as well as arrow keys for easier text editing. The buttons themselves are rectangular and fairly flat. There's a little bit of shape to them, but not much beyond a slight mound in the center. The buttons offer excellent travel and feedback. It's a solid keyboard that should please the physical-feedback-seeking typists out there.
The battery cover - which is plastic even though it looks like brushed aluminum - comes off easily. Once removed, you can hot-swap microSD cards if you want. You can also remove the battery. As with most Sprint phones, the LTE SIM card is not accessible.
The Mach’s display has 480 x 800 pixels, which is below-average by today’s standards. But the size of the Mach's 4-inch display - also below-average - is probably its saving grace. Stuffing those 384,000 pixels into the smaller 4-inch space makes for denser pixels that look sharper. The result is a good display, not a great one. It's plenty bright, but outdoor viewing was sometimes difficult.
The Mach performed better than most other Sprint devices I've tested in the metropolitan New York City region in recent months. It consistently showed a stronger connection to the network and never gave me any network-related problems, such as dropped calls or timed-out data sessions. During my time with the Mach, it was a trusted communications platform. Unfortunately, due to extremely limited coverage, I was unable to test the Mach on Sprint's LTE 4G network.
In general, the phone calls I made with the Mach sounded good. The majority of calls were free of noise and feedback, though I did notice some scratchiness from time to time. The earpiece produces good volume for most environments, but loud places, such as a noisy bar, will probably overwhelm it. I left it set up all the way all the time in order to be sure I had the best chance of hearing conversations. The speakerphone is similarly good for use at home or in a quiet office, but a loud TV could easily drown it out. Ringers and alert tones always let me know the device had an incoming call or message, and the vibrate alert is quite strong.
After testing the Mach for more than a week, I can say with confidence that you won't have any trouble getting through an entire waking day with the device. It will easily last from emails during breakfast to your last Tweet about the game that's running into overtime and keeping you up past bedtime. Keep in mind, I didn't have a chance to test the Mach on Sprint's LTE network, which will likely have an impact on battery life.
The Mach runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich with a user interface skin from LG and Sprint. In terms of usability, it runs exactly like the Optimus G does.
The lock screen is fully customizable. It offers four shortcuts, all of which can be changed or deleted. You can also customize which clock appears on the lock screen, and whether or not weather data and other alerts are sent to the lock screen.
There are five home screen panels for customization out of the box, but you can delete or add screens. The main menu is a regular old grid of apps, but you can customize it. You can view it with large icons (default) or small icons to fit more apps on each individual page. You can sort apps alphabetically or via install date. You can't, however, view them in list form. Apps may also be placed on the home screen panels inside folders.
The drop-down notification shade provides access to all the wireless radios as well as brightness, rotation, and sound settings, plus the QuickMemo feature. Even better, you can customize which shortcuts are visible in this drop-down control strip.
The Mach is compatible with Sprint iD Packs. If you choose, you can download and install these packs, which are bundles of apps, wallpapers, and shortcuts centered on a specific theme.
Take all these combined, and you have a flexible platform that you can customize and make your own. The Mach also comes with different home screen themes (each with its own wallpaper and app shortcuts), and of course the ability to tweak ringers, alerts, and so on. You can even customize the app icons with photos you've taken yourself.
The Mach uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus dual-core processor at 1.2GHz per core. It’s sufficiently quick. I didn't see any performance hiccups while I was testing the phone.
Calls and Contacts
The phone and contact apps work on the Mach just about the same as every other Android 4.0 smartphone. In-call options run the norm, and include speakerphone, mute, send to Bluetooth, and add a line. There are the usual home screen widgets for direct contacts, as well as the a nice widget for a collection of your favorites. The bigger widget lets you access your top nine contacts and gives you a cool UI for interacting with them on the home screen.
As far as messaging goes, the Mach has the stock Android tools on board and LG's QuickMemo app (more on that later). The SMS app offers nice, threaded conversations; the Gmail/email apps are great ways to manage your inbox; the Google+ and Google+ Messenger apps are good for keeping up with your G+ activity; and the Google Talk app is as powerful as ever for IM and video chats.
Neither Facebook nor Twitter is pre-installed, so you'll have to download them from the Play Store yourself.
The Mach includes the native Google Play Store and associated apps for consuming media. The store lets Mach owners purchase music, television shows, books, and magazines, as well as movies and movie rentals. Each type of content has its own app for playback, and they are all pre-installed on the Mach. The Mach also includes the stock Android MP3 player, video player, and YouTube apps.
There are no Sprint media apps pre-installed, but plenty are available for download from the Sprint Zone, such as Stitcher Radio, Sprint TV and Movies, Sprint Music Plus, NBA Game Time, NASCAR Sprint Cup and others.
The Mach also includes an app called SmartShare. This app makes use of DLNA to ease the pain of wirelessly connecting with and sharing content to HDTVs and other DLNA-compatible equipment. I found the app intuitive to use and managed to pair the Mach to my TV set via my home Wi-Fi network with no trouble.
The Mach uses the same camera software that LG is using on most of its other phones this year. The Mach includes a physical camera button as well as on-screen controls. Either way, the camera opens swiftly.
The fastest and easiest way to take a picture is to press the physical camera button. It focuses in a blink and captures images in two blinks. This is a single-stage button. If there's something in particular you want the camera to focus on, you can touch that subject in the viewfinder and then press the shutter button.
An on-screen tool bar offers advanced controls. The Mach offers plenty of features, including panorama, HDR, continuous shot, "Cheese shutter" (predetermined voice commands make the shutter fire), and a Time Catch shot mode for timed bursts starting before you press the button.
The Mach's 5-megapixel shooter does a passable job. Most of the shots I took outdoors showed accurate color and were in focus. Exposure was sometimes problematic, with bright areas blown out and dark areas lacking detail. Sharp focus was harder to obtain indoors, and indoor shots were prone to annoying grain. Still, on average, the pictures are usable.
The Mach can capture video at a max resolution of 1080p HD. In general, video results look pretty good. I notice the same type of problems with the video camera that I did with the still camera: video captured with good lighting looks good, video captured with poor lighting doesn't.
The Mach uses the stock Android 4.0 gallery app. I find it easy to share pictures via this app, and managing your separate photo libraries is a snap. You cannot create new albums on the device itself, but you can move photos between albums that are listed. The gallery lets you rotate and crop images, as well as adjust color, reduce red-eye, and apply a handful of different filters. The editing features are nice to have. There is also a simple video editing tool that lets you stitch together separate video clips into a longer clip. I thought it was easy to figure out.
Sprint has been proactive in reducing bloatware on its Android phones. The only two Sprint-branded apps are the Sprint iD and Sprint Zone apps. Of course, both these let you do nothing but download other Sprint-branded apps and services. With more than 5GB of internal memory available to users and support for microSD cards, you're not going to run out of room for apps.
The Mach's Bluetooth 4.0 radio worked very well. I had no trouble pairing it with other Bluetooth devices. Most importantly, call quality was excellent through both headsets and my car's hands-free system. Music worked well, too, via Bluetooth headphones.
The Mach has the age-old standard Android browser installed. I found the Mach's browser performed well as a browsing device over Sprint's 3G network. Despite the limitations of Sprint’s 3G network, the Mach was quick to load web pages and it never timed out.
The Mach has a handful of different lockscreen clock options, including a large one that's really easy to read, as well as others that also include a calendar. The flexibility of the lockscreen clock is awesome.
Google Maps is the only mapping software pre-installed on the Mach. If that's all you ever use, you'll be fine. It is a capable piece of software for discovering local points of interest and routing directions to them. As far as the GPS radio is concerned, it is accurate, but not all that quick. It often took close to a minute to find me, though it was usually as close as 10 feet to my actual position.
The Mach also includes LG's QuickMemo app. QuickMemo lets users capture a screenshot and then open it in the Notebook app. The Notebook app lets you scribble on the screenshot with various pen styles and in various colors. You can add your own scrawled text, insert actual typed messages, attach photos or videos, and send them all together as a package via email, SMS, Google+, Picasa and so on. Without a stylus, though, the QuickMemo app is a bit limited.
The LG Mach for Sprint is a solid little Android smartphone. It offers the right selection of features and nearly all perform well. With the exception of the camera - which only takes average images - everything else works as it should.
The physical device itself is comfortable to hold and use. The keyboard has the right selection of keys and works well for inputting text. The basics (signal, voice, and battery performance) are all right on the money.
The software customizations from Sprint and LG are obvious, but don't get in the way too much. The Mach offers plenty of room for user personalization, and the Android 4.0 system software is well-matched with a dual-core processor for solid performance.
Sprint customers who need a QWERTY smartphone should look at the LG Mach before any other option.