The 4G market is growing fast, but in the minds of many consumers is still something associated with top-of-the-line smartphones like the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5. LG’s new mid-range release, the Optimus F5, is a 4G-compatible handset promising high-end speeds for a lower-end price tag. It’s a purchase worth considering for smartphone users wanting to experience 4G, but who may have a more limited budget. The fact that the F5 doesn’t look like a low-cost device will make it all the more attractive to price-conscious buyers.
Build-wise, the F5 is a comfortable size and weight; not too big, not too small and durable without feeling or looking cheap. In fact, despite the phone’s ‘budget’ status, it’s actually quite classily designed, with subtle silver LG logos and a simple but elegant cube pattern embedded on the back cover. The downside of this is that the phone may not be the easiest to grip, so you may want to protect those smooth surfaces with a phone case.
The back-plate is easily removable for quick access to the F5’s battery, SIM and microSD card slots. Otherwise, all the connections are in the standard spots – power button on the top right hand side, USB port along the bottom, and volume controls on the left side, with the headphone jack at the top.
LG have gone with a respectable 4.3 inch display and considering the phone’s price range, we have no complaints. The resolution is clear and viewing doesn’t suffer from holding the phone at an angle the way we’ve found it does on other, higher-end smartphones.
The 960x540 qHD resolution isn’t among the best we’ve seen, but it delivers decent colour reproduction and, for the most part, will be more than sufficient for the majority of users. The only notable downside is that users with less-than-perfect eyesight may struggle with reading smaller fonts as the screen doesn’t always deliver the clearest text on websites; but consumers in that category will more than likely be zooming in to read articles regardless.
One app that we did find handy was Quick Memo. It’s a tool that is unique to LG phones and basically is a way for you to take quick notes by scribbling them across the screen and then saving the screenshot to your Gallery. If you are on the phone and someone wants to read you out a phone number, Quick Memo is the perfect app for this.
You access it by swiping down the onscreen notification bar and long-pressing on the icon, or by pressing the Volume up and down buttons simultaneously. It’s is a super convenient way of jotting down a quick phone number or reminder, although between writing with your finger, and the screen size, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for fine details.
LG’s QSlide feature promises to enhance the user experience by allowing up to 5 applications – Video, your web browser, Memo, Calendar and Calculator – to hover over each other as small windows on the same screen, or appear transparently over the phone’s interface while using other apps. This feature is popular in South Korea, according to LG, where phones are used to view live TV broadcasts.
Unfortunately, you can only run two of these apps at the same time, and we found that even doing this is more annoying than convenient. Different windows piled on top of each other was distracting and made the screen feel cluttered, taking away from the experience of whichever app you’re actually trying to use.
What is important to keep in mind when comparing this phone to other handsets in this price pool, is that this is a 4G phone, while many other budget models are not.
At $299, this is a pretty big deal. Offering speeds up to a theoretical maximum of 100Mbps puts the F5 in the same league as phones costing three times as much.
If there’s one underwhelming aspect of the F5, it would have to be camera quality. Which is not to say that the phone’s camera app is rubbish and not worth using – it more than gets the job done, and if you’re not a big into photography but like knowing you can grab the occasional snapshot when the mood takes you, the F5 will more than meet your needs.
But overall, in comparison with more expensive phones, picture quality definitely falls short. The F5 just doesn’t capture detail as well as other smartphones, and colours lose some of their vibrancy. But, bearing in mind that this is a smartphone retailing for under $300, no-one was expecting an epic camera experience to begin with.
One major feature omitted is that there’s no flash for the camera at all. While flash photography isn’t exactly an artform, it does take away the option of capturing pictures in poor lighting, and the lack of LED means fans of using their phone as a torch will be disappointed.
The camera app itself does feature some nifty editing tools that allow you to get the best out of the photos you do take. You can adjust the exposure, add filters and effects, tweak the colour, and make other changes such fixing red eye and adding ‘face glow’ to your selfies to really make them pop.
The good news is that the cheap price tag on the F5 doesn’t equate to cheap-feeling performance; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Our benchmark tests rank the F5 quite highly beside some of this year’s best (and more expensive) phones, but it is the everyday performance where this phone shines.
Swiping between the phone’s multiple homescreens feels slick and smooth. There is almost no perceptible lag as the graphics shift on screen. The same goes for when you open and close many of the core apps, like Phone and Messaging.
It’s 2150mAh battery capacity is also a bit of a surprise, and matched with the size and resolution of the screen (a phone’s biggest battery killer) the F5 is definitely an all-day phone.
Building a good budget priced phone is all about where you make sacrifices. With the F5, it is in the size and clarity of its screen, and this is the right place to find your savings, in our opinion. In many ways, the F5 looks and feels like a more expensive model, just smaller. The inclusion of 4G is an important factor in this, too, giving the fastest mobile broadband speeds to people who might not feel they can afford them.