45 Comments

Summary:

Can a $30 Android smartphone compete with high-end devices costing five times more? Provided you can give up some performance and a few advanced features, it definitely can. The LG Optimus T represents a future filled with low-priced Android smartphones for current feature phone users.

lg-optimus-t-featured

At a time when high-end smartphones costing $200 attract much attention, is there room for a $30 device running the latest version of Android? T-Mobile must think so, because that’s exactly what it offers in the LG Optimus T handset. The phone is all-plastic, uses a low-resolution display, has a slower processor and omits a few functions. But for folks craving a smartphone experience without wanting to invest much up-front cash, the Optimus T includes some advanced features and provides a reasonably good experience for its price.

The $30 pricetag of the Optimus T is less than 20 percent of what a typical top-tier smartphone costs these days, but the handset offers about 80 percent of the same features, with a few notable compromises. Web browsing without zooming can be difficult due to the low resolution display. (Note: in the video I inadvertently stated the resolution at 320×240; the correct resolution is 320×480.) Opening or switching apps isn’t instant because of the limited processor. Camera images and videos aren’t of superb quality: don’t expect high-definition videos at this price.

However, this $30 handset does just about everything that my more expensive phone can do. You can install mobile apps from the Android Market (yay Angry Birds!), share pics on Facebook (taken with a decent, but not high-end camera), browse the web over 3G or Wi-Fi, manage email on the go, check-in on Foursquare, use Google’s Navigation and use Google Voice services. The Optimus T even works as a mobile hotspot to connect other devices to the web for $15 a month in addition to the $30 data plan, thanks to new T-Mobile pricing announced today.

The phone uses the latest version of Android, which helps boost performance. Plus, the 1500 mAh battery paired with a slower processor makes for an all-day device. At this price point, the Optimus T will attract many first-time smartphone owners, particularly those wanting to experience smartphone apps.

This isn’t likely a one-off, cheap Android smartphone. I expect many more subsidized Android phones available for under $50 in the coming year as hardware makers find ways to marry lower priced components with Android for a “slightly watered down, but great value” type of experience. This phenomenon has already started in countries such as India, where local handset makers are planning to offer Android smartphones for $150, then further drop into the sub-$100 range.

That’s a potential issue for companies that have traditionally owned the feature phone market in countries around the globe. Google’s Android platform is making the move down into lower-priced devices, and if it can offer the smartphone experience at a feature phone price, its rising dominance as a platform will simply accelerate even faster.

So are these low-end, inexpensive smartphones geared for a power user like myself? No, but I could easily use one in a pinch, provided I was willing to sacrifice a few features and some performance. For the multitude of current feature phone owners around the globe, however, the Optimus T and coming phones like it, will enable the mobile broadband revolution for the cost a basic handset and a data plan.

 

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  1. how long before we can get our hands on a free smartphone with 20 dollar per month all inclusive plan

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  2. Andrew MacDonald Monday, November 1, 2010

    Just out of interest, what are the features this type of phone lacks that the higher-end smartphones have?

    I mean I know you said it has a slower processor, lesser display / camera etc, but in terms of ‘actual’ features, what do you think are missing?

    Hope you don’t mind the question! :)

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    1. Don’t mind the question at all, Andrew!

      The CPU isn’t fast enough to handle Adobe Flash Player 10.1, even though this version of Android does support Flash. That’s no big deal to me, but some might want Flash playback on their smartphone.

      I don’t see any other major features missing as compared to the several high-end smartphone devices I’ve used or reviewed this year. It’s more of lesser functionality, i.e.: video recording but not in HD, support for 3G, but not for T-Mobile’s faster 3G / HSPA+ network, etc…

      For all intents and purposes, this device can do nearly everything my Google Nexus One can, albeit a little slower or in a slightly degraded functionality. Put another way: if I could use this device daily for a week in lieu of my more expensive Nexus One, that’s a very positive and telling thing about the LG Optimus T and future inexpensive smartphones like it! :)

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      1. Andrew MacDonald Monday, November 1, 2010

        Thanks for the clarification Kevin.

        I use an iPhone 4 personally – absolutely love it – but my little sister wants an Android phone for Christmas – she’s only 10 so Im thinking something like this might be a great ‘starter’ phone for her.

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      2. Indeed, this phone could be a great starter phone. At 10 years old and without any prior smartphone ownership, she wouldn’t notice the lesser performance if she has nothing to compare to. And to be honest, the device isn’t what I’d call slow – it exhibits slight lag as compared to my Nexus One. Well worth the look for her, IMO.

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      3. So, no Youtube then?

        Hans

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      4. Hans,

        any Android OS has a built in player just for YouTube so you will have that and some other streaming sites that have a mobile streaming version of their videos. But above all, the trend is the web to switch to HTML5 and loose Flash anyway…

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      5. Skyfire browser would be perfect solution to watch flash videos on this device.

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      6. Kevin, I don’t agree with that. That is not the reason it does not support Flash 10.1. If that were the case, then the original DROID from Motorola would not be supporting Flash 10.1, however it does, yet in all benchmark tests with its 550 mhz processor, the Optimus One beat it out.

        Please look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73GiotgaU5Q

        I read somewhere that it does not have flash 10.1 playback due to the fact that it uses an ArmV6 processor as opposed to an ArmV7 processor. This seems like a more reasonable reason to me.

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    2. What it can do that your Nexus One can’t, is last. The slower processor and low-res screen will drain far less power than a 1 GHz Snapdragon and AMOLED display. That will probably double battery life, which lasts less than a day on my incredible. A real drawback, compared to my previous phone (Nokia E90) that lasted days on a single charge (weeks on low usage), thanks to a slower processor and more efficient operating system (SymbianOS)

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    3. You can go to youtube with this phone, but you can only view some videos, (like music will play with lengthy delay in viewing and you cant watch straight “talk” videos. also, some apps require flashplayer which does not appear to be an option.

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  3. if smartphone were following the consumer electronic trend of years past we would have last years high end phone model for the price of this cheap/junky phone.

    this just does not seem like great value, especially when you look at the fact that the major cost of ownership of these phones is the monthly charges not the up front device cost.

    the one exception where these may provide great value is for the prepaid market if they can be priced under $100 without commitment. but data should be an option as well. for a lot of people wifi only for data is fine, they do not have a need or desire to pay monthly charges for cellular data.

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    1. Tom, you’re absolutely correct that the major cost of ownership for this device, or any smartphone, for that matter, is the monthly data plan. When I say the device is a great value, I mean that by way of comparison to any other subsidized devices that would cost the same each month for data. But, point taken. Thx!

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    2. Tom, you are correct. The Apple 3GS is sold by AT&T for $99, that’s last years Apple flagship model.

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    3. A prepaid smartphone for under $100? We’re getting close. Cricket Mobile is selling an Android smartphone for $150 — today I see it is on sale for $130. They do require you to purchase at least one month of service for $55 when you order, so $185 will get you the phone and it is yours with no other charges. It’s not under $100 yet, but it is getting close.

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  4. The cost of the phone is a red-herring if you must sign a data plan with a certain minimum cost per month.

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  5. I can totally see why T-Mobile has released this low cost no frills smart-phone, due to the android OS it has been possible to achieve this.

    People in developing countries and (rich countries) as well can’t afford an iphone or blackberry, with low wages in these countries, these devices are out of their reach.

    I believe the smart phones are creating an underclsss, these cheap phones will fill that gap.

    In an article published here http://www.tuhel.com/2010/10/01/are-the-smartphones-creating-a-social-under-class/

    I know of many people who can’t afford an expensive smartphone with huge upfront fees and monthly costs.

    Its a matter of time before a decent smartphone is released by either an Indian or Chinese company which would dent the pockets of Blackberry, Nokia and Apple.

    The next killer Android smart-phone is still being developed, is just matter of time and testing.

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  6. I’ve been carrying around an HTC Aria which has a MSM7227 processor and runs at 480×320. I’m surprised with how snappy it is, even with Android 2.1. These lower end phones are definitely ‘good enough’ for most tasks. The times I notice the processor struggle, compared to superphones, is when installing apps. It’s that much more quicker with 2.2 (rooted/custom ROM).

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  7. How do you guys look at the Internet on that little tiny screen? Do you bring along a microscope? Since it doesn’t have a keyboard for men’s sized fingers, smartphones must take you an hour to type a paragraph. I’ve only become interested in smartphones since somebody who’s not braindead mentioned in an article that the Internet can be viewed on a 17 inch laptop screen by plugging in a smartphone and using it as a USB type modem. Is this true? This is earthshaking and nobody mentions this in all these writeups of Androids features vs Iphones features? But is the laptop screen all fuzzy and just a blowup of that little tiny postage stamp screen on a smartphone? Does it hookup with a USB cable? What do smartphones cost if you’re doing this? What are the hidden charges? Is a smartphone a cellphone ($45 month) plus messaging ($5 month), plus Internet access (data plan) 2G $25 a month? Vs. Cellphone charges plus the USB modem which Verizon charges $55 month. The USB modem only operates in Albuquerque, NM at about 150 kb download speed, and 80 kb upload speed. Pretty slow, eh? Is a smartphone faster?

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  8. Argh! One more resolution for Android app designers to support. Then again, finally a reason for a Boons Farm app!

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  9. The cost of the phone will soon be decided not by electronics and software, but primarily by the brand value of the maker and secondly by the materials and finishing used.

    The electronics industry, cursed as it is by the Moore’s law, will only make the “brains” increasingly affordable. Add to that the principle of “good enough” and we will all have “great” phones and lots of them to choose from.

    The phone industry is going the route of the watch industry.

    If all you need is a device for connectivity (that includes not just voice calls but social networking over wifi and other emerging radios) you can get one for a throw-away price. If you have mega bucks to throw at a phone, I expect in the next 5 years a descent set of boutiques to emerge – and who knows, Nokia could become one such boutique – think of them (or their Vertu) as the equivalent of a swiss analog watch that advertise in airline magazines. Apple, for sure, will not feel lonely at the top – not for long.

    The bulk of the mobile pyramid will be a very different game though. The industry will consolidate but regional variants will thrive. A number-driven, global app store will give way to regional variants, with true-value (locally relevant) apps frothing at the top.

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