LG Optimus and the Rise of the Cheap Androids!

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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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wm9dm9Sv9Yw]

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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