It seems as though every summer we see a major motion picture come out with wayyy too many advertisements and promotions to go along with it; so much so that we become sickened whenever we hear the name of the movie. LG always seems to be at the forefront of these promotions with a premier handset of some sort, putting the device into the hands of the actors and actresses, as well as several commercial campaigns.
This was precisely the case with the LG Ally, the phonemaker’s first Android device in the US. Being promoted alongside “Iron Man 2”, I couldn’t get through a commercial break, it seemed, without seeing it. Obviously LG and Verizon wanted the Ally to be on everyone’s minds, and it worked for a while.
So now that the hype has died down, I decided to take a good look at the Ally to see if it was worth the millions of dollars spent on marketing alone. The Ally is a modest mid-range smartphone that was never meant to be the top of the line at time of release. Does it get lost in the ever-growing forest of Android devices, or does it light a smoke signal in order to help it stand out of the crowd?
Here are some of my impressions of the LG Ally.
Design of the LG Ally
The Ally isn’t state-of-the-art. It doesn’t have the same specs as superphone giants like the HTC Incredible or Droid X, but it was designed that way. It’s meant to be a good quality mid-range Android smartphone for those who want to have access to Android but aren’t looking to spend as much.
Nothing really stands out as wholly unique when looking at the Ally for the first time. Packing a 3.2” capacitive touchscreen display and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard with direction pad, at 5.6 ounces it’s not the lightest phone on the market, by a fair margin. Nor does it have any innovative design that we haven’t seen before. In fact, it’s probably the closest to blocky that you’ll come across on an Android these days.
On the front there are 4 physical buttons (Dial, Home, Options and Screen Lock/Power/Hang up) at the very bottom and above that you can find 2 touch-sensitive buttons (previous and Google search). Having become accustomed to handsets with dedicated screen lock buttons, I found it rather awkward to switch back to one that uses a multi-purpose button instead. While this isn’t enough to sour my experience with the Ally, it’s one that just takes some getting used to.
Continuing on with the exterior tour, on the left side is the usual volume up/down as well as MicroUSB port. The top contains a 3.5 mm headset jack, and the right sports the MicroSD slot and dedicated camera button. On the back, only the 3.2 MP camera and usual Verizon/Google logos are found.
The keyboard, I think, is the most unique part of the whole phone. It’s a 4-row QWERTY with the number keys on the top row, alongside dedicated buttons for search, previous menu, home and options keys (which I found very handy to use, by the way — much better to use those than having to rely on those same keys on the front), as well as a direction pad on the bottom right for navigating through menus. Naturally this doesn’t get as much use on a touchscreen-based phone, but I still like having the option, especially when the 3.2” screen feels so small that it’s a nuisance at times.
Typing on the keyboard is easy enough to do, but the only real beef I have with it is the layout. In using only 4 rows (with one of those rows dedicated to numbers), the space bar is on the bottom row in between the V and the B, and it throws me off every single time because I have to look down to figure out which button is B and which one is N. They’re just in different spots than I’d like them to be. I would also have liked to see a dedicated .com button, especially given the vast amounts of emailing and social networking I do.
After reviewing countless Android devices with their own UI (Touchwiz, Motoblur, Sense UI), it’s a little weird playing with one that just comes with the stock Android 2.1. While LG may not have its own UI to overlay Google’s version, it does come with its own theme that you can choose to implement. The creatively-named LG Theme differs from the stock version in that there are a few icons at the bottom of the screen for dialing, contacts, messaging and web browsing. I prefer having these buttons available in order to save space on the rest of the screen for other apps I’d rather use.
One last note on design of the Ally before moving on. I was impressed by the solid feel of the device. Though I could tell the Ally was made out of plastic, it didn’t feel cheaply built. Sliding the keyboard out was a very solid process, not shaking or shimmering about in anyway. I could tell that the slider mechanism was built to last a few thousand slides or so, give or take.
Features of the LG Ally
There are a lot of mediocre specs and standards present on the LG Ally that I just won’t spend too much time talking about. Since the Ally is Android, many of its features are based upon that OS. So I will focus more on some unique things I haven’t found on any (or many) devices before. That being said, this may end up being a rather short section of my review, because not a whole lot of stuff is unique on it. It really is meant to be a standard Android 2.1 device without many of the extra bells and whistles.
I love that LG opted not to include most Verizon-based apps such as VCast as mandatory. Normally Verizon likes its devices to have the obligatory Verizon apps that can’t be deleted.The great thing is that if I still want those apps, all I have to do is go into the Market and look at the Verizon apps section, and it’s quick click of a touchscreen button to actually download the app.
LG chose to include its own app called Socialite, which is its own connection to the social networking world. Nevermind that countless apps already exist — LG most likely figures that if there is already a social networking app preloaded onto one of the main screen panels, users won’t waste time going to hunt for any other ones out there.
With that said, I don’t mind phone manufacturers including their own social networking stuff, but I only really like it when included as part of the UI itself; I find it a lot more handy to have a steady and regularly updated Twitter stream as one of my main panels (and only when there are more than the standard 5 screens in the UI, so as to not use up crucial real estate). And for anyone who chooses to opt out of it, they’re typically widgets that can simply be removed. Socialite, to me, is nothing more than one more social app lost in a sea of social apps.
I enjoyed the camera app on the Ally. It has all the essential features I need in a basic digital camera (read: not DSLR), such as digital zoom, autofocus, brightness adjust, and even a macro setting. But that’s not what really impressed me: I was intrigued that once I had signed into my Google account, my photo gallery included stuff from all of my Blogger sites. Even old sites I don’t maintain anymore. It turns out that all of the pictures I had ever uploaded into those sites are now accessible. Certainly this could turn into a huge negative for some, depending on how many pictures are being loaded into the phone, and how much memory it takes. But for me, I felt this option is very intuitive and could become very handy.
Speaking of camera, the Ally has a 3.2-megapixel with video capabilities at 26 fps and 640×480. If you don’t need max resolution on your pictures, you can adjust it to one of 5 different resolutions, as well as 3 different quality settings. Pictures were rather good, especially when using the autofocus feature. The colors were well distinguished. The images weren’t as sharp as hoped, but are what you’d come to expect on a 3 MP camera. Here are a couple different shots taken in my house with the Ally camera.
The Ally does have some pinch-to-zoom functionality, but is more laggy than is necessary. For instance, when using the Ally’s default browser, pinch-to-zoom will work only as long as I am pushing firmly on the screen, and even then will act sluggish when zooming. Also one thing that drove me nuts when surfing the web was that pinch-to-zoom would not allow the text to fit to screen. The only way I could activate the fit-to-screen was to double tap the area I wanted to read, and then it would finally auto-adjust.
A 4 GB microSD card is thrown in for good measure, but there is room for a larger card if preferred. Aside from the card, only 126 MB of internal memory is included; if it weren’t for the included external storage, this amount of internal storage space would be laughable even for most higher-end feature phones.
Other than these few things that caught my attention, the LG Ally also features GPS, WiFi (with 802.11n support, by the way), EVDO Rev A data support, accelerometer and stereo bluetooth, to name a few. Emailing with the Ally is just as much a breeze as it is on any other Android, with support for Gmail, Exchange, Yahoo, and many others. I do wish the Gmail app would allow multiple Gmail accounts, but it is at least possible to access other Gmails through different apps. It’s just not as convenient as I would like.
Performance of the LG Ally
Battery. Battery life is rated at 7.5 hours of constant talk time and almost 21 days of standby. Frankly, this can almost be hard to believe given Android’s track record of sucking up battery life, but various tests have shown talk time to be around 6-7 hours, depending on the test. Still, this is much better than most feature phone batteries.
Calls. All my calls sounded clear and without static. The speakerphone was also loud enough for me, where I didn’t have to get my ear any closer to the phone than I wanted it to be.
CPU Speed. At 600 MHz, the processor speed isn’t terrible, though today’s standards consider it on the lower end, compared to 1 GHz Snapdragon powerhouses like the Incredible and Nexus One. But that 400 MHz difference between these devices are quite evident. I noted on several occasions that there appeared to be a small amount of lagging when switching from one task to another. Activating live wallpaper slowed it down even further. Pinch-to-zoom, as mentioned earlier, also appeared sluggish. It’s as fast as expected with a smartphone at its price range ($99.99 with contract at time of release), and will be sufficient for most, but I personally prefer using faster devices.
Internet Speed. I ran several tests using Xtremelabs’ Speedtest app on the Ally, and most tests ranged between 750-1000 Kbps download and around 100 Kbps upload.
All in all, I feel the LG Ally makes a great Android alternative for anyone that may be more budget-conscious and is looking for a nice phone at a lower price. It doesn’t rank well when compared to monsters like the Droid Incredible or Nexus One, but it’s not meant to be in direct competition with these devices anyway.
Here are more pictures taken of the LG Ally for your enjoyment and perusal.
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