The LG Optimus Elite is a light, compact phone that runs Android 2.3 and performs admirably despite its low price point and 3G service level. It’s available from Sprint as well as no-contract carrier Virgin Mobile.
The Optimus Elite may appeal to those looking for a green (environmentally friendly) phone, with its ULE Platinum Certification for using a high percentage of recycled plastics in its casing, improved energy efficiency and carbon-free certification.
The phone’s other claim to fame is its integration with Google Wallet. Google Wallet stores your credit card and lets you pay with your phone anywhere that MasterCard PayPass is accepted. Follow the prompts to set up the Google Wallet, then hold the back of the phone against any MasterCard PayPass card reader to pay with the credit card you provided. I entered one Raleigh ZIP code into the PayPass online merchant locater and came up with nearly 400 vendors that accept PayPass, including gas stations such as BP and Sheetz, restaurants such as McDonald’s, mall department stores such as Macy’s, and drug stores like CVS and Rite Aid. Most small PayPass transactions, generally those under $50, don’t require a signature.
The Optimus Elite doesn’t come loaded with a bunch of unnecessary, bundled software (“bloatware”) like many Android phones. In fact, it doesn’t even come with popular email clients like Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, which you can easily download from the Play Store (formerly Android Market).
Email is easy to set up for Google and Exchange accounts, though, as noted above, it doesn’t come with other email apps. It does download and install apps at a fairly good clip, and I’ve installed quite a few apps without coming close to running out of space.
The Optimus Elite takes excellent pictures and videos. I was impressed when I snapped a good picture with the Elite’s 5 MP camera of someone standing by a window in direct sunlight.
To test video watching on the Optimus Elite, I went further than YouTube and downloaded HBO GO. It’s free, but only available if you subscribe to HBO through a cable or satellite television service. I watched about 15 minutes of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” and I was pleasantly surprised. The video downloaded and played smoothly using my home Wi-Fi connection, and looked remarkably good, considering the small screen size and the overall dark tone of the film.
The 4.25-ounce Optimus Elite measures 4.58″ by 2.47″ and is just over a third of an inch thick. It fits easily in a pocket or purse, but its diminutive size makes for rather tiny keys on the virtual keyboard. I always recommend trying the on-screen keyboard on a friend’s phone before committing to a phone that doesn’t have a physical keyboard. With this phone, I recommend trying a small phone with an on-screen keyboard, since that could make a difference in the speed and accuracy of your typing.
I found it unusual that the phone doesn’t automatically enter a period and capitalize the next letter when you hit space bar twice. However, I do like the on-screen keyboard’s clever dual-purpose keys. You can hold down a key to enter a different character. The top row of letters has numbers zero through nine, and the rest of the keys have mostly symbols. You can still switch to the number and symbol layout, but holding down the button might be faster if you’re entering something that contains a mix of numbers and letters, such as the key phrase for a Wi-Fi connection.
The phone’s relatively small screen doesn’t distort games like Words With Friends like some small phones. You can see the whole game board, and play is amazingly smooth and quick for a 3G device. When you first launch Words With Friends or the similar Words By Post, the phone is a little slow to update and display your moves. My Angry Birds tester enjoyed playing on the Optimus Elite and noticed no problems.
The Optimus Elite has average battery life. Like on many other phones, the battery drains quickly if you have a game running in the background. Turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when they’re not in use will also help with your battery life, as will turning off notifications in the Play Store and the Amazon App Store, if you’ve installed it. To help conserve battery juice, you can also increase the amount of time between email checks for each account that you’ve set up, and set quiet time for the overnight hours so that the phone doesn’t check for messages or emit alerts while you’re asleep.
Sprint’s service coverage has some dead areas in buildings. I compensated for this by finding free Wi-Fi connections, which are faster than 3G anyway.
The phone costs only $29.99 from Sprint after $50 reward card mail-in rebate and with a two-year agreement. Service will set you back $69.99 per month for 450 anytime minutes, plus unlimited text, email, and Web. Sprint also offers access to NASCAR and NBA sporting events through free apps that come with the phone.
The Optimus Elite is also available through Virgin Mobile, one of Sprint’s no-contract carriers, without any time commitment, for $149.99. Virgin Mobile’s monthly plans start at $35 per month for 300 anytime voice minutes and unlimited text and data using Sprint’s nationwide 3G network. The company does not require a credit check or charge activation fees.
Both Sprint and Virgin Mobile are offering $25 in Google Wallet credit for buying and activating an Optimus Elite before July 18, 2012.
The Optimus Elite is limited by its 3G speed in a 4G LTE world, but may be worth a look if you need an inexpensive phone for phone calls and some texting and emails. It’s also nice if an environmentally friendly phone is important to you or if you plan to make liberal use of the Google Wallet functionality.