The LG Ally marks the introduction of the Korean smarphone maker’s first Android device available in the US, and just one of the many devices in their Android invasion. The Ally sports a 3.2-inch capacitive touch screen, 3.2-megapixel camera with LED flash, a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and is powered by Google’s Android 2.1 OS. LG provides a slightly tweaked Android UI that provides some nice customizations without a learning curve, but may annoy some who want updates to the Android OS as soon as they come out. With a 600MHz processor, 512MB ROM, 256MB RAM, the device may not read like a speed demon, but if you’re looking for a mid-ranged Android phone with a slide out keyboard on Verizon, this may be your best bet.
But how does the device hold up against the competitors also in this category? The MyTouch Slide from T-Mobile offers the closest competition to the Ally – both sport very similar features, but are drastically different in many ways as well. The Ally will run you $149 with a $100 rebate in store, but if you’re shopping for it online, expect that rebate to be automated, making the Ally a cool $50. Is that enough for you to jump on the Iron Man 2 advertised smartphone?
- 3.2-inch capacitive LCD touchscreen (480 x 800)
- Android 2.1 with a lightweight custom UI from LG
- 600 MHz MSM7627 CPU
- 3.2-megapixel camera
- WiFi (b/g/n)
- GPS (aGPS, sGPS)
- 3G data connectivity
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- Slide-out QWERTY keyboard
- microSD card slot
- User-configurable Android homescreen skin
- Some helpful customizations from LG’s lightweight UI tweaks
- Available for fairly cheap
- Good alternative if you’re on Verizon and don’t want the Motorola Droid.
- Keyboard sliding mechanism is spring-loaded
- Swap Micro SD cards without having to remove the battery (hot-swappable)
- Keyboard is cramped to make way for D-Pad
- Battery life leaves something to be desired
- Can get bogged and slow down at times
- Tweaked UI will slow OS updates
- Quirky navigation buttons
With many smartphones hitting market these days with screens sized up to 5 inches, the LG Ally may look a tad small, and those who like to watch a lot of videos on their device may want to look elsewhere. But the small 3.2 inch display allows the Ally to fit into your hand quite nicely, and makes one-handed operations a breeze.
The overall look of the device is almost “business-like.” The device is black, with some dark, metallic finish lining the sides of the screen. There’s the dedicated camera and volume rocker along the sides of the handset, trimmed in chrome. It’s a little more masculine looking than the MyTouch Slide, what with all its MyTouch-y curves.
The Ally is pretty straight forward, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Some may say the device could use a little “beautifying,” but the look of the device will still certainly appeal to those wanting something simple. There’s a LED notification light on the top right side of the device which I haven’t seen on any other Android device yet , almost Blackberry style. No complaints on its position, nice implementation. The Ally comes with a 4GB micro SD card preinstalled, but can be expanded if that’s not enough for you.
As said before, the touchscreen may come off as a little small for some, but a 3.2 inch display may be just what the doctor order for some users. The Ally fits into your hand perfectly, allowing you to get a real grip on the thing without any discomfort. The size of the screen is good for one-handed operations, but the responsiveness of the screen itself could stand to be just a touch more sensitive at times. This isn’t to say that the screen becomes unresponsive, I’ve just had to really make sure I hit the right soft button. This isn’t always the case, and I’m sure users will have very little problems with the display.
Four plastic buttons line the bottom of the front face of the device – the call, home, menu, and end key are very much plastic, but have a brushed aluminum look to them, which is a nice touch. Above the physical buttons are two capacitive buttons for “back” and “search.” I can definitely see some users enjoying the dedicated call and end key, but it’s sort of annoying to have to go from physical buttons to touch-sensitive ones that are all jumbled next to each other. Over time, I definitely got used to the button layout, but would have been fine if there no call and end keys were present.
The build quality of the Ally is questionable. The device is mostly made of plastic, and feels somewhat cheap. But, somehow, the sum of the parts add up to a solid in-hand feel, if that makes sense. Weighing in at 5.57 ounces, it’s almost hitting Motorola Droid weight, even with being mostly made of plastic and having less screen real estate to work with. The back cover feels flimsy, yet I wouldn’t expect it to come right off on accident, and to add a metal back plate would only add to it’s heft. That said, even with the slightly cheep feel in hand, it doesn’t seem like the Ally is gonna break on you if you drop it. Once you get used to the feel of the Ally, you’ll have very few complaints at all.
One of the biggest appeals about the LG Ally is that it has a full QWERTY slide-out keyboard, but just having the option doesn’t make the implementation great. If one were to compare the MyTouch Slide to the Ally, the Slide would definitely win on some accounts, where the Ally has a couple of nice additions.
First off, I thank LG for adding a dedicated number row. It’s annoying to have to hold down a function key if you need to type out your phone number on a physical keyboard. This is something the Slide lacks. The keys have a decent travel to them, with a reassuring enough “click” to them. But, the Ally’s keyboard is cramped and somewhat cumbersome to use. The smaller keyboard is required to make space for the D-Pad on the right side. It’s hard to say if the D-pad is actually useful, but it’s nice to have since the front of the device lacks a trackball or any other navigation method other than the touchscreen.
The keys on the Ally’s keyboard have a slight angle to them, which helps to know what key your finger is on, but the spacing between them is a bit cramped. Unfortunately, not even the slight contours on the keyboard keys can help solve the cramped space problem much.
One of my biggest gripes about the keyboard is that is lacks the sort of symmetry you’ll see on the MyTouch Slide. This is mainly due, yet again, to the D-pad – the Caps and Alt button are found on the bottom right of the keyboard, and only there. If you wanted to capitalize the letter A, expect to have your left hand holding the caps, with the right hand reaching all the way over to hit the letter. There are no dedicated buttons for any symbol without having to hit the Alt button, except for the period.
What makes me like the Slide’s keyboard more than the Ally’s keyboard? Great spacing, bigger keys, dedicated buttons for the @, comma, and ? symbols, as well as two shift and function keys on both sides of the keyboard. Still, I do love a dedicated number row, but that’s just not enough to make the typing experience as enjoyable on the Ally as it could be. As with any keyboard, you’ll likely get used to it over time, and you’ll be able to bang out long emails on this handset in no time.
The Ally ships with Eclair, or Android 2.1. While it’s not shipping with Froyo, it’s hard to take a point off for that since only a few devices have just received the Froyo update, though the Ally is likely to get the update.
LG adds a custom user interface to the Ally – called LG Home – which provides some nice customizations and widgets, while keeping the homescreen changes as minimal as possible. The only real part of the UI that’s gotten a noticeable makeover is the application launcher. Lining the bottom of the screen is an application dock that adds the phone, contacts, messaging, and browser applications. Between those icons, you see the standard Android app launcher. You can customize the dedicated applications on the dock to your liking by choosing the application you want, and putting in the position of the dock you want. It’s pretty easy to do, but may be overlooked.
When tapping the application launcher, the first thing you’ll notice is that the background is white. Missing from the LG Home skin is the cool 3D effect you’ll find on the Nexus One (it’s present in the standard Android Home which you have access too as well), but that’s certainly not a deal breaker. The app launcher breaks up your applications into two sections, Applications, and Downloaded Applications. So, as you’d expect, all apps downloaded from the Android Market will appear in the Download section. You can also create different categories of applications just by pressing the menu button with the app drawer open. You can now have a different category for social networking, music, whatever you’d like. A very nice addition.
The redone app drawer also allows you to uninstall applications right from the drawer itself, which is something sorely needed for Android. Although LG’s implementation looks a little too much like the iPhone method for my liking, it sure beats having to dig through your settings or going back to the Android Market just to uninstall an app.
The Ally also comes with a couple of custom widgets and apps from LG as well. There’s the Socialite app, which can pull in all your Twitter and Facebook statuses into a nice clean layout. There’s also a Socialite widget with which you can easily switch between the Twitter and Facebook by just tapping the tabs on the top of the widget. Other additions that can be found are a custom Calendar, Weather, Dual Clock, Messages and Alarm Clock widget.
There’s also a theme app in the Ally, which allows you to easily change from the standard Android Home to the customized LG Home, as well as any home replacement you’ve downloaded for your device. It’s cool that LG gives you a choice to go with the standard UI or use theirs. Whether or not the tweaked UI will slow the time it takes for the Ally to get the Android 2.2 (Froyo) update is up for question.
Web Browsing, Multimedia, Camera
The Ally comes with the standard Android browser, with no customizations on board. The browser can be pretty laggy, and I experienced some stutter when trying to zoom in and out of pages using the multitouch gestures, but over all it’s a decent experience. Scrolling on the other hand seemed to be a bit more smooth with very little lag across the board. It’s reasonably fast when loading a page, but since it’s only sporting a 600Mhz processor and Android 2.1, don’t expect anything too exceptional.
To clarify, the Ally does not provide the best web browsing experience because it can produce some lag, but surely things will be ironed out once Froyo hits the device. For now, you’ll have to deal with a little slow down here and there, but it shouldn’t deter you from getting this phone.
Nothing to see here, as you’ve seen it all before. The Ally comes with the stock Music player, which gets the job done, but lacks any sort of aesthetic appeal. Good thing there are tons of music player replacements that come with more features than many other stock music players that come stock on other OSes. Might I suggest MixZing or Museek (if you have a large music collection)?
A nice, stand-out addition to the Ally is that it supports DivX playback. After a couple of tests, I was a little underwhelmed by what could and couldn’t play. I first tried an AVI movie, and that didn’t play at all. Downloaded a trailer from Apple trailers, no go. But I did manage to get an episode of True Blood working as well as an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode, both of which were AVI files. Why it worked when my first file didn’t I don’t know. I’m sure trying out different file formats will give you more success than I received. Overall, the Ally didn’t perform as well as I was expecting, but I’m still impressed that it comes with DivX support out of the box.
The Ally sports a 3.2 megapixel camera with a single led flash. LG has added in some of their own camera settings, but its nothing we haven’t seen before. All of your options are found right on the left side of the screen, not unlike the camera controls on Froyo. You’ve got a zoom, brightness, flash, auto and macro controls. In the settings, you’ve got an image size, scene mode, ISO, white balance, color effects, timer etc available to you as well.
LG was also nice enough to allow you to change the shutter sound, apply a grid view to the camera, as well as choose if you’d like to review the picture you’ve just taken or not. The camera can take a second or two to start-up, but it’s pretty snappy once it gets going. It’s pretty quick to return to the view finder after you’ve taken a picture, making multiple quick shots a breeze.
As with most smartphones, you’re going sacrifice some image quality in low light situations, and it’s true for the Ally. Still, it will produce some decent shots to easily share online or via MMS messages, just as long as you don’t plan on blowing them up and printing them out.
Video quality from the Ally camera is better than its image quality, but nothing stellar. You’ll find similar settings with the camcorder, with options to change video quality if you’d like it to be sent through a MMS message, which will stop recording after 60 seconds, or just keep recording and have the file saved to your SD.
Overall, the camera is decent. I had to keep reminding myself that it was only a 3.2 megapixel camera instead of complaining of the image quality since I’ve been accustomed to the Nexus One’s 5 megapixel camera. While it’s not the best camera on a smartphone to date, it gets the job done.
Call Quality/Battery Life
The Ally’s call quality is exceptional. Being on Verizon’s reliable network certainly doesn’t hurt, either. There were only two times that the person on the other end said that I sounded far away from the phone, but that was only twice, and I tend to hold the phone with my shoulder, so that may have been the case. For the most part voices came out loud and clear on both ends. The speaker phone on the Ally performed well, but it’s not going to blow your ear off. And I never got a dropped call throughout the time I spent talking on the phone, and overall quality was exactly what you’d expect from Verizon’s network.
Again, voice and data don’t play together nicely on this device (a limitation of CDMA networks), so if that’s an important factor, you may want to go with AT&T and T-Mobile. If making voice calls while using data services isn’t a concern for you, as it doesn’t for me, you’re golden. There may be sometimes you’d find this useful, but unless you need to check maps or the browser every single time you’re on a call, this shouldn’t sway your decision. Plus don’t the people who actually do really care about this already have iPads?
I’m more of a texter myself, but one thing to also keep in mind is that sometimes CDMA doesn’t play so nice with long texts. They are supposed to be broken into multiple texts if you go over the one-message-limit, but I’ve had many instances where only half of the message is sent, and the other half is nowhere to be found. It’s not a hardware issue, but a CDMA issue, and if all of your texts aren’t being received, I’d suggest a separate messaging app like Chomp SMS. There’s a CDMA split feature within the application. This isn’t an Ally issue, but a CDMA issue.
The battery life on my review unit was pretty atrocious, but it was likely just my review unit, as I have yet to hear too many people about the Ally’s battery life. I did find a fix for this issue on a forum, so it looks like I wasn’t alone, but it certainly seems to be an isolated issue. After performing the fix, I easily got a full day out of the Ally. From my experience, the battery meter drains faster than it should, as my battery was on yellow, and I still got about 6 hours out of it easily. Unless you have the small issue I did with the Ally, I think you’ll be rather impressed with the battery performance on the device.
The Ally is definitely not the best phone in the market, nor is it even trying to be. It’s a nice mid range phone, with a decent camera, somewhat decent keyboard, and decent battery life when everything’s in working order. If this were a smartphone showdown between the MyTouch Slide and the Ally, the Slide would win hands down. BUT, many of the issues that I’ve experienced through my short time with the Ally will most certainly be addressed with software updates.
Because of this, I would still recommend this phone to someone who’s looking to stay on Verizon and wants to buy a smartphone that isn’t too expensive. I’d definitely recommend the Ally over the Motorola Devour any day, if you’re looking for a budget keyboard-wielding Verizon smartphone.
The Ally hits the sweet spot on price, and despite some drawbacks, is still a pretty good smartphone. I think it would be a good device for a first-time smartphone buyer. Speed and battery issues will be fixed in time, but if you choose to run out and by the thing, just bring that charger with you at all times for the time being.