Most people when they sign up for a contract pay very little attention to the actual contract and more to the phone they’re getting with it. These days mobiles and especially those of the smartphone variety have become less of a status symbol and more of a necessity, with just a little over nine to ten million of these things in service in the hands of people like yourself, dear reader.

Its with this trend in mind that Google’s Android mobile operating system has become one of the dominant players on the market, usurping RIM and its Blackberry lineup in as little as two years in the American and European markets. With a wide variety of phones by third-party manufacturers and features such as Google Play, Google Maps and their newly debuted Google Drive, the company aims to offer all smartphones a chance to be the best fit for you. So it was with high expectations that I had some time with the LG C660 Optimus Pro and I came away from this cheap Droid suitably impressed.

The similarities of the C660 to its Blackberry competitors stop at the QWERTY keyboard. The C660 has strong messaging skills and I got used to the phone within a week. Some people may find it a little small but its very similar to the Blackberry Curve 8520’s layout. The keys have a good, tactile feel and have a shorter travel than what I’m used to, which made the initial adoption phase a little more difficult. If you have large fingers and don’t cut your nails regularly it might become a problem. Girls and people with smaller hands that I’ve handed the phone to, however, haven’t had any problems with getting used to the layout. The convenience buttons on the bottom row do save time, but you’re more prone to hitting them than the space bar. A longer space bar would have been better for most users.

A comfortable, if noisy keypad.

One complaint that I have had, though, is that the keypad is actually quite loud and rather annoying when you’re trying to type quietly at night. The menu buttons have a good feel and don’t take a lot of effort to push. Those of you who choose to root the phone may also be able to adjust the behaviour of the backlighting on the keyboard, since I feel that it turns off far too quickly and would prove irritating when typing in the dark.

Above the keyboard is the star of the show, a 2.8″ capacitive TN LCD display at 240 x 320 pixels, landing up at 143ppi density. In general use the low resolution of the screen doesn’t make itself apparent and everything from videos to Angry Birds plays and looks just fine. Pictures do have a slightly less sharpened look about them and when you bring the phone a little closer the jagged lines on text is visible. The touch panel’s responsiveness is mostly right on the money with certain apps not picking up my finger because of poor optimisation. On the plus side it worked perfectly with my gloved fingers, a great bonus in wintertime and on cold nights when your joints just about freeze themselves shut (don’t say I’m old, I’m only 23!).

One aspect that becomes apparent quickly is that its a very cheap panel. For example, when you switch from an app that a lot of contrasting colours (a white background on a webpage with dark elements) to a the home screen which has no large contrasts and a darker wallpaper by default, there’s a lag in how long the pixels take to refresh themselves. The outlines of the darker elements remain on the screen but they go away after a minute or two. I’d be careful with using apps that have too much white in the background because that will eventually permanently burn itself into the pixels, creating jarring outlines that may hinder your time with the phone. That’s to be expected though, given the cheap asking price for the handset. If you have the option, use apps that have a black background or power-saving theme to save on the battery.

Sunlight legibility is, however, pretty workable. Its not a touch on Nokia’s Clear Black technology, or the Super AMOLED displays on the Samsung Galaxy II but it gets the job done on sunny days. Considering the lack of LED technology as well, I’d recommend that readers pay attention to what applications they’re using and the screen brightness setting. There’s no ambient light sensor and without the LED backlighting the screen chews through the battery if there’s a lot happening on it.

Moving around to the back and sides, the 3MP camera doesn’t make many waves but is a decent performer, with a few sample shots available that I’ll show to you later. The loudspeaker to the left of the camera is good enough for letting your mates listen to the new song you bought off the Google Music store and its loud enough to make itself heard in your pocket when you’re in a noisy environment. The left-hand side of the phone is devoid of any buttons save for the volume rockers. The right only sports the mini USB connector and is also the primary means of charging the phone. The top of the phone houses the 3.5mm port and the power button which also acts as the lock screen button.

Build quality of the phone overall is satisfactory, with a few creaks here and there at the bottom of the unit but nothing that’s too serious. With heavy use the phone doesn’t get warm in your hands, suggesting that LG’s engineers paid particular attention to heat dissipation and thermal characteristics. It should be noted that the Wi-Fi and cellular antennae are housed near to the top of the phone on the left and right sides respectively and I was able to lose 75% of the signal just by covering my two hands around the top. If you’re thinking of using a cover to protect it, a plastic one would yield better performance over the commonly found rubber ones from Vodacom.

Internally the phone boasts Qualcomm’s MSM7227T, sporting an ARM11 processor at 800Mhz, 256MB of RAM and an Adreno 200 GPU. The phone also has quad-band EDGE and dual-band 3G/HSDPA radios and supports OpenGL 2.0 and Direct3D for mobile handsets. There’s also a built-in GPS with support for A-GPS and I found it to be pretty responsive, especially when using Google Maps in offline mode and walking to the shops. The battery is a 1540mAh unit and with moderate to light usage the phone gets through two day’s worth of work before it needs to be charged. That’s pretty good for a cheap mobile phone, but it could be extended through the use of a few system tweaks and possibly a task manager to manage the resources better. On-board memory is limited to 180MB for apps that can’t move themselves over to the bundled 2GB memory card.

Performance-wise the phone doesn’t do too badly, chiming in with a final score of 1495 in Antutu Benchmark v2.9. The phone breezed through the 2D and 3D benchmarks with an average of 35fps, suggesting that it would easily run any less demanding game on the market. Quadrant Standard paints a less pretty picture at 698 points, rating the phone behind other mobiles using the same chipset, with the Samsung Galaxy Ace coming in 150 points higher. In more real-world scenarios though it performs just fine, with Angry Birds only struggling with slow level load times and popping up “low system RAM” complaints. Moving the game files onto the SD card made a big difference in performance, cutting that down by half. I’m not going to say Dead Space will work, but if you’re a fan of emulators or even want to try get Quake 3 or Doom running on there, its certainly possible.

There’s not much to say or shout about when it comes to the camera. Its a run-of-the mill 3MP unit that doesn’t resolve a lot of detail and has difficulty balancing light levels thanks to the small aperture size of the lens and the tiny sensor unit. Indoors, shots with good light levels allows the phone to resolve detail reasonably well, with colours tending to a yellow hue overall The telling point that it’s a poor quality unit is in the shadows above the game machine to the right. In real life, there is no shadow. There’a a loss of quality in red objects as well as the panels of the machine are much brighter in real life. The red accents on the robot to the right are too bright by comparison, showing that the unit has difficulty with contrasting hues on the same object properly.

Outdoors its a much more natural affair and in good light I was able to get some acceptable pictures in. There’s enough resolved detail in the grass and on the statue, but a large amount of oversharpening in the detail on the rocks, objects at the edges of the photo and the concrete wall to the back. Close-ups are worse thanks to the fixed-focus nature of the camera but at least you can see what’s going on. In low-light conditions with the settings on auto, the snap of my Ferrari collection highlights the low amount of captured light as well as the oversharpening of the photo creating a lot of noise.

By my account then the camera is good enough for casual snaps close-up to objects that you’ll be sharing through social media as there’s little scope for creating good artsy or landscape photos. Taking photos at night is a no-no, thanks to the lack of a flash unit and the low amount of light allowed in by the sensor. That said, the simple camera interface is a joy to work with and doesn’t get in your way. Videos are shot in 480p format at 24fps and also show a lot of oversharpening as well as the camera unit’s inability to adjust to changing light conditions quickly. There’s not much reason to zoom in on anything as that degrades the quality even further, but panning around doesn’t show any frame drops or difficulty tracking fast-moving objects.

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Sidenote: If you’re having trouble viewing the video, play it in Youtube instead. Flash player is giving a lot of people headaches lately, myself included. 

In conclusion, the C660 is a worthy budget phone for those who want the Android experience but don’t want to compromise on it too much. During my time with the phone I had no build quality or signal issues and I was please with the responsive screen, even more so with the fact that it worked pretty well with gloved fingers. This phone won’t knock your socks off but then again, it’s not designed to. It’s meant to compete with the Blackberry Curve 8520 and the 9300 and does so without breaking the bank. With loads of other IM messengers to take the place of BBM, choosing this handset along with a package that adds in monthly data allows it to earn its keep as a capable qwerty messenger with long enough legs to keep up with you and your social life.

My only gripe hardware-wise is the camera and the easily beaten battery life, but if you were hoping to snap some artsy photos with this device then your needs would be best served elsewhere. On the software side, LG’s PC Suite was a rather large download and is better avoided. I found that it was generally a resource hog and a half-hearted attempt at properly supporting the phone. Newer versions of the software may remedy the issues I had with it.

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