Review: The AT&T LG eXpo Windows Phone with Pico Projector

This is a joint review between Jason and Judie. Jason’s comments will be in black; Judie’s will be in blue italics.

I recently got to spend a few days with the AT&T LG eXpo.  Quite honestly, the main attraction for wanting to use this Windows Mobile 6.5 packin’ phone is its ability to be used with a Pico Projector add-on for presentations, demos, or home movies.  As misfortune would have it,  the demo unit I was sent shipped without the Pico Projector.   Arggggghhhhh! : -(

I received the LG eXpo a little over a month ago.  Just like Jason, I was intrigued by the Pico Projector option and its possibilities. Because after all,  if you could fit all the data you would need for a presentation onto your mobile phone, and if it meant not having to bring along a laptop or hook up to an overhead, wouldn’t you rather bring only the phone? As for watching home movies, that wasn’t really a scenario I was picturing, unless it was something someone would do just because they could … not that there’s anything wrong with that. 😉

So let’s start with how the Windows Mobile eXpo fares as web-browsin’-appointment-schedulin’-email-and-messaging-call-makin’ phone. Could this be the phone you’ve been waiting for?  Let’s take a look at the eXpo’s features to see if it has what you need to manage both business and pleasure…

The LG eXpo is one of the latest smartphones added to AT&T’s arsenal of mobile devices.   As previously mentioned, one of — if not the — main draw for this phone is the fact that it can be used with a Pico Projector add-on.  As a business user, this feature would allow a quick presentation, demo or video to be played directly from the phone.  While doubtful this would totally alleviate the need for a dedicated projector or laptop for the most crucial business presentation, it would certainly allow some users the flexibility to easily show prospective clients visual information on the fly.

So, while I was more than a bit disappointed that the Pico Projector wasn’t shipped with the eXpo, it did provide me with an opportunity to run through the basic features of the phone itself.  I mean, if the eXpo does a solid job at projecting video but absolutely stinks for making calls, email messaging and web browsing, that would absolutely play into whether the eXpo is a device you’d want to spend money (and a typical two-year contract) on.

The Specs

The eXpo features a 3.2-inch resistive screen, slide-out QWERTY keyboard with the following specifications:

  • Network: GSM Quad-band phone capable of global roaming (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) on AT&T’s 3G network.
    UMTS tri-band global 3G (2100/1900/850 MHz).  Data:  EDGE/UMTS/HSDPA 7.2 Mbit/s
  • Size: 4.45 x 2.16 x 0.63 inches (113 x 55 x 16 mm)
  • Weight: 5.20 oz
  • Battery: Li – Polymer, 1500 mAh.  4-hours talk time, and an advertised 17-days (408 hours) of stand-by time.
  • Display: 480 x 800 pixels
  • Camera: 5 megapixels Resolution with LED, auto-focus and flash.
  • Video playback: MPEG4, H.263, AVI, 3GP, MOV
  • Music playback: MP3
  • Memory: On-board device memory 256 MB RAM / 512 MB ROM and expandable memory slot for microSD/microSDHC
  • Processor: Qualcomm, 1000 MHz
  • WiFi: 802.11b/802.11g
  • Bluetooth: 2.1, Stereo Bluetooth
  • Voice: Dialing, Commands, Recording, Speaker Phone
  • Email: Yes (tested with Exchange/ActiveSync email account and Gmail).
  • GPS: A-GPS
  • Software/Operating System: Windows Mobile Professional 6.5
  • Internet: HTML, WAP 2.0
  • Fingerprint sensor

Hardware and Construction

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in the overall feel of the phone itself.   The device was comprised of many plastic and composite materials which gave it a cheap feeling, in my opinion.  Among my general concerns with the construction is how the slider mechanism would wear down over long-term typing and use, as well as the durability of the device if accidentally dropped.   LG is positioning the eXpo primarily  as a business phone that is the  “new must-have in mobile productivity”  which is certainly objective.

I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed in the feel of the device, as it actually feels quite solid and doesn’t creak or flex when torqued. Granted, I always prefer to see a bit of metal in my mobile phone when possible, but I think the lack of it is understandable here, since the eXpo already weighs over 5 ounces without the projector attached. I thought the phone looked presentable enough – it’s largely composed of a smokey gray plastic on the back and sides, with shiny black on the front, a chrome bezel and chrome trim. I like the way the phone feels in my hand; the edges are nicely smoothed and the width is perfect — it fits in my hand nicely. I don’t have any complaints with the keyboard action either; it seems snappy enough to me, similar to those on HTC devices reviewed in the past. As for how well the components might survive an accidental dropping, it would all depend upon the conditions of course. Mine survived a five foot drop onto an area rug unscathed, but it wouldn’t have fared so well if the same fall had occurred over concrete.

Per the LG site:

The LG eXpo brings powerful computing and exciting multimedia features together in a versatile, innovative design. From the engaging and intuitive user interface and sliding QWERTY keyboard to the 5.0 MP autofocus camera and simultaneous access to multiple applications, this is the new must-have in mobile productivity.

At a base price of $199 with a two-year contract, with an an additional $179 for the Pico Projector add-on, the eXpo becomes an expensive mobile investment.  Even though the ability to project images and video on the fly is appealing, a total price of $379 for the eXpo becomes questionable when comparing to the selection of other less-expensive and capable smartphones.  Would someone select the eXpo over an iPhone, BlackBerry, or other smartphone from AT&T’s selection for the eXpo based on features alone?  Doubtful.

I completely agree with you on this point – and let’s not forget that the $199 price is after a promotional $100 rebate. While I understand the “early adopter tax” that must be paid every time new and exciting technology — like a miniature projector on a mobile phone — emerges for the masses, I can’t help but feel that a good portion of those who purchase this phone and projector set are going to later find that they don’t use the projector nearly enough to have justified the purchase.

[the LG eXpo stylus, closed]

If you are a Windows Mobile user, you are familiar with (still) using a stylus for many of the resistive touchscreen features.   This continues to be an overall complaint with the Windows Mobile OS.   Even with the WinMo 6.5 operating system, there are still touch features that work best with the use of a stylus.  Hopefully, Windows Mobile 7 will remedy this issue; as it makes the platform seem to be lagging even more behind that of the iPhone OS, WebOS and Android.

Jason, I am glad that you referenced Wayne’s and my AT&T HTC Pure review for a couple of reasons. The first is because out of the box the hardware reminded me of the Pure, but the inclusion of a sliding keyboard and the Snapdragon processor was a huge plus. On the downside, so many of the complaints that we had regarding using WM 6.5 on a touchscreen device with a ~3″ screen are also evident here. Unfortunately LG has not done as good a job as HTC did in covering the aging Windows Mobile interface, and as a result the eXpo is even less finger friendly than the Pure in many ways. The stylus is definitely something that you’ll want to have for those times when it’s needed, and to LG’s credit at least they aren’t marketing this device as touch-based. With that said, the stylus … awful.

One of the main problems I had specifically with the eXpo is that the stylus is not integrated into the phone at all. Many Windows phones have the stylus built in, so you just pull it directly from the phone itself when needed.  Not the eXpo.  While the stylus comes with the phone (e.g., it’s in the box), it’s a completely separate accessory.    This just makes it something else easy to lose.

[the LG eXpo stylus, open:  how long before that stylus cap gets lost with regular use? :-( ]

Oh, you are being much too kind here. The stylus is this ridiculous extending wand thing, which dangles and flops from the upper left edge of the device when installed, much like a cheap phone charm. In fact, it looks like a little tube of lipstick — one that is constantly in the way and is generally a complete nuisance. To add insult to injury, the bottom part of this dangling stylus is a part that I consider 99.99% guaranteed to get lost – and LG only included one in the box. Chintzy!

Then there’s the keyboard. I’m a fan of physical QWERTY keyboards.   I can type just fine on virtual keyboards like that on the iPhone or Nexus One, but when I am in a situation where I need to type and send content that requires accuracy and any length (i.e., more than just three or four sentences) on a mobile device,  I will type using a device with a physical keyboard if given the choice.   The eXpo’s keyboard doesn’t win any awards from me.   The keys are flat and cramped.   While the design and layout is “fine” and regular use/adaptation will alleviate many of my own gripes with typing on the eXpo, I honestly wouldn’t be drawn to the eXpo itself if needing to ensure I could use the phone as a messaging-machine for regular business or personal use.  In this respect, it goes back to the construction and feel of the device.  It feels like a cheaply constructed phone. Perhaps this would be OK for a $50 simple text-messaging “dumb” phone; but not for a device that is positioned to compete with other, more capable, smartphones.

I also like a phone with a physical keyboard, and I found the four-row QWERTY keyboard on the eXpo to be a welcome addition. The buttons were a bit wider than I am used to using – which was actually a plus, and they responded with an interesting pop when entering text. But these keys didn’t have any middle hump to speak of so they felt strange and one-dimensional, which made entering text awkward in the beginning. Yes, I have gotten better at using the keyboard, but that is largely due to the fact that I’ve had over a month to hone my skills. I think it’s interesting that you didn’t like the way the device looked or felt. We need to talk about which ones you do like another time. :-)

The eXpo is a thick device.  While the thickness (due to the slide-out QWERTY keyboard) is not a negative, it is stubbier than, say, an iPhone — compared below.  At over 5 ounces,  the eXpo is also slightly heavier than the iPhone’s 4.7 ounces.

[ The LG eXpo compared to the iPhone]

A very interesting feature on the eXpo is the fingerprint scanner & “smart sensor” technology from AuthenTec.  It’s supposed to be an added security feature, allowing you to use fingerprint recognition to unlock the phone — something that would certainly attract the business user, since many companies require security features such as PIN locks and remote device wipe/erasing in case of loss or theft.   The feature sounds great, but in testing the phone over the course of several days the fingerprint scanning failed to work properly for me.  Now, I have no doubt the feature should — and probably does — work.  The thing is, if it doesn’t work intuitively then it basically defeats the purpose for most users.   If you’re unable to simply activate the feature, then you probably won’t bother activating it to begin with.

I agree that the setup process for the fingerprint scanner is more difficult than it should be. Instead of including it as part of the initial ‘Getting Started’ setup (as it should have been!), you have to do the following: Select Start –>LG Menu –>Phone settings –>Lock –> and on the Unlock Device with Fingerprint Sensor, select the Details option. You’ll have to enter a six digit numerical pin (your backup if your fingerprints ever don’t work for some reason), and then you can choose the fingers to register. It takes four swipes to register a finger, and they recommend that you register at least two fingers.

When the phone is locked, you can still make emergency calls, but anything else will require the correct fingers being swiped. I loved this feature, because I am lazy about entering passwords, and I tend to not secure my phone as I should. The fingerprint scanner worked every time I tried it (!!!), and that feature alone makes this a phone I would suggest to someone who keeps sensitive data on their device, but isn’t necessarily good about keeping that data secure. [Yes, I am looking at all of you people who still keep your credit card info and passwords in a text document or contact card instead of investing in a password protected and encrypted digital wallet program!]

As a scrolling mechanism, similar frustrations arise for me.  While you can use this scanner/sensor to easily scroll horizontally, it’s way to small to be of any use if you need to scroll vertically to go up or down the screen.  The video below shows you how the implementation of the scanner should work:


I don’t know if your fingers are larger than mine, or if it is only because I had the eXpo for longer, but this also worked extremely well for me. Granted, it took me a few tries to understand the amount of pressure I should exert when using the scanner as a scroll wheel, but once I got that down, using it became second nature. Kudos to LG for trying something different; I think this gamble paid off.

Media Features:

The 5 megapixel camera sounds appealing, like on many other smartphones, but you will lose that resolution if you zoom on any image.  Bottom line with the camera, it’s not going to replace your point-and-shoot digital.

This is too true, even if for no other reason than because by the time you see something you want to take a picture of, slide your finger to unlock, press the dedicated camera button, press it again because the first press seldom seems to be hard enough, and then take aim … unless you are taking a landscape photo, you will have missed your shot. But if you do manage to capture it, the camera is actually quite good. You do have to watch for the glare of the single LED flash on the back, but as you can see in the following shots, the pictures in a room with less than optimal lighting are better than average.

orchid with flash

orchid with no flash

I thought that Macro shots were particularly impressive, all things considered, but I was confused by the redundant macro and macro automatic settings, as they both appeared to produce the same quality pictures.

macro orchid with no flash

You take aim by lightly pressing the arched camera button on the eXpo’s right – or top – side when the phone is rotated for camera use. The camera will autofocus, the onscreen box will turn green, and then you can press the camera button all the way in to snap the photo. To zoom or pan you swipe your finger up or down on the fingerprint sensor, but for some reason this feature does not work when the image size is set to 5megapixels. There are quite a few other settings that can be tweaked in the camera, and overall I think it is one of the better ones I have used.

Since many of us want to use our smartphones as a converged device to play our music, it’s worth looking at these features on the LG eXpo.

The stock music player does a very good job.  The interface is intuitive and easy to navigate.  You’ll be able to load up your microSD card full of MP3s and browse and play your music (albums, artists, playlists,  and individual songs) without any problems.  Music sounds fine using the stock headphones provided with the eXpo, but you can certainly swap them out for a pair of your own choosing — with one caveat:  there is no standard 3.5mm headphone jack with the eXpo.  Nope, instead you’re forced to use a micro-USB adapter.  This is my main complaint with this feature.  To me, the adapter becomes one more thing I have to keep up with to get the most out of the device.  It’s also something, quite frankly, I would also likely misplace; meaning without using the adapter I would be unable to enjoy listening to music on the eXpo.

That’s not he only problem with the configuration, though.    If you are charging your LG eXpo or having to hook it up to your computer to transfer files you’re using the one micro-USB port.  That means you can’t listen to music or use the headphones (unless you opt for Bluetooth) when charging or transferring files :(

While I am thrilled that the eXpo is using a standard MicroUSB for syncing and charging, I was very disappointed to see that they borrowed a page from HTC’s book in making that same port the one used by the headphones. I have ranted about this subject ad nauseum; every time I see a new device appear that has a 3.5mm earphone jack and I think a little bit of progress might have been made, another device like this will come out. :-/

[stock music player on the eXpo]

[stock headphones for the eXpo]

[close-up of the headphone adapter for  the eXpo]

If you are using your eXpo with WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS enabled, you will be pleasantly surprised by it’s battery life. I found it to last a full day with moderate to heavy use, meaning all my radios were turned on and I was using it for push email, some surfing, eBook reading, a few calls, and I played a few songs. I am sure you could get battery battery life by turning off one or more of the radios.

While I’m griping about the micro-USB port implementation for listening to media/music, let me express my sheer hatred for port covers like the one used on the LG eXpo.  You have to pry it open any time you want to charge the device, listen to music, or connect the eXpo to your computer.  It’s an unnecessary hassle to have to open the cover.  Then, going back to the overall quality of the construction, you have to wonder how long the cover will actually last due to the need to constantly pry it open.  How long before that cover just snaps off altogether??

Preach on … I’m just sitting here in the choir. 😉

The media feature most users come to enjoy on their phone is the simple pleasure of browsing the web.   Here the eXpo does an adequate job.   Not great, not bad.   Sorry, but surfing the web on the eXpo is not going to compare to surfing from an Android device or iPhone.   Sure, some of the load times may have to  do with my data connection in the office (though, other devices — like the Nexus One, iPhone, and even BlackBerry) seemed to load the same uncached pages more quickly than the sluggish eXpo’s Windows Mobile browser.

I didn’t have an issue with browsing speeds, but I am the first to admit that it is likely because I am used to EDGE where I live in the country. When I used the eXpo in San Angelo, which does have 3G, I saw a noticeable increase in speed. Pocket Internet Explorer is not my favorite mobile browser, but this version is much better than those in the past as most web pages will open and render without issue. Unfortunately Gear Diary is not one of them, and even if set on Mobile (versus Desktop), the mobile version that other devices will automatically render does not appear. 😛

And that leaves one major feature that we haven’t yet discussed — the projector. Now this is a trick that has some major wow factor: remove the regular battery cover …

And replace it with the custom pico projector battery cover …

After installing the projector, slide the lens cover to the side …

A screen will appear saying that the camera will be disabled while the projector is running, accept it, and anything that is on your device screen will be projected onto the surface ahead. The projector works well on any flat surface in a darkened room, and it will clearly project images up to 4′ or so on the long side, but this is not what I would consider the optimal way to watch a movie.

viewing projected pictures on the back of my 17″ MacBook Pro

I’ve got to say that AT&T and LG really dropped the ball here, because they created this phone with a projector as its huge selling feature, and then they didn’t load even one short video or movie trailer on it for demonstration purposes. What a missed opportunity to impress people right out of the box!

Here is a shot showing what a fattie the eXpo is with the pico in place. I’m sure that you can understand why I don’t think anyone would choose to regularly carry their phone this way, with the projector attached.

I did run into one very annoying issue while testing the eXpo — there is no included setting to force the phone to use 2G. I wouldn’t have even noticed this was an issue, except my phone would reset itself spontaneously. This started the first day I had the device. About five hours after it was fully charged, it was lying next to my computer when I caught it going into the first reset cycle. I didn’t think anything of it, until I saw it do the same thing again about an hour later. Curious, I began timing the phone as it began to reset itself progressively sooner and sooner — until the resets were about 10 minutes apart. That’s when I did a hard reset, recharged the phone, and watched it start doing the same thing again within an hour. I was sent another eXpo in exchange, and was confounded when the same thing began to happen. Even worse, it was happening to some of my friends – Lisa Gade, Julie Strietelmeier, and Clinton Fitch.

It took a lot of head-scratching, talking to others with the same device and testing to finally realize that the issue might be with the radio trying to switch between 2G and 3G, or worse – not being able to use 2G at all. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to see what the radio was set to, much less make an adjustment. Because I was part of a connected group of bloggers using the device, I was able to directly interact with representatives from  AT&T about the resetting issue.

To their credit, LG took it seriously enough that they sent an engineer to visit me … in my house. A Senior Engineer drove in from Austin and basically spent the day with me, watching to see how the phone would behave, and performing a log dump on the phone so that he could take the information back to Austin to be interpreted. The most valuable thing he did for me though, was give me the Engineer’s Code so that I could adjust the band manually. Available options included Automatic, WCDMA Only (3G), GSM Only (2G), WCDMA 850, WCDMA 1900, WCDMA 2100, GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800 and GSM 1900; there has not been a soft reset since I set the phone to GSM Only, and battery life has also drastically improved. Having to set the band manually is definitely not an ideal situation, and I strongly suggest that LG and AT&T consider a firmware upgrade that will include the option to select 2G, 3G or Automatic.

So how does the eXpo stack up?  Honestly, the device wouldn’t be one I would consider if shopping around for a new phone.  It does what it does adequately, but fails to shine in any regular-use feature.  It does email, but so do other smartphones.  The eXpo does music, but you have to keep up with a cumbersome micro-USB adapter.  It does web browsing, but not near as well as other comparably priced devices.

Well, it does have fingerprint scanning …

True, but I couldn’t get that feature working on my demo phone :-(  The one “killer” feature the eXpo does have — the ability to project images and video using the Pico Projector —  will cost you an additional $179.   Since the device pails in comparison to other phones with “regular” smartphone features (email, web, music, media, the phone itself) — and since in my opinion even the construction seems subpar compared to other phones — it boils down to whether you just need that projecting function.    Honestly, it’ll probably be easier to keep on relying on your laptop and a dedicated projector.

I’m going to agree that there are plenty of other phones out there that are comparable on many levels, with the exception of two features — the fingerprint scanner and the projector. I think the projector feature will be a seldom (if ever) used option once the new wears off by those who buy it. The projector is not something you would want to keep on your phone, so it becomes just an extra item to carry and something easily forgotten. The one killer feature that this phone has is the fingerprint scanner, once you get past the fact that the interface to set it up is incredibly convoluted. However, once configured it works beautifully, and it will provide excellent security if your phone is ever lost or stolen.Would I buy this phone myself? Probably not. Even though it is speedy and it has some really great features, the screen is a bit smaller than I prefer and it’s really not as touch-centric as I would like.

MSRP: The AT&T LG eXpo is $199.99 with a 2-year contract (available via AT&T), or $449 with no contract.  Pico Projector add-on will cost you an additional $179.

What I Liked: The eXpo does an adequate job with daily tasks like email, calls, appointments and media features like music/photos; the pico projector option and the fingerprint scanner are unique features that work well and definitely add to the phone’s geek cred; phone is solid and wits nicely in hand; battery life is good; pico projector is extremely easy to operate – almost foolproof!

What Needs Improvement: You have to pay almost as much as the price of the (subsidized) phone to be able to use the projecting feature — the one thing that sets the eXpo apart from other smartphones; you have to use a micro-USB adapter to listen to music via wired headphones; flat and cramped keyboard keys will require some adapting for sending messages; web browsing using the standard Windows Mobile browser seemed sub-par when compared to other devices in a similar price range; fingerprint scanning technology didn’t work during my testing; the stylus is an obnoxious dangle; people who live in fringe areas may experience reset issues from not being able to adjust 3G / 2G settings — a firmware update would take care of this

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