Hands-On With The Surprisingly Solid, QWERTY Keyboard-Packing LG Mach

Sprint finally joined the phone announcement fray earlier this morning and added a handful of new devices to its official roster. While LG’s Optimus G may garner all the love, the newly-revealed LG Mach deserves its share of attention, and I got a bit of hands-on time to do just that.

First off, let’s talk looks. The Mach’s industrial design won’t bring home many rewards, but it’s nice, well proportioned (at 12.2mm, it’s pretty slim for a slider), and largely lacking of frills. Don’t take that as a negative though — some of Sprint’s other QWERTY sliders seem clunky and overly-designed in comparison (I’m looking at you, Photon Q). That said, the Mach’s rear end is strangely nondescript silver, with a strip of lighter plastic surrounding the 5-megapixel camera, and a chrome-esque finish running around the edges.

Perhaps naturally for a mid-range device, LG opted to use a string of three capacitive navigation keys along the bottom of the 4-inch WVGA display rather than on-screen buttons, but the most annoying bit? The sleep/wake button is stuck on the top left corner of the device, a choice that flies in the face of my muscle memory.

For all that a device like this brings to the table, it’s probably going to live or die based on one thing: the keyboard. LG ran with a nicely-spaced, five row affair here, and I didn’t find much to complain about during my brief time playing with it. The keys themselves have a respectable amount of travel and yield up a satisfying click when depressed. I’ve never been sold on the need for up, down, left, and right keys on a keyboard, but hey — someone must like them.

It’s always a little tough to talk performance after such a brief spell of testing, but for what it’s worth the Mach was remained pretty darned snappy as I scrolled through app lists, settings, and menus. That’s all thanks to the dual-core Qualcomm MSM8960 (the same as the one in devices like AT&T’s HTC One X and the Droid Incredible 4G LTE) and the 1GB of RAM — nothing earthshaking, but still a clearly potent combination.

The Mach runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, but all the most hardcore users will spend most of their time interacting with LG’s custom UI. I used to be very militant about these sorts of things and railed for stock Android builds for all devices, but LG’s particular take on Ice Cream Sandwich doesn’t seem too offensive… though I still prefer the cold digitalism of untouched Ice Cream Sandwich.

There isn’t a ton of bloatware to be found either; there were only two Sprint-branded apps here and LG’s own applications (think SmartShare media streaming, a more robust video editor, etc.) are neat, if possibly unnecessary additions. The software keyboard leaves a bit to be desired, but really — chances are if you spend money on a device like this, you probably won’t be typing on-screen too much.

All things considered, there’s a lot to like about the LG’s mid-range Mach. The keyboard itself will draw its share of fans, and the rest of the spec sheet adds up to a device that’s perfectly adequate. Of course, exactly how good a buy it’ll be remains unclear — neither Sprint nor LG were willing to talk about pricing (or availability) just yet.