First we had the flood of high-end smartphones, from the iPhone 4 to the Samsung Galaxy S. Then came the invasion of the budget phones, from Nokia’s 7,000 C3 to the army of dual-sim and triple-sim handsets from companies such as Micromax and Karbonn.

Samsung launched its Galaxy 3 and Galaxy 5 phones and the Wave, which runs their proprietary Bada software. HTC launched its Wildfire. The oddly designed Motorola Backflip appeared in the market. Acer took a tentative step into the land of entry-level smartphones with its BeTouch e110. Sony Ericsson’s promising Xperia X10 Mini Pro was launched and now we have these two: LG’s GT540 “Optimus" and the Spice Mi-300.

It makes sense to pit the two firms against each other—data from market research firm IDC’s India Quarterly Mobile Handsets Tracker for the second quarter of financial year 2010 shows that the top five mobile vendors in this period were, in order, Nokia, Samsung, Chinese firm G’Five, Micromax and Spice. LG’s absence in that list is conspicuous, replaced as it is by a posse of new entrants.

So how do the two compare? They both run a fast-ageing build of Android (version 1.6, or “Donut") though LG promises that fresh shipments of the Optimus will ship with version 2.1 “Eclair" and Spice claims the Mi-300 is “2.1 ready".

They’re priced similarly—the Optimus retails for 13,500 and the Mi-300 for 16,999 (the latter is currently being sold at an “introductory price" of 9,990)

The Optimus is a decent entry-level Android phone that debutants to the operating system might want to dabble with. It has a 3-megapixel camera, handles multimedia well and has a certain fashion aspect to it (we don’t think curves work very well on a phone, but to be fair other reviewers have found the Optimus design high class).

The touch screen is not top of the line. There’s no multi-touch, and zoom is handled by an external button. The Optimus has great battery life for a smartphone—comparable even to some ye olde feature phones.

The Mi-300 sports a more spartan approach, and looks like a cross between the HTC Wildfire and the Google Nexus One. One wishes this minimalism extended to the software as well. The Mi-300 suffers from a horribly crowded user interface, thanks to the enormous amount of bloatware applications that Spice saw fit to bundle without much thought. The touch screen is an improvement over the Optimus, but not by much. Its 5-megapixel camera is competent, but unremarkable.

All in all, these two phones fail to differentiate themselves significantly in any manner. Samsung’s Galaxy 3 and 5 offer more value for money, and HTC’s Wildfire offers a more seamless integration of hardware and software than these two. An upgrade to Android 2.1 will help, and Spice’s Mi-300 is still a sweet bargain at that sub-10,000 introductory price.