by Stefan Constantinescu, 8 months ago
LG has just issued a press release saying that their current flagship smartphone, the Optimus G, is going to hit two American operators: AT&T and Sprint. We read the press release several times to try…
Think about the last time that you used a phone by LG. While the Korean phone manufacturer has certainly been able to stay afloat within at least the mid-range smartphone market with typically forgettable offerings, memories of great Android devices currently end up with the likes of the Motorola RAZR, the HTC One X, or the current top dog, the Samsung Galaxy S3. At least for me, thinking “LG” often leads me to remember the Chocolate, a very popular phone from a bygone era well before the onset of Android, iOS, and even touchscreens. And even then, the Chocolate was touted as an mp3 player during a time when iPods were becoming ubiquitous. It would seem, from this track record, that LG has a habit of coming to the party a little too late, while struggling to remain relevant in a market that so easily leaves the slow ones behind.
Not this time.
LG can already hold its head high after incredible sales of the now sold out Nexus 4, which flew off basically all the shelves within an hour after being released. And now, with the release of the Optimus G, their flagship phone, LG has further expressed to the rest of the playing field that it isn't going to be left behind.
Sporting specs even the more popular current phones can only dream of having, the Optimus G brings speed via a fast, quad-core processor with all the bells and whistles you would come to expect from a top tier device. Features such as LG's own Quickmemo and the Optimus-styled Ice Cream Sandwich OS are all nestled beneath a sleek body that also houses a powerful and very capable 13MP camera.
The version that this review focuses on is Sprint's Optimus G, as opposed to the international and AT&T offerings. Read on to see what we thought of this version of a phone that has already been celebrated here at Android Authority.
From the get-go, the Optimus G struck me as one of the prettiest phones I have ever encountered. Though I love the simplicity of my Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the blocky (albeit too large) design of the Motorola RAZR, and the color palette of the HTC One X, I found myself without any qualms to make regarding the Optimus G. Though some might look at this phone and assume that it is a Samsung by the shiny finish or a Motorola due to the squared out design, the second glance will likely be met with overall approval.
A look all around the phone brings to mind a ‘black slate' aesthetic – for the most part, it is as if the screen is where it all starts and the rest of the body is just there to add thickness. The top side holds the headphone jack and one microphone, the left side (looking head on from the screen) has the volume rockers and the right side houses the power switch, a location reminiscent of current Samsung phones.
The bottom end has the plug for charging (and for OTG [on-the-go] USB cables, if you so choose to use one) and has the two Torx screws on the sides. These screws might be removable, but people don't typically have a Torx screwdriver just lying around. As such, the battery is not removable and thus is not replaceable. With no expansion slots for microSD cards to be found, this also means there is no memory expansion to be found within. No, this phone is meant to come as is, and luckily the package is worth the sacrifice.
Front-wise, the LG Optimus G is likely to immediately turn a few heads. Almost completely black, save for the sliver lining around the trim and the soft keys that are elegantly hidden when not lit or in use, thoughts of ‘black slate' come back to mind. ‘Smooth' is definitely a word to describe this phone, as it quite literally is such, from top to bottom.
The back end evokes the same, except for the one little section quite literally popping out from near the top. That is the 13MP camera, which will be spoken of at length later in this review. If you are one to slide your phone around on its back, the popped out camera design might lead to some scratches on the lens covering. LG has outfitted the Optimus G with a glossy finish for the back, that at some angles just seems like another black slab but at other angles reveals a pretty diamond pattern called the “Crystal Design.” Though entirely cosmetic, this choice of aesthetic for the back just adds to the phone's looks and appeal. All around, the phone is a delight to behold.
In the hand, the Optimus G sat snugly in my palm and I had no fear whatsoever of dropping it. Despite how large it seems at first, this phone actually feels quite perfect – at just a smidgen smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S3, the Optimus G felt like just the perfect size. With a little bit of maneuvering that should be commonplace for most current smartphone users anyway, reaching for the top of the screen for the notification dropdown and then coming back down to a regular grip became routine and felt safe. For me, the squared out form factor provided for this easy handling, as I have felt most rounded out phones these days run the risk of slipping out of my hands. With a slightly smaller build and a specifically squared out form, this LG felt like a dream.
Without a doubt, LG has definitely made strides when it comes to displays. The screen found on the Optimus G is a True HD IPS Plus LCD display – its resolution of 1280 × 768 (WXGA) and pixel density of 318 ppi provide a crisp, sharp image that is nothing short of a joy to navigate. The screen itself is incredibly responsive, as swipes across homescreens seemed to perform the millisecond after my finger hit the surface. This is achieved by the Zerogap technology that LG has brought in their flagship phone – essentially, what you have here is literally just the glass window between you and the LCD display.
Performance with video and graphic material helped the Optimus G's display garner further approval, as video files and streamed content on the 4.7-inch screen were truly a sight to see. While the screen on this phone might not be as big as some offerings out there, such matters become trivial when you are busy getting lost in a beautifully rendered episode or movie on Netflix or laughing at a funny video on YouTube (in HD, of course).
When used outdoors, the display performed well – direct sunlight did not detract from the display much at all, as the Zerogap also lends some benefits in this regard. Fewer layers between the LCD and the world outside the glass window seem to help. With brightness settings on auto, the phone sensors seemed to quickly pick up when I left an indoor setting and stepped out into the sunny San Diego weather – I never had to get into the settings myself and up the brightness just to be able to see my screen.
As mentioned before, the Optimus G by LG has a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor under the hood. Let's say that one more time – QUAD-core – and harken back to the memories of the LG Chocolate. Yes, LG has come a long way, so they have every right to make clear to all competitors that this is the first Android smartphone to sport such incredible processing power. Using the phone with this kind of power has been a seamless experience. I had close to no hiccups throughout my time with the Optimus G and the Ice Cream Sandwich build, optimized by LG's OS, is as silky smooth as ever – it almost makes you forget that Jelly Bean has been out for a while and Ice Cream Sandwich should be in a museum somewhere. Again, this is a testament to the processing power of the Optimus G.
Our previous review of the Optimus G used a version essentially the same as this one from Sprint, so the benchmarks will largely be the same as those found there. Nonetheless, I did run a couple tests. The phone performed beautifully, garnering 5 stars in one test and sat among some of the best current phones, as you can see below.
2GB of RAM allows you to run a multitude of applications at once, and I have not found any slowdown as a result of having Spotify playing music, Dropbox downloading a few pictures onto the phone, and my jotting down some notes for this review.
The phone speaker does its job, as calls come in loud and clear. Near the top of the device on the screen side is the notification light. I did not test this light with applications like LightFlow to customize the notifications, but the light does come up clearly and is easily noticeable while blinking.
On the back of the phone is the speaker, found as a small slit near one of the sides. The speaker is mono, unfortunately, so with it comes a lack of power that is typical of most smartphone loudspeakers. It is not as loud as the speaker found on the Samsung Galaxy S3 and seems to have a focus on the highs rather than the mids and lows with music. As long as you're not hoping to entertain a room full of people with it, the Optimus G gets the sound job done. During calls, the speaker performed normally and did not crackle much even under very loud noises.
32GB of built-in memory is quite a lot, and it might be a long time before you fill it all up. Nonetheless, users might not like the fact that they cannot expand that memory to handle more music, movies, or pictures. While the AT&T version of the Optimus G does have an expansion slot for microSD cards, no such option is available in this Sprint version.
The Optimus G comes with the bevy of connectivity options that is typical of high-end smartphones. While capable of connecting to 3G and 4G LTE, this LG flagship also has WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS services. As far as speeds go, 3G was decent and workable. Unfortunately, Sprint has yet to roll out 4G LTE in my area, so testing on the much faster connection was not possible. As I will be in the Los Angeles area over Thanksgiving, I can test the 4G connectivity there, as it is one of the few places in the greater Southern California area that has LTE available. I will report back with the speeds and battery life (see below) that come as a result of using LTE.
WiFi Direct and Hotspot are both also available, providing more ways of getting yourself connected. NFC (Near Field Communication) makes an appearance here on the phone, and data transfers with the Samung Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S3 devices yielded successful results.
The NFC capabilities of the phone are further highlighted with the inclusion of two NFC+ tags that can be plastered on just about anywhere for a quick settings change. While I did not personally use these tags myself, I find this a quirky but potentially very useful tool – imagine getting into work in the morning and tapping your phone over the Tag found on your desk, putting your phone in just the proper settings (i.e. silent mode and turning on WiFi) for your workplace.
With a 2,100mAh battery that is seemingly not replaceable, the Optimus G touts a battery life of about 15 hours of talk time with over 300 hours of standby time. Claims for the battery's longevity and features have been made – on the one hand, the Li-ion battery can supposedly go through up to 800 charging cycles, which is more than the typical 500 for current Li-ion batteries. On the other hand, LG touts that its battery in the Optimus G is up to 6% more efficent than ones found in other smartphones.
Nonetheless, after about a week of normal usage, the battery seemed to perform about as normally as expected from a high-end phone such as this. Throughout three straight days of normal usage (viewing and responding to e-mails, text messaging, the occasional YouTube video viewing, and even online messaging through apps like Talk or GroupMe) I was able to get through an entire day without any problems. An overnight charge after a near complete drain followed the end of each day, but this is probably a typical occurrence with current smartphone users these days anyway.
There is also an Eco mode that can be activated, which supposedly tones down the processing power and display for the betterment of the battery life. This is similar to the power saving mode found in the Samsung Galaxy S3, and the experience is largely the same – there is a decrease in performance when using power intensive applications like games, but everything else works just fine. Whether or not the battery life benefits greatly from Eco mode is a little vague, at least by my estimation, I used it during the third day of testing and got through the day just about as normally as the first two. Perhaps a few extra percent was available by the end, but that could have been a result of varying degrees in usage, as well.
I did also go through a full, intensive battery drain to see how the phone fared – a full session of playing games, playing songs through Spotify, and long YouTube viewing times brought down the battery from full to empty within about 5 hours.
One thing should be mentioned, however – all of this testing was done through a mixture of just 3G and WiFi connectivity. As Sprint is still trying to get through their rollout of 4G LTE across the country, my current location of San Diego has yet to get the faster service. As is normal for 4G LTE devices, using the faster connectivity drains the battery life to a much greater extent. If LTE was available during the time of testing, I am sure that the phone might have garnered quite shorter lifespans throughout.
Software found on an Android device these days usually depends a couple factors – the manufacturer in regards to what features they wish to bake into the given OS, and the carrier. In the case of this Optimus G, LG has put in their Optimus UI 3.0, putting a nice coat of paint over an already beautiful ICS.
The default lockscreen takes on a nature motif, and has a lock in the center. You can pretty much start anywhere you want and swipe out in order to unlock the phone, however. On the bottom of the screen are four icons for specific applications – Phone, Messaging, Email, and Camera. You must start on the icon and swipe away in order to open straight to these applications. The lockscreen is customizable, including tweaks to the wallpaper, the launcher icons at the bottom, and even the unlocking effect. I went with the ink effect.
The actual launcher itself is quite customizable – LG allows for many options to be tweaked that were before only available to those using custom ROMs. This includes adding to and changing the order of the quick settings found in the notification dropdown. Icons for applications are also customizable, even to the point of using a saved photo in the device memory to create a whole new icon for any application. The home screens allow for different themes that are already built in (I'm using the Biz theme) and even the scrolling effect can be changed, as well.
LG also put in a few very worthwhile features that add to the Optimus G's appeal. One in particular that I liked was the Quickmemo feature. As a person who likes to take screenshots on my Android devices for easy viewing of content otherwise not able to be saved, Quickmemo adds the ability to immediately modify the saved screenshot for further usage. Simply hit the shortcut from the notification dropdown and then edit to your heart's content.
Another feature available in the Optimus G is QSlide, which allows for a video overlay on top of all other running applications. Essentially, you can have a video playing and still be able to text message someone. When activated, the video either fills the screen when in landscape mode or comprises about 30% of the top of the display when in portrait. Unfortunately, you can only use this feature when viewing videos that are saved into the local storage – this is not an option for YouTube or Netflix. On top of all that, I did find the video overlay to be quite distracting and not all that enjoyable. Despite there being an overlay slider that allows for some customization of the video opacity, even that bar can sometimes get in the way of what you are trying to do.
As far as other applications go, the LG Optimus G by Sprint comes with a few extras – a neat built in notebook app that can hold just about anything from pictures to handwritten notes, Sprint's own ID and Zone apps for getting new content, Video Editor and Wiz for editing recorded videos on the fly, and even a copy of Polaris Office 4.0 for all of your writing/presentation/spreadsheet needs.
It says a lot that I have gone through so much about this phone already, said so much about its features, build, and beautiful screen – and I am only now getting to the part I really wanted to talk about: the camera. My video review gives examples of the movies this device is capable of recording, even going as far as to say that with the right set of tools, a camera on a phone as good as this can serve a great deal of purposes.
It's not hard to let your jaw drop when you see the 13MP designation on the back of the phone. The LG Optimus G comes packed with a great deal of megapixels to help you capture that shot on the fly. To sweeten the deal, however, LG has added in quite a few different features to enhance an already impressive camera experience.
The 13-megapixel camera yields 4208 x 3120 sized photos, with the ability to go down to 8MP at 3264 x2 448 all the way to just 1MP at 1280 x 768. Zooming can be done via a pinch movement on the screen, while other settings such as ISO (Auto to 100, 200, and 400) and white balance can be changed, as well. Scene modes are available for whatever kind of shots you may encounter.
Continuous shot acts like a sort of burst mode, allowing you to take a number of shots all at once – useful if you want to have a stop motion kind of effect. Essentially, the camera performed without any hiccups and lag was minimal. The panorama mode works about as well as it should, allowing you to take very widescreen shots with ease. You have to remain quite still throughout your wide movement, lest you get some jarring fade transitions between some of the image.
As is the case with many phone cameras, the low light capabilities leave some to be desired. While the camera is capable of taking shots, even more so with the Low Light scene effect, this camera should not be primarily used in low light situations by any means. Otherwise, using this camera in broad daylight and under adequate lighting is ideal.
Of note are the two features that LG has added into the camera, which are “Time Catch Shot” and the “Cheese Shutter” functions. Time Catch is the more practically useful of the two, as it takes shots of the scene you are trying to capture in the background, even before you hit the shutter. If you are trying to get a picture of someone and they blink just as you take the shot, there will be about half a dozen other pictures available for selection, one of which should have captured the scene you desire. Enabling this feature disables the panorama and HDR capabilities of the camera, however, for normal shots, this is a very useful tool to have.
The Cheese Shutter feature is more or less just a fun way of taking pictures. Simply say one of six canned words like “cheese” and if the phone picks up the word, it will take the shot. This is more of a novelty and doesn't quite add to the overall quality of the camera. From my tests, the phone is essentially capable of following through accordingly when using such terms – sometimes it doesn't pick up your voice and other times it will go off even though no one has said anything close to the given phrases. All in all, it is a great party trick and a nice way to ‘wow' your friends upon first glance at this phone.
Which brings me to the video capabilities of the camera. As a videographer, I have always been interested in the ability of a phone to replace a regular camcorder or DSLR camera in a pinch. Sometimes you need to get that shot for a video and you just don't have your equipment on you. As someone once said, “the best camera you have is the one on you.” With that in mind, many of today's smartphone offerings have been able to make great strides in becoming more viable backup choices for photography and video.
The LG Optimus G camera is able to record 1080p video at 30 frames per second, and there are options for bringing down the video resolution to 720p and lower. When opening up the video camera, you are given the option of taking a long video or one made for messaging, and you are given control over the white balance, zoom, and brightness of the resulting image. There are also some options for adding live effects, but they are just for fun and ultimately something that might not be used.
Video under good conditions is not only usable, but also quite nice. Under good lighting, it is definitely possible to take good shots of just about anything – this is true for the still shots, as well. Such is the ultimate rule of photography – lighting, lighting, lighting. Low light performance might not be great, but the flash is there to help and if you are looking to deliberately shoot or record something specific, you would probably already have the tools needed to get the job done well. I used a mount to stabilize the phone on a tripod and the result was a nice nature shot at a lovely fountain. Again, see my video review to see these shots.
All in all, the camera is a capable performer with a megapixel count that is worth mentioning. The quality of resulting shots might not be amazing, but with some creativity, this phone can serve as a great alternative to backup solutions. Under normal usage, users will be able to get the shots that they want – low light conditions can be mitigated through usage of the flash or a low light NR effect, and high quality Instagram shots of food and friends will definitely satisfy.
Ultimately, the Optimus G is a great coming out party for LG. While the Nexus 4 is technically the device everyone will be talking about at the moment, this monster of a performer is just waiting in the wings, ready for anyone looking for a powerful phone already a few steps ahead of the competition. LG has packed in some incredible hardware, making this phone one of the best available on paper already.
Which makes it even more of a pleasant surprise to know that the experience lives up to the hype. The quad-core processor makes for one of the smoothest experiences I have ever had, the Zerogap technology makes navigation a breeze, and the screen makes for some wonderful viewing experiences. Having a whopping 32 gigabytes of memory makes the lack of expandable memory easier to swallow, though the lack of a replaceable battery might prove a nuisance to power users.
The eye-popping megapixel count on the camera and the content it is capable of creating excited my creative side, and I maintain that if the iPhone can be touted as a viable film camera, others should be able to, as well. I believe that the Optimus G is an example of how close we are to that, if not already there.
As this is the Sprint version, you are essentially only being held back by the lack of service. While phone coverage and 3G connectivity performed well, the lack of 4G LTE across the board stifles the potential this phone has. Even in a highly populated metropolis like San Diego LTE is still not available. If you are getting a 4G LTE phone, you want to use that capability right away, not wait for one of your phone's greatest features to finally become useful.
If you are lucky enough to have 4G coverage, then there is a lot to love about the LG Optimus G. If anything, I am excited to see more phones follow suit with incredibly powerful processors and even higher quality cameras. For now, enjoy LG's new flagship phone and, essentially, their comeback party. See above my video review, which includes some examples of how the camera on the Optimus G can be used.