You might feel like LG shot out of nowhere in the past month or so, and if you’ve been buried under the Samsung, Apple and HTC storms, then that certainly seems like the true story. In reality, however, LG has never really gone away – it has just been focused on the mid-tier market and has consistently put out device after device that unfortunately moved into obscurity rather quickly.
But Google has thrown LG into its Nexus product line and allowed the company to come out with a seriously hot device, the Nexus 4. As the spiritual successor to the Google Galaxy Nexus by Samsung, the Nexus 4 brings with it some great specifications and the promise of Google’s consistent Android update schedule. For $199 on contract from T-Mobile, customers can get the Nexus power they want in a nice package. For those not on a contract, the Nexus 4 is available in the Play Store for $299 or $349, the 8GB or 16GB version, respectively.
It’s been difficult for just about everyone to get their hands on the Nexus 4, and since I just did, my in-depth review is coming soon. But we can definitely give a quick snapshot on the new Google phone by putting it up against what can be described in some ways as its fraternal twin.
So, not to be undone by the backing of the search giant, LG has come out with its own variety of Android device by releasing the LG Optimus G. This phone, officially, came out before the Nexus 4 and surprised users by being the first device to sport a quad-core Snapdragon CPU, 13 megapixels stuffed into its camera, and top-notch performance. Currently available on AT&T and Sprint for $199, LG has pulled a confident move – it has created competition for itself.
So what is one to do with this choice? Which LG phone takes the cake? Read on as we try to nitpick and find any reason to pick one over the other.
Look and Feel
The LG Optimus G, like I stated in my previous review, is one of my favorite looking phones. The capacitive keys on the front hide so nicely under the 4.7-inch screen that the entire flat front looks like a ‘black slate.’ The True HD IPS Plus Display is literally behind just one layer of flat glass. A silver lining edges around the front, and the rest of the device just looks like added body for the screen. Overall, the phone looks like a hybrid of a blocky Motorola and a very rounded Samsung – and it works.
Around the phone, the button layout is familiar, with the power button on the right and volume on the left. The back, however, houses a slightly popped out camera that might be prone to scratches and is vaguely holographic, showing a patterned design in certain angles. This is called “Crystal Reflection” and is a very welcome and nice touch.
In the hand, the phone fits very nicely, and I attributed this to the device being just a smidgen smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S3 and to its almost rectangular shape. There was no fear of this phone leaving my hand without my permission. The AT&T version is slightly bigger to accommodate a couple different features not found in the Sprint version, which is the one I have. Maybe the slightly larger AT&T LG Optimus G would garner a different opinion, but I have not really heard that to be the case.
Now, the Nexus 4 happens to bring some of these same features in a different shape and form. Instead of a completely flat screen like the Optimus G, the screen on the Nexus 4 is protected behind a slightly but noticeably shapely Corning Gorilla Glass layer. Even if it doesn’t evoke the ‘black slate’ look, it is still quite nice to look at.
The back of the phone has its own “Crystal Reflection,” as the NEXUS designation on the back is surrounded by a square-like pattern that you can see at certain angles. Other than that, you have the same button layout all around. Also much like the Optimus G, you have two Torx screws flanking the bottom charging port – it seems LG has found some recognizable tropes to throw into its devices.
One thing you’ll notice about the Nexus 4 – especially if you are a previous Samsung Galaxy Nexus user – is how much it looks like its predecessor. It’s almost uncanny and, quite frankly, not all that surprising that the Nexus phone line will continue to retain its general look – but I definitely mistook the Nexus 4 for my own Galaxy Nexus and it was always a little startling to realize I picked up the wrong one. That being said, the experience is largely the same. There isn’t much size difference between the two, but the much more rounded top and bottom of the Nexus 4 make the phone feel just a bit smaller. This size differentiation makes the phone comfortable and easy to handle without any fear.
So, between the two, it is, objectively, up to the user to decide which look and feel is better than the other. And I mean that – I thought for a while about this one and while I love the look of the LG Optimus G, I found myself accustomed to the Nexus look. I like the way the Nexus 4 looks because I’m used to it and it feels familiar. On the other hand, some change could be nice and there are times when I take the Optimus G out and just look at it after I’ve performed my task. It’s an incredible looking phone, and on that alone, I’d go with the Optimus G. But nostalgia and my experience as a Nexus user make my opinion waver. It’s a tough one.
Verdict: It really depends on you – if you’ve had the Galaxy Nexus before, you might like to continue in the familiarity of the Nexus line but, on the other hand, you also might want a change and go for the LG Optimus G’s industrious ‘black slate’ look. Both devices are great lookers, so it kind of just depends on your situation and preference.
Here’s where there might be a point of contention – the display and screen. Both of these phones bring with them 4.7-inch screens with 1280 x 768 resolution and Zerogap technology – which means that protective glass layer is the only thing between you and the display itself. It is claimed to help improve responsiveness of the user’s touch and I found it to work quite well in practice. Both phones come bundled with Adreno 320 graphics processors, so the displays should pack the same amount of punch.
I guess I was wrong, then – there is no contention between these two displays because they bring the same specs to the table. Which means I have to put on my nitpick hat. While both screenss are great and display content smoothly and without any real, gaping flaws, I had to notice even the slightest detail.
And I got nothing. Both displays are great and even at highest brightness and putting both phones, side by side, running the same application, as close to my eyes as possible, I could see no real difference. If I ever leaned toward one device either way between these two, it probably wasn’t because of the actual display but because of app itself being optimized for the Nexus 4’s updated Jelly Bean over the Optimus G’s Ice Cream Sandwich.
Verdict: Both displays will give you a wonderful viewing experience – and after about half an hour of eye strain right up against the two phones, I could not see anything in the colors or sharpness of these two screens to put one over the other. Now, excuse me while I get some eye drops.
Seeing as I just mentioned the software, I can talk about the operating systems included in both phones. Since the Nexus 4 is an official Google device, it is no secret that it will come bundled with the latest and greatest that Android has to offer. This is the experience of Android as envisioned by Google, and since this phone will always get the most updated software, you’re dealing with the cutting edge here.
Which is a boon for phones without Google’s official backing, unfortunately – all too often, we see that the software in great phones is plagued by delays because phone companies are working to bring the latest official Google OS into their own visions. HTC has the Sense UI, Samsung has TouchWiz, and LG has the Optimus UI. The sad part here is that while the companies work to get their versions of Android out of the gate, Google continues to churn out more and more updates to their original operating system. And most phones suffer from not being fully up-to-date as a result. This is the case with the LG Optimus G, as it comes with 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich and is, now, a couple versions behind in the Android game. It lacks Jelly Bean features like Google Now, expandable notifications and the overhauled camera.
However, LG has done a great job of bringing in new features that make up for this shortcoming. For example, the Optimus UI is one of the most customizable stock operating systems on the market, as it allows for changes in the theme, the power widget in the notification drop down, and even the lock screen. Even the camera has Time Lapse Shot, which constantly pulls the shutter shortly before and after hitting the capture button so that you have multiple shots to choose from. The Optimus UI is also very smooth and easy on the eyes, while being useful given its feature set.
Ultimately, if you’re reading this, you’re probably an Android nut and you want the most updated operating system for the latest and greatest features. Jelly Bean might be on the way for the LG Optimus G, but it’s still not here right now, and ‘right now’ is what Google achieves with the Nexus 4. Don’t be mistaken, you might be missing some features in LG’s version of Ice Cream Sandwich, but they put in enough extra bits to make sure the experience still feels complete.
Verdict: I have to be a purist here and go with the Nexus 4 with its most up to date OS, as it will always be on the cutting edge while LG works to take the latest updates and wrap them up in some Optimus UI. If you have the LG Optimus G, however, the features and customizable built-in options more than make up for its core operating system being a little bit behind in the game.
Here’s another situation that will seem a little rough to tackle, as LG has put the exact same quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor in both phones, as well as 2GB of RAM. You get a lot of speed from this phone and coupled with the screen technology, the experience on both devices is seamless and buttery. I experienced no hiccups on the Optimus G during my couple weeks of usage and, so far, the Nexus 4 has been largely the same.
I did run a couple benchmark tests with both phones to compare, and with the Optimus G sitting atop the performance grids of current Android phones, I expected the Nexus 4 to sit right alongside it. Technically, the numbers brought in by the Nexus 4 were just below that of the Optimus G, but that might be because of the LG-optimized OS that is catered to its creation. Jelly Bean is a ubiquitous Google operating system and might not be fully optimized for the way LG puts the hardware together.
Verdict: You will be getting top-notch performance out of these two phones, so there really isn’t a lot you can say in favor of either device.
Now I come over to the camera, a situation in which the LG Optimus G might seem to blow the Nexus 4 away, on paper. The LG Optimus G comes with a staggering 13-megapixel camera (the AT&T version has an 8-megapixel variant) over the 8-megapixel offering found on the Nexus 4. As I mentioned before, the camera on the LG Optimus G does come with some nice additional features like Time Lapse Shot. I praised the Optimus G’s camera for being a good example of how far photography can come in the Android market, as 13 megapixels is certainly not something easily brushed off.
When compared to the Nexus 4’s camera, the feature set and megapixels count seem to trounce it. The Nexus 4 does bring its own tools to the table, sporting an updated interface that does away with traditional menus and brings a touch and swipe interface. It’s a great way to handle your settings and makes sense on touchscreen devices. After that, Photo Sphere is definitely a fun tool to take Street View-like pictures but it may come off for most as nothing more than a novelty.
So, we have to look at the images themselves. Obviously, the pictures from the Nexus 4 will be smaller in size than those from the Optimus G, but there is more to a picture than how big it is. I looked for some colorful content and took a shot with both phones. You can see the two pictures below.
Obviously, zooming in brings up a bit of fuzz to the overall pictures, but we never expect DSLR quality from a phone camera. Under some close scrutiny, you begin to realize what it is you want out of a picture. The quality of both images seems comparable, but you realize that the less pronounced color palette of the Nexus 4 is a little easier on the eyes than that of the Optimus G. The Christmas ornament in the picture from the Nexus 4 has a little more detail in its face that is otherwise blown out by the way the Optimus G captures all the flooding light.
Verdict: All in all, both cameras will prove useful tools for basically any user, however amateur or professional they may be. The LG Optimus G takes it in megapixels count and feature set, but the Nexus 4 puts a little more finesse into its picture rendering.
A quick mention here, as there is a bit of an easy answer to this one – the version of the Nexus 4 that I was given was the 16 GB variety, and it doesn’t come with expandable memory. The story on expandable memory is the same in the LG Optimus G I have from Sprint, but it carries twice as much memory internally at 32GB.
I do know that the AT&T version of the LG Optimus G was outfitted with a microSD card slot for expansion, so that is definitely a plus in terms of greatly increasing your space.
Verdict: I have to give the Optimus G the edge on this one, as the Sprint version comes with 32 GB included in either stock package.
Finally, I come to the connectivity of the devices, which is a quick sell as well. It has been widely reported that the Nexus 4 does not come with native 4G LTE capability and this has been a point of contention for many people. Instead, the official Google device utilizes HSPA+, a data network somewhere between 3G and 4G. Many people have reported that while the speeds are not as fast as 4G, HSPA+ on the Nexus 4 still gets respectable speeds above 20mbps that is certainly adequate for most tasks.
The LG Optimus G is natively capable on its carriers to connect to 4G LTE, so it would seem that it has the edge on the speed. However, the Sprint version, as I mentioned in my review, is plagued by a widespread lack of LTE coverage across the States. If you live in an area without this coverage, you’re kind of dead in the water. You will fare better with the AT&T version, but I cannot report on that.
Verdict: The Nexus 4 doesn’t have 4G LTE and instead goes for a slower data network, giving it some minus points at first glance. However, the Optimus G can’t use a data network that isn’t even available in the first place. Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself if 4G LTE is that important to you, but if you go with the Nexus 4, I have heard that HSPA+ is quite adequate for general users. I guess it is up to what carrier you align yourself with – just remember that 4G LTE is more widely available on AT&T than Sprint.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I found it hard to really give the edge to either of these phones, as there are just too many things to love about both of them. In reality, the choice here comes down to what carrier you use, whether or not you want the most updated Android operating system, and, honestly, your personal preference.
I personally love the LG Optimus G’s look and it comes with a slew of features that LG has done well to create and provide. My inability to use an LTE network to test its speeds was unfortunate, but the overall device’s performance was unparalleled – at the time. The Nexus 4 is the fraternal twin to the Optimus G, as it comes with almost all the same specs as its non-Google counterpart. As such, the smooth and crisp experience on it is basically identical. As a Google device, however, the much talked about enhancements of Jelly Bean and any updates coming in the future will greatly benefit the Nexus 4 more than its competition.
There are too many things going for both phones that the choice is up to you. So, you can definitely let us know what you think in the comments – which phone would you go for and why?