The Optimus G is LG’s latest flagship smartphone and the South Korean company’s latest bid to take on high-end rivals, such as Apple’s iPhone 5, Samsung’s Galaxy S III, and the HTC One X–the latter two run the same Google Android operating system. The Optimus G will be available in the U.S. in two different variants, one for Sprint and the other for AT&T. In this review, we’re going to focus on the AT&T variant of the smartphone, which deviates from the 13-megapixel camera that the Sprint and international GSM versions carry, but comes with support for the carrier’s 4G LTE network and has slots for a removable memory and SIM cards. How does the Optimus G stack up against the Galaxy S III and the One X, both of which were released earlier in the year? Read on to find out as the Optimus G may pleasantly surprise you, especially if you’re in the market for an iPhone or Galaxy S III.
LG Optimus G | $200 | AT&T, Sprint
Optimus G Review Guide, AT&T Model
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Available starting November 2 for $200 with a two-year service agreement through AT&T.
Due to technical difficulties, the video review is not yet available. We will update this space when the video review goes live. In the meantime, please enjoy our written review of the LG Optimus G for AT&T’s U.S. network. Also, visit GottaBeMobile.com in the future for the video review.
The Optimus G is a sleek smartphone, but one with a more short and stout design compared to competitors. Much of this has to do with LG’s adoption of a wider–in portrait orientation–screen resolution for the True 720p HD display. But despite the fact that it’s a wider smartphone in the hands, the Optimus G has a modern and sleek design with straight lines and small rounded corners. It’s a sleek black slab that feels like a well crafted mini tablet and shows LG’s maturity when it comes to industrial smartphone design.
The phone itself reminds me of the iPhone 4’s glass sandwich as it uses Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2 for the front and rear panels, but unlike the iPhone 4’s raised glass panels, the glass are held together and are flush with the side panels. In total, the Optimus G benefits with an understated elegance.
The front screen panel is flat whereas the frame around the back that wraps into the rear glass plate is more curved, making it more comfortable to hold the Optimus G despite having a more wide body than competing smartphones.
On the front, you have a large black slab of glass that covers the entire front fascia. The glass panel houses the 4.7-inch IPS display with a resolution of 768 X 1280 pixels, which has more horizontal pixels than the One X’s and Galaxy S III’s 720 X 1280 panels. The LCD display that LG is using is gorgeous and is on par with the One X’s amazingly vibrant screen with deep, rich blacks and renders colors vividly. And unlike the Galaxy S III’s HD Super AMOLED panel, you’ll get nicely detailed text as there isn’t a PenTile sub-pixel LCD arrangement and colors are more accurate than the OLED’s over-saturated colors.
Just under the 4.7-inch display, which has very little bezeling on the left and right hand sides, you have the three capacitive touch Android navigation keys. LG opted to use its own key arrangements, like Samsung’s Galaxy S III and unlike Google’s suggestions on its Nexus line, with keys for back, home, and menu. Pressing and holding on the home key will give you the multitasking button and pressing and holding on the menu key will give you access to Google search. As the device runs on Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich and not Jelly Bean, you won’t have access to Google Now until the software is updated.
To the top, you have a sleek cut out for a speaker grill at the very top edge of the glass along with proximity and light sensors, that are hidden, and a front-facing camera.
The left and right sides of the phone are plastic with a gunmetal grey flossy finish and the top and bottom of the device has a perforated plastic cutout that adds some texture.
On the top, you have the headphone jack, the left edge houses the volume up and down keys along with a tab that you can pull out to access the micro SIM and micro SD card slots. Towards the bottom, you have the micro USB charge and sync port along with a microphone opening, and on the right edge you have the power button.
Interestingly, LG decided to put its LCD notification light with the power button on the upper right spine of the phone. The light itself surrounds the power button, and in use, it’s less distracting than having the light front and center above the phone’s display. It works fine and does the trick and users may find it more subtle. It’s really a matter of preference.
Towards the back, you have another glass panel with a carbon fiber-like finish. You do have the AT&T logo in the middle, along with an 8-megapixel camera stacked on top of an LED flash towards the left. The camera and the flash have a silver ring surrounding each pod.
Towards the lower right, you have a vertical slit for the loud speaker.
While phone is sleek and is a hallmark LG design–the LG Nexus 4 from Google is based on this flagship design–it’s curious as to why LG didn’t add an Optimus G branding to the phone. There are only two logos on the phone–the LG logo on the front between the earpiece speaker and the display and the AT&T logo around back. Samsung’s Galaxy S III highlights the flagship brand’s logo on the back of the phone and is found on models from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon and helps to show off the brand.
The gorgeous IPS+ LCD display is the visual centerpiece of the Optimus G with its rich, deep blacks and vibrant colors. The 4.7-inch panel has a 720p HD resolution of 728 X 1280 pixels and offers great clarity thanks to a pixel-rich 318 ppi (pixels-per-inch).
All this translates to great color saturation, fairly accurate colors, and awesome contrast that’s on par with the market-leading HD Super LCD panel on the competing HTC One X. I still think the One X’s display is a slight bit better than the Optimus G’s screen, but the Optimus G can definitely hold its own against the Galaxy S III and the iPhone 5, all of which are available on AT&T’s 4G LTE network.
Blazing fast speeds and fluid performance are definitely some of the notable highlights of this device as it’s among the first 4G LTE device in the U.S. market to feature quad-core processing power. In fact, only the Galaxy Note II beats the Optimus G’s release in the U.S. (on Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s network) as the first LTE quad-core device, though the Optimus G will be AT&T’s first quad-core LTE smartphone.
The Optimus G is the first smartphone to be released with Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core CPU, which delivers even more fluid performance than the dual-core S4 CPUs found on previous flagships, like the One X and the Galaxy S III in the U.S.
Performance is blazing fast and I didn’t catch any stutter, lags, or delays. Applications opened quickly, games played with great speed, and and transitions and menus look beautiful.
And when it comes to Internet browsing and web surfing, AT&T’s 4G LTE speeds delivered. In areas with LTE coverage, I averaged between 6 to 35 Mbps in San Jose, California. Where LTE isn’t available, the phone will operate on a slower, but still fast, HSPA+ network. In my tests, 4G HSPA+ yielded download speeds of between 1-3 Mbps, which is on par with starting speeds for home broadband DSL connections.
The phone ships with 16 GB of internal storage alongside a 16 GB micro SD card pre-installed. You ca upgrade to a card up to 64 GB in capacity, for a total of 80 GB of storage. The Optimus G also comes with 2 GB of RAM, matching the amount of RAM inside the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II, which will provide for serious multitasking when coupled with the quad-core CPU.
Wireless radios include WiFi, WiFi Direct, Miracast, NFC, and Bluetooth.
LG is rating the phone for 10 hours of talk time or up to 13 days of standby time on AT&T’s network. In actual use, I got a little over a day of heavy use with the phone, and battery life is good. Modes such as Eco settings help to extend battery life.
The Eco setting is akin to a more primitive version of Motorola’s Smart Actions and helps to extend battery life. With Eco mode turned on, you can configure the Optimus G to turn off select radios–like WiFi and Bluetooth–dim the display, turn off vibrate and haptic feedback, and shorten the display time out time after the battery level drops below a certain percentage to extend the battery life of the phone before a recharge is needed. By default, 30% is selected before Eco mode kicks in, and the feature is useful in helping users get the max out of their phone without having to actively worry about battery life.
Additionally, while quad-core performance adds power, it seems as if Qualcomm had optimized its S4 Pro processor to not be power-hungry. Even then, LG is offering control over processor use. In the phone’s menu, under General Settings, there is a Quad-Core Control Eco Mode that allows the cores to be dynamically optimized for more efficient battery life.
Call quality sounds good on AT&T’s network. When calls are made or accepted, the Optimus G will switch to HSPA+ from LTE, and you can have simultaneous voice and data capabilities.
In terms of audio quality, audio was loud and robust through both the earpiece speaker and loud speaker. Audio was not quite as rich as on HTC’s or Samsung’s flagships, but the quality was still nice for a smartphone.
The Optimus G is equipped with a front-facing camera for self-portraits and video chat along with an 8-megapixel rear camera.
The camera interface comes with a number of enhancements, including a voice command. You can instruct the subject(s) of your photograph to say ‘Cheese,’ and when they do, the shutter will automatically go off to capture the image.
Also, there’s a Time Catch Shot mode, which captures a few images before the shutter is depressed and a few after so you don’t miss an important shot.
There are also a number of camera settings, such as focus mode, scene mode ISO control, white balance adjustment, and color effects.
There are also HDR, Panorama, and Continuous Shot modes, the last of which allows you to capture successive images while holding down the shutter button for sports or action shots.
In use, the camera falls slightly short of the competing 8-megapixel shooters on the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S III as low light performance wasn’t as good and the images captured with the Optimus G seems slightly over-sharpened.
The camera also didn’t seem to work well for macro shots, requiring a longer distance to focus than competing smartphone cameras.
The camera can also record 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second.
It’s a little disappointing to know that this late in the game, the Optimus G isn’t released with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, especially knowing that the Optimus G and the recently announced Nexus 4 share similar design philosophies and that the Nexus 4 is debuting with an even newer Android 4.2 OS. None the less, LG made the best of Ice Cream Sandwich and added some of its own ‘smart’ software features that matches and rivals many of the offerings on Samsung’s Galaxy S III smartphones, maximizing the use of sensors and radios to offer a richer user experience.
The nice thing about the phone’s UI is that it takes full advantage of the extended resolution of the display. Whereas other slate-style smartphones restrict your home screens to portrait orientation, the home screen here will dynamically rotate and change to a landscape view when you rotate your phone.
LG eliminated many of the unnecessary glitz and stuck with some useful features with the phone. You still have a carousel UI when you flip between home screens, a clean Yahoo-integrated weather and clock widget, and customizable icons and widgets.
For example, if you were to press and hold on an icon on the home screen, you’ll have options to expand them–make them bigger and turn them into widgets if allowable, or you can even edit the icon image to another graphics of your liking. I can make my folders larger by pressing down on the icon and resizing them. Doing the same with apps like Email or Calendar will convert the icons into little home screen widgets.
You can even customize the lock screen’s clock and calendar widgets along with some of the quick launch shortcuts that appear on the bottom.
To unlock the phone, you can swipe anywhere on the screen. Even the ripple effect when unlocking the phone is reminiscent of rival Samsung’s Galaxy S III.
LG’s UI. LG has really come into its own with the latest UI on the Optimus G. The UI overlay is minimally invasive and adds a lot of useful features to the smartphone to allow users more flexibility. Many of these added features are competitive with some of the customizations available on rival Android smartphones and makes the Optimus G a flexible, multi-tasking powerhouse.
- QSlide Function: shows two different screens simultaneously on one display. As it doesn’t just show a part of the screen but the entire screen of both functions, the user can complete two tasks concurrently -– such as sending a text message or searching the web while watching a video
- Live Zooming: video users can zoom in up to five times while the video is being streamed
- Dual Screen Dual Play: allows mirroring between the smartphone and TV, and can display different content on each screen wirelessly.
- QuickMemo: jot a memo with the finger directly on the captured screen for sharing instantly with others as an attachment or a URL.
- Screen Zooming: allows for the zooming in and out of lists in music player, email, text messages and photo gallery.
- Application Link: launches preset applications when the alarm is turned off.
- Icon Personalizer: allows users the ability to customize icons by editing size and adding images so the most frequently used apps can be most easily accessible.
Web Browsing. LG had prebundled an optimized Android Browser as well as Google Chrome for the Optimus G. When users click a web link, a pop-up will ask if the Browser or Chrome should be used to open a web page, and if the action should be used just this instance or for all web link clicks.
With the Browser, LG made some customizations to the browser. For one, the address bar is always visible, and this added chrome does take a bit of space like on iOS, but it’s easier than having to scroll to the top to access the address bar as is the case on Samsung’s devices.
On the bottom, there is a pull-up menu bar that gives you access to some quick and useful settings, such as the ability to share the page through Facebook or tweet the page, Like the content of the page via Facebook, Share the page through email or SMS, and find quick links to sports, news, and entertainment sites. Many of these Browser widgets are useful and helps to create a social browsing experience.
Hitting the menu capacitive touch Android navigation button will bring up additional settings, such as turning on browser plug-ins and viewing and saving page bookmarks.
Additionally, for users who still prefer to use Adobe Flash for mobile, the Browser on the Optimus G still supports Adobe Flash.
Google Chrome works as it should and provides for a clean user interface.
Smarter Through Sensors. Though LG doesn’t offer as robust of gesture controls as Samsung’s Galaxy devices, the Optimus G does make use of some important ones, and in my use, these options are better executed than the features on the Samsung Galaxy S III flagship. The first is called Wise Screen, which makes use of the front-facing to detect if you’re face is looking at the display to help prevent the screen from timing out or turning off when you’re actively using the phone. The feature is similar to Samsung’s Smart Stay, but whereas the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S III’s Smart Stay could not detect my face to work accurately, the Wise Screen feature works 100 percent of the time. This is a great feature for users who read long web pages, peruse documents, or are bibliophiles and read ebooks on their phones.
Another feature concerns gestures and panning. Similar to Samsung’s Pan to Move Icon control in the gestures menu, the Move Home Screen Items allows users to press and hold an icon on the home screen and tilt the phone whereby the accelerometer would kick in and scroll between home screens so you can rearrange icons between different home screen pages. It’s not really as essential an item, for me, as the Wise Screen feature, but it makes thoughtful use of available sensors through smart software.
You can also flip your phone over to pause playing video, snooze or stop an alarm, or silence incoming calls. The video feature isn’t available on Samsung, but the latter two are.
Quiet Time. Similar to Apple’s Do Not Disturb feature on iOS 6, or the Blocking Mode option on the Galaxy Note II, Quiet Time prevents distractions when you’re sleeping or allow you to turn off email and notifications when you’re at home and not working. You can set Quiet Time to go on automatically by setting the time period for Quiet Time. Unlike similar features on competing handsets, LG doesn’t allow you to have a white list of people who can always call, text, or email you, such as close family, so it’s an all or nothing affair with Quiet Time.
Tablet-Like Interface. With a large, high resolution display, LG has allowed certain apps to have a multi-pane tablet view when viewed in landscape orientation. Right now, only one native app is supported in landscape view and one native app in portrait view.
In landscape view, when you are in the Email app, you’ll get a two column view with the left column giving you a list of your emails and the right column giving you your email preview. Speaking of emails, the app can give you views of a Unified Inbox if you have more than one email account and also conversation view to group similar emails together with the same subject line.
With the calendar app, the tablet UI oddly is restricted to just portrait orientation. On the top, you’ll have your monthly calendar view and the bottom pane, which is resizable, gives you a view of the day’s appointments. I had wished this multi-pane view would also be extended to landscape mode, but that’s not the case with the Optimus G.
Hopefully, future software updates will extend the tablet UI to cover additional native apps.
Quick Memo and Screen Captures.
Like Samsung’s S Memo and S Note, LG’s Quick Memo on the Optimus G allows users to quickly capture screen shots, add handwritten notes, or draw on pictures to add a personal touch. The feature works with your fingers or a capacitive touch stylus.
Curiously, though the Optimus G, like the Optimus Vu phablet, do not employ a screen with an active digitizer and both devices use a capacitive touchscreen, the LG Pen capacitive touch stylus accessory for the Optimus Vu does not work well with the capacitive touch display of the Optimus G.
Quick Memo is accessible as a widget via the Android notifications drop down menu on the top. When you’re on a screen that you want to take a screenshot of, pull down on the drop down notification bar, click on the Quick Memo widget, and a screen shot will be captured. From here, you can draw, write, or annotate the screen shot, and then save it. It’s a nice feature, though it’s still not quite as robust yet as the S Note app from Samsung.
The Optimus G is a feature-rich smartphone that combines an elegant software design along with a well-crafted industrial design with an understated beauty. Whereas previous LG smartphones released in the U.S. either felt bulky (think LG Revolution on Verizon Wireless) or felt light and plasticky, the Optimus G is a well-rounded performer that borrows its understated beauty from the company’s Chocolate and Prada lines of premium handsets.
And though some may call the Optimus G a smartphone that aspires to be a Nexus 4 given the similarities between the two handsets, the Optimus G stands out with enhancements to the software package that add value to the user, such as Eco mode and Wise Screen. Coupled that with the power of the quad-core processor and AT&T’s blazing fast 4G LTE network and you have yourself a powerful, capable smartphone that is very competitive against bigger name flagships, like the Galaxy S III, One X, and iPhone 5. In the end, given the well designed software enhancements, the Optimus G is not a phone that aspires to be anything, it should be seen as a phone that inspires the next-generation Nexus.
Power-users may be a tad disappointed by the release with Android Ice Cream Sandwich rather than Jelly Bean and photographers may be disappointed by the camera performance, but as a package, the Optimus G is a phone that delivers and shows that LG is maturing as a design company from a software and hardware perspectives.
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