More than anything else, the biggest problem LG has at the moment is that no one really considers it a top grade Android device manufacturer. This isn’t because their devices don’t have great screens, or the latest specs, but because people don’t really associate LG with great smartphones. In the Android ecosystem its all about Samsung these days, and then to a lesser extent HTC and Sony. Tell a friend that you picked up the latest LG, and you’re sure to get a puzzled look. This sentiment is LG’s problem, and they are getting serious about fixing this.
The partnership with Google to make the Nexus 4 has really helped, but the branding is not quite there yet. So does the Optimus G help LG push that envelope further, is this a smartphone that you should think about when looking for a shiny new toy? Lets find out.
When it comes to specs, LG’s really left no stone unturned. For about 30,000 INR ($560 / 425 Euro) this devices manages to pack quite a bit of muscle:
A 4.7″ 16M-color WXGA True HD IPS Plus (768 x 1280 pixels) display with Gorilla Glas
Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset - Quad-core 1.5 GHz Krait CPU with 2 GB of RAM, Adreno 320 GPU
13 MP camera with LED flash and a 1.3 MP front-facing camera
LG generally has a tendency of following its Korean sibling, Samsung’s lead when taking cues for its smartphones, but thankfully they’ve brought something of their own to the table with the Optimus G. The device is made using plastic and glass with a metal frame surrounding the screen. The glass back also has a nice reflective texture that becomes visible when light hits it at certain angles, much like the Nexus 4 and the older Optimus devices before that. This along with the metal frame around the screen add a premium feel to the device, and the glossy plastic bezel doesn’t feel too bad at all.
LG’s gone in for a very squared look, and that means that the Optimus G can feel a little blocky at times. Since there is no curved back, the device doesn’t fit as naturally into the hand as some other devices. However, since this is a unibody design with no removable parts, it does feel quite solid and reassuring in the hand with no creaks or squeaks. At 131.9 x 68.9 x 8.5 mm and a 145 grams, the Optimus G isn’t too big or bulky. Its a little smaller than the Galaxy S3, but about 12 grams heavier.
SOFTWARE & PERFORMANCE
The Optimus G had launched with Ice Cream Sandwich, but has since been upgraded to Jelly Bean 4.1.2, while that’s not the latest Jelly Bean software, devices like the HTC One that are just coming out, also run the same release. In any case, there isn’t much that Android 4.2 (also called Jelly Bean) brings to the table that you’ll really miss.
On top of Jelly Bean 4.1.2 is LG’s very own Optimus UI. Traditionally, it has been very cartoon like and LG’s worked on toning it down. Infact, the Optimus UI comes with four themes that you can choose from, and you can also pick the font that you like from the settings. Google’s new default Android font, Roboto is available. While the icons still do not deserve an A+, you can easily live with them.
Other than that, the UI is very slick and very fast. You can literally fly past homescreens, and everything launches instantly. The lockscreen features a nice bubble like unlock animation. The notification area houses quick toggle for everything that you can think of, and then there are the Qslide apps.
If Samsung has multi window apps, where you can run two apps side by side, LG has Qslide. Arguably, this implementation is better. Basically Qslide gives you a picture on picture mode, where one app becomes transparent and lets you interact with the app under it. So for example if you are watching a video and an email pops in, instead of exiting the video, you can enable the Qslide mode and let the video play in the background (its still visible, but is now see through) while you check your email/do other tasks. Since you can also control the transparency, this feature comes in pretty handy. This works with Memo, Calendar, Browser and Calculator. The video above will give you a better idea of how this works.
Then there is also Quick Memo. This application takes a screenshot and then lets you annotate on top of that.Useful, and something similar to what Samsung has on the Galaxy Note devices.
The 4.7″ 16M-color WXGA True HD IPS Plus is one of the Optimus G’s highlights, and among the best 720p displays on the market currently. What I love about high resolution LCD displays is that unlike AMOLEDs, there is no blue tinge to them, so reading text on a white background is a real pleasure. Further, a person spends a lot more time reading on the phone than looking at photos/videos. So even if the display doesn’t have the pop that AMOLED screens do, it remains a better bet.
While LG uses a zero-gap construction so that there is no air between screen layers in order to eliminate reflections, strong sunlight might present a bit of a challenge. Other than that, its everything you could want. Right under the screen are three capacitive buttons, back, home and menu. A long press on the home button brings up the task switcher, and a button to goto Google Now. You can change the duration for which they light up from the settings menu, I personally had them set to always on.
A quad core processor, a 720p screen, multitasking and all the other gazillion things that smartphones can do today eat into the one precious commodity that’s battery life. The Optimus G features a 2100 mAh Li-Po battery, that unlike Lithium-Ion batteries give you more charging charing cycles, about 800 in the Optimus G’s case. That’s a good things because the Optimus G’s battery isn’t end-user replaceable.
So how does the Lithium-Polymer battery do otherwise? With 3G enabled, 2 push Gmail accounts, a fair amount of Twitter and Facebook usage with notifications turned on, WhatsApp, an hour of browsing and 15 minutes of calls, you’ll get through a 9am to 8pm day. That’s not bad for a modern smartphone, without 3G and 3D gaming, the battery life will be even better. Most people shouldn’t have problems getting a day’s usage out of the device.
While the Optimus G boasts of a 13 MP sensor, don’t let that play on your mind too much. Unfortunately, the camera is at par with the 8MP snappers that the competition offers, and those 5 extra megapixels aren’t really doing anything for image quality. Day light photos are acceptable, but the unit struggles in low light, producing some grainy shots.
The phones does come with the ability to shoot HDR photos and panoramas out of the box. The Camera UI is nice and simple, and there are even a few fun modes to it. For example you can take a shot using your voice by saying words such as ‘Whisky’, ‘Cheese’ and so on. Then there is a mode called ‘Time Catch Shot’ that starts taking photos before you have pressed the camera button, making sure you don’t miss the right frame. Next, there is ‘Smart Shutter’ that is aimed at producing lag free photos. The phone is also capable of shooting 1080p video, with average results.
Overall the Optimus G camera is good, without being impressive. A closer look at the camera UI is available in the video review above.
The Optimus G has been available for a while now, and it isn’t exactly the newest kid on the block. But because it came a few months after devices like the Galaxy S3 and the HTC One X, it does have a few advantages over them. A faster processor, 2 GB of RAM compared on the 1GB on the S3, 32 GB of storage compared to 16 on the S3 (but no microSD slot). The HTC One X/X+ devices with their Tegra processors had a tendency of getting hot, and that’s something that’s much better on the Snapdragon powered Optimus G. All of this does make the Optimus G more future proof.
Overall the Optimus G presently a very competitive package. A good looking device that has powerful hardware under the hood. The Optimus UI has been toned down and is no longer a hindrance to the functioning of the device. Infact, with Qslide apps and things like Quick memo, it does bring value to the product. So if you are in the market for a mid-high range smartphone, should you consider the Optimus G? Yes.
Infact, if LG can continue to iterate and build upon devices like the Optimus G, it is poised to be the comeback kid of the Android world.