LG has had a good run of form with its Optimus series of smartphones. The Optimus One was a solid little thing for a good price, then it branched out and up into fancy phone territory with the quirky dual-core charms of the Optimus 2X, before tackling high style with the skinny Optimus Black.
Now LG has another demographic in its sights – fans of the hot trend for 3D technology. The Optimus 3D is the first smartphone to launch with a "glasses-free" 3D display, enabling users to take still photos and record videos in full 3D, then play them back in 3D on the phone's cutting-edge 4.3-inch display.
But thanks to what LG calls the phone's "tri-dual" technology – a dual-core processor, dual cameras and dual-channel memory – the Optimus 3D comes with a massive price tag. The cheapest monthly tariff for this monster 3D phone currently stands at £35, with SIM-free prices currently around the £500 mark.
Is it worth paying such a hefty early adopter tax in return for LG's – and the world's – first glasses-free 3D mobile phone display?
The Optimus 3D is as hefty as its price tag, but at least you're getting your money's worth in terms of sheer physical bulk. The 4.3-inch 480 x 800 resolution screen is surrounded by a large black plastic bezel, making the LG Optimus 3D feel like a whopping great rubbery brick in the hand.
Beneath the screens sit four capacitive touch buttons. They're in a bit of an unusual order, with LG opting to be a pain in the arse by lining them up, from left to right, in the order of Menu, Home, Back and Search. The Menu button shouldn't really be given prime location on the left-hand side. We'd prefer the much more frequently pressed Home or Back to be there, as it's the easiest spot to find without searching.
These buttons are backlit, but the light only comes on when you press one of them. Which makes the backlight absolutely useless, as there's no point in a button lighting itself up once you've just pressed the wrong one. A weird feature, that.
The LG Optimus 3D is also a fat little monster, coming it at 11.9mm thick – much chunkier than the 8.5mm Samsung Galaxy S2. It also weighs 168g, so is much heavier than the S2's 116g or even the larger HTC Sensation's 148g.
There's what appears to be a camera shutter button on the bottom of the right-hand side, where camera buttons usually congregate. But it's not a camera button – it simply toggles the camera between 2D and 3D modes when taking shots, or can be held down to launch LG's separate 3D interface when using the Optimus 3D.
The only vaguely interesting physical design feature here is the metallic strip along the phone's rear, which houses the Optimus 3D's two camera sensors and its LED flash. It's one nice touch in an otherwise quite generic lump of black plastic.
The rest of the phone is your standard modern smartphone layout. Power button and 3.5mm headphone jack along the top, volume up/down rocker along the right-hand edge, then USB and HDMI connectors safely hidden behind little plastic stoppers in the top-left corner.
It feels solid and heavy, which isn't a bad thing because our brains tend to associate gadget weight with quality, but the Optimus 3D is a very bland plastic black rectangle on the outside. Hopefully the "tri-dual" thrills inside will make up for this uninspiring design.
The LG Optimus 3D's main interface is the Android 2.2 standard series of seven scrollable Home screens, populated with your own choice of shortcuts and widgets. LG's carried out a few customisations of its own, but they're mostly quite clean and simple visual tweaks.
We;re disappointed with the decision to stick with Froyo for the Optimus 3D, especially with the glut of Gingerbread-enabled handsets on the market. However, LG has promised an upgrade, so if that appears in the near future most users won't be affected by the slower operation and less-impressive battery life.
The lock screen enables you to access the phone by swiping upwards, but there's one slight annoyance here already – there's a pause between pressing the power button and the screen illuminating itself. It doesn't always happen, but it occurs often enough to have you questioning if you actually pressed the power button and to make you press it again – relocking the phone just as it was waking up. You could end up hating it for that.
Unlock the LG Optimus 3D's screen and you see a high-res 480 x 800 display that's bright and sharp, with LG's own weather widget and clock set by default to take up the top half of the screen. And it's all in 2D to begin with.
Long-pressing on any widget gives you the option to remove it, while LG has also added resizing options to most widgets. The four icons in the floating dock are customisable, too, so you can have your Optimus 3D set up exactly how you like it.
Widget resizing is a little bit of a cheat, in that it only enables you to cycle through each particular widget's preset sizes rather than pick your own custom dimensions, but it's still a better solution than having to delete widgets and replace them with different versions as you do on most Android phones.
You also get another impressive LG widget – its huge Social+ aggregator. It's a much more impressive option, both visually and in terms of functionality, than the FriendStream tool found in HTC phones such as the HTC Sensation.
It has tabs to switch network feed, more tabs to access specific functions for each social stream and opens links in its own, simple LG window. It's a great widget.
The apps drawer is, by default, sorted by category on the LG Optimus 3D, with a 3D section up the top to remind you why you paid so much money for the phone. Or you can have a more traditional horizontally scrolling page layout, or one big text list.
Press the Manage Apps option in the Menu and the layout is customisable, if you'd rather sort them by colour or usefulness rather than the alphabetical default.
The 3D features are contained within LG's standalone 3D Space app, which pops up a – 3D! Actual proper 3D! – revolving menu containing all the novelty three-dimensional content. Gameloft has pre-loaded three 3D games on here – NOVA, Asphalt 6 and Let's Golf 2 – plus there's a weird 3D storybook version of Gulliver's Travels to look at... for a bit.
The 3D images look great on the LG Optimus 3D's screen, although – as with all 3D content – you find yourself squinting and wiggling the device around and moving your head to get the viewing angle that works best. Incidentally, our screenshots of the 3D features look poor because we're translating a 3D still to 2D. It all looks very nice on the Optimus 3D itself.
But there's clearly a lack of 3D content. LG has put in a link to a 3D portal on YouTube inside its 3D Space, which contains a few trailers from rubbish children's' films and some brief, slow-moving tech demos. You'll be bored of that lot inside 10 minutes. If you want 3D content for you LG Optimus 3D phone, you'll have to start generating your own.
LG's other big Home screen widget is its take on Google Calendar support, with a huge, full-page widget it calls the Agenda. It's a simple interface for the standard Android Calendar, enabling you to schedule events, set alarms and invite people by entering an email address.
As with all of LG's updated Android widgets, it looks clean and is fast to open and use, and offers much better functionality than the Android defaults. Good work.
And look, you can even change the display fonts if you want a Mickey Mouse telephone.
The LG Optimus 3D's Contacts system is a slightly tidier version of the standard Android options. You get four tabs – one for the dialler, call log, the big list of everyone and a collection of editable Groups for managing things a little more effectively.
The Contacts section is, by default, accessed via one of the floating dock buttons that sit beneath every Home screen. Press that and you're taken to the big list of everyone, with a search bar along the top and alphabetical list of shortcuts down the right-hand side for quickly scrolling down to your mate Zebediah.
You're prompted to import all contacts from Facebook and your Google account if you have both already, plus each contact has their own custom page filled with your calling history and calendar entries. You're also able to add in instant messaging details, website addresses, notes and more.
Again, LG has supplied a pretty nice contacts widget, which displays icons of members of your Favourites group on the Home screen and comes with a pop-up bar to select relevant actions when you touch someone's face. It's another nice LG widget that's well worth keeping on a Home page.
Calling quality is excellent. We had no signal issues at all, with volume coming through loud and clear. It's so loud we got by with the earpiece volume set to around 7/10, so there's certainly room to spare for turning it up loud if you're somewhere noisy.
Thanks to the LG Optimus 3D's secondary front-facing camera, the option to start a video call with someone is also present on their Contacts page. Plus, if your contacts list has been automatically populated with details for people from Facebook and Twitter, it's possible to only display details for people with phone numbers listed.
You can also choose individual accounts to ignore and stop showing up completely, should you have more than one internet personality to keep hidden.
The dialler is simple - just a whopping great touchpad, with shortcuts to the Messaging app if you whimp out of phoning and decide to send a text instead, plus a video call button if your recipient also has an expensive new mobile with the right number of cameras.
From within the Contacts you can add someone to the phone's Speed Dial settings, allocating a shortcut number for one-digit dialling. There's no noise cancelling feature in the Optimus 3D. But its speaker is plenty loud enough regardless.
LG has only put the one keyboard on the Optimus 3D. The LG keyboard. It's a very simple touchscreen QWERTY that lacks the long-press alternate characters found on many other Android phones, with numbers and special characters farmed out to a second screen.
Which is a bit of a pain, but with a 4.3-inch screen there's loads of space for each key, so typing's as easy and accurate as you'll get on a touchscreen phone.
Word predication is turned off by default on the LG Optimus 3D. Switch it on and you get the standard floating bar that tries to guess your gist as you type. The good news here is that punctuation appears in the prediction bar once you've entered a word, so it's an easy way to access commas and exclamation marks without going to the second screen.
Text messaging has been polished up on the LG Optimus 3D, with a colourful threaded view. An attachment button pops up with the option to share photos, video, contacts and calendar entries saved in the standard VCS format, or you can choose to take a photo or record some audio to attach to an SMS text message.
Email is handled by another custom LG interface, which simplifies the front end and makes for a nice, text-based POP3/IMAP email reader. Android 2.2 includes support for Push notifications and MS Exchange accounts, plus there's a Select Text option in the menu if you need to copy and paste a chunk of text from an email.
There's also a little tabbed cursor that pops up when you're typing in a text box, which makes selecting words and editing your typos easy. It's a nice, simple email and text entry system, given a clean makeover by LG for the Optimus 3D.
The email app supports as many active email accounts as you have, and includes a combined inbox for lazily reading everything, with the option to stop it checking for messages when you're on a roaming data connection to avoid crippling yourself with a massive bill next month.
Internet use is probably the LG Optimus 3D's highlight, with its dual-core power and large screen doing the donkey work, while LG's nice little interface tweaks make the Android browser even more usable than usual.
LG's biggest tweak is the addition of a tab along the bottom of the browser screen. Normally this would be a bit of a restriction, but on a whopping 4.3-inch screen you don't really notice the intrusion. This tab houses back and forward page navigation shortcuts, plus a Tabs button that pops up with a list of all currently open windows.
The Plus button opens a new tab, with the new window featuring an Opera-like carousel automatically populated with your most read web pages. It's an excellent system that makes handling new windows and browsing sessions much, much easier.
The Bookmarks tool on the LG Optimus 3D is accessed through the tab beside the URL bar. This is the usual untouched Android system, with a big list of bookmarks, your most visited pages and a history file. One interesting addition is the new Read it later tab, which enables you to add temporary page bookmarks temporarily that disappear once you've looked at the pages. It's sort of a holding area for links.
As with many Android phones, the text reflow system on the LG Optimus 3D is handled by a double-tap of the screen. Do this and the view automatically zooms in, reformatting the text to fit the window. You can zoom in further with pinch-zooming multi-touch finger action, but this way the text doesn't reflow.
Everything's always readable on the browser, while the LG Optimus 3D handles embedded Flash videos with ease. If a page has an RSS feed there's an option to add it – although there's no specific news reader tool on here. The smartphone will prompt users to add it to a Google Reader account for use through Google's own website or RSS app.
Overall, there's a lot of power within the Optimus 3D's chunky frame and LG has made some very nice additions to the stock Android web browser, making the phone a great choice for those who need a big, portable, capable web machine. Pages load quickly, scroll easily, and text looks great on the vast screen.
The Optimus 3D supports wi-fi 802.11b/g/n, with its mobile data connection supporting UMTS, HSDPA and HSUPA signals. The Wi-Fi stayed connected well, with no dropped links or noticeable signal issues no matter which way we held it.
On the mobile network we also had reliable data transfers, good speed and were connected quickly - it's hard to say too much more about this but it's such a key area it's ace the connection decided to say so strong throughout use.
One of the reasons for the LG Optimus 3D's amazing bulk – compared to smartphone rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy S2 and iPhone 4 – is the inclusion of two 5MP camera sensors around the back, which work in tandem to give you 3D images and videos.
The camera app on the LG Optimus 3D is very straightforward, with a toggle to switch between 2D and 3D modes in one corner, plus your standard Android picture settings down the left-hand side.
There's a digital zoom accessed through an onscreen meter or the volume up/down buttons, plus numerous scene modes, face tracking, a self-timer and geotagging options.
BLUR:This is taken at full digital zoom. Not great.
SPLIT:Your 3D photos are stored in JPS file format, which is a tweaked JPG. In fact, if you change the extension to JPG yourself you can see the raw images, which is simply a left and right pair the phone combines to create a 3D picture.
The 3D picture effect is surprisingly good on the LG Optimus 3D, with the Android Gallery attaching a 3D icon to each three-dimensional shot. Obviously the sharing options for these 3D photos are limited, in that the viewers need a 3D screen to make them work. Share a 3D photo on Facebook, and the LG Optimus 3D uploads the JPS file so that people get to see both the left and right images.
LOW-LIGHT:Indoor picture taken on default settings. The colours aren't as vibrant as they could be, but detail is maintained quite well.
The camera is quite fast in operation, although it does take a while to open the camera app itself. Once it's up and running you can take multiple shots very quickly, plus there's a Continuous shooting mode that fires off six rapid shots and lets you pick the best – but it takes the resolution down to 2MP in return.
PORTRAIT: With flash, in the dark. The Optimus 3D produces nice low light images and doesn't go mad with the over-saturation. But while there are no blocky, enhanced colours, shots taken with the flash do appear a little washed out and ghost-like.
The most annoying feature is LG's power limitations. The Optimus 3D refuses to open the camera app if it has less than 10% of battery remaining, complaining that there isn't enough power to run it. While this may seem like a good idea to some, we'd rather the user was left to decide how they'd like to fritter away their last few dregs of battery life.
Even if it limited photos to 2D-only it'd be better than just refusing to let you even try to take a photo. What if your cat was doing something amazingly interesting with the potential to become a viral smash?
Again, the LG Optimus 3D comes with both 2D and 3D video abilities. In 3D you're limited to recording at 720p resolution, while 2D video clips go all the way up to the 'Full HD' 1080p image format.
And again, the 3D effect when viewing video on the phone's glasses-free 3D display is excellent. We obviously can't show it to you very well here, but it does come across convincingly. It's not a pretend effect – you really can see the depth of the images.
LG has even included a "Depth" slider bar on the 3D video player, which is used to fiddle with the 3D effect. It makes a big difference too, with the filter adjusting the 3D intensity of both pre-recorded YouTube material and your own 3D clips to suit your eyes and brain.
It's a little flickery on playback, especially when switching between light and dark areas, but for a first go at mobile phone 3D it's a very impressive effort. 3D videos are encoded into standard MP4 format, so when viewed on your PC you see both the left and right frames side by side and squashed up a little.
Back in the 2D world, LG's camera records its 1080p clips in MP4 format as well, producing good results. Images are fairly sharp – the sensor switches smoothly between light and dark bits of the image, with the quick autofocus keeping everything clear.
The frame rate was always smooth for us, even at maximum resolution, with a lot of background detail coming across in the footage. It's a very nice video camera.
The Optimus 3D's 1080p video clips look smooth, and there's data to back that up - VLC tells us the 2D videos are recorded at a solid 30fps. It's just as smooth when recording in 3D mode, too, with the 720p three-dimensional footage also emerging at 30fps.
2D video recording options are more limited than in the still camera, with users able to change resolutions, select from a few white balance presets, put on a handful of sepia and negative filter effects, toggle audio recording and set the phone to save video to internal memory or SD card.
The LG Optimus 3D is DivX certified, so comes with support for a wide range of video formats out of the box. And it works pretty well. Our usual sample of DivX and Xvid AVI files played perfectly, with the world's first 3D phone also managing to play a medium resolution WMV file and the usual MP4s.
It nearly managed to play a 720p MKV encode, but crashed after a few seconds of audio. But that's still a pretty good result, making the LG Optimus 3D a decent option for housing your collection of downloaded media.
The phone's Gallery lumps all your recorded photos and videos together, presented in the standard Android scrolling icon view.
There's no Facebook or YouTube integration here, aside from the ability to share each photo or video through the usual Android sharing menu options, sending it via an email or Bluetooth transfer, or uploading it to a social network – or sending it to any apps you have installed that can take the files and spew them out somewhere else with a witty caption beneath.
The video player is pretty light on features, but there is one LG addition – a 3D filter that attempts to enhance 2D media into new, exciting 3D. It does quite a good job of it, although it reduces the viewing angle and, after a few seconds of amusement, becomes a bit of a distraction.
Inside the Image Gallery is a comprehensive Image Editor, which lets you combine photos, add borders and colour effects and fiddle with the colour balance of your shots. It's a nice tool, although it lacks the advanced area selection options of the Samsung Galaxy S2.
Music is handled by a very simple reskin of the Android player, which is, again, very light on exciting features. You get lists of all your content, support for creating new playlists, a graphic equaliser if you're listening through headphones, plus there's another excellent LG widget for the Home screen...
...which once again integrates Facebook and Twitter extremely well, giving you a one-touch option to ping a link out to your favourite social network, telling everyone what tune you're currently self-consciously enjoying.
When listening via the loudspeaker, music is very loud on the Optimus 3D – managing to push out its full volume without any distortion. When switching to headphones, it's even better and louder still – although LG's supplied down-the-ear earphones feel rather flimsy and are best swapped for something more robust.
LG has put a few music player controls into the Android Notifications tab too, with play/pause and skip options up in this easy access pull-down window.
Plus there are lock screen playback controls, with a very useful pull-down menu on the lock screen granting access to play/pause and track forward/back skipping. It's always nice to see the lock screen getting some action.
LG has put a decent amount of onboard memory for media into the phone – 8GB worth. As for app storage space, the Optimus 3D is supposed to contain 512MB of memory – but ours showed 1GB of available space, with just over 800MB free for use. This is more than enough, especially with Android 2.2's support for shifting many apps onto an SD card.
There's one last thing we want to talk about before moving off media - what's going on with the lack of FM radio? Sure, it's not the most oft-used feature on a phone, especially as you need headphones to make it work, but there's not a trace of one on the LG Optimus 3D. What gives, L-Dogs?
Battery life is one of the LG Optimus 3D's weak points. The dual-core phone could do with dual-batteries as well, as we struggled to get anything like a full day of serious use out of the 3D phone.
The battery is a 1540mAh unit, which is around the standard size in most large-screened Android phones – and in fact slightly larger than the 1520MaH one found in the HTC Sensation.
But it could do with being a lot bigger, as the power-hungry Optimus 3D can chomp around 25% of your battery life in 20 minutes of intense use.
Playing one of the pre-loaded 3D games will nuke your battery extra-fast, but even with just the default Twitter and Facebook syncing options active and the odd bit of web use we caught the phone's battery draining itself alarmingly quickly.
Leaving it overnight, the phone manages to get by with only a few per cent drain. It's just when you start actually using it that there's a problem. Which is a problem.
LG has installed a DLNA service on the Optimus 3D, which is contained within its SmartShare application. There's also a separate menu option dedicated to managing the phone's HDMI output, with users able to specify the resolution of the output – anything from good, old-fashioned PAL up to 1080p is selectable.
As with all smartphones based around the Android OS, the LG Optimus 3D can be used as a modem. You activate the Tethering option for a USB connection with a laptop or set it up as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot to share internet fun wirelessly. By default the phone sets your hotspot up with WPA2 PSK security, but you can turn that off and leave it unsecured if you trust your neighbours.
USB connectivity for managing your media is the usual, super-simple Android system – plug the LG Optimus 3D into a computer via USB and you're able to mount the phone as an external drive via the Notifications pull-down menu. Then it's a simple case of dragging across anything you want on your mobile.
Being based around Google's Android OS means you get the full suite of excellent Google apps on the LG Optimus 3D, with Gmail and YouTube accompanied by Google Maps – which comes broken down into standalone Maps, Places, Navigation and Latitude tools.
Maps are the standout feature on all Android phones, offering a superb and completely free sat nav service. Once you've downloaded the voice pack from the Android Market it offers spoken directions as well, making it excellent for use as a replacement GPS – as long as you have an in-car charger, because the LG Optimus 3D's battery won't see you through anything longer than a trip to the shops.
The phone supports Google's most up-to-date features, with multi-touch support for zooming, panning the view angle and zooming around street-level 3D images.
The Optimus 3D is quick to get a satellite lock, hooking into the GPS network in a few seconds. Google's software then calculates your route, and away you go. It's an amazing app and one of Android's biggest selling points.
LG has provided its own take on app discovery in the form of LG World, an odd and unpredictable collection of apps with a few exclusive LG options to jazz up your phone.
It's a strange thing to put on here, as apps downloaded through LG World don't show up on the official Android Market app list, so you end up with two separate app management and updating systems on the go on your Optimus 3D at once if you download apps through LG World.
You also get LG's App Advisor tool, which rather awkwardly duplicates the content from both LG World and the Android Market. It's a curated selection of apps, complete with links to the Android market to download them. Big waste of time, this one.
The LG Optimus 3D is a big, powerful phone. LG's additions to Android's interface are mostly to the benefit of the mobile phone operating system, plus the glasses-free 3D screen is seriously impressive when you see it working in the real world. It actually works.
However, as a smartphone, it lacks the whizz of the Samsung Galaxy S2 or the solid feel of the HTC Sensation, while even LG's own Optimus 2X manages to feel like a classier phone in the hand. If you really, really want 3D, it's a good (and currently your only) choice. But in terms of modern smartphone performance, the Optimus 3D is slightly disappointing.
The glasses-free 3D images are excellent, both on the pre-loaded clips and movies and the photos you take yourself. Sure, it's little more than a novelty, but you'll be the most popular man in the pub for a good five minutes when you start showing it to people.
LG has upped its game in the Android customisations, with some very nice widgets in here. The Social+ Facebook and Twitter aggregator is a fantastic addition to the Home page, combining heaps of functionality with a clean, stylish look, plus many widgets can be resized in-situ. There's also a useful music player control panel on the lock-screen.
Web performance is excellent. The large, high-resolution screen makes text easily readable, while the dual-core processor flings pages around with ease. LG has also made some nice usability tweaks to the browser interface on the Optimus 3D, with some clever tab management options in here.
Despite its dual-core processor, the LG Optimus 3D feels a little sluggish in use. It's not glitchy or broken, but it doesn't have the wow factor of the Samsung Galaxy S2 or the reliability of the HTC Sensation. The camera's quite slow to open, the lock screen takes a while to light up when you press the power button. It's all a bit laboured.
Physically, it's a big, fat, lump of a phone. This is one big-screen phone that really feels its size, coming in wider and heavier than the competition. While the Galaxy S2 and Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc combine monster screens with slim style, the Optimus 3D's a bit of a monstrosity.
Battery life is poor. Even without using much in the way of 3D features, we struggled to get through a whole day of casual use. You're going to need USB cables everywhere to keep this one alive.
Android 2.2 on board as well - admittedly, it's not as big of an issue as many make out, but to not bring a £500 smartphone to market with the latest version of Google's mobile OS is sure to irk a fair few users.
If you're happy to take a punt on glasses-free 3D being here to stay, the 3D features of the LG Optimus 3D are certainly enough to warrant its high price. The 3D video's great, with a genuine sense of depth coming across in the footage.
The worry is, if you take a load of 3D photos and videos now, are they going to be viewable five or 10 years down the line? Or will you be left with a big, undocumented gap in your life, where all your photos and videos were taken in a format that no new devices support?
Also, for those looking for a high-quality smartphone as well as a 3D conversation piece, there are many better, faster, longer-lasting options out there – for less money.
The success of the LG Optimus 3D boils down to how willing people are to pay a premium for its nice 3D features – and whether they are happy to sacrifice style and battery life in return.