In the past couple of years, LG Android phones have been behind the curve in almost every aspect. Using outdated components and uninspired designs, the Korean manufacturer failed to impress Android fanatics time and time again. Their latest flagship, headed to AT&T and Sprint, aims to correct these mistakes with its next-gen hardware. For AT&T users, the phone launches on November 2nd with a competitive $199 price tag. We’ll dive into a full review of the phone’s capabilities, triumphs, and shortfalls below.
The Optimus G may very well be the best looking LG phone of the last few years. But, that’s not saying much. LG famously lacks inspiration in the smartphone design department, and the Optimus G is no exception to that rule. The AT&T version of the device differs moderately from Sprint’s, so we’ll stick to comments about the AT&T design in this review.
At just 8.4-millimeters, the Optimus G is a very thin device. According to LG, part of this thinness is attributable to LG’s new in-cell touch technology that reduces display thickness. The Optimus G adopts the traditional candybar layout with its rectangular, squared-off shaping. The sides and corners of the device are tapered into a slight curve. This isn’t anything new from LG.
Others called AT&T’s Optimus G “refined” and “elegant.” But, I wasn’t as keen on LG’s hardware design here. This is the same design we’ve seen from LG over and over again— the candybar phone with slight curves. It’s annoyingly uninspired. Sitting next to a masterpiece such as the HTC One X, the Optimus G looks dull. Out of LG’s past candybar handsets, the Optimus G may be the most attractive. There are significant improvements to the classic design. The blacked out display-bezel transition, textured top and bottom, and superb build quality make the Optimus G look a whole lot better than past candybar phones.
Utilizing mostly glass with plastic edges, LG’s created an Optimus G that feels premium. I noticed other reviewers had problems with the glass-dominated back casing. Like the iPhone, users can expect a hard enough drop to crack the back plate. Still, the device feels solid in-hand and users should expect the device to resist a number of falls.
LG’s made some solid improvements in the design department. This may be their first flagship phone that feels well-built and looks ‘not bad.’
LG’s 4.7-inch True HD IPS+ display on the Optimus G appears to be one of the best on the market. Outdone only by HTC’s brand new (unreleased) Super LCD 3 screen, the LG IPS+ display packs the perfect combination: resolution technology + color clarity + contrast ratio + viewing angles. Blacks are ink-like, while whites are bleached. Colors pop incredibly— they look like pen on a page. The display’s plenty bright for users who need good outdoor visibility.
With Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 Pro system-on-chip in tow, LG’s Optimus G performs admirably next to any smartphone. In fact, I’d venture to say that the Optimus G is the fastest phone on the market upon release. That may change soon as more S4 Pro-wielding devices come out. But, for now, the Optimus G is the king of the castle.
An Adreno 320 GPU powers the smoothest graphics processing I’ve seen from any smartphone, and the Krait-based CPU flies through applications. 2GB of RAM provides the Optimus G with the necessary amount of memory to multi-task like a boss.
4G LTE performance was even faster on the Optimus G than the One X, using AT&T’s network. We were able to pull some very impressive download and upload numbers using the Speedtest.net application on the Google Play Store.
The GPS works extremely well, locking on to multiple satellites usually within several seconds.
The main problem with LG’s Optimus G interface: inconsistency. There’s not one consistent design scheme everywhere. It’s a problem that plagued Android users for years until Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich brought about the era of “Holo.” LG’s resurrected that issue by creating their own out-of-place theme and corresponding graphics. Compared to the traditional Google apps (and those from the Play Store that follow the guidelines), the LG applications look far different. There’s an emphasis on a darker blue, white, and textured-cartoon icons. Text and icons abandon the stock Android tradition with new fonts and different design concepts.
Animations are less subtle. The screen off one reminds me of a 1970s-era cartoon. It doesn’t feel professional or natural. The same can be said for LG’s ripple-circle lock screen.
LG’s custom launcher looks and acts strikingly similar to the one in Samsung’s TouchWiz. A large customizable icons bar resides at the bottom, while the persistent search stays up top to the left. An add icon in the upper right corner brings you straight to a quick app, widget, and wallpaper picker. It’s a neat invention, but it’s a tad redundant considering the app drawer and settings menu will do the same thing.
The applications drawer utilizes some transparency and never-ending scrolling. iOS-like app uninstalls can be performed right from the drawer with a click of the upper right button. There are plenty of opportunities to customize your launcher in the “home screen” settings. You can change the animation settings, wallpaper, rotation setting, and even perform screen backups and restorations. LG’s launcher isn’t bad feature-wise. It just doesn’t look all that appealing.
Using the NFC Tag+ application created by LG, users can utilize sticker tags to prompt reactions on the Optimus G. My “Before Bed” tag sits next to my nightstand and activates the following: WiFi on, GPS off, Brightness low, Sound off, Screen timeout low, launch Clock application. It zips straight into the Clock application so I can set my nightly alarm. An “In the Car” tag could presumably turn off WiFi, activate GPS, and launch Google Navigation. There are all sorts of NFC-activated uses for these tags.
The lock screen on the Optimus G does not lack functionality in the slightest. It shows four custom applications which users can quickly launch with a swipe. Calendar events, date, and time information are also present. The unlock gesture is a simple swipe out from anywhere on the screen. The display has a ripple effect animation for unlocking the device.
LG’s keyboard hardly fits Android 4.0 stylistically. It looks like it was ripped straight from Apple’s iOS. Typing performance on the keyboard seemed to be a little impaired. Although, I am admittedly used to the stock Android keyboard. Thankfully, LG’s added in a Swype-like “path keyboard” that allows users to one-handed swipe through letters to draw words. It works surprisingly well and picks words from your contacts lists.
Holding down both volume buttons at the same time allows users to take a screenshot and activate the “Quick Memo” application. Quick Memo lets Optimus G users draw short notes with a finger and save them on top of screenshots or virtual notepads. It’s also handy when you need to remember a phone number. You can write the number and then leave it as an overlay on the screen while using other applications on the phone (including the Dialer).
AT&T’s version of the Optimus G comes with a depressing amount of carrier and OEM-made bloatware. Here are some of the applications that come pre-installed on the device: SmartShare, FileShare, Amazon Kindle, AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Locker, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Ready2Go, AT&T Smart Wi-Fi, DeviceHelp, Live TV, Messages, myAT&T, Polaris Office 4.0, Video Wiz, and YPmobile.
LG’s made some significant improvements to Android’s settings menus. First, there’s a quick settings menu that resides at the top of the notifications bar. You can add, subtract, and re-order individual toggles at will. It’s something Android junkies have become accustomed to with custom ROMs like CyanogenMod and Android Open Kang Project.
The Settings application itself has been nicely doctored by LG. Under the sound-related settings, LG’s added a “Quiet Time” toggle that allows users to mandate certain times as quite times, turning off all media and notification volumes. Under the display-related settings group, a new toggle called “wise screen” utilizes the front-facing camera to detect eye contact with the device. When a user is looking at the phone, the display will not shut off. You can customize fonts and their respective sizes here as well.
Other cool additions include LG’s “power saver” settings which allow Optimus G users to automatically adjust power settings when the battery level falls below a checkpoint. A “quad core control” application inside of the settings menu lets users enable “eco mode,” which supposedly optimized CPU control to extend battery life.
I had the opportunity to put this device through quite a few days of battery testing. I’m comfortable with the following statement on its performance: the LG Optimus G’s battery life doesn’t suck. It’s not “disappointing” like another reviewer suggested. I was pleased the Optimus G’s ability to endure a lot of screen-on time. Standby performance was acceptable, although not stunning.
Overall, I think the Optimus G will last the average smartphone user through an entire day at the office and back home. There are excellent tools available including the Eco Mode and Power Saver software applications from LG to conserve battery as much as possible.
I wasn’t too impressed or concerned with the LG Optimus G camera’s performance. Pictures and video were on par with what we’ve seen from most high-end Android devices, but fell behind the Galaxy Note II, One X, and PadFone 2.
LG’s created their first competitive Android flagship phone— and that’s a success worth celebrating. The internals of the Optimus G are spot on, offering unparalleled performance. Externally, the device’s display and build quality make up for anything it lacks in the design department. Battery life wasn’t outstanding, but it wasn’t anything to be majorly concerned about either. Right now, the Optimus G ranks up there with the best of the Android elite. Its Snapdragon S4 Pro, True HD display, and superb material finish make it a serious contender for best phone of 2012.
Of course, with competition like LG’s other flagship— the Google Nexus 4— and Samsung’s Galaxy Note II, this phone may not be everyone’s first choice. Still, if you’re looking for a solid Android device with top-of-the-line specifications, you needn’t look much further than the Optimus G.