In a world full of cheap gimmicks, it seems easy to slap on the 3D moniker in order to compensate for a product that isn't up to par. (Remember that Justin Bieber movie, "Never Say Never"? Exactly.)
But in the case of the LG Optimus 3D Max, the successor to 2011's LG Optimus 3D, the 3D feature may actually be the device's downfall instead of its saving grace. Everything else about the handset is perfectly adequate -- it has a decent 5-megapixel camera and a zippy 1.2GHz dual-core processor, and it's NFC-enabled. Its biggest setback, however, is its 3D feature, which still has a few kinks to work out and bogs the phone down when connected to a data network.
Introduced in February at Mobile World Congress and launched about a month ago in Europe, the Optimus 3D Max is going for about $635 unlocked. But you won't find the 3D Max in the States yet, and there's no word on the carrier, pricing, or release date. So until it makes its way across the ocean, we'll just have to get our 3D action someplace else.
The LG Optimus 3D Max measures 4.99 inches tall and 2.65 inches wide. At 0.38 inch thick, it's thinner than the original Optimus 3D, but at 5.22 ounces, it's still heavy. I have a small grip, so the device felt too wide to handle. I dropped the handset a couple of times trying to use it with one hand, and its slick backing didn't help out either. Although I can put it in my jeans pocket, the fit is snug and a good half-inch is still exposed.
On the left side are a volume rocker and a Micro-USB port that has a small cover you can toggle back and forth. Though I appreciate the faux-metallic finishing on these features, the volume buttons are difficult to press. They're so flush with the side of the phone, it makes them hard to find by feel and even harder to push. Up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack (a pair of midlevel earbuds comes with the 3D Max) and a sleep/power button. To the right is the 3D shortcut button, which gives you quick access to your 3D games, 3D YouTube videos, and the 3D camera (more on all these later).
The back is made out of a black, slightly textured thin piece of plastic. Again, it's incredibly smooth, so don't expect any friction to keep it in place on, say, an airplane seat's tray table or your car's dashboard. On the left side, you'll see two 5-megapixel lenses for the 2D and 3D cameras, and on the bottom right are two slits for the output speaker. Using a small indent on the bottom edge of the device, you can pry the backing off to gain access to the 1,520mAh battery, the microSD card slot, and the two little gold NFC antennas.
The generous 4.3-inch WVGA touch-screen Gorilla Glass display is large enough for comfortable game-playing and has a resolution of 480x800 pixels. In both 3D and 2D mode, colors were rich and vivid. I was especially impressed with the display when brightness was cranked all the way up: menu icons (shaped as cubes to keep with the 3D theme) were crisp and graphics were smooth.
In order to render images in 3D without the need for those goofy 3D glasses, the display uses what's called a parallax barrier. It makes your left and right eye view two different sets of pixels or images. When seen simultaneously, they give the image you're looking at a sense of depth.
One of the biggest complaints about this technology is that it requires you to look at the screen at just the right angle. I had to hold the handset about 12 to 16 inches away and it had to be placed dead center in front of my face. If I tilted or shifted the handset just a few degrees, the images would be all off and it would get pretty nauseating. Especially when playing games, where some physical movement is a given.
The narrow viewing angle is especially a drag when you want to show your phone off to your friends. If this 3D feature is considered a party trick, your party will have to line up one by one or squeeze their heads together to get a good look at the 3D action.
Above the display is a front-facing VGA camera for Web chatting and vanity shots. Below are the four usual navigation buttons (menu, home, back, and search) that light up when in use.
The LG Optimus 3D Max runs on a 1.2GHz dual-core processor. The CPU's speed is one of the most redeeming qualities of this device, as it was incredibly impressive. Not only were simple tasks such as switching the handset from landscape to portrait mode, opening and using the camera, or zooming in on Web pages executed swiftly, but more complicated tasks were carried out quickly as well.
Sometimes, however, a few of the 3D apps would quit unexpectedly. For example, when connected to a data network, 3D YouTube and some of the 3D games would force-quit, and the 3D camera app quit a few times, regardless of data connection. But when they weren't quitting, the internal speeds made saving 3D recordings and playing graphics-heavy 3D games a breeze.
One disappointment, however, is that this phone runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread. It will be updatable to the Ice Cream Sandwich version of the OS "later," but with all these new products coming from LG (like the Optimus 4X HD and the Optimus Vu), learning that they're not shipped with ICS natively is getting to be a consistent letdown.
Nevertheless, the 3D Max has all the Google goodies you've come to expect, like Mail, Search, Plus, Latitude, Play Store, Messenger, Maps with Navigation, Places, Talk, and YouTube.
3D-specific apps include four games (Asphalt 6, Let's Golf 2, N.O.V.A., and Gulliver's Travels -- which isn't really a game but a useless interactive storybook filled with mumbling characters), a 3D guide in case you need help, a 3D camera app for taking 3D photos and video, a 3D gallery to store said footage in, and a 3D Converter app. When other 2D apps, like Google Maps, are launched within this feature, they're supposed to be converted into 3D.
This sounds like a neat idea, except it didn't really work when I used it. Nothing happened after I opened my Maps in 3D Converter and after several minutes of trying to figure it out, I concluded the app was either in beta stage or it had a lousy user interface. Although you can't really blame LG since it doesn't develop apps, I can at least be disappointed in its touted 3D Converter.
The Near Field Communication chip, or NFC, within the device, is greatly welcomed, though. This chip enables the handset to wirelessly communicate with other NFC-enabled devices within a short distance.
LG included three Tag+ stickers labeled Office, Sleep, and Car mode that let you use the NFC feature to activate certain settings on your phone that you customize. For example, every time you go to sleep, you may want to put your 3D Max on vibrate, dim your screen, and have your music turn off after 10 minutes of playing. Once you set up and save those settings using the LG Tag+ app, you can activate them whenever you tap your Sleep Mode Tag sticker.
When I tried out this feature, it worked solidly every time and the Tag+ app made setup easy.
There are other preloaded apps, such as a backup app; a finance app for keeping track of your stocks; Flash Player; a news and weather app; the Polaris Office mobile office suite; a RemoteCall app that lets LG support services remotely access your device for troubleshooting; a content distributor app called SmartShare; LG SmartWorld; an app called What's New for your notifications; and a video editor.
You also get e-mail, text messaging, a Web browser, and Bluetooth, and the basic task-management features of a calendar, a clock with alarm settings, a notepad, a calculator, and a voice recorder.
As for the 5-megapixel camera with two lenses, shooting in 2D offers a greater variety of options. The rear-facing 2D camera has autofocus, touch focus, a flash, face tracking, geotagging, a timer, and continuous shooting. It also has a digital zoom and exposure meter; five image sizes; five scene modes (normal, portrait, landscape, sunset, night); five white-balance modes (auto, incandescent, sunny, fluorescent, cloudy); and four color effects (none, black and white, sepia, negative).