For the last several years, LG has struggled to create compelling, high-quality phones that outsell competing models. With the Optimus G, LG aims higher than ever before...and mostly nails it.
With its large, bright, and beautiful display; Android 4.0 operating system; LTE speeds; and Qualcomm's first, very fast, very impressive quad-core processor, AT&T's version of the Optimus G is one of LG's best phones ever. In addition, it will be available starting November 2 for $199.99.
Yet even though it reaches for the top, the Optimus G still fails to offer anything truly innovative or wowing, apart from the chipset. The Optimus G's design is pleasant and functional, but uninspired. Its 8-megapixel camera is weaker than those of the top-tier competition, and its battery life is insufficient given the demands of the phone's bright screen and performance. (Sprint's Optimus G version is arguably the better device, thanks to its crisper 13-megapixel camera.)
There's very little that's actually wrong with the device, but even with its bulging processing muscle, the Optimus G won't sweep aside the Samsung Galaxy S3 or iPhone 5, both of which received a higher raw score from us and an Editors' Choice. And we expect the upcoming HTC One X+ and Nokia Lumia 920 to put on the pressure too.
Design and build
The LG Optimus G, which comes in black and white, and has a familiar square slate design. The corners are ever so slightly rounded, and the left and right edges of the phone curve slightly outward. While pleasant-looking and functional, it certainly isn't pushing boundaries, defining your personality, or wowing you with standout machining. In fact, it reminds us of the unlocked Samsung Galaxy S II.
Standing 5.01 inches tall by 2.8 inches wide by 0.37 inch thick, the Optimus G is slightly wider and thinner than LG's international quad-core phone, the Optimus 4X HD, which measures 5.19 inches by 2.69 inches by 0.38 inch. Its 5.44-ounce heft makes it solid, but also on the heavy side. Still, it's a smidge lighter than the 4X HD as well.
Like other jumbo phones, the Optimus G can't be squeezed into smaller pockets, and this is not a device to use one-handed. However, tossing it into a bag or larger back pocket works just fine. We were able to tote it around in a stretchy back pocket. It didn't look very attractive protruding from the material, but ambulation was possible.
LG calls its 4.7-inch Optimus G's screen a True HD IPS+ display; that translates to a 1,280x768-pixel resolution (WXGA). The Optimus G's 15:9 aspect ratio is a little off the 16:9 standard, but that hasn't bothered us so far. Pixel density comes in at 320ppi. For reference, the Nokia Lumia 920 has 332ppi, the iPhone 5 has 326ppi, and the Samsung Galaxy S3 has a 306 pixel-per-inch density.
The absolute pixel density, by the way, only indicates clarity, but suffice it to say that this beautiful screen did not disappoint, giving bright and crisp edges and vivid, appealing color.
There's more to know about the dominating screen as well. LG boasts that its Touch Hybrid Display technology makes the screen 30 percent slimmer because it removes the air gaps separating the cover glass from the touch layers -- and light source -- below. LG isn't the only company to do this; the iPhone 5 and HTC One X advertise a similar process. In addition, the use of Corning's Gorilla Glass 2 on the front and back panels contributes to the weight, but could also lend strength. However, we didn't want to smash the phone on concrete to test durability against cracks.
Below the display are touch-sensitive buttons for Back, Home, and Menu. Press and hold Home to also open your list of recent apps. Do the same to the Menu button to pull up a Google search bar.
Above the screen, you'll find the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. The volume rocker hangs out on the left spine, along with a covered bay that holds the SIM and microSD card slots. The power button is on the right. (We not-so-secretly wish that a hardware camera button were here too, but its absence doesn't earn the phone any black marks.)
You'll charge the Optimus G through a Micro-USB charging port on the bottom of the phone, and you'll connect your headset through the 3.5mm jack up top. Nestled into the polarized (and patent-pending!) back panel are the 8-megapixel camera lens and LED flash.
Features and OS
The LG Optimus G runs on the Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich OS. Although we'd prefer to see Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on this device, we can't really fault LG for not being more current. With Ice Cream Sandwich, the Optimus G receives all of Google's services, like Chrome, Car Home, Gmail, Maps with Navigation, Search, and YouTube. The Google Play stores for Books, Magazines, Movies & TV, and Music are included as well.
AT&T also loaded some of its apps, such as a code scanner, a family member locator, a storage cloud, AT&T Ready2Go, which lets users set up their phones through their computers, a hot-spot manager, its own brand of navigation and messaging, a live TV portal with a weeklong trial, and an app through which you can check your AT&T account and data balance.
Other goodies include two file-sharing apps (SmartShare and FileShare), Amazon Kindle, Facebook, Polaris Office 4.0 mobile office suite, Twitter, a video editor, and the Yellow Pages. And of course, there are more basic apps, such as a native browser and e-mail client, music and movie players, a clock with alarm functions, an address book, a notepad, and voice command.
Furthermore, LG packed its flagship device with tons of interesting features. Some we've seen before, like the Optimus 3.0 user interface. We're internally divided over this UI. On one hand, LG has done a nice job of adding some functionality without imposing too much of its own personality on top of Ice Cream Sandwich. On the other hand, it's not as sleek and elegant as Google's vision of the OS, and certain widgets look dated. However, users can customize some app icons for completely new icon looks. Rest assured, at any rate, that the OS doesn't get in the way of using the phone.
LG's signature note-taking app, QuickMemo, comes packaged with Optimus 3.0. With this app you can use your finger or a stylus to jot down quick notes and sketches directly over screen images, which you can then save and share. You can also customize the color and style of your pen tip.
Another feature, Dual Screen Dual Play, lets you mirror screen images between the phone and another TV or monitor. And what's displayed doesn't necessarily have to be the same content. Other extras include pinch-zooming during recorded video playback; Wise Screen, which keeps the screen on when it detects someone's face staring at it; an aspect ratio corrector that corrects how downloaded apps display in case of screen distortion; a battery saver that helps to conserve power and battery reserves; LG motion gestures so users can control certain functions (like pausing video or turning off an alarm) through physical gestures; and an eco mode module that optimizes the Optimus G's quad-core performance.
The phone has the usual connections of Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth. There's also NFC support, but unfortunately, the AT&T version won't include LG Tag+ stickers, which enable users to activate customizable phone settings with NFC (the Sprint model, however, will). You'll be able to access system settings from the notifications pull-down, and pinching and zooming on the home screens gives you a bird's-eye view.
Camera and video
AT&T's version of the Optimus G comes with an 8-megapixel camera that sits flush with the phone backing. If you're looking for the version with the 13-megapixel camera, though, head on over to Sprint. You can check out the 13-megapixel camera quality here.
Back at AT&T, the Optimus G has all the same camera software as its Sprint counterpart. There are controls for choosing among seven scene modes, five white-balance modes, and four color effects. You can select resolution that goes from 8 megapixels down to 1 megapixel. Geotagging, brightness, and flash are other settings. You can also select your favorite of four shutter sounds, or turn it off.
For fancier shooting options, you can turn on HDR (high dynamic range) mode, or take a sweeping panorama shot. There's also continuous-shot mode, which takes a burst of six photos. There are some other fun things you can do with the camera: Time Catch Shot, for example, takes a series of six shots around an event, so you can choose the best single image to keep.
You can also set a voice trigger to take photos if you say one of five programmed words: "cheese," "smile," "whisky," "kimchi," or "LG." Just beware that you may snap unwanted shots when instructing people to say cheese.
Video controls are similar, but you do have a few different options. The first is whether to record a long video or a short one for MMS. Another feature, QSlide, makes it possible to use other apps while a video is playing in the background. The function is nestled in the video app, and is denoted on the top right corner by an icon of two rectangles layered on top of each other. When a video is playing, you can tap this icon and a transparent app drawer will spring up. Though QSlide isn't intuitive to find, it's easy to use and I can see it coming in handy when you don't want to stop watching a movie, but need to quickly attend to a text or e-mail.