Wednesday, December 19, 2012

LG Optimus G Review

LG has had a significant foothold in Canada for quite a few years since the popularization of cell phones. Just like its South Korea rival, LG has been quite popular amongst Canadians when it comes to feature phones. But unlike its homeland rival, they haven’t done nearly as well when it comes to Android smartphones. With the Optimus G, LG aims to break that streak of perceived mediocrity with outstanding specifications and a renewed commitment to high end design. In our review of the Optimus G, we’ll see if LG has righted the ship and has taken steps to shed its less than stellar reputation when it comes to smarpthones.

Overall Construction
LG isn’t exactly the first thought when mentioning smartphone design or innovation. But the Optimus G is an incredible step away from that less than desirable reputation. The overall construction of the Optimus G is a massive improvment from Android smartphones of yesterday like the Optimus One or Optimus 2X.

For the Optimus G, LG stripped down to the basics with a minimalistic and clean looking slab design. On the front is a 4.7-inch screen with capacitive buttons flanking the bottom portion of the front glass but are only visible when the screen is powered on. On top, there is a lone LG logo with a front facing camera on the right hand side.

On the rear, the phone is once again a perfect example of clean yet stylish design with an all glass construction covering the back which LG calls “Crystal Reflection” pattern. There is the 8MP with flash on the top right. A subtle and appropriately sized LG logo is found on the upper middle section of the back. Finally on the bottom half, there is the mandatory FCC/IC information and Model Number with a subtle notch for the speaker grill on the right side.

At 145g and 8.5mm thick, the LG Optimus G is slightly heavier than other flagship Android phones but a tad thinner. When translated to overall feel of the device, we can safely say that the Optimus G has the most solid feel of any LG phone we’ve previously interacted with and even surpasses flagships of competing manufacturers.

We do have to mention however that the Optimus G is, in the pursuit of thinness, a sealed device meaning that the battery is unfortunately inaccessible. Although like the competing flagship HTC One X we don’t expect it to be a problem.

In terms of build quality and overall construction, the Optimus G is quite frankly better than any other offering we’ve seen from LG to date. No previous LG device can really compete or come close to what LG has achieved in the Optimus G.

LG Optimus G

LG has been a longtime supplier of LCD displays to other manufacturers including Apple whose iPhone has long been considered a leader when it comes to smartphone displays. What is really surprising is how LG’s past offerings haven’t really lived up to the production prowess that LG is capable of.

However, with the LG Optimus G, the company marks a stark departure from that trend and puts forward what is their best offering from their display division. They have saved their best “Zerogap Touch” display for the Optimus G and it’s obvious from the second you pick up the phone.

Just like the One X and iPhone 4/4S/5, the LG Optimus G uses a traditional RGB LCD panel. If you’ve read any of our past reviews you’ll know that it is our pixel arrangement of choice. This allows the Optimus G to have one of the best looking displays we’ve seen on a smartphone.

From viewing angles, to color reproduction, to sharpness and brightness, the Optimus G absolutely excelled in just about every aspect. We’d place it ahead of the Galaxy S III, Motorola Atrix HD, Sony Xperia Ion and iPhone 5, but just slightly behind the reigning champ HTC One X.

With an unconventional 1280x768 resolution, the 4.7-inch screen on the Optimus G is a bit wider and didn’t really affect usability in our time with the device. What is affected however is the compatibility with some apps. Thankfully LG has included a settings option to fix the scaling. However, it isn’t the best solution as it is not as easy to find for novice users.

Truthfully, there weren’t too many apps that broke due to the aspect ratio. But when we had a problem with a given app, we found the LG “Aspect Ratio Correction” solution to work decently well.

The power button and volume buttons felt very solid and were distinguishable by touch alone which is something often taken for granted. So overall we were pretty content with the hardware buttons.

However, what is problematic is that LG is following in Samsung’s footsteps in that they have decided to continue with the usage of the persistent menu button rather than the contextual menu button to be put in by app developers. As we’ve mentioned in the past, this is a hindrance to the proliferation of apps following the new paradigms, especially with a flagship device that is poised to be in the hands of hundreds of thousands of people.

Battery Life
At first glance, we weren’t too fond of the thought of an APQ CPU (modem-less Qualcomm Processor) with an LTE radio. Usually this spells bad news in terms of battery life. It was pretty obvious in phones like the HTC Thunderbolt, that this setup is far from ideal for battery longevity.

However with the LG Optimus G did not disappoint. The 2100mAh battery was more than adequate for a full day and a half worth of moderate use. In fact we’d go as far to say that with Eco-Mode we probably could have gone longer. However, in our short time using Eco-Mode we didn’t feel an appreciable increasing in battery life. On the flip side we didn’t notice a decrease in performance either so we aren’t sure how effective the feature is.

Internal Hardware
As we mentioned earlier, the Optimus G is sporting absolutely cutting edge specs. With a bleeding edge Quad-Core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor with LTE, 2GB of RAM and Adreno 320, the Optimus G is armed to the teeth and primed to take on anything users will throw at it.

- 1.5 GHz Qualcomm 4th Generation Quad Core Snapdragon S4 Pro Processor
- 2GB of RAM
- 32GB of Internal storage
- Adreno 320 Graphic processor
- LTE/HPSA+ capable chipset
- WiFi b/g/n
- 8 MP camera with LED flash and 1080p video recording capabilities
- NFC (Near Field Communication)

The experience on the Optimus G was as fluid and snappy as our experience as our experience on the Galaxy Note II, our gold standard for fluidity and responsiveness. From conventional everyday use, to heavy 3D gaming, we didn’t see the Optimus G slip up once. In synthetic benchmarks, (at least the ones that took advantage of the S4 Pro processor) the Optimus G absolutely rocked the competition. For more details we urge you to check out Anandtech’s coverage of the Optimus G’s hardware.

On the subject of 3G gaming, the Adreno 320 marks an important departure from Qualcomm playing second fiddle to other GPU manufacturers. The GPU on this phone is an absolute beast. As we mentioned earlier the Optimus G was a screamer in synthetic benchmark test but really shined in 3D benchmarking besting the Mali-400 and Nvidia Tegra 3 ULP GPU.

LTE 4G Capabilities
The unit that we had the opportunity to review was Rogers’ exclusive 2600MHz LTE edition. While we admittedly thought this was only hype and little substance, boy we’re we wrong. The 2600MHz band is mostly unused band by Rogers and to be honest doesn’t have very desirable properties for LTE as it suffers from signal attenuation easier than lower frequencies which are better at penetrating solid objects.

But when the Optimus G does hook into the 2600MHz bands boy does this phone fly. At a staggering 45-50mbps this is EASILY the fastest LTE device we’ve had the opportunity to test. Of course this is dependent on the fact that you must have 2600MHz coverage in your area, and we were fortunate enough to be able to test it in Montreal.

One last note, while the AWS (1700MHz) band has better physical properties, we can imagine that with the launch of the iPhone 5, Canadian carriers are experiencing much more traffic on their respective LTE networks making the performance on the virtually deserted 2600MHz band on Rogers less of a surprise.

Speaker and microphone
There isn’t anything too outstanding to report in terms of call quality, which in itself is a good thing, as it’s about on par with other flagships. The rear loudspeaker is pretty loud and clear for a single mono speaker but unfortunately gets completely muffled when set down on a flat surface due to the flat design of the back of the Optimus G. For this situation we recommend your favorite pair of headphones as the experience is less than stellar for enjoying video content.

LG has historically been hit or miss with cameras, and if you’ve read other reviews of other Optimus G variants you’ll notice there are variants with 13MP cameras with disappointing results. We are happy to report that our experience with the Optimus G was fairly good, but unfortunately that required a bit of tweaking through the rich plethora of options in the camera software.

Speaking of camera software we got quite a kick out of the “cheese mode” which allows users to take photos with a voice command like “cheese”, “smile” or the even “kim chi” (?) or “whisky” (???). While we aren’t sure how practical saying “whisky” is in public, we can see the use of “cheese” or “smile” as being quite useful in keeping hands steady and focused instead of moving your thumb to take a shot.

Still shots came out pretty decent with nice color but were fuzzier than we would like, especially in low light shots. Moving shots were pretty problematic as well, as shutter speeds were fast but lacked the on the fly focus we’ve seen on other devices. Video was pretty good, not as sharp as we would like from 1080p but pretty decent overall.

Sample Pictures
Android 4.0 /w "Optimus UI"
Being the first LG phone we’ve ever reviewed at Android Bugle we don’t have much past experience with past LG device skins. The only phone we really spent a good amount of time with was the LG Optimus One and that had a barebones stock Android skin.

With the Optimus G we see a really different skin to stock Android, but very similar to Samsung’s Nature UI. While we are sure this wasn’t exactly inadvertent, LG has made efforts to enhance the stock Android Experience and we really have to commend them for their efforts as this is one of the most feature rich Android phones we’ve tested.

LG has included various different features that more or less mirror what’s found on other flagship devices. This includes “Wise Screen” which is similar to Samsung’s Smartstay which keeps the screen on until you’re not looking at the device, “QSlide” which is similar to the Galaxy S III and Note II’s ability to watch videos and do other tasks at the same time (except you can modify opacity of the video to see what’s behind), as well as Quick Memo, Quiet Time and ironically familiar “nature” inspired sounds.

Overall the usefulness of these features will depend on what you like to do with your phone. But in the end we’d rather have the features than have to go out of our way to add such features via third party apps or even further by rooting.

When it comes to UI, there are some odd redundant additions like the persistent ‘+’ symbol on the top right of the homescreen that basically emulates the Press and Hold functionality on the homescreen. While this might seem nice for the uninitiated to Android we aren’t sure how many fans that will garner from the enthusiast community.

On the other hand we like the inclusion of the quick settings in the notification pane. We also like the expandability of the LG apps from simple shortcut to widgets. Not to mention the ability to resize folder, although making them any larger than 2x2 makes us wonder why bother making a folder in the first place.

Overall we are very happy with the changes done by LG. They are more or less par for what other OEMs have been doing and really make the experience on the LG Optimus G quite enjoyable.

What we don’t like however is the insane amount of bloatware on the Rogers version. We aren’t sure why the Roger version is so cluttered when TELUS’ is so much cleaner but we found ourselves wishing all carriers handled bloatware that way.

Also, at this point in the game, with competing flagship phones like the Galaxy Note II launching with Jelly Bean and earlier flagships like the Galaxy S III getting an upgrade to Jelly Bean, we aren’t too happy to see the Optimus G launch with Ice Cream Sandwich.


When LG first acknowledged they were working on a new flagship device, they stated that they were “unhappy with their current lineup”. Rumors were running rampant that they were prepping a device that could “compete with the Samsung Galaxy S III”. In the end that device ended up being the LG Optimus G. The million dollar question is whether or not they met those lofty goals.

After spending a couple of weeks with the LG Optimus G, we are happy to say that they indeed have made an incredibly compelling Android Flagship device. The overall experience was as good if not better then we’ve seen on other smartphone flagships and certainly has us very optimistic about LG’s future.

The Optimus G is undoubtedly one of the top phones of 2012 and will continue to be top contender for the foreseeable future as it is packed with some of the most cutting edge, benchmark smashing hardware available to consumers today.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 10/10
- We loved the overall build of the Optimus G; slim, streamlined and clean.

Screen: 9.5/10
- Incredible screen. Really shows why LG is a top display Manufacturer. Unfortunately falls slightly short of the One X.

Buttons: 8.5/10
- Hardware buttons were nice, but like with Samsung offerings we do not like the inclusion of the menu button.

Internal Hardware: 10/10
- Quad-Core Snapdragon S4 + LTE + 2GB RAM + Adreno 320 = incredible performance. The Optimus G competes and in some ways surpasses the Galaxy Note II in terms of raw horsepower. The Adreno 320 is a Qualcomm GPU that can finally match the Nvidia ULP. Fastest LTE speeds we’ve ever seen on smartphone to date.

Battery Life: 9/10
- The 2100 mAh battery seems to be the new norm for smartphone and performs quite well.

Speaker and Microphone: 8.5/10
- Good call quality both receiving and transmitting. Loudspeaker is decent but easily muffled by flat design of back

Camera: 9/10
- Good camera experience but isn’t tuned very well out of the box with stock settings

UI Changes: 8.5/10
- Like other OEMs, LG has toned down their UI changed significantly since Ice Cream Sandwich. Still adds confusing and redundant options. We look forward to Jelly Bean upgrade.

Addition Enhancements: 9.5/10
- LG “inspires” itself with several of its features like Wise screen, QSlide, Quick Memo, Quiet Time and familiar “nature” inspired sounds, but overall offers a lot of useful features.

Included Apps/Bloatware: 7.5/10 (varies on carrier version)
- The Rogers version is HEAVILY bloated with carrier apps. Normalized score for lighter bloatware on other carriers (like TELUS).

Final Score: 9/10

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