We were at the LG Optimus G launch in Korea on September 17, where we were able to briefly play with it. The Optimus G is the first smartphone to launch with the Quad-Core SnapDragon S4 Pro processor, so it is supposed to offer state-of-the-art performance. From what we have seen with the pre-production unit in Korea, it was fast indeed.
It looks like LG is back in the game of high-end smartphones with this well crafted unit that is truly a great competitor for the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S3. The elegant chassis sports a Quad-Core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor 2GB RAM (vs 1GB for both the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3), a 4.7-inch True HD IPS Plus display (1280 x 768 pixels), a 13 MP camera or 8 MP depending on regions (the international unit we have here has the 13 MP shooter) and 32GB of internal storage.
Google seems to have acknowledged the Optimus G as a top device since, according to the recent rumors, the search giant’s upcoming Google Nexus 4 smartphone might have been designed by LG. This would be the first time that LG will manufacture a Google phone.
With a 2-year contract, the Sprint LG Optimus G will retail for $199.99, which is in line with most high-end smartphone launches, with a few exceptions. AT&T has just announced that the handset will be available on 2ndof November and will be priced at $199.99, you can pre-order the Optimus G for $199.99 with a two-year contract at www.att.com/optimusg
Although performance looks good on the paper and as perceived on the pre-production unit, we need to look into this in detail and answer the question: “How good is it?”. Our goal here is to provide you with our best shot at answering this. In this review, we hope to give you a realistic feel on how it is to use the LG Optimus G in the real world. Ready?
|Optimus G Korea/U.S Sprint||Optimus G|
|iPhone 5||Galaxy S3 (U.S)|
|Display||IPS Plus 1280 x 768||IPS Plus 1280 x 768||IPS (1136×640)||S-AMOLED (1280×720)|
|Processor||Snapdragon S4 Pro||Snapdragon S4 Pro||Apple A6||Snapdragon S4|
|Storage||32GB built-in||16GB+16GB microSD||32GB||32GB|
|microSD||no||yes (up to 64GB)||no||yes|
|Rear Camera||13 MP||8 MP||8 MP||8 MP|
|Front Camera||1.3 MP||1.3 MP||1.2 MP||1.9 MP|
|Network||Sprint CDMA – EVDO Rev. A, LTE||SM Quad Band/UTMS Tri Band/LTE Dual Band||LTE||LTE|
|Height||0.33″ / 8.45 mm||0.34″ / 8.6 mm||0.3″||0.34″|
|Width||2.71” / 68.9 mm||2.51″ / 132.95 mm||2.31″||2.51″|
|Length||5.19″/131.9 mm||5.17″ / 131.3 mm||4.87″||5.47″|
|Weight||5.11oz / 145 g||5.19oz||3.95oz||4.69oz|
We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that we tell you what we do with our smartphone(s): we typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. We browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. Not many phone calls are made at all, 10 minutes a day, tops.
On the “apps” side, Hubert has a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps.
We tested the Korean model (white model) that we received a few days ago, and we got the Sprint (black model, quite similar in specs than the Korean model) and the AT&T model (black model with a different chassis, size and weight) a few hours ago. I will update the review regarding those units as there are some differences (check first the specifications above and the photo galleries below for each model).
Industrial design (very good)
LG did a great job on the product design, a hair thinner than the Galaxy S3 (0.33” for the LG Optimus G vs. 0.34”), the slim body features a great build quality, an edge-to-edge 4.7” IPS display and a subtly textured backside covered with a smooth glass-based finish.
For the back cover, LG developed and patented the Crystal Reflection process, and its diamond shaped pattern conveys a uniquely elegant look. This technique creates an interesting optical effect that displays different patterns depending on the viewing angle and lighting. In the photos of the black unit (see our hands on), you imagine that there is a texture on the back, but it is the visual effect, the nice glass finish on top of the pattern that makes the device perfectly flat and smooth. I personally the look of the Crystal Reflection on the white model (Koren unit, photo below) than on the black version featured on the back on the AT&T model – the Sprint model seems to have a different texture without the diamond shaped pattern (see the photo galleries)
We can appreciate the effort LG made to differentiate its smartphone by creating a custom texture, which is very hard in fact. Very often, textures in consumer electronics are not well done and convey a cheap look, therefore few devices manage to feature stylish textures. Additionally, the rectangular shaped chassis makes it really different from the S3.
On the white model, I like the edge-to-edge design which makes the front side looks frameless when the display is turned off, unlike the white Galaxy S3.
On the 13MP camera model, the square sensor sticks out a little more than on the Galaxy S3 at the back, however, I prefer its integration with the flash and the speaker, which is visually more balanced than on the Samsung device.
Gallery 1 – Optimus G for AT&T
Gallery 2 – Optimus G for Sprint
The power button is placed on the right side while the volume button is located on the left side above the SIM card slot. At the top left you can slide the antenna for watching TV (on the Korean version) or plug your earphone in the audio jack. As with most current smartphones, you will find the micro USB connector at the bottom.
The buttons are well designed and subtly integrated on the sides, much better than the ones on the Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 5. LG decided to go digital with the Home button on the Korean version, which helps with the minimalistic design on the front that is in fact totally flat, unlike the Samsung model.
As usual with LG, the IPS display is excellent (labeled True HD IPS Plus), and its quality is comparable to other high-end smartphones such as the iPhone5 or the Samsung Galaxy S3. Actually LG provides IPS displays to a number of OEMs, including Apple for its iOS devices.
When compared to AMOLED and Super AMOLED technology used by Samsung, IPS offers a more natural rendering of colors, while AMOLED and Super AMOLED tends to over-saturates color. As a designer, I personally enjoy over-saturation since it enhances the reality, however, I can tell that IPS provides a similar quality and delivers a more “realistic” style.
One key advantage of IPS over AMOLED is power consumption, I cannot tell you exactly how much battery life you would save, since it depends of the type of images the smartphone displays: OLED/AMOLED screens consume less power than LCD (or IPS-LCD) when the image is black, however, when the image is white, OLED/AMOLED displays consume way more juice than LCD/IPS-LCD screens. Read this article by Phone Arena or this other one by Jessica Dolcourt at CNET to learn more about smartphone displays.
According to a presentation held by LG at its headquarters after the LG Optimus G launch, the True HD IPS Plus display in the Optimus G consumes 70% less power than AMOLED when displaying a white background.
When compared with the same high resolution picture displayed (all displays set at maximum brightness), we can see (photo) that the Optimus G, Samsung Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5 all provide bright colors and deep contrast. Similarly all devices deliver a wide viewing angle, although I noticed that the Optimus G seems to keep more natural saturation in color when you view from an angle, at a roughly 160 degre viewing angle, the colors on the Optimus G are not washed out a as thery are in the Samsung S3 and iPhone5 – see photo above please note that I took several other photos from the same viewing ang;e where the three devices were placed in the three different spots and I got the same results.
New Zerogap display technology: thinner, improved touch sensitivity and less reflection
With the Optimus G, LG introduced its Zerogap Touch technology, that, according to LG, eliminates the two ITO films (or glass) sensor and the air gap that were present in previous LCD touch screens. In the Optimus G, the ITO sensor film is directly printed on the cover glass, which removes the air gap between the regular ITO film and the cover glass (see graphic provided by LG).
The key benefits are the gain in thinness, better touch sensitivity and the a less reflective display (according to LG – we can imagine for the thinness, we could not see significant results for the 2 others).
The most recent device from LG that are in the high-end smartphone category are the LG Optimus 4X HD P880 (released June 2012) and the LG Optimus LTE 2 (released august 2012). In the next paragraph we will compare to those units to let you know what is new in the Optimus G.
Display technology, size and resolution
First of all the Optimus G is slimmer than both predecessors: 8.45 mm (0.33”) versus 8.9 mm () for the Optimus 4X HD and the Optimus LTE 2. The 4X HD is lighter at 133 g while the LTE 2 weighs the same (145g).
Although the display size is similar – 4.7 inches for all models- the Optimus G resolution is slightly higher (1280×768 vs 1280×720) therefore, the pixel density has increased (320 ppi vs. 312). Additionally, as described in the display paragraph, LG introduced its new Zerogap technology to improve the device’s thinness and reduce the screen reflectivity.
The Optimus G is the first smartphone to feature the Quad-core 1.5 Ghz Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC with an Adreno 320 GPU.
The Optimus 4X HD P880 features Quad-core 1.5 GHz Tegra 3 and the LTE 2 runs a dual-core 1.5 Ghz Snapdragon S4 with an Adreno 225 GPU.
The camera has been improved (compared to the LTE 2 and LG VU) on the resolution side (for the 13 MP model – the LTE 2 and 4X HD have an 8 MP camera) and on the quality side as well.
I played briefly with the LTE 2 and I can tell you that the camera on the Optimus G is better, the autofocus and shutter speed are both faster, the management of dark and bright zones in the same picture is better.
The Optimus G product design is great and, although it features a texture, a design element found on many LG devices (LTE 2, VU), it is better done. The texture with the diamond shape pattern is only visual and is covered by a smooth glass finish on the back. The minimalistic approach on the front gets rid of any buttons, bezels or color differences when the display is off, conveys a stylish look.
New / Specific features
LG says that it has designed the Optimus G to offers what the company calls “Intuitive Cross-Tasking” with the introduction of interesting new software features such as the QSlide Function and the QuickMemo.
We have reviewed the new software features with the Korean model, the Sprint model software looks quite similar (although i noticed some differences), however the AT&T model has a different user interface. We will update this review with the description of the differences.
New lock screen animation in 3D
The lock screen default picture and animation are the same on the Korean unit and the Sprint unit; it is a sphere in 3D that grows when you drag it to uncover the last application you visited, I really like this effect a lot! The sound played with the animations is too similar than the one delivered by the unlock animation in the Samsung Galaxy S3; this is quite strange, I would recommend to LG to replace it with a different one.
QSlide Function (see video),
It allows to display two applications in the same screen by making the top application screen semi-transparent, so the user can see the second one underneath.It works with video playback, when playing a video, you access the QSlide icon from the top menu (see image/video) and the video starts to play on the home screen in portrait mode at the top, then you can select another application to browse like the email app or the browser for example. With the slider you adjust the level of transparency, so you can read the text in the second app.
For checking emails or internet browsing, it looks like it would be more convenient to use it in portrait mode so you can play the video at the top without transparency and read in the lower part of the screen.
I was told by LG that the application on the top (the video) needs to support the LG QSlide API to provide the feature. For now, Youtube does not supports it.
Henry Nho, Chief Research Engineer, Mobile Platform Architecture, LG, showed me a demo of the new features after the launch event in September, see video above.
QuickMemo, (see video above)
With QuickMemo you can jot anything with your finger on top of any screen. This becomes extra useful when you need to write down a phone number rapidly and see it in your phone dial screen right away. Additionally, QuickMemo allows users to annotate any screen and share it instantly, you can access the feature from the icon located in the icon row, top left, that is displayed with the notifications menu when swiping the display from top to bottom. You can either save the scribble with the screen or by pressing the Overlay icon in the QMemo menu bar at the top, still see what you jotted on top of any screens in any application.
This pinch to zoom works in any screen including video playback, messaging, photo gallery page (in the thumbnail section) and more. This feature is kind of cool, I tried with the video playback and the photo gallery, it is fast and responsive.
Application link is a feature accessible from the Alarm Clock, it launches a preset application of your choice when the alarm goes off. You can choose from Calendar, Email, music, tasks or weather. It would be cool to be able to add any app you want to this list.
Having to try a bunch of Android devices, there is one thing that I do not appreciate is the customization of the icons I use the most, like the camera icon or the settings icon, each time I have to search. Knowing that it could useful to actually let people customize them the way they want. You get to use your own photo to customize your icons, that is pretty cool, I replaced the photo gallery lame flower by a thumbnail of a beautiful sunset. I am pretty sure that you can send yourself designs that you download from your inbox into the photo gallery and then use for icon customization.
New Camera Features
LG put a lot of effort in the new camera from the hardware (13 MP sensor for some models, depending on region ) to the software, with new cool features: smart shutter, time catch shot, cheese shutter, low light NR. I will go over those features in the camera paragraph.
Virtual keyboard: Ironically, despite having hundreds of thousands of apps at their disposal, most users still refer to text-based communication as being the “critical” application for them. That’s why you must not underestimate the importance of a virtual keyboard. The more productive you want to be, and the more likely this element may get in the way.
The LG Optimus G virtual keyboard ( on the international unit we got) does not look like the stock Android 4.0 keyboard, it displays the special characters directly on the keys, and you can slect them once you press and hold. It’s simple and clean. By default, our text prediction feature was ON, however it does not get in your way if you do not select the words. I advise to turn off the key vibration and the character preview because it slows down the keyboard.
If you type in more than one language on a regular basis, I recommend to download Swiftkey from Google Play (free or paid version), it can handles up to three languages simultaneously for text prediction and it learns your own lingo from various applications you use.
Google Maps: it is already excellent on Android, there is no question about it. My favorite feature: map area preload that lets you download a 10 square-mile map onto your local storage. Rocks! It works surely way better than the new map application in iOS6 :)
Skype: Video calls work just fine with Skype, although I would like a slightly better image quality. To judge yourself, check the screen shots we did on the receiving side (desktop PC) and on the LG Optimus G.
Entertainment (very good)
Video playback (excellent)
The video playback is excellent both on the fluidity side and on the image-quality side, thanks to the awesome display and the powerful graphics processor. We tried HD trailers in streaming over WiFi from YouTube and video files stored locally accessible in the Gallery application.
While watching a video (stored in the phone – not over youtube) you can operate other applications such as email and web browsing, thanks to the QSlide function (see that paragraph in the New Features).The Galaxy S3 offers a similar feature: split screen, and the iPhone5 does not allow this type of multitasking. The LG Optimus G allows to zoom in a video while playing , which is pretty cool.
Speaker quality (good)
When watching a video,the audio quality delivered via the speaker is good although it would need a little more power. The iPhone5 certainly delivers the most powerful sound while the Galaxy S3 gets the right amount of audio quality and power. The LG Optimus G gets Dolby sounds with the headphones that come out of the box, and it is pretty good.
Gaming (very good)
equipped with a fast Adreno 320 (vs Adreno 225 for the Galaxy S3) graphics processor and four custom-designed Cortex A9 CPUs (vs. two CPUs) which each have more powerful floating-point units than Tegra 3, the LG Optimus G should run games at high speed.
However, when we ran the Riptide GP game, it delivered between 30FPS and 60FPS in the first level – When we played the same game on the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, it ran at a solid 60FPS.
We’re not sure what’s going on because the hardware should be faster, so we suspect that the software may need a bit more time to fully mature. For instance, the OpenGL drivers may need more work, or may be the game itself needs tweaking, it’s hard to tell from the outside.
Camera application, photo and video capture (Excellent – tested with the 13MP version)
The camera user interface (UI) is easy to use and offers a broad range of features including a good still photo shooting while recording video mode, panorama, face detection, burst shooting modes, various scene modes and more. The “ultra-slim” 13 MP camera module features a sensor size of s 1/3.2″ and gets 1.1 micron pixel.
Similar features are available in other high end Android smartphones including the Samsung Galaxy S3 (8 Mp camera) and the HTC One X. The iPhone5 camera app has almost no features except for the panorama that is only available in portrait mode, HDR mode and flash on/off.
With the Optimus G, LG introduced a number of unique new features in the camera application:
Smart Shutter: senses the motion of the camera and adjusts the shutter speed accordingly. I tested this in Korea while in the bus in relatively low light condition and the photo was indeed not blurry – check it here at the bottom of the page (laptop picture)
Time Catch Shot / Time Machine Camera: when this feature is activated (icon in the middle of the camera menu on the left) it starts to shoot photos before the shutter button is pressed, then you can choose the best among multiple shots. This is particularly useful when you shoot people when they are moving around, I tried it and I was able to select a better photo than the one shot at the time the shutter was pressed
Cheese shutter: allows to trigger the shutter with voice commands by saying “Cheese”, or “Kimchi”, or “Smile” or “LG” or “Whiskey” – pretty cool.
Low Light Shot NR (Noise Reduction) – uses light level monitoring system and is automatically activated when the camera is used in a low light setting to deliver images with the lowest amount of noise. I did not really check this one.
Photo quality (Excellent):
Similarly to the traditional camera market, the megapixel race is on in the smartphone segment, so the Optimus G Korean and Sprint versions get a 13 MP camera which is more than the regular high -end smartphones such as the Galaxy S3 (8 MP), the HTC One X(8MP) or the iPhone 5 (8MP). Except for the Nokia PureView, 8 MP is now the new standard for high end smartphones.
We have tested the image quality from the Korean 13 MP model – we will update this with the AT&T 8 MP model testing soon- against the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 5, and overall the image quality is comparable on all phones, except for the image resolution.
There are slight differences here and there, but nothing so noticeable to be mentioned. For example, the iPhone 5 seems to have a little sharper contrast on some photos (like in the tree photo) but is darker than the Optimus G in the shade on the street photo. Overall the image quality is slightly better with than with the Samsung S3.
The 13MP resolution becomes useful for people who want to print large size picture with professional quality (300 dpi – up to 14 inch wide with the Optimus, only up to 10-inch wide with the S3 and the iPhone 5).
I tried the panorama function on all three phones and it worked pretty well on all units, although the iPhone 5 allow portrait only shooting in panorama mode the result is equivalent.
See for yourself and check carefully the pictures below, to access the HD versions go to our Flickr account.
Video Quality (Excellent)
I tested the video capture in full HD against the iPhone 5 with a colot scale and the video quality, is great: fluidity, contrast and color balance are all excellent. In comparison, when shooting a color scale and gray scale the iPhone5 image was a bit too reddish (on the grays ) sompared to reality.
The LG optimus is the first Smartphone to run the Quad-core 1.5 Ghz SnapDragon S4 Pro SoC with an Adreno 320 graphic processor , that has shown top performance in the development kit we tested.
Perceived Performance: During testing both the pre production unit and the final product we have here, we were pleased with the perceived performance: the OS user interface is very fluid, all applications we tested are fast and thanks to 4G LTE (only tried with the unit in Korea), browsing the web or downloading files and app was super fast.
is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance.
The LG Optimus G doesn’t take the lead, and it is a bit surprising to find the LG Optimus 4X (Tegra 3) being slightly ahead, but in the grand scheme of things, the Optimus G still does very well and lands right in the middle of the quad-core smartphones that we have tested recently.
GL Benchmark 2.5, Egypt HD off screen measures the graphics performance of the chip by running a game-like polygon environment. To ensure that all devices run under the same conditions, we use the “off-screen” options which renders in 1080p HD.
With a score of 20 frames per second (FPS), the LG Optimus G is only second to the iPhone 5, which is pretty impressive, given that the iPhone 5 has an extremely fast graphics co-processor. It’s not hard to predict that Android devices will probably outpace the 26FPS mark soon. In any case, with such performance, gaming should not be a problem when it comes to speed.
GeekBench 2 is a synthetic benchmark show us that the CPU (general purpose computing) side of the Apple A6 chip is effectively 2X better than the previous iPhone 4S. However, to keep things in perspective, the iPhone 4S was also largely outgunned by TI, Qualcomm, Samsung or NVIDIA for a while now.
Also, keep in mind that Geekbench is largely focused on floating point operations that are used in scientific computations, and polygonal 3D games. It doesn’t really scale with additional (4) cores. Interestingly floating point instructions are usually not the ones to be the most executed for an average user. I’d love to find another integer-focused benchmark, so please drop a comment if you have a suggestion.
The results are quite interesting: thanks to its Snapdragon S4 Pro, the LG Optimus G handily beats the iPhone 5, which was crowned “the fastest smartphone” by countless media reports, just a few weeks ago. We can guess that much less reports will announce that the LG Optimus G just became the king of the hill when it comes to floating point performance.
“Perceived performance”: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?
During this review, we found the perceived performance of the LG Optimus G to be excellent. Everything was fast and this smartphone is at the top of the game in terms of performance. The 3D user interface (UI) is very responsive, partly because LG has chosen to make the scrolling much faster than on competing phones. We like that a lot.
Battery life (Good)
Battery overnight drop
With an overnight (8hrs) 15% drop in battery life (no 3G or 4G network, Wifi-on, GPS on), the battery life under the best conditions isn’t what we expected – the Samsung Galaxy S3 gets a similar battery depletion with 13% drop in 8 hours. Other devices equipped with the same chip fared much better and went as low as 4%, while other top phones are around 8-9%. We will have to take another stab at testing this and make sure that the conditions are exactly the same or as close as possible, but for now, these are the numbers – I will test it again with the GPS off.
Battery life – regular usage
When I tried the LG Optimus G pre-production unit for a few hours with the 4G LTE network available and I could get an idea of the battery life with regular usage. The 4G LTE and the GPS were on the whole time, WiFi was off. I never played a video, however I shot photos many times during the day. Besides shooting pictures, I checked my emails regularly, browsed the web from time to time, uploaded a couple of pictures on Facebook and checked-in on Foursquare several times. Quad-core eco mode was on and the 2,100 mAh battery lasted roughly 8 hours, which is very good knowing that 4G tends to drain batteries pretty quickly.
It is fair to say that the LG Optimus G is an excellent smartphone. When compared to the Samsung Galaxy S3, the current leading device in the high-end Android smartphones market (in terms of popularity), it delivers a state-of-the-art product design in an ultra-thin body with a better build quality than its rival.
It is also a winner on the performance side, keep in mind that its quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC (vs dual-core Snapdragon S4 for the Samsung Galaxy S3) with its faster GPU (adreno 320 vs. Adreno 225 for the S3) produce better results across all benchmarks than the S3. It delivers speed and fluidity for gaming across all applications.
LG is one of the best display manufacturer in the world, and its 4.7” True HD IPS Plus with the ZeroGap technology is totally awesome to look at. It provides an excellent user experience for watching videos or photos.
And kudos to LG for significantly improving its camera application, both on the hardware and the software sides. I found the Time Catch Shot feature ultimately cool and… useful.
Last but not least, we do appreciate the “intuitive cross tasking” concept that brought cool user interface features such as the QSlide function that allow to watch video and write emails or browse the internet simultaneously.