The LG Optimus GK has been launched in Korea in late April, and it happens to have the exact same hardware as the Japanese LG Optimus G Pro. For those of you who have heard of the LG Optimus G Pro, you are probably picturing a 5.5″ smartphone with a 1080p display, and you would be right. For some reason, LG and its partner Docomo are marketing the 5″ Optimus GK with the name “Optimus G Pro” in Japan — go figure. For the purpose of clarity, I’ll call this one with its “GK” Korean name. Now that we have clarified the naming conventions, let’s take a closer look to the device itself.
To make a long story short, the GK is supposed to put the power of the LG Optimus G Pro into a more compact 5″ form-factor, for those who prefer something “smaller” – it’ a bit funny to use that word since a lot of iOS devices still have a 3.5″ display. We’re not sure if the LG Optimus GK will appear in the USA at some point, but since AT&T as an exclusive on the Optimus G, maybe another carrier will get the GK, and that would be a very good thing… for the international crowd, the Optimus GK will also launch outside of Korea very soon (LG has announced an Asia event, so this is probably it).
Industrial design (very good)
Despite being released after the LG Optimus G Pro was, the Optimus GK does not use the exact same design language as its 5.5″ predecessor. Instead, it is a hybrid design between the original Optimus G, and the G Pro. The front truly looks like the “G” except for two improvements: the ear-speaker and the home button. I really love a good, crisp, home button since you can use it to wake up the phone (the average user looks at its smartphone 150 times a day according to a recent study, so how many times do you think we’re touching that button?). The home button is also more comfortable than using the side button which is a bit too recessed in my opinion.
On the right side, you will find the volume control, the Power button and the SIM+micro SD trays. The presence of a tray is an improvement over the original “G” design (Korean version) which was integrated in the AT&T SKU of the “G”. We’re glad to see that users have a good option for cheap additional storage. This particular unit came with 32GB (20GB available), but this may vary from regions.
In the back, you will find the camera module placed prominently in the top/center of the smartphone. The plastic cover looks great and has a “pearl white” finish that we find quite elegant. It looks different than the Optimus G Pro’s cover, and I’ll let you decide which one you prefer (I can’t decide myself). It also has a downside: it is *not* a removable cover, and the battery isn’t removable either. It’s not a big deal to me, but I know that there is a crowd which really wants removable batteries. Design-wise, I think that the back cover could have used a little less branding to make it classier.
Overall, this is a very nice, very good design that looks very solid. The phone feels good in the hand (for reference I wear M-sized gloves), and is easy to manipulate with one hand. It’s true that my thumb can’t really reach the top-right corner of the display (I hold the phone with the left hand), but I haven’t had to reach that particular area anyway, so I don’t see an issue with this. You may have a different usage model.
The 5″ 1080 display is beautiful and renders bright and accurate-looking colors. Things don’t look over-saturated and there is certainly a crowd which likes that is completely “pro-IPS” for that reason. I personally think that this is a matter of preferences, and that the AMOLED vs. IPS “war” is a bit over-rated. It’s true that IPS displays tend to have better color accuracy, but AMOLEDs have better “black levels” and contrasts. The only practical difference in my view is that IPS displays are often a bit more readable in direct sunlight, so you should be mindful of that depending on your situation.
Software and OS
LG has loaded this smartphone with Android 4.1.2 (build JZ054K), and yes, the purists may not be 100% happy about not having 4.2. That said, we’ve covered Android 4.2 extensively, and the only features that I *really* miss in 4.2 are Photosphere and the sock UI itself, but no smartphone outside of the Nexus 4 has them anyway… LG has a number of software features that you may be interested in, so you might want to check our LG Optimus G Pro review to get an overview. Qmemo and Qremote are among my favorite LG apps, but you have access to the Google Play store anyway, so nearly all the popular apps are just a few taps away.
What I think is the most remarkable software aspect in LG’s “Optimus G” line of smartphones is the overall responsiveness of the user interface. LG has done a great job of integrating a number of features (like multitasking) very deep in the OS, without adding noticeable “lag” to the user experience (when compared to “stock Android”). This is one of the great advantages that LG has over Samsung’s TouchWiz which is a little slower to react to user input (I suspect that Samsung has been focusing on “adding features” rather than improving UI speed). This is extra speed that you can actually “feel” and it makes you a little more productive every single time you touch the phone. In my opinion, this compounds nicely over time.
In broad daylight the LG Optimus GK can take good and detailed photos. I’ve snapped a few examples to show you, although these are arguably not the most artistic ones ever… (I’ll work on that). I don’t expect people to complain about the daylight photo quality — beyond that, it depends how good the camera app is at choosing options like HDR or “night mode” automatically, but right now, I don’t think that it is so smart (this is common to most smartphones, including the S4, and the Sony XPERIA Z is the one raises the bar for Android phones when it comes to camera auto-mode). If you are curious, I have full size samples on our Ubergizmo Flickr account.
This leads us to the low-light performance. I shot this photo in a controlled environment with a very dim lighting. The Optimus GK does pretty well, but it is challenged by other phones in terms of sharpness. I guess that’s because the auto-focus system has a hard time figuring out what to do since it is contrast-based and can’t “see” very well in the dark. The addition of a focus light may help, but the ultimate solution is to add phase-detection based autofocus down the road. I’m not aware of any smartphone using phase detection, but I sure hope that it will come sooner or later.
The video recording capabilities reflect much of the same properties, and in the end, I would say that while it provides a very decent camera experience, I think that LG can further improve the optics/sensor and software aspect of the camera in order to compete with the best players out there. There is no doubt that “software” is actually the final frontier when it comes to maximize the camera hardware usage, mainly by selecting the best camera modes for any given shot.
The Optimus GK is a great multimedia system, and it is capable of displaying beautiful movies, run modern games and run trivial content such as music and eBooks. The rear speaker in the back is quite visible and while it doesn’t provide the most powerful sound in the smartphone world, it seems like LG has opted for quality instead of pure sound power. I feel like the loudspeaker may be a little weak for voice conversations in a noisy environment, but I have yet to test this case. To make a long story short: this speaker is decent, but we’ve seen better ones out there, so it won’t be a differentiator.
In terms of raw horsepower, I was initially surprised that the LG Optimus GK did not have a performance parity with its Optimus G Pro (5.5″) sibling during our benchmark. In theory, its performance should be very similar since runs at the same 1.7GHz speed, but here’s what’s happening:
Although the specifications and hardware are the same, the chassis design is much more compact and doesn’t allow a cooling system that is as efficient as the one in the larger Optimus G Pro. As a result, LG makes sure that the smartphone doesn’t get uncomfortably hot by clamping down on the “maximum” performance of the phone.
That makes sense and it’s true that the phone didn’t get all hot on me. I guess that if you are seeking a gaming device, you should look into the 5.5″ version of the Optimus G Pro, since it is better in terms of size, cooling efficiency and battery capacity. If you’re not playing games, chances are that you will not feel the performance difference anyway, so choose based on your lifestyle/usage.
Conclusion (very good+)
The LG Optimus GK (aka Optimus G Pro in Japan) closes the gap between the 4.7-inch “G” and the 5.5 “G Pro” smartphones from LG. It basically brings the 1080p resolution and some of the performance boost of the G-Pro, but in a form factor that is more pocketable and close to the regular smartphone format that most people are comfortable with.
While it doesn’t have the best raw benchmark numbers, I would point out that the user interface is ultra-responsive, which is an asset for fast interaction. Fast typers will love this phone.
In terms of industrial design, I really like what LG has done with this model. It feels more “premium” than the original Optimus G, and its plastic back cover looks and feels nice with the “white pearl” color treatment. Obviously, if you need to feel aluminum or glass on your fingers, this won’t change your mind – but those material come with a “weight tax” that is not negligible either.
I’m not sure if we will get the LG Optimus GK outside of Asia, but I hope that a US carrier will pick it up. AT&T has an exclusive on the 5.5″ Optimus G Pro, and it would be nice if customers from other carriers could get a taste of the new LG phones. Let’s wait and see… what do you think?