While not the world’s first smartphone with a quad core processor or a 4.7″ IPS LCD screen, AT&T’s LG Optimus G is the carrier’s first smartphone offering that uses the quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor. Furthermore, this particular flagship device comes from LG. While many Android enthusiasts might be leery of giving this smartphone a fair shot due to the company’s notorious history of keeping their smartphones up to date, the Optimus G is in fact AT&T’s top Android smartphone offering when it became publicly available for purchase on November 2nd. While it is irrefutable that nothing else in AT&T’s Android line up can compete with the Optimus G when it comes to raw hardware specifications, will this be the smartphone that can prove LG can deliver a top notch Android smartphone?
The LG Optimus G is a fairly regular, discreet smartphone when it comes to build quality and material. The phone is made entirely out of plastic, albeit it is put together quite well with minimal, uniform gap tolerances that implies to the end user that LG’s quality control is in play. Furthermore, the Optimus G follows the Samsung Galaxy phone’s button and port placement nearly to a tee; the top of the phone only has a 3.5 millimeter headphone port, while the power button and the Micro USB port is on the right and bottom side of the phone respectively.
The Optimus G borrows some design cues from Motorola’s RAZR handsets as well, with a cover hiding the MicroSIM and Micro SD card ports that shares space with the volume control buttons on the left side of the phone. Imitation is indeed the most sincerest form of flattery, as the Optimus G also have two exposed penta-lobe pattern screws at the bottom of the phone, very similar to Motorola’s RAZR M.
Since the Optimus G is constructed entirely out of plastic, the phone lacks the dense, premium feel that the iPhone and the RAZR HD has. However by no means does it feel cheap; the phone weighs slightly more than the Galaxy S III, and the lack of a battery door gives it a more unified feel. The internal components are laid out well enough to give the phone a good weight distribution so that neither ends feel heavier than the other. One grimace about the Optimus G might be the corners of the phone. While the corners are not as pronounced and sharp as the Nokia Lumia 900, end users with bigger than average size hands may find the one of the lower corners digging slightly into their palms while holding it during a call.
When it comes to aesthetic, the LG Optimus G is not going to attract any attention. Anyone can have the AT&T Optimus G in any color as long as it’s black. The capacitive touch buttons below the screen disappears completely once the backlight goes out. While not as bold as the Galaxy S III in design, the understated plain look might be more appreciated by business users and those who don’t see their smartphones as a fashion statement.
The one interesting feature that does separate the Optimus G from other phones however, is the location of the notification light. LG placed the notification light directly underneath the phone’s power button, and just like any other Android phones with notification LED, it pulsates on a time interval when the phone receives a text or email messages, missed phone calls, and even when it’s plugged in and charging. While not exactly the main selling point of the phone, the pulsating LED outlining the power button does work pretty well even though it is on the side of the phone, and emits enough light to even be seen when looking at the phone directly in well lit rooms.
The LG Optimus G may not have the most attractive casing on the market, but it does have arguably the best looking screen. With a 4.7″ IPS LCD display, the screen is simply striking to look at, featuring a generous 1280 x 768 resolution that defies the conventional 16:9 aspect ratio, making the screen look more “square” than its other competitors. Unlike the most AMOLED screens, this screen’s pixel arrangement is laid out in a RGB pattern, allowing the best color reproduction available; the color white is indeed white, not a shade off towards yellow or blue that most AMOLED screen bias has. Admittedly, the Optimus G’s screen may not have as much saturation or infinite levels of black to white color contrast, but the colors are joyfully natural and movie/picture viewing is a treat. The viewing angle is fantastic, with virtually no loss of color contrast when viewing the screen even at the most extreme angles, and the screen’s maximum brightness level is a few ticks away from making one’s eye bleed.
Amusingly enough, the single speaker located on the lower right side of the Optimus G is surprisingly loud. Being a small speaker, it certainly isn’t going to replace a home theater system, but as of late it seems many smartphones suffer from speakers that are just not loud enough. LG seeks to break this mold by making the Optimus G’s speaker noticeably louder than the majority of the smartphones out in the market right now without causing the sound to become muddy or clipped. While the speaker definitely has enough power behind it, the slit in the back of the casing that it sits behind might not have been LG’s best decision. When the phone is placed in a carrying case or even on the table, its flat back can cause the sound to become muffled. Regardless, it is nice to see a phone whose speaker can reproduce audio with enough volume behind it so the chances of missing an important call or notification is a lot less.
Author’s Note: The Email client in the picture above is indeed the email client for the base Android 4.0.4 operating system, but the LG Email client had been reviewed thoroughly beforehand.
As mentioned before, LG has earned some ill reputation in the past for not keeping their Android devices up to date. The AT&T Optimus G arrives in the user’s hands out of the box with Android 4.0.4, the latest version of…Ice Cream Sandwich. Although it is leaps and bound better than Android 2.3 Gingerbread, Android 4.1 Jellybean has been available to the market for three months now. With the release of version 4.2, the Optimus G’s software is now two version behind.
Furthermore to Android Purists, LG masks the vanilla Android UI with their own overlay. For those that like what LG offers in terms of hardware but despise customized Android user interfaces, the LG Nexus 4 will be more than happy to accommodate those needs. The good news is, the LG user interface works well enough, with consistent interface aesthetics and doesn’t cause the phone to lag. The bad news? Certain inconsistencies in the interface shows that LG has some unchecked boxes left to take care of before they have a bug free, unified interface like Samsung’s TouchWiz. The laucher behaves similar to the vanilla launcher, allowing users to change and have up to four application shortcuts in the drawer. Opening the application drawer presents an interface and transition flow similar to TouchWiz, but one particularly annoying issue was noticed: While the drawer allows the applications to be sorted alphabetically or by the application’s installation age, the setting does not stick and must be re-selected every time a new application is installed, otherwise it will pop up and stay at the last page regardless of the sorting method selected earlier. While this may be more of a personal preference, LG’s decision to break out the Settings menu into Network, Display, Sound and General settings can cause needless extra switching between tabs just to find the right option and is not necessary more efficient than the more unified vanilla Android Settings menu.
In terms of other components of the Android user interface, LG manage to keep most of it close to vanilla Android. Most interfaces are basically the same as what vanilla Android offers with the exception of a lighter color scheme, such as the Phone and Calendar application. Other applications, such as the Email and Text Messaging, do get some tweaks that make them different enough to note. One of the notable addition to the text messaging application is a popup box similar to the iPhone when a text message comes in while the phone is in use. The feature works well and is reliable, but the interface itself looks half-baked and is in need of refinement. The email application functions and looks nearly identical to the vanilla version for the most part, but adds welcomed features such as automatically displaying images in HTML emails.
As far as bloatware goes, AT&T has loaded the Optimus G with a plethora of their applications, many of which might be useless as the end user probably don’t use it or have a better alternative. It is irritating to find out that these cannot be removed by normal means as well, so they basically occupy application menu and disk space.
Fortunately, LG has kept the needless application off the phone, and in fact, offers their own Music and Video player that ironically functions quite close to their Samsung counterparts as well. The Music Player has virtually the same user interface and flow as Samsung’s, and even offers music sorting by folder. The Video Player, while not groundbreaking, offers a minimalistic menu and supports a good variety of video formats. Our 720p and 1080p movie of Alien in AVI format played on the Optimus G flawlessly.
Samsung Galaxy S III owners may notice the lock screen is very similar to their Nature based TouchWiz lockscreen as well, and in fact, it is nearly a shameless copy of it. The Optimus G even mimics the water droplet sounds when interfacing with the lockscreen, although the unlocking animation effect is arguably executed better on LG’s side. While LG is starting to get its game plan together when it comes to customizing the Android overlay, it really needs to follow its own path and introduce features and designs that differentiates itself from the competitors without prohibiting the user experience.
Utilizing the latest quad core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, the LG Optimus G simply blew through everything it does with no complaint. Transiting and navigating through the Android user interface never felt so seamless and lag free, and any media content such as gaming or web browsing ran at an alarmingly fluid pace. Fans of first person shooters such as Dead Trigger will find themselves in gaming nirvana as the Optimus G chews through the latest 3D games without so much as a hiccup. While the LG user interface overlay probably adds a bit more load than the vanilla Android interface, it never felt like it was holding the phone back. Until the Galaxy Note 2 arrives on AT&T on November 9th, there is nothing else in AT&T’s Android lineup that can offer this kind of performance.
Left: Front Facing Camera, Right: Rear Camera
Unlike the Sprint version, the AT&T Optimus G went with a lower 8 megapixel sensor instead of the 13 megapixel unit for the rear camera. Fortunately megapixels does not mean everything, as the AT&T version takes overall good pictures. The snap response time may not be the fastest, but the phone does respond to low lighting condition and auto focus fairly well. Video recording is 1080p and 720p is in line with all other high end smartphones; if a comparison had to be made, the camera unit in general performs roughly the same as the Samsung Galaxy S III, although we would have to admit the Galaxy’s camera produces slightly sharper pictures overall.
As for the front facing camera, it lacks auto ISO adjustment and focus, hence the dramatic difference in the picture quality on the same subject and environment on the sample pictures posted above. It will do for a quick video conversation in a pinch, but it’s not going to be the ideal choice for long term web conferencing.
A non-removable 2100 MaH battery keeps things rolling. While this sounds somewhat on the lower side for a phone carrying a quad core processor, it managed to last an entire work day with 35% of battery capacity remaining; this charge took care of 1.5 hours of active screen time, along with syncing two email accounts that averages 400-500 messages per day, 30 minutes of phone calls and roughly 30-50 text messages. This is with the screen brightness locked at 60% and LTE enabled, no WiFi/GPS/Bluetooth. The Optimus G’s battery life is roughly average in terms of what the average battery life for today’s smartphone offers, but between the high resolution IPS screen and that lightning fast quad core processor and GPU, power users may need to watch their battery meter a little closer throughout a productive day.
With the geek hardware specification talk aside, the Optimus G works quite well serving its original purpose as a phone. Callers on the other end sounded loud and clear through the Optimus G, and audio going to the other end was satisfactory with no clipping, and to top it off, never dropped a call. The radio signal is on par with what is observed with other Android smartphones; under the same testing conditions with the AT&T Galaxy S III and HTC One X that average about -110 dBM for LTE (Two bars), the Optimus G does slightly better with -100 to -105 dBM for LTE (Alternating between two or three bars). Throughout testing, we observed no abnormal signal fluctuation.
AT&T made a wise choice in offering the Optimus G on its network. While it may not be the flagship offering for their Android lineup in the long run, this is one of the most well-rounded devices available for the American carrier. Compared to other Optimus G derivatives, the AT&T version does offer a Micro SD card slot, which is not even offered on the original international Optimus G. Its 8 megapixel camera may not have the pixel count of the Sprint model, but it performs arguably just as good, if not better.
Although it offers many compelling features, the LG Optimus G’s release date may be fatal to this phone’s success due to Google’s recent announcement of the LG Nexus 4, which is basically the same phone without any carrier limitations in addition of running vanilla Android 4.2 Jellybean. While that phone is due for release on November 13th, the Optimus G does have to deal with another threat from within its own turf: the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 on November 9th. It may not be the top dog of AT&T’s Android phone in a week or a month from now, but it is still a fantastic option for those that may not find the Samsung appealing. Ultimately, it is all up to LG in being able to support their product and deliver updates in a timely manner, in whether or not Android fans will warm up to the Optimus G or watch it fade into the background like its predecessors.