LG Optimus G.

There's no doubt - LG's here. But will the Optimus G be here to stay?

When was the last time you were excited about an LG phone? It has been a while since the handset maker had both buzz and substance on its side; upon entering the Android market, LG lost a bit of its luster, and pitted against such fierce competition like Samsung and Apple, LG began its descent into the brink of obscurity. Enter the Optimus G. With its latest flagship model (and accompanying marketing blitz), LG hopes to regain its fair share of the spotlight, and reestablish itself as a major player in an increasingly crowded market.

Its strategy is simple: stuff a smartphone with the biggest and best specs, pump dollars into its marketing budget, and one-up nearly every other flagship on the market today. But will the strategy pay off, and will the Optimus G catch the eye of AT&T customers? After a week with the phone, I’m ready to make a prediction.


The Good

The Optimus G's display just might be the best in the biz today, and at 4.7 inches, it's both usable and huge. The Snapdragon Pro and 2 GB of RAM, coupled with AT&T's consistenty-impressive LTE, add up to the fastest Android experience yet.

The Bad

The Optimus G's camera doesn't come close to some of its competitor's optics, and the lack of a removable battery might be a drag for some. The G ships with Ice Cream Sandwich, just as Samsung and HTC are shipping their next wave of Jelly Bean-powered devices.

Conclusion

The Optimus G is truly the best hardware LG has ever produced. The display is to die for, and performance is just ridiculously fluid and fast. But LG has a history of stumbling when it comes to building its ecosystem, an essential yet often overlooked aspect of a smartphone's success that Apple and Samsung have used to propel them into superstardom. If the Optimus G takes off, it may gain the support of the third-party accessory makers that it so desperately needs to compete. If not, you're left with great hardware and not much more. Are you willing to take that $200 gamble?

Inside this review

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LG Optimus G: AT&T vs. Sprint

LG Optimus G hardware

LG Optimus G.

LG has a lot to prove with the Optimus G; not only is there pressure to create a blockbuster device, but there’s also pressure to show that the company can make devices as nice (if not better) than its main rivals Samsung, HTC, and Motorola. And with the G, LG comes as close as it ever has.

As we’ve established, LG chose to take a different route than the one Samsung took with its Galaxy S 3 launch, customizing a variety of models to meet carriers’ specific wants and needs. Despite this custom tailoring, all Optimus Gs retain a sense of commonality, including AT&T’s model. Though it differs from the “standard” international version as well as Sprint’s model in both its hardware and software, the AT&T-specific Optimus G very much lives up to its branding.

AT&T’s Optimus G  is striking with its “crystallized” back (part of that "Crystal Reflection Process" thing), though even this differs ever so slightly from the rest of the family with a slightly larger pattern. This isn’t something you’ll notice unless comparing two different models side-by-side, though it was at least worth a mention. It’s of a high-gloss finish that is stunning to look at but absolutely dreadful to handle. It is extremely slippery, even more so than most other glossy finishes, and is nearly impossible to keep smudge-free. Keep a microfiber cloth with you at all times if this is something that gets your goat. The 8MP camera sits flush on the backside, with a framed LED flash located directly underneath. The Optimus G’s less-than-stellar speaker is located on the bottom right-hand corner of the backside.

This model has sharp corners whereas the international and Sprint versions are a bit more rounded, giving the AT&T Optimus G a completely different feel in the hand. I can’t help but think of Verizon’s LG Intuition — this very much reminds me of a smaller version (or is the Intuition a larger version?) — both have a certain boxy feel to them. The edges are curved so despite the sharp-cornered squareness, the G does indeed feel contour to your hand. This model has a matte finish on the top and bottom edges, where the headphone jack and micro-USB charging slot lie respectively. The left and right edges are glossy, with the power button located to the right and the volume rocker and micro SIM/microSD door located to the left. LG has chosen to integrate their notification light into the power button, which glows upon incoming messages and calls. It’s a cool idea and LG manages to execute it in a subtle yet highly effective way.

LG Optimus G. LG Optimus G.LG Optimus G. LG Optimus G.

But all that’s just fluff. The real star here is the Optimus G’s breathtaking display. It’s huge at 4.7 inches without feeling obtrusively large. There is a considerable bezel, especially on the top and bottom, but it frames this display beautifully, and I really don’t know if there would be much I would change about its size and shape.

In terms of quality, this screen is as good as it gets. It’s using IPS technology complete with a 768 x 1280 resolution, resulting in a PPI of around 318. What does all that mumbo-jumbo add up to? A mind-blowing experience. This is without a doubt one of the brightest, clearest, sharpest displays you’ll ever see. Viewing angles are simply unmatched, and color representation is as close to perfectly accurate as I’ve seen in a very long time. Outdoor viewing is a pleasure-- this is one of the best performing displays in direct sunlight. In My only complaint is that colors, while accurate, don’t seem nearly saturated enough, and at times even a bit washed out, but I’ll go ahead and chalk this up to my personal history with (and preference for) AMOLED displays.

LG Optimus G.

Unfortunately, not all apps are designed to take full advantage of all those pixels, and rather than scaling them up, the Optimus G defaults to keeping them scaled down. In less-than-technical terms, this means that a few apps only take up a portion of the screen, leaving a black frame where the unused pixels lie. These apps are few and far between, as most are designed to scale themselves, but I managed to run across one or two. You can correct this in the device’s settings menu under “Aspect Ratio Correction”, but I can’t figure out for the life of me why LG hasn’t made scaling-up default. Perhaps those more tech savvy can explain it to me, but this is going to leave a lot of less-than-expert users scratching their heads confused about why their apps look so small.

Android CentralAndroid Central

On the other hand -- perhaps the most beautiful thing about the Optimus G isn’t even visible. Inside is where the G’s heart and soul lies, and where it falls short in terms of original design, it makes up for in terms of top-notch internals. LG has managed to pack a 1.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2 full gigs of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage, and LTE connectivity into its flagship, and the results payoff. The G is the fastest, most fluid Android device I have ever used, a title previously claimed by the Galaxy S3. I don't put too much faith in benchmarks, but when they accurately reflect how impressive performance really is, I feel the need to include them-- take Quadrant, for example, on which the Optimus G scores a whopping 7,682. Wow. For now, you simply cannot find a faster Android smartphone.

And what happens when you put an ultra-fast phone on an ultra-fast network? Unspeakable things. AT&T’s LTE network is blistering, and consistently provides speeds equal to or faster than Verizon. Here in New York I consistently saw download speeds between 15 and 20 mbps, with upload speeds between 8 and 10 mbps.

Android CentralAndroid CentralAndroid CentralQuadrant

SpeedTest

Fast.

Don’t worry about the toll that LTE radio will have on your battery: it’s non removable, but at 2,100 mAh, I don’t really see the need for a spare or extended battery. I consistently got through a full day with juice to spare with moderate to heavy usage, and with light usage and standby, I went for days without a charger. And if you’re a mega-user, LG has included a handy “Eco Mode” for that quad-core beast, limiting its power to gain extra sips out of the battery. Take my word for it: there’s nothing to worry about here.

Despite that mega screen and gut-busting internals, the Optimus G is a mere .33 inches thick, managing to get very close to the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S 3 in that regard. It’s also pretty light at 5.11 ounces, though at that weight it’s noticeably heavier than some of the competition. Overall, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this is the nicest LG-produced hardware I have ever used.

LG Optimus G Software

Optimus G app drawer

In my opinion, one of the reasons LG has had such a hard time gaining traction in the Android market is its custom software, a bloated, over-the-top skin that takes Android and turns it on its head. If you’re asking how this is any different than Samsung’s TouchWiz, you have a valid point. The difference lies in performance: in the past, LG has taken it too far, weighing down its devices to the point of aggrevating sluggishness, while Samsung has always given its devices enough guts to handle TouchWiz. That changes with the Optimus G—the skin here is as obtrusive and in-your-face as ever, but thanks to the G’s warp-speed performance, this custom software seems a lot less annoying. Screens transition with ease and eye-popping animation, the app drawer flies open, and multitasking laughs at whatever you throw at it. This thing flies.

Unlock screentransition

LG's skin has some eye-popping graphics built into simple tasks like unlocking the phone and transitioning between homescreens, made possible by that super fast processor and RAM.

There is a downside to so much fluff. The Optimus G ships with Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, which is already flirting with tired, boring and outdated. LG has said that it expects to push Jelly Bean to the G in late 2012, and as much as I want to their word for it, prior experience with LG’s software updates keep me on the fence. We’ve got some pretty in-depth customizations, which can get in the way of quick and speedy updates, and compounded with AT&T’s testing and other unexpected delays, I’m guessing it’ll be a while before we actually see Jelly Bean on the Optimus G. I hope I’m wrong, and you know that the tinkerers are already out there working on a port, but if you’re the type to depend on traditional OTA updates and you’re craving Jelly Bean, this is something to keep in mind.

It seems to me, at least, that LG is doubling down on its Optimus skin, focusing on refining and tweaking it enough to create a whole-hearted, undeniable LG experience. Things like unlocking the screen and transitioning between homescreens are grandiose with over-the-top animations, and icons are as cartoonish as they’ve ever been. But not everything is as in-your-face. Some changes are subtle, like the settings menu, which has been given the old LG overhaul-- it’s now broken into side-by-side categories rather than the traditional scroll screen, and includes some intuitive settings like “Quiet Time”, which sets times to turn off all sounds and “Wise Screen”, which keeps the display lit while you’re looking at it.

Android Central
The Optimus G's custom skin isn't always in your face: here, LG has made subtle yet effective changes to the settings menu.

Despite LG’s heavy skinning, the Optimus G doesn’t ship with much LG bloatware, and the functionalities that are included are luckily quite useful and a welcome addition. Take for example Quick Memo, which trumps Samsung’s S-Memo by allowing your notes to stay on the screen even after you’ve exited the application, eliminating the need to toggle back and forth to see your notes. There’s also Q-Slide, an oddly-named yet super-cool way to watch your movie while using your phone for other tasks. Instead of making the video smaller to fit alongside whatever else you’re doing, it makes the video transparent, so it still takes up the full screen, but you can see through it to the rest of the phone. A lot of what LG is doing with their skin is based on what Samsung has already done, but LG is improving and adding to it rather than just lifting it.

Before you get too excited about the lack of bloatware, be aware that AT&T hasn’t been as kind as LG, and has stuffed the Optimus G with its usual bag of mostly-useless goodies. AT&T’s Code Scanner, FamilyMap, Locker, Navigator, Ready2Go, and Smart WiFi are all here, and the carrier has cleverly labeled them all with its moniker, ensuring they are close to the top of your app drawer.  But despite its best attempts, AT&T hasn’t managed to slow the G down one bit, so I wouldn’t fret too much about all that unnecessary bloatware.

The LG Optimus G cameras

The Optimus G has a nice camera, but unfortunately, that’s not enough to compete with the really stellar optics offered by HTC, Samsung, Apple, and LG. Yes, that's right-- the AT&T Optimus G can't even compete with its Sprint-bound sibling, which outperforms thanks to its 13 MP shooter. Nevertheless, this camera has fast autofocus, little shutter lag, and offers some really cool features, like LG’s Cheese Shot, which will take a self portrait with your 8 MP camera just by saying “Cheese.” But despite its bell and whistles, the end results fail to wow. I remember the first time I saw photos from the One X, the Galaxy S 3, and the iPhone 4S/5. I truly felt that we were looking at a post point-and-shoot world. With the Optimus G’s photos, I’m reminded that cell phone cameras are cell phones first, cameras second. Again, this isn’t to say that you won’t get some stellar shots under ideal lighting conditions after tinkering with some settings, but I’d be remiss to praise the Optimus G’s optics while you can something noticeably better with the competition.

Optimus G sample photosOptimus G sample photos

Optimus G sample photosOptimus G sample photos

Optimus G sample photosOptimus G photo Optimus G photoOptimus G photo

The bottom line

LG Optimus G.

With the current state of Android hardware, it would be hard to say that LG doesn’t have a struggle ahead to reclaim some of the market share. But with the Optimus G,  the company is coming out swinging. This device is as close to the total package as we’ve seen: top-of-the-line internals, amazing performance, and a refined and useful user experience translate to a future-proof phone that is worth every single penny of its $200 price tag. In terms of specs and overall usability, the Optimus G is the best phone on the market today.

But specs and usability are only part of the story, and that’s really unfortunate for LG. The Optimus G performs better than the Galaxy S3, and some would say it even looks better, but I’d be hard pressed to recommend it over Samsung’s flagship. The main reason is the market that supports a smartphone. The GS3 has reached such success that third-party manufacturers have thrown their support behind it, similar to what they did to make the iPhone such a huge phenomenon. Like it or not, an ecosystem can make or break a smartphone, and thanks to its overwhelming success, the Galaxy S 3 has a plethora accessories, cases, speakers, cables, docks and more on the market. I’m skeptical that LG can generate this level of excitement among third-party manufacturers.

So this is what it boils down to: you can spend $200 on a top-of-the-line phone that outperforms just about everything out there, or you can spend $200 on a nearly-as-great Galaxy S3 (and it's damned close) that brings with it enough accessories, support, and customizability to make it through your entire two-year contract. This is a double-edged sword, because LG may in fact be able to find a niche that wants something different than what the masses are carrying. But as history shows, niche audiences don’t make blockbuster phones.  I’m afraid that the Optimus G won’t be successful enough to buy into, and that’s really too bad, because it truly is the best of the best.

 

Reader comments

AT&T LG Optimus G review

31 Comments

Yeah, and that's more or less what the new LG Nexus is- except LTE and 32GB of storage for now...
But yeah, this is a nice phone :P

"Bring this out as a pure Nexus device."

This is true, non-Morissettian irony. You don't read Android Central much, do you?

Just a couple things, I thought the AT&T version had 16GB of storage not 32GB mentioned in the review. Also you state the 8MP camera is inferior to the 13MP version found on Sprints Model but the photos I've seen suggest otherwise. I'd love to have Android Central do some side by side comparisons. Would also like to know how the camera on this compares to the new RAZR line since they are also a notch below the current top camera phones. Enjoyed the review, thanks.

I really liked my Nitro after the ICS update, but the battery life was terrible (only get about 2 hours screen time). I might look into getting this for Christmas.

Could a 3rd party camera app help out that foggy whitewash look of some of these photos? The hardware looks solid but I'm none too impressed with that camera.

all other reviews say the 8mp camera in the ATT version outperforms the Sprint's 13mp camera. Higher MP != better quality.

I hope you're kidding, In the world of photography lens quality in undoubtably WAY more important than the number of MPs. Besides, what's a high quantity of MPs if you don't have a high resolving lens?

I keep hearing about the specs. Show me the specs!

S4 Pro sounds good, but the actual results are not that impressive. COnsidering the benchmark scores, they are "slightly better" than Exynos4/Tegra3 SoC. Keep in mind S4 Pro is supposed to be the next-gen from Qualcomm. Whereas Exynos/Tegra devices are using older A9 architecture. When Exynos/Tegra will be coming with A15 next year, this will make the Qualcomm devices look very bad in comparison. Infact the BrowserMark, SunSpider is even worse in Optimus G compared to a Exynos 4 devices. As for GPU, Mali-T604 @ 72GFLOPs will literally murder Adreno320. I would have expected S4 pro to literally blow away the competition. Qualcomm's just doesn't look convincing enough for me.

BTW, check the new google chromebook. It's using exynos 5250. Now you can imagine the power of Exynos when it is used to run a chromebook (aka netbook) which previously ran on Intel processors.

There I'll always be A faster, better, and more efficient cpu/gpu coming around the corner. If you play that game you will never buy a phone.

High end phones are still launching with an S4 instead of the S4 Pro so on a pure performance standpoint the new LG is as good as it gets for now. What more do you want from them besides a camera that performs on par with the big dogs?

Well the good thing is they all keep making better more efficient chips. I will take any of them over the battery hog Omap 4 I have with my GNex.

Andrew,

Good review. Do you know if the LG Messaging app that is installing within the Optimus UI has the capability for threaded Group SMS (like the new Motoblur/iPhone does)?

I was very excited with Optimus G but since yesterday I just can't stop thinking about Padfone 2. Same CPU, GPU but with a 64Gb option and a 10.1 tablet.

I know right. Same thing happened to me. I'm just crossing my fingers that it comes to the US on Sprint witha subsidized price.

Quadrant Is Off The Hook.
I would pay the $579.00 and be done with it if I were in the market to get a phone.. I've never seen a phone transistion screens that fast on ICS.. My Gawd.. How fast would it be on a JellyBean Rom running *Project Butter* and stripped of it bulk overlay and had it's code compiled for speed...? You may not have all the choices for accessories, But wait until XDA gets their hands on this puppy.. You will be glad you made the purchase.. This Phone Rooted & Overclocked on a JellyBean Rom is REALLY going to be something to behold :-)


Great review! Just a heads up, the chart comparing the phones is incorrect as far as the two columns go, for instance the Apple iPhone 5 does not have a S4 Qualcomm SoC, and the Samsung Galaxy does not have an A6 SoC

Now we've got micro-sd slot out of the way, the key question is will there be enough dev support for Optimus G. Personally I don't care about the accessory support as long as I can find good quality screen protector for it but dev support is absolutely essential for me. I'm spoiled by all the nice ROMs out there for S2 and I can't stand OEM/carrier bloat so until I see some good quality dev support for it I'm a non-commit.

I can't wait to see how this phone will stack up with the refreshed quad-core, 2gb LTE Galaxy S3, that's out in Korea, singapore, Australia, with jelly bean! The HTC One X+ or DLX etc.

As for the camera, I don't know why people say post point and shoot world. Just as the point and shoot didn't finish the DSLR market, smarphones won't finish the point and shoot market.

In fact, Sony and Nikon are innovating so much, they've started to get almost full sensors in a compact body. Check out the Sony DSC-hx30v, DSC-Rx1 with 1" sensor, or the new RX100 with full frame DSLR-quality sensor. Imagine if they also came with Android.

While overall I think the review was great, I have to raise question with the assertion that AT&T's LTE network equals or betters Verizon's. In my experience, in a large city with well established LTE networks, Verizon's has always outperformed AT&T in this regard.

I believe Engadget stated in their review that the 13MP version from Sprint was better than the 8MP model as well. But, I am in agreement with those who are waiting for the Nexus Model and it apparently will have the 8GP model. As I have loved my Nexus S 4G generally, I am planning to stick with Nexus. It's nice to know I will get the latest OS, even if it takes Sprint an extra couple months to get it out. I am running Jelly Bean and it is nice. (except for the phone manual dialer which is horribly slow on my phone now for some reason)

Hey guys... as per the video comparison.. "for sure".."for sure"!! lol. :) just playing, thanks for the hard work guys.

OK, another difference between the AT&T and Sprint Optimus G is that the AT&T does not have a green LED light on the front. Not a big difference but definitely an annoying one. The AT&T phone only lights up red around the lock button on the side of the phone once every 30 SECONDS if I miss a call or get a text! However the one for sprint does have this little green light that blinks. I can't even get the frequency of my stupid red light to change. Very disappointed and annoyed. LG offered a refund but I can't decide if I am willing to trade my Optimus for a GS3.