Begun, the 3D war has. And whether you're a fan, or a skeptic, there are going to be two high-end phones you can't ignore this summer that have embraced 3D technology. First out of the gate (but just barely) is the LG Optimus 3D. It's a specs powerhouse, LG is promoting it as the world's first "Tri-dual" architecture smartphone with its dual-core OMAP 4 CPU, dual-channel RAM, and dual-channel board configuration. It's a beast, no matter what criteria you use to measure beastliness.
There's more to user experience than specifications though. LG has went all out with a newly revamped UI on top of Android, as well as applications to support the 3D tech in the Optimus 3D. We've kicked the Optimus 3D around for a while, and put it through the paces, so have a look after the break and see how the sum of the parts works as a whole before it hits AT&T later this summer as the Thrill 4G.
We were lucky enough to get a pre-release unit from LG Electronics during Google I/O, and Phil gave it the once over to share some first impressions and give a walkthrough of the phone. You can (and should) have a look, and here's the video itself to keep things tidy and all on one page.
Youtube link for mobile viewing
We're going to go over all the 3D features and specs in its own section. But for now, let's just say it works -- much better than anyone really expected it to. That's partially because of the hardware and the engineering behind it, but a lot of the reason is the software itself.
From the moment you pick up the Optimus 3D, you notice its quality feel. It's not light, checking it at 168 grams (heavier than the Inspire 4G, or even the HTC Thunderbolt 4G), and everything is solidly built and fits together well. If you've picked up and felt a T-mobile G2X, it's the same general impression -- lots of soft touch coated plastic, brushed steel, and glass. We love the build quality of LG's latest Android phones, and everything good continues with the Optimus 3D.
As we saw in the video, and the first thing you'll notice when you start looking at the hardware, are the dual stereoscopic 3D cameras on the back. They're both 5MP, with autofocus, and have a bright LED flash between them. The camera lens assembly protrudes from the body just a hair, but the lenses themselves are ever so slightly recessed. This is a great spec in itself, because part of what most people will want to do with the Optimus 3D is use the camera, and nobody likes scratchy glazed lens covers. Covers as in two of them -- each camera is covered individually with its own glass.
The Optimus 3D also comes with a front-facing camera, a 1.3 MP shooter of average quality, and of course, it does so in 2D only. It's adequate for video conferencing, or checking your hair before you meet someone special. The problem was finding video chat software that worked, but we'll give developers a bit of a pass as the phone is just now seeing release. Of course dropping Android 2.3.4 on it and having native Google Talk video chat would be the best solution, but that's another rant for a bit later. There's also a proximity and light sensor hidden up there, as we've come to expect from Android devices. Both work with nary a hitch. The earpiece grill is flush with the glass and case, so no lint gets trapped. Hallelujah (yes, that's a pet peeve of mine). At the bottom of the front side you have the four capacitive buttons we've become familiar with, and LG has them in the same order as the rest of the Optimus line -- menu, home, back, search. I wish they turned blue when activated like the Optimus Black, but my childish side will survive. I think.
I usually like it when a manufacturer provides some sort of protective cover over the ports of a phone. It's a good way to keep all the fuzz from your pocket from getting in there, as well as whatever you might have on your hands. All you fishermen know what I'm talking about. Having said how much I like it, allow me to backpedal just a little when it's done this way. The microUSB and HDMI ports each have their own little flap and are positioned in a way that makes it not so easy to open them because the meet in the middle. It's not hard, but it's also not something you can do without looking at it. If they weren't side by side it would be just fine I think. Besides, I need something to nitpick about or I'm just not happy on the inside. This may or may not bother you, but it's certainly not a deal-breaker.
On the top of the phone you have the 3.5 mm headphone jack, the power button, and a noise-canceling microphone. There's not much you can say about these -- they work as they are supposed to. A headset or headphones plug in solidly, the power button is perfectly placed on the curve of the body making it easy to find and operate, and the secondary mic is there and does it's job.
Opposite the ports, you'll find a volume rocker switch that works well and is contoured to let you know which way is up and which way is down if you place your finger on the center of it. Just south of the volume control is the 3D button. Give it a push, and LG's 3D tools, apps and content come front and center in their own dedicated app. It's amazing eye candy, and one touch access to everything 3D is a great touch. We'll talk about that more when we look at the software.
Open the battery door, and you'll find a 1500 mAh battery, microSD card holder, and a SIM card slot. You can eject the SD card without removing the battery, which we all appreciate. The battery is held firmly in place, and isn't going to tumble out when you remove the cover. The battery cover itself is easy to take off and put back on, but you'll need to check it well to be sure you've snapped it into place everywhere.
Speaking of the battery, now is a good time to talk things like battery life and function of the phone as a whole. Everything works -- GPS, Wifi, Bluetooth, speakerphone, 3G, HSPA+, the list goes on. Nothing stands out above the competition, but nothing will give you a fit either. In an area where you should be able to get location information, the GPS locks on in a reasonable amount of time, and outside will pinpoint you to about three meters. Wifi works b, g, and n (5.0 GHz wasn't tested -- don't have that equipment here) and the range is fine, working on my back porch as well as in the driveway or at the mailbox. Bluetooth works fine for file transfer as well as with my headset -- both for calls as well as audio.
The call quality is average, the speakerphone is clear enough and nobody complained that they couldn't hear or understand me. Again, it's not the top or bottom of the heap, but works as well or better than most other smartphones you've used recently.
The pre-release unit we have has both AT&T and T-mobile 3G/HSPA support, and I've seen data transfer rates in a T-Moble 4G area as high as 9 M/sec on the download side. Of course when these pop up on the shelves at your favorite carrier or retailer, this may not be the same. Do your homework before you purchase any contract free unlocked device.
Battery life is fair. If you don't follow your urge to play with the 3D games or watch 3D video, you'll make it through a day of average use. If you do dive into the 3D content, that all goes out the window -- I was able to drain a battery from full to 45 percent with three hours of Let's Golf 2 3D. That should be expected, but I want to throw it out there.
v 3.0, A2DP, EDR
Stereo with RDS
128.8 x 68 x 11.9 mm
4.3 inch TFT LCD
glasses free stereoscopic 3D
480 x 800 pixels
autofocus, LED flash
Stereoscopic photos and video
720p @ 30fps (3D)
1080p @ 24fps (2D)
HDMI port, DLNA
Dual-core 1GHZ ARM Cortex-A9
ROM and Storage
512 MB dual-channel DDR2
1500 mAh Li-Ion
up to 4 hours
up to 100 hours
A couple notes here as well. The network specs are for the unit tested, so don't be surprised if retail versions (especially in the states, i.e. AT&T Thrill 4G) are a bit more restricted.
All this "Tri-dual" talk can be a bit confusing. The "dual" doesn't mean there's two of anything. There's only one physical CPU, only one bank of RAM, and only one motherboard. The data paths have been doubled instead. Imagine all the data is a huge barrel of water, draining through a garden hose. Add a second garden hose, and you'll get twice the amount of water in the same amount of time. It's something that has been done on electronics for a while, and now it's making it's way to the mobile space. It's one of those "Good Things" we're going to benefit from, even if we don't fully understand it.
The fact that this beast is shipping with Froyo (Android 2.2.2) is disappointing. LG has said the Optimus 3D will be updated to Gingerbread. Let's hope they have plans to update past 2.3, and to do so timely. Having this hardware without every software optimization possible would be a crying shame. Timely is another issue. Things like display drivers and 3D software will probably add work to developing OS updates for the Optimus 3D, the question is how much time it will add -- and we just don't know that yet.
The Optimus 3D comes with LG's new Optimus UI (version 2.0). It's very functional, very colorful, and probably does everything you want or need it to out of the box. It has all the widgets and apps built in that you can imagine -- everything from stock quotes to a memo pad, including social widgets from Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. The software on our version isn't finalized, so we expected a few bugs here and there, but for the most part the software worked as expected.
The app drawer is full right out of the box. Before you visit the Android Market, you already have 51 apps, and as you can imagine there are several of them you wish you didn't have. And this is just LG's hand in the app drawer, we can imagine carriers will have to add a few of their own. Not that all the apps are unwanted, that's certainly not the case. Polaris Office and SmartShare are both great applications that many would pay for, and I'm sure a few people find "discovery" apps like App Adviser a nice addition.
There's two things you'll find while digging through the settings I want to talk about for a minute.
One is the Gesture settings. The Optimus 3D has no "G" button like it's smaller cousin the Optimus Black, so I was surprised when I saw a Gesture tag in the settings. Once you calibrate the motion sensor (you can do that right from the settings page), you can set the phone to silence when flipped, silence the alarm when flipped, or use motion navigation in the text input field. We've see the first two plenty, but the text field navigation is pretty sweet -- you can move your cursor by tapping the edge of the screen in the direction you want it to move. It works really well, and after using it I wish all phones had something similar.
The second thing to mention is Froyo. The source code for Gingerbread has been available for everyone since mid December, and I'll wager LG has had access to it longer than that. I love LG's new Android phones. I love that they don't reject the hacking community. I love the blazing fast hardware in the Optimus 3D. I'd love it more with Gingerbread. LG has committed to dropping Gingerbread on the Optimus 3D, and I'm sure they will, but like I mentioned above this phone may suffer from slow updates because of the specialized hardware. I really would have liked to see the Optimus 3D ship with current software.
The 3D hardware in the Optimus 3D works well. Better than anyone I know imagined it would. But the real standout is in the software. LG isn't just giving you a way to take and view 3D pictures and movies, they give you content and guidance. The app drawer has a special 3D category, and one of the first things you'll want to look at is the 3D Guide app.
It's a software guide, and something most people would never look at, because it's just a software guide. But this one is helpful. It's in 3D, so you get a little eye candy, but it's also full of solid, useful information about using the 3D features of the phone. Good information like distance and viewing angles -- information you'll want to read if you use the 3D functions. And you will. They aren't something you'll constantly be playing with, but once you get the hang of them you'll find yourself playing with all the 3D "stuff" more than you ever thought you would.
Then there's the 3D Space app. As mentioned, you have all the 3D apps in their own section of the app drawer, but you also have a dedicated application that's a shortcut to all of them. Is it a bit redundant? Yes, but it's done so well you won't mind. It's a 3D rotating carousel that looks incredible, and opens everything 3D on the phone. It would make for a really nice shortcut on your homescreen to get to the apps you will be playing with, except that the 3D hardware button is mapped to the app so you don't need to. Just push the button, spin the pretty carousel, and pick your poison.
Now would be a good time to talk about the 3D mode. It's Stereoscopic, glasses-free 3D, like you find on the Nintendo 3DS or the HTC EVO 3D. Whenever you start an app that's in 3D, you get a warning about eyestrain that you'll want to read at least once before you dismiss it forever. Many applications have a 3D slider that adjusts the offset distance of the two images, and this allows you to fine tune the effect. Since it's essentially tricking your eyes out of focus, it can be an issue. A good friend's wife had nothing nice to say about it -- it quickly gave her a horrible headache, just as we've heard people say about the Nintendo handheld.
My own experience is a bit weird. I've needed glasses since I was a youngster, but I need to take my glasses off to use the cool 3D stuff, or I too get a headache. I can clearly feel it behind my eyes -- the same type of headache you get from trying to read when there's not enough light. With my glasses off, there is no problem. I can wear the battery out playing the 3D games or taking 3D cat videos and no eyestrain or headache of any kind. I'm sure there is a reasonable explanation behind this, but sine I'm neither reasonable or able to explain I'll just throw it out there.
As far as 3D content goes, You have the camera to make your own, a special Youtube uploader to share the videos you make, and a cool 3D gallery to view content on your SD card or phone storage.
There's also an awesome 3D pop-up book for Gulliver's Travels, and 3D video clips preloaded, covering everything from Pinocchio to FashionTV. And I'll say it again -- you will watch them all, and you will be impressed. You may never go back and watch them again, but you'll be able to satisfy your curiosity with well-done content.
Then there's the 3D games. 3D versions of Asphalt 6, Nova, and Lets Golf 2 are preloaded. The gameplay is the same as the 2D versions, but with 3D effects added into the mix. They are great! You'll wear out the battery and curse the crazy flap covering the USB port for the first week you have the Optimus 3D, because you'll be fooling with them -- I promise. I am a master at hitting little 3D golf balls and now working on my driving skills.
The camera is one area that needs some improvement. It's a step back from the great camera on the T-Mobile G2X in quality, and I'm not talking about megapixels. I've made sure the camera lens covers were clean and scratch free, but I'm not getting the sharp definition from the camera that I expected after using other LG phone cameras. There's also some color correction needed after the software finishes processing the shots, especially in bright light. The 3D shots are mostly clear (as clear as out of focus eyes can be anyway) and easy to get the desired effect. I say mostly, because every once in a while the camera just doesn't focus and you get a blurry mess that damn near impossible to focus your eyes on. If I had to guess a number, I'd say 5-ish (less than 10) time total while playing with it for two weeks. Software glitch, pre-release software. Mystery solved -- time for a Scooby snack.
I'm not saying it's horrible, it's just not excellent. Here's a few stills, hover over them to get a short description of the lighting. And be warned, they open full size.
Then there's video capture. The Optimus 3D does video capture at 1080p in 2D mode. But you won't want to use it often, as it suffers from the same issue that the Optimus 2X/T-mobile G2X did -- it's jittery at that resolution. I'm no spring chicken, I'll admit, but the following example was try five or six, and a very conscious effort was made to not shake the camera while moving it. It doesn't seem to matter, any time you move the camera, or the scenery, the video suffers. Like the G2X, this doesn't happen at lower resolution videos. Is this an issue that may be fixed with software? Probably. But for now, just crank it down to 720p and you'll be fine.
3D content can be shared with other Stereoscopic devices, or uploaded to Youtube. There's a special channel for 3D videos at Youtube, and on the device itself they show as Stereoscopic videos. On a computer or connected device, you have the usual assortment of options, ranging from colored passive glasses to side-by-side cross your eyes viewing. Here's an example for those with either glasses or a 3D device to look at, or for those masochistic types who wanna cross their eyes -- 3D video, blowing a balloon.
It's LG, so that means it's going to be pretty hacker-friendly. The standard root exploits work just fine, and nothing is encrypted or unnecessarily locked down. Like Samsung, LG has been known to hand out devices to developers and they don't try to discourage people hacking their phones. This is a very powerful phone, and will draw some developer attention, but the hardware may be so specialized that the going will be rough. Customized versions of the stock ROM will happen. Things like CM7 or AOSP ROMs are a big unknown, and going to depend largely on LG and dedicated developers. I'm betting on it, because I want to see this phone tweaked and tricked out -- and fast as hell.
As a "regular" phone, the Optimus 3D is great. The software on our version needs a little work, but as we mentioned, it's all pre-release. LG's new UI is very well done, and while a bit of a data hog (aren't they all) it provides access to everything a smartphone user is looking for.
The 3D "stuff" shines. LG has done a great job, and they were able to convince me that the 3D apps and functions add to the experience, instead of just being in the way and something you'll want to turn off and ignore. And the best part -- you can just ignore it if you choose. But I'm betting (and so is LG and AT&T) that many of you guys will like it.
The real story for Android geeks is going to be the hardware. Load up a well coded app done with the native development kit (think most big games) and it flat out performs. This is the phone I want to try Android 4.x on, and I think this is probably the best hardware on the market. I'd love to see the next developers phone packing this kind of beef, and I'd be first in line to get one.
But if I were to make a recommendation to you, and I'm about to, I always have to say to consider all your options. After you do that, if you decide on the Optimus 3D, you probably won't be disappointed. I don't do numbers or give ratings, I go by how it works for me -- a data hogging smartphone user that loves to tinker with his phones. The Optimus 3D did everything well, and using it was fun.
And 3D can be cool, after all.
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