We’ve seen seen some interesting hardware from LG over the past six months. From the Optimus 2X -- the first dual-core Tegra 2 smartphone -- to the ultra-slim Optimus Black with its impressive NOVA display, the Korean manufacturer has proven it’s ready to play in the big leagues. LG recently added the crown jewel to its 2011 line-up with the release of the Optimus 3D in Europe and Asia. It’s a well-designed, hefty slab of a phone that combines a powerful dual-core CPU with some spectacular 3D trickery, thanks to its parallax barrier display and dual camera setup.
Make no mistake, this is a high-end device, and it comes with an expectedly high-end price tag (around £430 at the time of writing). When you’re dropping this much cash on a phone, you’re quite rightly going to expect not only whiz-bang features like glasses-free 3D, but also a solid smartphone experience to back it up. Read on to find out whether the LG Optimus 3D can deliver on both...
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The Optimus 3D is a solid, well-built device that’s a little bit on the weighty side. It’s constructed of plastic, but manages to avoid that dreaded “plasticky” feel by sporting a mostly glass-coated front and soft-touch textured back. Additional visual accents like the reflective trim around the edges, and the brushed metal strip surrounding the cameras manage to successfully disguise the fact that this is another big black slab from LG. The Optimus 3D has a fairly understated look about it, and the only thing that really stands out visually when the device is off is the aforementioned metal strip on the back. The top part, which houses the two 5MP cameras and LED flash, is ever so slightly raised. The section below it is engraved with “3D Stereoscopic”, presumably so you can point to it with an unbearably smug grin whenever someone asks why your phone has two cameras. Speaking of cameras, there’s also a basic VGA sensor above the screen for video calling.
Everything else is in the usual place for an LG smartphone. There’s a 4.3-inch display, four capacitive buttons, a volume rocker on the right edge and a power button and headphone jack up top. The left edge houses the HDMI and micro-USB ports, both of which are protected by retractable plastic covers. Not everyone is a fan of this, but we found it didn’t get in the way too much during our frequent charging of the Optimus 3D (more on that later). Depending on where you live, you may or may not find a mini-HDMI cable included with your Optimus 3D -- this seems to vary from country to country. Our review unit shipped without one.
There’s also a dedicated “3D” button on the right edge. When viewing photos or videos, this will switch you between 2D and 3D mode, or you can long-press it at any time to launch the LG 3D Hub.
As we mentioned, the Optimus 3D is a weighty device, tipping the scales at 168 grams. That’s an HTC Thunderbolt and some change, or one and a half Galaxy S II’s. So it’s heavier than the average phone, but despite this we didn’t have any trouble adjusting to the extra heft. Spread across 4.3 inches of smartphone, 168 grams doesn’t feel excessively heavy.
Lurking inside the phone is a dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 chip running at 1GHz, alongside 512MB of RAM. LG has made a lot of the Optimus 3D’s “tri-dual” technology (dual core, dual channel memory, dual camera), but all you really need to know is that this is very fast smartphone. Everything was silky smooth, and the only delays we noticed came when initializing the rear cameras. We can let this pass, on account of there being two of them. Some will complain about a high-end phone shipping with "only" 512MB of RAM, but for the moment at least, this is more than enough for the smartphone version of Android. As far as internal storage goes, there's 8GB included. This is split between a 5.5GB "internal SD card", around 1GB for app storage and the remainder being used by the OS. There's also a microSD card port behind the battery cover, though no card is included with the phone.
The display is a WVGA (480x800) IPS panel, which offers a really nice balance between viewing angles, image quality, brightness and daylight visibility. Even when viewed at extremely wide angles, there was no obvious image distortion. It’s not quite as striking as a SuperAMOLED+ screen like the Galaxy S II’s, but it’s just as good as any Super LCD out there right now.
LG’s official specs for the Optimus 3D include HSPA+ support, though we weren’t able to test this on account of the current HSPA+ drought on this side of the pond. Regardless, when the major networks do eventually roll out this technology, you should be good to go with the Optimus 3D.
Finally, we can’t forget voice calls, and you’ll be relieved to hear that this feature is indeed supported on the Optimus 3D. When you’re not showing off the fancy glasses-free 3D, you can actually make phone calls on this thing, and when you do, you shouldn’t notice any issues with audio quality.
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat -- the Optimus 3D ships with Android 2.2.2. Yeah, Froyo. There’s nothing wrong with Froyo, but at the same time we don’t like the fact that we’re seeing it on a brand new phone in the third quarter of 2011. Gingerbread’s source code has been available since last December, so there’s really no excuse for releasing an expensive, high-performance handset with a year-old version of Android. Though at least LG’s promising an update to Gingerbread in September or October, and the phone’s powerful hardware and plentiful storage means we’d expect an eventual bump to Ice Cream Sandwich, too.
On top of Froyo you’ve got LG’s custom UI, which has a chunky, colorful look to it not unlike Samsung’s TouchWiz. It won’t be to everyones tastes, especially if you’re used to the darker, more angular look of stock Android. But all the various components of the UI fit together well to form a coherent whole.
Launcher-wise, the Optimus 3D delivers seven homescreens for all your icon and widget-based needs, and the app drawer is helpfully arranged into categories. By default your apps are split into three categories -- 3D apps, system apps and downloaded apps. However, there’s also the option to switch to a page or list-based layout, if that doesn’t float your boat. The notification dropdown area has been customized with power controls for Wifi, bluetooth and the like, as well as an optional music player control.
Other bundled apps from LG include a tweaked version of the Android music player, which features a cool 3D scrolling effect for flipping through albums, and a fully-featured weather app powered by AccuWeather.com. Media streaming is capabilities are provided by LG’s SmartShare app, which can stream any supported video, music or photo content to a compatible DLNA-compatible player. As for native playback on the phone itself, we found the Optimus 3D supported just about every format we threw at it, with the only problems arising when we tried to play 720p MKV files, which resulted in slow, out-of-sync audio.
LG’s browser is fairly similar to the stock Android offering, but with a couple of unique additions. There’s an iPhone-style navigation bar at the bottom of the browser window, giving access to back, forwards, tab controls and settings at all times. The “read it later” feature, which appears alongside bookmarks, lets users tag pages or links for later viewing. And we should probably mention that the browser itself is silky smooth, likely thanks to the beastly dual-core OMAP chip powering the Optimus 3D.
On the PC side of things, contact, calendar and bookmark synchronization is handled by the LG PC Suite, which is included on the Optimus 3D’s internal storage. We found that this worked well enough once it was up and running, in spite of a few initial teething problems involving drivers for the phone. LG’s On-Screen Phone application is bundled with the Optimus 3D, too, allowing complete control over the device over a USB or Bluetooth connection. We're not sure what practical application this might have, but it is pretty cool, and technically impressive.
The Optimus 3D’s main attraction is its glasses-free stereoscopic 3D support, provided by its parallax barrier display. The native gallery app supports 3D photos in .jps format, and 3D video in a variety of formats, with 3D content being indicated in the gallery by a small 3D icon. Switching in and out of 3D mode can be achieved by pressing the virtual 3D button on-screen, or the physical 3D button on the side of the device. There’s also a 3D depth slider that allows you to tweak the appearance of 3D content and make it easier to focus on.
Just like any glasses-free 3D system, for best results you need to hold the display directly in front of you, a short distance away from your eyes (LG recommends around 30-40cm away). Once you get used to the effect, it’s actually really impressive. The bundled 3D content, as well as 3D videos and stills recorded on the device, all look fantastic, and give a great illusion of depth. And crucially, we didn’t experience any dreaded “3D headaches” during our extensive testing of the phone’s 3D features, though obviously your mileage may vary in this regard. You can also press the 3D button when viewing 2D content to make the phone upscale whatever you’re viewing into the third dimension. However, this gave us mixed results at the best of times, ranging from “actually pretty decent” to “brain-meltingly horrible”.
LG has partnered with Gameloft to bring Asphalt 6, Let’s Golf 2 and Nova 2 to the Optimus 3D right out of the box. All three games look great in 3D, and there’s barely any performance loss compared to 2D mode thanks to the ample processing power of the Optimus 3D.
Our main concern with regards to the 3D feature has to do with where we’re going to get new content from in the months and years ahead. 3D on TVs, consoles and smartphones is clearly here to stay, but there’s no clear path to getting fresh 3D media on the Optimus 3D, besides YouTube and content recorded on the device itself. LG’s 3D Hub, which contains shortcuts to all 3D-capable apps on the phone, links to the official “3D” channel on YouTube, but this is only infrequently updated. 3D is great, but unfortunately finding 3D content remains challenging at the best of times.
In addition to the basic front-facing VGA camera, the Optimus 3D has two rear-facing cameras, which allow photos to be taken in 2D at 5 megapixels, or 3 megapixels in 3D. Similarly video content can be recorded at 1080p resolution in 2D, or 720p in 3D.
We found that still photos looked good, but offered little in the way of fine detail compared to more powerful 8-megapixel sensors found in phones like the HTC Sensation. Up-close, 2D stills taken at 5 megapixels had a heavily filtered look, and subtle details were hard to make out. That said, 2D photos taken on the Optimus 3D will scale well for use on the web.
One issue we noticed with all content recorded on the Optimus 3D was that the cameras struggled to make out details in bright daylight, and colors became somewhat washed out in brighter conditions too, as you’ll see in the samples below.
You can find a zip containing 3D photos in .jps format over here.
And now we reach the closest thing this phone has to an Achilles heel. Out of the box, on the shipping V10A firmware, the Optimus 3D’s battery life was absolutely dire. However, the V10D update which landed a few days after the European street date has improved things markedly. It’s still possible to deplete the battery in a few hours if you’re doing anything involving video recording or 3D gaming. However, with our normal moderate-to-heavy usage patterns, we managed just over 12 hours and 30 minutes on a single charge. To put that into perspective, it’s within half an hour of what we got from the Samsung Galaxy S II with similar usage patterns involving music playback, 3G and Wifi browsing, streaming from YouTube, photography and the occasional voice call and text message.
So you should be good for a full working day on a single charge, but if you’re a particularly heavy user, you may want to consider a mid-day charge or perhaps investing in an extended battery. The silver lining here is that Optimus 3D actually charges very quickly using the bundled AC adapter, noticeably faster than most Android smartphones, so at least you won’t be tethered to the wall for too long when charging time comes around.
LG has a history of releasing hacker-friendly hardware, and the Optimus 3D is no exception. Rooting the device is easy, and within days of its international release Optimus 3D owners were already rocking ClockworkMod recovery on the device. As it’s only just been released, you’ll have to wait a little while for before any decent custom ROMs start to appear for the Optimus 3D, but work has already begun on a CyanogenMod 7.1 port for the phone, and more are sure to follow in the future.
As always, installing custom firmware may void your warranty, so you could be on your own if anything goes wrong. But if you’re comfortable with tinkering around with Android’s software internals, then you’ll be right at home on the Optimus 3D.
It seems like everyone has a different opinion of 3D on smartphones. For some, it’s an impressive feature that gives phones like the Optimus 3D and HTC’s competing EVO 3D a real advantage over other high-end devices. For others, it’s a needless and expensive gimmick. In any case, we’d definitely recommend trying out a demo unit before handing over your cash, as it’ll help you find out whether this major selling point is something you’re actually going to enjoy.
3D aside, the Optimus 3D is a capable smartphone with some impressive tech under the hood. The IPS display is bright, clear and gives excellent viewing angles, and Android flies along on the dual-core OMAP4 chip. We’re a little irked by the lack of Gingerbread on the Optimus 3D, but with any luck this will be remedied in the next month or so. Battery life remains something of a concern, though the recent V10D firmware update has improved things, to the point where a full day’s usage on a single charge is now possible.
To sum up, the Optimus 3D is a great device for enthusiasts, but it won’t be the right fit for everyone. If 3D’s not your cup of tea, then you’ll find better mainstream offerings from other manufacturers, which include the HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy S II -- both excellent dual-core smartphones with similar retail prices. However neither device offers the sheer “wow factor” produced by the Optimus 3D’s stereoscopic antics, nor the look of amazement on the faces of friends and family that result from it.
The LG Optimus 3D is available now in the UK, Europe and Asia, with SIM-free prices around £430 at the time of writing. It’s also up for grabs at subsidized prices from a number of European carriers. In the UK it’s currently available on Three, with a T-Mobile UK launch just around the corner. In the US, the Optimus 3D will be sold by AT&T as the LG Thrill 4G in the weeks ahead.