LG has struggled in the last few years with their smartphone attempts, but since the release of the L Series as pre-paid offerings, they’ve begun to show signs of life in the Australian market. Last year they took the number two pre-paid manufacturer spot, showing a strong intention to reign supreme in the Australian market. The Australian launch of the Optimus G as a post-paid (on-contract) device on the Telstra 4G network marks their return as a premium quality, high end brand in the Australian mobile landscape.
The Optimus G, LG’s ‘Superphone’, was introduced to Australia on the 13th of March in a media event at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Disappointingly this ‘Superphone’ is actually about six months old, having first been released in Korea in September 2012. It has since slowly rolled out to the rest of the world, going to the US in October and finally arriving in Australia – it still hasn’t launched in the UK. Unfortunately, to add insult to injury, LG has in the intervening months announced the Optimus G’s successor – the Optimus G Pro – and also advised that we won’t see it in Australia.
The Optimus G is positioned as LG’s premium product – it’s the best of both design and specifications that they can supply. The phone is famously known as the Nexus 4′s fraternal twin, and shares mostly the same specifications except for some hardware differences – it has more storage, active LTE, a higher quality camera, and a dedicated button for LG’s QuickMemo app. It’s missing Qi wireless charging and comes with LG’s software customisations, so you’ll find a number of comparisons within.
It’s clear that LG has worked long and hard to bring about a change to the stock Android experience and wants to provide something that they hope will change the end user’s experience for the better. Their software includes a number of apps and customisations to existing systems that they hope will see them gain market share not just in Australia, but around the world.
Ausdroid was supplied with two Optimus G phones for review. Scott Plowman, who also owns a Nexus 4, has kindly helped out with this review.
How did LG do with the Optimus G? Read on to find out.
Build Quality and Hardware
While LG got a lot right on the hardware front, it’s far from faultless. The Optimus G is covered front and back in Corning Gorilla Glass 2, covering a 4.7” 1280×768 TrueHD IPS+ display on the front and a patented crystal reflective display backing on the rear. The smooth finish of the rear is interrupted only by the 13MP camera, which protrudes slightly from the glass.
Once you’ve finished peeling all the protective stickers off the Optimus G – there are a lot of them, and it takes a while to get them all – you get a much better feeling for the phone. The phone has nicely rounded edges – it sits quite comfortably in your hand, although I prefer the rubberised plastic chamfered edges of the Nexus 4.
The device feels good in your hand – there’s no flex or give in the body found in other phones manufactured entirely from plastic. A fully glass phone does, however, have its drawbacks. While the feel of the phone is brilliant, after spending just 5 minutes with the phone I realised I had to be careful not to drop it. Being only slightly thicker – 0.6mm – and shorter – 0.2mm – than the Nexus 4, the phone does feel very thin, adding to the comfort when holding it. The Optimus G is a lot more square than the Nexus 4 – some would say it borrows some design cues from the Galaxy S II, however I feel it’s perhaps more likely an evolution of the L Series phones such as the L7 or L9.
A chrome band runs around the front of the phone, which frames the screen quite nicely as well as adding a pleasant flourish to the traditional “black slab” smartphone, although it appears to sit just below the height of the screen meaning the glass will be resting on any surfaces you place it face down on. It would have been nice to see the screen raised slightly as seen on the Nexus 4 — the smooth curves of the screen edges which make it a pleasure to use are sadly absent here.
There is a volume rocker the left hand side of the device, and a power button on the right. At the bottom of the unit is the MicroUSB port, microphone and two Torx™ screws which hold the unit together, while at the top is a noise-cancelling microphone and 3.5mm headphone jack. Unlike the Nexus 4, headphone cords don’t stick out of the device at an angle.
There are no hardware buttons on the front of the display like on the Optimus L7 and L9. LG has instead opted for an arrangement of three capacitive buttons – Back, Home and Menu – below the screen. The length of time that the capacitive buttons remain lit after use is also customisable – a nice touch.
Unfortunately, the Nexus 4′s multi-coloured notification light has been downgraded to a tri-colour notification light – a move that may stump a number of people who’ve come to rely on this feature.
Just like the Nexus 4, the Optimus G contains no expandable storage. The inclusion of 32GB on-board storage is much better though, giving users the freedom to carry more of their personal data or entertainment around with them on-device, without having to juggle internal and external storage. It’s worth noting that of the 32 GB storage available, only 25 GB is available to the user. In a device housing a 13MP camera, the lack of a 64GB option is a shame.
In its role as an OEM for other phone manufacturers, LG has traditionally supplied excellent quality screen technology, but not actually used it in its own smartphones. Instead, they’ve supplied their best screens to Apple, where their display technology has seen industry-wide praise. This focus has now changed, and LG’s will put its own devices first when it comes to sourcing premium parts from within.
The Optimus G screen uses zero-gap technology, which removes layers of lamination from the screen so that the LCD underneath is directly fused with the on-screen digitiser. The removal of these layers means the image on-screen is closer to the user’s touch, and the display is better in sunlight. In practice I still had to turn the brightness on the screen right up to see anything in broad daylight, but the images on-screen do feel tantalisingly closer and better to interact with than on older devices.
The inclusion of an IPS+ LCD display in the Optimus G means that viewing angles are excellent. I often glance at my phone while it’s laying flat on my desk, and I was able to see the Optimus G’s display with no issue at some pretty low angles. You might remember that Chris had a lot of issues with screen-viewing angles with another of this year’s flag-carriers, the Xperia Z. The Optimus G suffers no such issue.
In the Optimus G’s screen, LG has taken the time to do what Google didn’t before releasing the Nexus 4 — it’s properly calibrated the screen. Gamma colours and RGB values are set differently to the Nexus 4′s. These different settings can be seen in the Faux123 screen calibration app if you have a rooted Nexus 4 running a custom kernel.
Personally I find the LG colours are cooler, but appear to show truer whites while the Nexus 4 Google calibration shows whites a little more yellow. The difference in the two models shows up in the colour saturation and contrasts that you see when viewing photos or even just the home screen. I prefer LG’s calibration to Google’s, and use them as a starting point when setting the screen colours on my Nexus 4. You will not be disappointed with this screen at all – the colours are vibrant, and really pop in a way usually seen on AMOLED displays. LG have done a great job with this screen.
In going with capacitive buttons on the Optimus G, LG gained an extra 96 pixels of display in the absence of the Nexus 4′s soft keys. This affords the Optimus G a noticeable increase in screen real estate, and serves as a reminder that well over a year since their introduction, adoption of on-screen keys is still not universal.
As the first phone to be released running the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU, LG certainly started off well. LG paired the 1.5GHz CPU S4 Pro with 2GB of DDR2 RAM, and then went ahead and optimised the absolute heck out of the software. As soon as you start playing with the phone, it shows.
The Optimus G is fast — lightning fast. Apps and games respond almost instantly, and there’s no discernible lag. Switching between apps is snappy and fast. Games like Modern Combat 4 run brilliantly, and simply swiping around the screen gets an instant touch response.
The Optimus G is fast — lightning fast.
Streaming a show from my NAS to my LG TV using the Optimus G – while opening and closing different apps and testing out various functions – provided no issues for the software or hardware on the Optimus G.
The real-world feel of the performance is amazing. We can run benchmarks and show statistics, but manufacturers’ optimisations on different models essentially renders most of these test obsolete. The Optimus G feels like one of smoothest handsets (if not the smoothest) available.
When first announced by LG, we were advised that the Optimus G would be coming with an 8MP camera. Happily, the final Australian hardware sees a 13MP sensor. Whilst a debate rages over the ‘MegaPixel Myth’, thanks to a recent product launch from another manufacturer, the 13MP camera does indeed produce some very impressive shots.
In the Optimus G’s camera, LG has provided an excellent CCD to take in light, but also added a number of features to their camera app. Amongst these enhancements is the ‘Cheese shutter’ function, which allows you to control the shutter with your voice. There are five preset voice commands which will activate the shutter : “cheese”, “whisky”, “smile”, “kimchi” (Korean for smile) or “LG”. Say one of these and the shutter will capture the shot, perfect for when you want to be in the shot and have the camera mounted on a tripod.
Another addition that LG has added (and is rightfully proud of) is Time Catch Shot. This feature – which will be appreciated by parents, sports photographers and anyone who needs to capture a photo quickly – allows the Optimus G to buffer up to 5 full-resolution 13MP shots over the couple of seconds before you take the photo. You’re then able to select photos from the shots captured, and delete any extra shots that aren’t required. The downfall to Time Catch is that it has to be activated every time you enter the camera app, by which time the shot you are trying to capture may be gone. If it could be left as a pre-set it would definitely enhance the experience.
Video recording on the Optimus G was passable, though not breathtaking. As the device captures 1080p video, I don’t feel that you’ll have any complaints over the quality of the video.
Optimus G ticks all the smartphone sound quality boxes. It has a loud, clear and fairly crisp external speaker paired with a decent internal speaker for phone calls. For calling on the Telstra network, the Optimus G supports HD Voice.
Playing music back through the 3.5mm jack saw decent sound at about 50% volume, leaving room for a boost if required. The location of the 3.5mm jack is debatable amongst smartphone fans – many Ausdroid staff prefer it at the bottom, but the actual jack presents no problems.
LG has exposed additional sound settings in the settings menu, giving a number of options such as ‘Quiet Time’ (mutes sounds for certain periods i.e between 10pm-6am). They’ve also added a ‘Wise Ringtone’ feature, which allows the phone to increase the ringer volume when the device senses a large amount of ambient noise.
The Optimus G comes with the full spectrum of wireless connections; the glass backing on the Optimus G allows for crystal clear reception for all the included antennas on the phone.
The device is being sold on the Telstra 4G network, and testing the unit with a 4G SIM has quite frankly just about sold me on LTE with no concerns whatsoever. While the 4G service can be slow at times of the day when a large amount of people are using it, at other times the speeds are truly astonishing. The fallback to 3G/HSPA works just as well with the coverage of Telstra’s Next G network there to pick up the slack if the 4G coverage just doesn’t reach your location.
HD Voice works well, if calling people is what you like to do. For voice calls to all networks as well as landlines the Optimus G worked quite well with no dropouts or distortion experienced. As we don’t yet run a Voice Over LTE (VOLTE) service here in Austrlia, the Optimus G drops back to 3G service to make the calls, meaning any 4G data connections you have going when making a voice call drop back to the slower standard.
Wi-fi performance is notably improved over the Nexus 4, tending to establish a stronger connection to my network at home. Dual Band Wi-Fi also connected easily to a 5GHz network with no issues.
Bluetooth on the Optimus G connected to my Plantronics Bluetooth headset with no issues. We also tested connecting it to Sennheiser MM100 headphones and my Pioneer car stereo, both of which worked like a charm. LG includes Bluetooth 4.0 BLE support in the list of features, however the lack of BLE compatibility in the Android OS Bluetooth stack and no BLE devices available that claim to support the LG Optimus G means I couldn’t readily test this functionality.
The Optimus G supports GPS with A-GPS support and GLONASS. Google Maps works effortlessly in conjunction with the hardware to quickly lock onto a GPS signal to give you your location and provide you with directions to where you want to go.
NFC is also included on the Optimus G. While the usage of NFC is debatable in Australia (especially where mobile payments are involved), upcoming LG TVs will include functionality which will further utilise NFC and the built-in Miracast support to establish connections betweens phones and TVs. NFC transfer works perfectly from this phone to both a Nexus 4 and a SGSIII. The NFC chip also works well with Mifare 1k NFC tags to perform tasks such as turning on Wifi, GPS, etc. My issue with the NFC function is the addition of an NFC icon in the status bar – there are already enough icons there, and I feel that the icon doesn’t need to be present there – NFC won’t work with the screen off, so it can’t be a security issue.
LG has positioned itself as a world leader in battery technology, advising that the Optimus G includes the benefits of their technology and the battery will last up to 800 cycles without degradation, while other manufacturers traditionally last only 400-500 cycles. The ability to maintain the 2,100mAh power of the battery means you should – in theory – not notice a drop in battery life as your phone is used over the longer term – an important point when the battery is enclosed in a device sold on a 2-year contract.
With the decent size battery and LG’s battery technology and optimisations, I found battery life to be pretty decent. Even when using LTE and amping the brightness on the screen up higher when outside, as a heavy smartphone user I was able to get through almost a full day of use. This was pretty impressive, although this was mostly on 3G — when in a 4G area, you can almost see the the battery draining in front of your eyes. Unfortunately this appears to just be the standard with LTE phones. The extra battery life on 3G – an improvement over the Nexus 4 – is a testament to LG, and their optimisation of the OS on the Optimus G.
One aspect of the Optimus G vs the Nexus 4 specs that we found disappointing was the decision not to have Qi charging included in the phone. Maybe this accounts for the thickness difference. I like not ever having to use the microUSB plug on my Nexus 4 to charge my phone by just placing it down while not using it.
The Optimus G in Austrlia is selling through Telstra with a bundled Miracast adapter for the first 5000 sold. Unfortunately for Nexus 4 owners, the adapter is not yet available to purchase separately.
LG has supplied a Miracast Dongle for review, which we’ll address separately in the next few days and Chris will follow up on the Dual Play / Dual Screen features the Miracast Dongle enables.
The Optimus G is being released with Android version 4.1.2. This decision is extremely disappointing; its sibling – the Nexus 4 – has nearly identical hardware and is currently running Android’s cutting edge 4.2.2 update quite happily. While 4.2.2 didn’t bring a heap of noticeable changes, many of the changes it brought could have made a massive difference to the user experience of this phone. LG did mention that features such as PhotoSphere from Android 4.2 could be sent as a software update at any time, but they’re choosing to concentrate on Key Lime Pie, instead of trying to push out what they describe as ‘a point release’.
The notification pulldown is far too cluttered. First there are all the toggles at the top – these are nice, but I prefer the quick settings as seen in AOKP. Then there is a row of Qslide apps (which cannot be hidden), then there’s the brightness slider, then a date/time display, finally followed by actual notifications. If you have more than one notification, you’ll probably have to scroll down to view them all.
By contrast, LG’s lock screen is one of their best system enhancements. The theme and animation for the Lockscreen can be changed to several different options. My favourite is the dewdrop theme :
Apps can be opened directly from the lock screen – you can customise the apps that are exposed as shortcuts at the bottom of the screen.
Unfortunately, LG’s system theme is a patchwork mess of inconsistency. Some parts have a sort of Holo-esque feel, while many have a cartoony feel. Android has come a long way since the Eclair days when the underlying OS was not as polished as that offered in modern day Android and LG seem to have made the look and feel worse than stock Android. Their theme makes their flagship device look cheap, especially the default system font (which is the Optimus G’s logo font), the keyboard (which looks very similar to the iOS keyboard), and the inconsistency of their user interface. I would prefer to see LG focus on providing something that’s pleasing to the eye, and an improvement over other interfaces, including stock Android. They’ve missed the mark here – they should find a theme that works, and stick with it. Every app should be themed the same way.
The stock LG keyboard doesn’t come close to the standard Jelly Bean keyboard. It looks terrible and behaves badly. Auto-correction is often wrong, and the layout of the keyboard means you’ll often insert a full stop or a letter instead of a space. A plus for LG here is that they’ve included a swiping gesture for the keyboard allowing you to swipe over the keyboard to create words – a la Swype, Swiftkey Flow and Jelly Bean’s gesture input – but it’s very hit and miss when it comes to accuracy of the words and their auto-correction.
Obviously, the keyboard can be changed by the user but many users don’t know that their are better options available. If you’re thinking of getting the Optimus G, you should definitely consider using a 3rd party keyboard.
Finally, LG has decided that the homescreen is a thing of beauty, adding pinch gestures allowing you to quickly swipe away the icons on your homescreen to see the underlying wallpaper. While I do tend to keep pictures as my wallpaper, it’s pretty rare that I actually need to see them quickly but it’s these small extras that make users happy.
QSlide is a software feature that LG has included to help with multi-tasking on the Optimus G. It offers the ability to load up to 5 different applications, and have them either hovering over each other in small windows on the same screen, or appear slightly transparent over the phone’s interface while you use other functions. The 5 different applications are Video, Internet (a browser), Memo, Calendar and Calculator – a decent but pretty uninspired selection. Unfortunately LG has also chosen not to make QSlide functions available to third party developers, unfortunately limiting a nice idea to an irrelevant and often unused annoyance, merely taking up room in the notification dropdown.
Smartshare is perhaps our favourite app on the Optimus G. We tried the Smartshare function out on two LG LED TVs and found it worked wonderfully for streaming music and TV from a NAS or personal PC to the TV. The app works really well and LG would do very well if they released it for all phones.
QuickMemo is an app which allows you to take a screenshot and write a note on it. The function is activated via the quick toggles in the notification dropdown or by pressing the middle of the volume rocker (which presses both up and down buttons), instantly allowing you to start marking up the screenshot or simple write notes over the screen. You can share these notes or just save them in your gallery for use at a future time. Nothing on Google Play quite matches QuickMemo for features, and it’s quite a solid add-on for the Optimus G.
LG has included a very basic weather widget which populates data from Accuweather. It’s simple and works, but doesn’t have any bells or whistles.
There are also couple of LG’s own Live Wallpapers included on the Optimus G. My personal favourite is the Marionette, which responds not only to touch, but also the phone’s gyroscope, so tilting or rotating the phone also moves the character around the screen. While fun, I prefer to leave live wallpapers switched off and conserve my battery for more important uses.
The LG launcher is mimics Android’s stock look, with a few additional features. It allows different themes to be chosen which will change the icons, the wallpaper and a few of the other images in the launcher. I quite like what LG have done here without going overboard.
What kudos was gained by the launcher is unfortunately squandered by the app drawer, which has gone through a number of completely unnecessary changes. The division of Apps and downloaded apps is particularly baffling. The ability to at least sort applications by alphabetical order in the App drawer is appreciated, however I’d much prefer to see one tab of applications instead of wondering where the app I just installed has gone, only to find I am on the wrong tab.
The included dialer/phone app is a basic T9 search dialer which is again themed inconsistently with the rest of the device, showing some holo-light design cues. Users will find it a much more refined and sophisticated experience to the stock dialer.
Considering the focus on QuickMemo, it’s surprising to find there is a second note-taking app included. A more standard notepad application, it appears to be a version of QuickMemo with a nicer front end, offering the ability to use the keyboard or just writing on the screen. I tried to use a capacative stylus to make the handwriting a little easier, but it didn’t seem to recognise my writing very well so I ended up mostly using my finger. You can add Screenshots, photos, video, voice notes and maps to make a pretty nicely comprehensive document. Perhaps in the future LG will see fit to integrate these applications.
The Optimus G also has and FM Radio app, a simple addition that Google has steadfastly refused to implement on Nexus devices. The FM radio app is intuitive and easy to use.
Being a Telstra phone, there are a number of Telstra specific apps or widgets included. The Telstra One app is static and can never be removed completely, but it does bring some usefulness to the phone in allowing you to check your usage and balance quite easily. Telstra has also included mews and sports widgets which are handy, although unnecessary with the vast array of apps available in Google Play. Fortunately, these apps can be disabled if you don’t like them.
LG Optimus G
ConclusionThe Optimus G is a very likeable phone, based simply on its performance. The phone’s software doesn’t get in the way of using it, and the optimisations that LG has included at both the system and application level mean that it is a pleasure to use. While the hardware is already six months old it’s more than up to the task of running todays apps flawlessly.
LG’s battery innovations are a decent addition, making you feel as though you can push the phone further and further, challenging it to eventually die. When using 4G data it will definitely oblige, but you do get the feeling that you’re getting more than you expect.
With its speed, battery and software enhancements, the Optimus G deserves the Superphone moniker that LG has applied to its marketing of the phone. It’s very much worth the $60/month price tag that Telstra are asking for it on a 24 month contract, or the $624 outright price tag – especially when you consider the additional storage, better camera, inclusion of an LTE radio and bundled Miracast adapter when compared to its $399 sibling.
It’s great to see LG finally release hardware and software that’s worthy of the well-regarded consumer brand they have been for a long time. I see great things for LG if they can continue this trend, although next time I’d love to see their premium line launching in Australia sooner.
If you’re on the lookout for a new phone, we highly recommend you drop into a Telstra store and check out the Optimus G.