India is still waiting for the official launch of the Nexus 4. However, LG’s Optimus G, which is the phone on which the Google Nexus 4 is based upon, was launched in India last month. The launch went practically unnoticed, with most of the hype centered on upcoming handsets like the Samsung Galaxy SIV, Sony Xperia Z, and the HTC One. The reason for that might be that the Optimus G is actually a six month old phone, whose successor LG Optimus G Pro has already been launched in Japan and Korea. However, while the Optimus G isn’t the latest and greatest, its specifications suggest that it’s no pushover. I used it as my primary device for a week, and was pleasantly surprised by it.
Unlike the Optimus 4X, the Optimus G doesn’t feel plasticky. It’s a solidly built premium smartphone that continues with the rectangular design ethos introduced in the previous generation LG devices. When the display is off, the screen blends with the bezel and appears to be a pristine black slab which oozes a lot of oomph. Much like the Nexus 4, the Optimus G also has a Gorilla Glass 2 back, with shiny metal bits embedded below the back cover. Under light, these metal pieces light up by reflecting the light hitting them at different angles. The effect is less pronounced and less magical than in a Nexus 4, but is still cool to look at.
Of course, glass back has its own disadvantages. The Optimus G is a device that is meant to be handled with care. My SIII has suffered numerous harsh falls, but has survived largely unscathed. With the Optimus G, however, I will almost surely end up with a cracked back. In fact, the metal rim can also add to your woes. The review unit I received had slightly chipped edges, which tended to agitate my skin while talking. In fact, the glossy back doesn’t feel as secure or comfortable to hold as the Optimus 4X with matte finish did. All these weaknesses are inherent in using a glass and metal body, and are present in similarly constructed devices from competitors like Sony.
One of my major complaints with the previous generation LG handsets was accidental home button presses. It was extremely easy to accidentally press the home
button while trying to press the Space key. Thankfully, LG has fixed that issue in Optimus G by adding a slight buffer space below the screen.
The Optimus G has a 4.7-inch IPS display with a resolution of 768 x 1280 pixels, which is protected by a Gorilla Glass 2 screen. I wasn’t a big fan of the previous generation LG displays, which seemed to appear washed out. Thankfully, the Optimus G marks a major step forward for LG displays. While not being as saturated as Samsung displays, color reproduction is rich and natural. In fact, when compared side by side, LG’s display seems more while remaining sharp and vibrant. Sunlight visibility and viewing angles are also good enough to be not an issue. LG’s Optimus G also boasts of something called ZeroGap touch, which reduces diffused reflection by integrating the touch sensors into the glass itself. While I am not sure exactly how much this has helped, I can state with confidence that the Optimus G’s display is definitely among the best that I have seen.
The LG Optimus G was the first phone powered by the Snapdragon quad-core S4 Pro chipset. Thanks to the powerful CPU and GPU, the phone is screaming fast. I am yet to encounter any lags or hiccups while using the Optimus G. Whether you are flinging through long lists, scrolling through your Gallery, or going on a rampage in GTA III, the Optimus G doesn’t miss a beat. The Optimus G boasts of 2 gigs of RAM and 32 gigs of internal storage. There is no provision for memory cards.
I ran a couple of synthetic benchmarks. As expected, the Optimus G fared very well. Unfortunately for the Optimus G, its lead won’t last for long, as next gen devices from Samsung, and HTC will hit India within the next couple of months.
The downside of the Snapdragon S4 Pro is that it gets hot. I mean really, really hot. Even after only surfing the web for half an hour, the phone begins to feel uncomfortably hot. And this is in spite of having a glass back, which should be cooler than an all metal back.
LG Optimus G currently runs on Android 4.1.2 Jellybean with a custom Optimus UX layer on top. LG has announced the launch of Android 4.2.2 powered Optimus G handsets in Europe; however, it’s not known when it will roll out the update to the rest of the world.
The Optimus UX is actually quite subtle and baring some unnecessary skeumorphisms (especially in buttons and icons) and brightly colored icons, it doesn’t look too bad. However, as is the case with most manufacturers, the original Android UI is still more appealing than the custom skin. In addition to retaining QuickMemo, SmartShare, and SmartWorld, that we have seen in previous LG handsets, LG has thrown in some more new goodies for Optimus G users. The major ones are:
Q-Slide: Q-Slide is similar to Samsung’s Popup Play, which allows users to watch a video while working on something else. The video player floats on a screen and can be freely resized and repositioned. Q-slide, however, goes a step further, and can be overlaid on top of existing apps. You can continue watching a video full-screen, while working on other apps by simply controlling their opacity. For example, if you want to compose an email while watching a video, Q-Slide will simply make your email app translucent so that you can still see the video, while writing your email. And yes, you can still pinch to zoom into videos. Check out the video below for a demonstration.
LG has also added a Q-Slide section to the notification screen, which acts as a quick launcher for Q-slide compatible apps. These apps are Video, Internet, Memo, Calendar, and Calculator apps. This is a nice idea, but would have been truly useful, if I could add my own apps to the list, instead of being limited to the five system apps.
Quick Translator: Quick translator app can translate text from images that you capture between a number of languages. This feature was actually introduced with the Optimus L9 and wasn’t present in the Optimus 4X. The translator can translate words, lines, or blocks of sentences. The app also supports offline translation, but for that you will need to purchase dictionaries from the Play store.
Smart Screen: This feature is obviously inspired by Samsung’s Smart Stay, which prevents the display from timing out when it detects that you are looking at the screen.
Wise Ringtone: This is something that I haven’t seen elsewhere, is actually a very neat idea. Optimus G uses the microphone to judge if you are in a loud environment and accordingly increases your ringtone volume.
Quiet Time: This is another really smart feature, which allows you to define a time range during which everything except alarms and notifications will automatically be muted.
Safety Care: This is a feature that a lot of Indian users will appreciate. It allows you to define emergency contacts, and in case of an emergency, your location and other information will automatically be sent to them. You can also simply set a number, which when dialed will trigger a location alert to your selected contacts. LG also claims to automatically know when you are calling a emergency, so that it can alert your emergency contacts. However, I am not sure if it is configured to recognize Indian emergency numbers.
The Optimus UX retains its previous strongpoints, which includes easy access to frequently used power options from the notification bar, a very cool unlock animation, and massive amount of customizability. When I say massive amount of customizability, I really mean it. Everything including the lock screen, home screen, and the general UI is customizable. You can change themes, animations, font, font size, lock screen apps, and a whole lot more. Unfortunately, some of the existing annoyances with the Optimus UX have also been retained. The app drawer refuses to remember your sorting preferences, and you have to reselect your sorting preference every time you install a new app. The volume control button still only gives an unified volume control options. Additionally, LG has also decided to stupidly copy the water droplet sound effect from Galaxy SIII, which makes little sense.
The Optimus G boasts of a 13 megapixel rear camera with full HD video recording support. As you might expect from such a hefty camera, the picture quality is excellent, whether you are capturing stills or videos. Details are well preserved, noise is limited in outdoor photos, and color reproduction is good. The only issue is that the focusing can be a bit finicky and sometimes requires two or three attempts to get things right. In addition to the standard burst mode, panorama, and HDR mode, there is also LG’s Time Catch shot. In this mode, the camera actually snaps pics from a few seconds before you pressed the shoot button to a few seconds after. You can later choose which picture you want to keep. This is meant to ensure that you don’t miss the shot you wanted. LG has also improved its low light capture, and now can compete with the likes of SIII comfortably. In fact, on whole, the L3 is among the best, if not the best Android shooter. For video calling there is also a 1.3 megapixel front camera, which gets the job done. One thing that’s often ignored while reviewing a smartphone is its speakers. However, the Optimus G’s speakers are actually loud enough to deserve a special mention.
Thanks to the glass back, LG had to make another compromise with the Optimus G. The rear portion is completely locked down, which means that the battery isn’t user replaceable. This isn’t something I am a big fan of. It rules out the possibility of carrying a spare battery, or even upgrading to a high performance 3rd party battery. The good news here is that the Optimus G’s battery life isn’t bad. The 2100 mAh battery lasts a day in 2G mode, and will survive for about 10-12 hours in 3G mode, which is enough to get back from your office and charge the phone. You can squeeze a couple of additional hours by enabling Eco mode for the processor, and turning on the Power Saver mode when battery is below 50%.
Connectivity options include all standard features along with Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and MHL.
The LG Optimus G is perhaps the first LG smartphone that I can term as a great phone, without any ifs and buts. It sports a blazing fast chipset, a sharp camera, brilliant display, and some nice software bells and whistles. My biggest reservation with the device is the glass back. However, judging by the growing trend of glass backs, and how well the older iPhones sold, and how much in demand the Nexus 4 is, it’s obvious that a lot of people don’t share the same concern. The non-user replaceable battery, and the lack of support for microSD are also downers, but they aren’t big enough issues to come in the way of the Optimus G achieving greatness.
The biggest problem LG India will have is that the Optimus G will be sandwiched between the best of the previous generation like the SIII and the One X, and the best of the current generation like the SIV, Xperia Z, and the One. If Optimus G had been launched in October or November, it would have simply been the most powerful phone in the market. However, by the end of this month, that will no longer be true. LG will also have to withstand the marketing blitzkrieg of Samsung and Sony. Priced at about Rs. 31,000 it’s the best phone you can buy for that price. It’s a fair bit cheaper than the similarly specced Sony Xperia Z, which is currently selling at about Rs. 35,000. However, the Xperia Z has a bigger screen, more powerful and user replaceable battery, and is water resistant. If you spend a bit more, you will soon be able to get the newest powerhouses from Samsung and HTC. On the other hand, if you compromise a bit on the performance, the SIII and other previous generation handsets are available for Rs. 27,000 or less. I hope that the Optimus G manages to carve out its own identity. It’s just too good a phone to be a failure.