Previewed, hinted at, and promised since 2012, LG’s Optimus G is the company’s first major swing at the premium smartphone market in years. While LG has been building its presence in the budget part of the market with devices in the L range, it has also been working to make devices that people would consider over the Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, and any other brand and model that deems itself to be high end.
With the Optimus G, LG is packing in what it believes is the best of the best of the best, and while this handset originally saw release in America last year, it’s now time for Australia to get its mitts on it. Was it worth the wait?
LG’s Optimus G is the first Optimus handset we’ve seen to be released outside of the L series branding, which makes it a premium device in the eyes of the company.
Materials used in the construction seem to have a heavy reliance on glass, and the look and design is similar to another LG produced handset handled by another company, Google’s Nexus 4, which was built from a very similar design and specification.
As such, there are a lot of similarities, though there are two obvious differences, with the Nexus 4 supporting wireless charging, of which the Optimus G misses out and replaces it with a 4G LTE connection.
More similiarites extend to the inside of the device, bringing with it features that LG brands as top-end, such as a fast quad-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz, Adreno 320 graphics processor, 2GB RAM, 32GB storage, and the not completely latest but still relatively up-to-date version of Android, 4.1.2 “Jelly Bean.”
The screen is spot on, too, with a 4.7 inch TrueHD In-Plane Switching (IPS) display using the 15:9 aspect ratio, which results in a resolution of 1280×768, a little wider than the typical 1280×720 we’re seeing on competing smartphones. With the slightly bigger display, the pixel per inch counts is very close to Apple’s “Retina” quality, sitting at roughly 318ppi.
Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 2 protects this element, just in case you plan on leaving it in a bag with keys, though it may not save you from a drop to the hard ground.
Connections on the Optimus G include 4G LTE, as well as WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n over a dual-band antenna, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, DLNA, Near-Field Communication (NFC), GPS, and Miracast, which will only work if you have one of the Miracast boxes to plug in your TV, available as an extra.
Over in the camera department, you’ll find a cutting-edge 13 megapixel autofocus camera with flash, while the front camera sits at 1.3 megapixel, perfect for those selfies.
As per usual with modern smartphones, there are very few buttons, and you’ll find only a volume rocker on the left, a power button on the right, and three soft buttons – back, home, and menu – on the bottom front of the handset just under the screen. Ports are much the same, small in number, with only a 3.5mm jack up top and a microUSB, which also takes care of HDMI with an MHL plug on the very bottom.
A microSIM tray can be ejected on the left side, and the battery – rated for 2100mAh – cannot be removed.
The first proper premium phone we’ve seen from LG in a while, the Optimus G certainly has our attention.
Marketed as a “superphone” by the company and not just a “smartphone,” it shares a lot in common with one handset we loved last year, the Google Nexus 4, which comes from a similar design and was also built by LG. A variant of that handset, the Optimus G aims to improve on the Nexus by adding support for 4G LTE connections, LG’s custom Android overlays, a better camera, and some tweaks here and there.
The look of the smartphone is one place we can start from, and this is certainly a phone that is designed to be a simple and elegant machine.
For the most part, it succeeds, offering a look that is truly minimalist with black on each side, some silver trim, and an almost holographic pixelated look on the back of the device.
In the hands, it’s a comfortable fit, and features some simple curves rounding out an otherwise rectangular design. While it doesn’t flow into the palm of the hand like some devices, it is easy to grip, though make sure you do, because with a glass front and back, it can be a little slippery.
One area that LG has really pushed hard with is in how you can change things, with an immense amount of customisation on offer. We can see why the company calls it a “superphone,” because it just has so much versatility, and it’s almost like LG looked at the state of Android overlays and decided to do it from scratch, rewriting the books on what should and shouldn’t be done.
As such, you can share folders over wireless networking, turn off the lights at the soft buttons on the bottom of the device, fix the aspect ratio for various apps because of the different sized screen LG uses, pick between multiple system fonts, change the desktop icons easily with pretty much any image, pick a different animation for not just homescreen swiping but also lock screen unlocking, make the homescreens go round and round in a circle, run the homescreen in landscape mode, snooze an alarm or pause a video by flipping the phone over, optimise the processor to control battery life, edit the order and visibility of shortcuts in the top dropdown bar, change the size of the menu app icons, and more.
That’s a lot of functionality, and if you’re one of those people that loves to play and set things up perfectly, this handset caters for you perfectly. It can also be used without customising all of these settings, but it’s nice knowing these “super” aspects are here.
In fact, there’s even more in there for zooming, with an ability to change text and image size in various apps – such as contacts and gallery – simply by zooming with your fingers, and it’s nice to see a common gesture applied to more than just getting up close with a picture.
LG has provided some wallpapers – a couple of them live and animated, even – as well as a backup application for making sure you have all those bits and pieces you need secure. Then there’s video editing, language translation, support, and even the ability to add multiple images to make a neato wallpaper that shows a different image per homescreen.
Using this last feature, you can take advantage of a zoom-in gesture and flick through the handset as if you were browsing a personal photo album, moving past the shortcuts and widgets on the homescreen and making them disappear, leaving you free to browse through your pictures as if it were a small photo album.
Jumping between various apps, the Snapdragon quad-core processor is no slouch, and it’s more than capable of running multiple programs.
Benchmarking shows that this phone performs well too, though didn’t seem to be as aggressive in raw power as the Sony Xperia Z, even though they run the same processor and amount of memory.
There’s also some great sound on offer, and we have to say that the Optimus G has one of the best loudspeakers on the market, and even pumps out some excellent audio over its headphone port.
The camera is a decent performer too, offering some stunning colours and impressive detail, thanks to the 13 megapixels on offer.
Some nifty features are present too, such as the ability to fire the camera off when you say a word with the “eee” sound – “cheese” or “whiskey” – as well as a preempting camera mode that continually buffers itself and fires even before you hit the shutter, so you don’t miss a smile and try to dodge the blinks.
Getting into mobile performance, LG’s 4G modem has really proven itself, with speeds exceeding more than three times what most people will achieve from ADSL2+ at home.
In the city of Sydney, we hit upon one of our best test results yet, pulling down data at an incredible 60Mbps rate at one point.
This phone hasn’t been out for long in Australia – barely a week, in fact – but it has in America, with the handset seeing release in September and October there. As such, the wait Australians have had to endure has made this fall behind just a tad, especially in regards to its screen, which is high definition, but not as high as competing handsets arriving this year, such as the recently reviewed Sony Xperia Z, the just announced Samsung Galaxy S4, and the inbound HTC One.
Those handsets all feature a Full HD (1920×1080) screen, and as a result hit pixel per inch counts of over 400ppi, which goes well beyond that of Apple’s Retina display. The reality is that the difference will be difficult to actually notice, however, and the LG’s 1280×768 is bright, colourful, viewable from all angles, and even works better in direct sunlight thanks to how LG has pushed the elements together and made the panel simpler.
LG has provided 32GB of storage, although you only get 25GB of that to play with, and there’s no microSD, similar to the Google Nexus 4, which this is based on. Some won’t be bothered by this, but if you desire more room to play with, you can’t upgrade this.
Plugging it into your computer requires LG-specific software in order to transfer files. We’ve encountered problems with this on both Windows and Mac OS, and while Android should be able to talk natively, LG seems to prefer the use of its software in order to let you transfer music and photos. Thankfully, it’s included on the phone and is easy to install, but we’re not big fans of unnecessary installations.
The on-screen keyboard could do with some more time in the shop, and while it can be used with some degree of accuracy, it isn’t the best on-screen keyboard we’ve played with. The keys are decently spaced and there’s spell check, but the version of a Swype-like keyboard – called “Path” by LG – seems to miss the words we wanted fairly often.
Fortunately, you can always replace this on-screen keyboard with a different one, and after a week with the phone, that’s just what we wanted to do.
One other thing that could stand some tweaking is the battery life.
Despite the more densely packed battery that LG is using in the Optimus G, the performance of our handset seemed to hit a little less than a day when web browsing, social networking, making some calls, sending texts, and generally using the phone.
Thankfully, LG provides a couple of extra modes here to assist, including “eco-mode”. This actually managed to provide two days of life provided that we let it progressively switch off services as the battery started to die down.
It’s a little later than we would have otherwise liked, but the Optimus G does manage to be a mostly stellar effort from LG. There is a lot to admire about this handset. From the simple and understated look to the fact that it just really performs, LG has made a device that can compete with the best of them.
There are some issues here and there – keyboard, battery life, and a screen that could have been more evenly matched with other 2013 models – but customers after an attractive performer on the Android front will likely be more than pleased with the Optimus G’s mix of hardware, design and cleverly-crafted software features. Recommended.