It wasn't too long ago that the idea of a smartphone weighing 200g and measuring 2cm thick seemed reasonable; it was, after all, a mini-computer. We remember a colleague at the time when the Nokia N90 Communicator was released, measuring the weight of it in his hand while saying that he preferred a phone that felt like "it could kill a man". He no longer works at CNET.
The LG Optimus 3D isn't quite as thick or heavy. Its 12mm depth is similar to handsets from competitor HTC, but its 168g weight is considerably more, and when you match this weight with the 3D's 4.3-inch display, this handset seems enormous. Its 4.3-inch screen stretches across the face of this unit with a thin strip of touch-sensitive buttons below the display. There's micro-USB and micro-HDMI cable ports on the left-hand side of the unit — covered by those pesky plastic latches that only LG persists in using — and a standard 3.5mm headphone socket on the top.
Those familiar with LG's fashion-forward handsets of the past will not recognise the serious-looking Optimus 3D. There's no colourful trim, ala the LG New Chocolate, nor any lashings of stainless steel, as we saw on numerous LG phones before now. Instead, the Optimus 3D is encased in a presentable yet dull grey-coloured, soft-touch plastic with strips of faux-metal running along the top and bottom of the face of this phone. The result is a polished appearance, but it's anything but eye-catching.
The 3D's LCD display is of a decent quality, showing nice colour and some reasonably deep blacks. As with LG's earlier smartphone releases in 2011, this screen favours whites over blacks, with web browsing coming up trumps in this equation. One interesting thing that we noticed during our review is that this display is almost completely invisible when viewed through sunglasses with a polarising filter. We're not sure if this has something to do with the nature of its 3D display, but it's certainly a shame for anyone who works outdoors and wears a decent pair of shades.
3D: all it's cracked up to be?
If you read the LG marketing material for this phone, you'll know that 3D doesn't actually stand for three dimensions. Well; it does, and it doesn't. LG has been distancing itself from the gimmick that is a 3D smartphone since its announcement, telling us that the 3D in the title refers to the unique hardware configuration used by this handset; dual core, dual memory and dual channel — three Ds (see video below). It's just a coincidence, then, that the phone has a 3D display, and that two cameras are positioned to shoot side-by-side images, we guess.
The 3D effect is created in a similar way that Nintendo achieves 3D in the 3DS. A parallax barrier sits on top of the LCD panel and directs each of your eyes to see subtly different pixels. This type of 3D is dependent on the user holding the phone in the right position in front of themselves; a shift on any axis, and the 3D effect becomes confused, making it an experience that is impossible to share with several people at once. It's also likely to give you a bit of a headache if you use it for too long, so it's lucky, then, that this effect is only applied to a couple of 3D-friendly apps, like the image gallery, the camera, YouTube and a handful of pre-installed games.
This is also the key problem with this technology; there isn't much that you can do with it, and, at the end of the day, you'll spend much more of your time on the phone viewing the screen in 2D, just as you would with every other phone on the market. If you're shopping for a new phone, the 3D feature may catch your eye in the store, but is it enough to draw you away from the other top phones of the year? Perhaps if you have a 3D TV the decision could be a little easier, as you can connect your Optimus 3D to a compatible display, and show off your latest pics and videos.
Easily the best feature of this phone is its dual 5-megapixel cameras. Every step in the process of shooting and viewing photos takes on a new level of fun. The viewfinder shows you 3D in real time, so you can line up your shots and get the most out of your third dimension. Once we'd snapped off a few pics, we were pleasantly surprised with the results; the photos looked sharp, and the colour reproduction was bright without being unnaturally vibrant.
In the gallery, you can browse your 3D photos, but you can also see old non-3D photos in a whole new way. As we flicked through a gallery of images that we'd shot on another recent smartphone, the Optimus 3D took each pic, multiplied it and somehow interpreted which elements should be in the foreground, and which in the background — so the effect, as a whole, looks very good. In conjunction with the micro-HDMI port and the right TV, this could make for some amusing photo slide nights.
On top, you can see the two photos taken by the phone's stereoscopic cameras, and below you can see the resulting 3D image.
You'll remember that earlier, we referred to the unique three Ds in the hardware configuration of the Optimus 3D (dual core, dual memory and dual channel). This configuration is supposed to be the best-performing dual-core experience in a phone to date, with power when you need it and battery savings when you're not pushing it to its limits. We kept a close eye on both elements of performance during our tests, but neither really lived up to the hype created by LG in its marketing materials.
The performance we saw during our review was solid, but far from blisteringly fast. Moving through the menus on the phone is zippy enough, but you can definitely see it thinking. There's a slight animation judder when you scroll between the home screens, for example, and opening apps were preceded by a slight pause. We also saw a little lag in the browser; subtle animation stutters while scrolling over full-size pages as off-screen elements are rendered. These are all fairly minor issues to take note of; none of them impacted the functionality of the phone, but they did subtract from the notion that the Optimus 3D is amongst this year's fastest Androids.
Battery life is pretty average, as well. With heavy usage, the Optimus 3D drew more power than most recent Android smartphones, but was more power efficient than the Samsung Galaxy S2. We managed to get through a full work day with the Optimus 3D with about two hours of actual screen-on usage, and with our work email syncing in the background.
LG sacrifices the sleek curves that its phones are known for to pack as much tech into the Optimus 3D as it can — an approach that we would heartily approve of if the 3D had shown performance above and beyond other handsets in its league. It doesn't, though; there are twitches of lag across the user experience and average battery life, in a phone that is significantly heavier and somewhat thicker than the Galaxy S2 and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, to name a few.
Its 3D camera and apps are lavish gimmicks, but they are also the best elements of this smartphone. The cameras take nice photos, and the 3D effect looks great when applied to everyday items and familiar faces. The glasses-less 3D display is difficult to use, and it will likely give you a headache, but it's a cool effect in short doses.