We're not big fans of superlatives, but for LG's flagship phone of the season, we'll make an exception. The LG Optimus G is the best phone from the company, especially considering its string of ho-hum handsets that were good but not great.
Australians have had to wait a while for this, with even LG admitting that the Optimus G's arrival was "somewhat overdue", but the Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core CPU still stands up, as does the impressive display and powerful 13-megapixel camera. With the formal local launch of the device on 13 March, it's also been revealed that the Optimus G will be a Telstra exclusive "for the foreseeable future".
Design and build
At 131.9x68.9x8.45mm, LG's Optimus G has a moderately slim profile and tips the scale at just 145g. The handset comes in basic black and has a familiar square design. The corners are ever so slightly rounded, but the edges of the phone face drop in steep, noticeable cliffs. The left and right spines then slope more gently into the back, creating a more comfortable handhold than if you grip the phone by its face. While it's pleasant looking and functional, it certainly isn't pushing boundaries, defining your personality or wowing you with standout machining — although the "crystal reflection" finish on the back is nice, if a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
LG calls its 4.7-inch Optimus G's screen a True HD IPS+ display; that translates to a 1280x768-pixel resolution (WXGA). The Optimus G's 15:9 aspect ratio is a little off the 16:9 standard, but that hasn't bothered us so far. Pixel density comes in at 320 pixels per inch (ppi). For reference, the Nokia Lumia 920 has 332ppi, the iPhone 5 has 326ppi and the Samsung Galaxy S3 has a density of 306ppi.
The absolute pixel density, by the way, only indicates clarity, but suffice it to say that this beautiful screen did not disappoint, giving bright and crisp edges and vivid, appealing colour.
There's more to know about the dominating screen, as well. LG boasts that its Touch Hybrid Display technology makes the screen 30 percent slimmer because it removes the air gaps separating the cover glass from the touch layers — and light source — below. LG isn't the only company to do this; the iPhone 5 and HTC One X advertise a similar process. In addition, the use of Corning's Gorilla Glass 2 on the front and back panels contributes to the weight, but could also lend strength. However, we didn't want to smash the phone on concrete to test durability against cracks.
Below the display are touch-sensitive buttons for Back, Home and Menu. Press and hold Home to also open your list of recent apps. Do the same to the Menu button to pull up a Google search bar.
Above the screen, you'll find the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. The volume rocker hangs out on the left spine and the power button is on the right. (We not-so-secretly wish that a hardware camera button were here, too, but its absence doesn't earn the phone any black marks.) Unfortunately, you can take a cue from the two screws securing the back panel in place and stop your search for expandable memory right here.
You'll charge the Optimus G through a micro-USB charging port on the bottom of the phone, and you'll connect your headset through the 3.5mm jack up top. Nestled into the polarized back panel are the 13-megapixel camera lens and LED flash.
Features and OS
The LG Optimus G runs on the Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean OS and is, of course, loaded with the traditional Telstra One app. Other goodies include two file-sharing apps (SmartShare and FileShare), Polaris Office 4.0 mobile office suite and two video editors. Of course, there are more basic apps, such as a native browser and email client, music and movie players, a clock with alarm functions, an address book, a notepad and voice command.
Furthermore, LG packed its flagship device with tons of interesting features. Some we've seen before, like the Optimus user interface. LG has done a nice job of adding some functionality without imposing too much of its own personality on top of Android, although some may argue that it's not as sleek and elegant as Google's vision of the OS. Rest assured, at any rate, that the OS doesn't get in the way of using the phone.
LG's signature note-taking app, QuickMemo, comes packaged with Optimus 3.0. With this app, you can use your finger or a stylus to jot down quick notes and sketches directly over screen images, which you can then save and share. You can also customize the colour and style of your pen tip. Impressively, you can, for example, jot down an address or phone number and have it remain overlayed on the screen until you open the required app to input the info.
Another feature, Dual Screen Dual Play, lets you mirror screen images between the phone and another TV or monitor. And what's displayed doesn't necessarily have to be the same content as what's on your phone — you can play a video on your TV and then use other phone functions without affecting playback.
The QSlide function also allows you to run three separate applications at once and adjust the transparency of each one on the fly.
Camera and video
A 13-megapixel camera, you say? We were sceptical when we first heard about it, too. Of the handful of very high-resolution smartphone cameras we've tested, few live up to expectations. (Nokia's 808 PureView's 41-megapixel camera was one exception.)
There are controls for choosing among seven scene modes, five white-balance modes and four colour effects. You can select resolution that goes from 13 megapixels down to 1 megapixel. Geotagging, brightness and flash are other settings. While you can select your favourite of four shutter sounds, we weren't able to turn the sound off. LG gets a slight demerit there for the lack of a stealth mode.
In most cases, the Optimus G's full-resolution images did pack in an impressive amount of information creating crisp images. For fancier shooting options, you can turn on HDR (high dynamic range) mode, or take a sweeping panorama shot. There's also continuous-shot mode, which takes a burst of six photos. There are some other fun things you can do with the camera: Time Catch Shot, for example, takes a series of six shots around an event, starting before you press the camera button, so you can choose the best single image to keep.
You can also set a voice trigger to take photos if you say one of five programmed words: "cheese", "smile", "whisky," "kimchi" or "LG". Just be aware that you may snap unwanted shots when instructing people to say cheese.
Video controls are similar, but you do have a few different options. The first is whether to record a long video or a short one for MMS. QSlide makes it possible to use other apps while a video is playing in the background. The function is nestled in the video app, and is denoted on the top right corner by an icon of two rectangles layered on top of each other. When a video is playing, you can tap this icon and a transparent app drawer will spring up. Though QSlide isn't intuitive to find, it's easy to use and we can see it coming in handy when you don't want to stop watching a movie, but need to quickly attend to a text or email.
You can add a live effect while shooting with the camera, which will "humorously" convert features into bug eyes, a huge grin, a small mouth and so on. You can also choose backgrounds like sunset and disco. We say skip the tricks; if your hands so much as jiggle, the backgrounds immediately become choppy.
Now that we've walked you through the tools, it's time to tackle the image quality itself, starting with the camera. But first, a disclaimer: we took indoor and outdoor shots and peered at full-resolution images as well as photos that we resized on a laptop.
Camera quality on outdoor shots was often very good. But more often than not, several photos appeared washed out. Blue skies and light pink flowers turned almost white. Where the camera excelled were places with low lighting. Small details can be made out from even the darkest corner of a building, and when colours weren't washed out, they were true to life — images were extremely crisp and sharp edges in text stood out.
Indoor images also fared well. Again, colours were true to life, and the higher megapixel count meant more information being captured. This translates into finer details, like the cracks in floors or the folds in fabric, being more noticeable and well defined. This was especially apparent when zooming into photos at the maximum level. Though images on both devices became fuzzier, lines showed little aliasing or pixellation.
The Optimus G's 1080p HD video quality was very good, in both indoor and outdoor sample videos. Outdoor shots were the best. Audio was high, the image was clear and strong, and there was no lag between our moving of the camera and the video we saw during feedback. You can also snap a still photo while shooting video without interrupting the process.
The handset is powered by an impressively fast Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset; in fact, it's the first phone to feature Qualcomm's quad-core processor. When we played the graphics-heavy game Riptide GP, the app ran without any stalls or hiccups. Images were sharp and rendered smoothly. The game displayed a high frame rate with high-resolution graphics.
Simple tasks like swiping through the app drawer, launching the camera and transitioning back to the home screen were executed in a snap, and, on average, it took about 42 seconds for the device to power off and restart.
As mentioned the Optimus G is exclusive to Telstra and working on the 4G network. We saw downloads speeds of 20Mbps and above, along with upload speeds of over 16Mbps. Obviously, your mileage will vary here based on where you're located around Australia. According to Telstra, it will soon have 66 per cent of the country on its 4G network.
During our battery drain tests for video playback, the handset lasted 9.2 hours. Anecdotally, it had disappointing battery life. True, the Optimus G has a 2100mAh battery under its hood, but remember that that has to power four processor cores and a bright screen. After spending just a couple of hours with it surfing the web, taking pictures and remaining on standby, we found the Optimus G had lost about one third of its reserves. Remember that the 4G connectivity will drain some battery as well.
As an offside, the output speaker quality during calls came off harsh, especially on max volume. The sound only exits through one small slit in the back, so our friends sounded extremely tinny while speaking. The speaker also rendered music flatly. Its small opening takes away much of the depth and body, especially from songs that are instrumentally rich.
Though it's not without one or two problems, we'd recommend this LG Optimus G if your area is covered by Telstra's 4G network. It still maintains the speedy, quad-core guts of its counterpart and both have that gorgeous display. However, it's that 13-megapixel camera, which captures more true-to-life colours and details in low lighting, that we dig.
Telstra is pricing the Optimus 4G as zero dollars on its AU$60/month plan for both business and consumer, with the handset retailing outright for AU$699.
We do wish that LG had been a little more timely with getting the Optimus Pro to Australians. Don't get us wrong, though; this phone is definitely the best handset LG has to offer, and we're glad to see the company finally taking the kid gloves off in this competitive market with this powerhouse chipset, but we've seen the Optimus G Pro at Mobile World Congress (MWC) already. It's always easier to be excited by a phone when you haven't already seen its successor.