I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Android for some time; I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I think that it was around the time that I realized that just because an app was available, it didn’t mean I could necessarily install it on my phone. Lockdowns by carriers and various hardware limitations made Android apps non-universal across the platform, and that was a hard concept for me to accept.
The very nature of Android being an open platform meant that the OS could be made to run on some rather unimpressive hardware, but it didn’t always run smoothly or offer a compelling enough experience to convince me to set aside my iPhone. I was willing to give it a go, however. I wanted to use a device other than the iPhone, because the iPhone had become such a ubiquitous device. Everyone and their grandmother had one, and I wanted to be different — as if that would make some kind of statement about me not being part of the iPack.
So I bought the latest and greatest hardware, and I tried all the hacks and tricks. I unlocked and rooted phones, I moved apps to microSD cards to manage meager device RAM and ROM, I put up with laggy performance and sometimes buggy apps, I made concessions, and I compromised — and for what? Bragging rights? Being able to say, for instance, that I had an HD2 (the last of the great WinMo phones) running Froyo and then Gingerbread? That particular experiment crashed and burned one day when my microSD inexplicably fried, and all the data and pictures I was storing there simply vanished.
Afterward, I went straight back to my iPhone which (with a minor amount of app updating) was already perfectly set up and ready to go. That’s when I realized that being on a rock-solid operating system with all the apps I might ever need — even if it meant using the same phone as everyone else — was a much better idea than trying to be different just because I could be.
At some point in 2012, I noticed that Android Phones seemed to be going through some kind of revolution; it was as if hardware specifications were finally catching up with how users needed their mini-computers to perform, and (in their own roundabout way) Google was trying to better users experiences with regard to apps.
By mid-2012, Blackberry was mostly out of the picture; it became apparent that anyone who wasn’t on an iPhone was now on an Android Phone. Without looking, you had a 50/50 chance of correctly guessing which brand Android phone people would be using: Samsung or HTC. I still wasn’t impressed enough to switch from my iPhone 5, and yet … I still wanted to use something other than the omnipresent iPhone.
And then something odd happened.
The very day that I purchased a Nokia Lumia 920, I received a new AT&T LG Optimus G Android Phone review unit. As I laid the two phones next to my iPhone 5 to begin setting them up, I couldn’t help but compare the three. In the process, I came to a surprising conclusion¹.
But first, let’s take a look at the LG Optimus G (or OG).
Measuring exactly 5.2″ tall x 2.9″ wide x 0.4″ thick, and weighing 5.4 ounces with both SIM and microUSB installed, the Optimus G is an exceptional solidly built black plastic and glass rectangle that has no distinguishing marks on its front — except for the LG logo. The “high gloss tempered glass” (Gorilla Glass 2) on the front is an edge-to-edge design which lies flush within its bezel; the result is a smooth and nearly seamless design.
Side note: Doesn’t the Optimus G bear an uncanny resemblance to the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey?
The OG is really a good-looking phone; it feels great in my hand, and it is big without being too big. I can’t really find anything appearance-wise to pick on, other than the fact that it does resemble the monolith (or a plain black slab) … but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Side note: I think the Optimus G looks fantastic, and because it is a bit on the larger size, I opted not to keep it in a case and instead covered it in a full Bodyguardz skin.
Here are some of the Optimus G’s key specifications (notes made by me are in brackets):
- Powerful without Limits:
- Qualcomm S4 Pro Quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM [this is the first smartphone to use this processor]
- 32GB total memory (16GB built in memory and 16GB microSD card), and support for up to 64 GB of expandable memory [max total is 80GB total memory -- take that, iPhone!]
- 2,100Ah Li-Polymer Battery [non user-removable]
- Zerogap Touch Technology [also the first smartphone to use this technology]
- 4.7″ True HD IPS+ display [1280 x 768 -- a higher resolution than the iPhone 5's retina display]
- Camera Features
- Rear-facing camera: 8MP autofocus with LED flash [the Sprint version has a 13 megapixel camera]
- Zoom: 4X continuous
- 360 degree panorama capture
- Time Catch Shot: Capture the perfect photo every time with a camera setting that takes 5 images before even clicking the shutter button
- Live video capture and playback: Record in 1080p HD with HD playback, In-Play Zoom, and Dolby® Mobile sound
- Live Shot: Capture still, high-quality photos while recording HD video – at the same time
- Front-facing camera: 1.3MP with 720p HD video capture
In the US, LG has made the Optimus G available both on the Sprint and AT&T networks. Since I’ve got the AT&T version, I only have first-hand experience with that model.
The LG logo is really the only thing that’s noticeable when looking at the Optimus G full-on. Closer inspection reveals a sensor on the left side and the front-facing camera on the right; above the logo there is an ear speaker.
The bottom front of the OG has three capacitive buttons (Back, Home, and Menu) that will only light up when touched — unless you choose to set it to always on. I love this option, and I wish that it was present on my Lumia 920 as it makes the front of the device look much more elegant and clean when the buttons aren’t illuminated.
The top of the OG has a noise-canceling microphone and a 3.5mm headphone jack. This entire top area is subtly crosshatched, and it almost has a metallic speaker grill appearance; I love the contrast between this subtle crosshatching, the smooth glass screen, and the subtle “crystal reflection” patterned back.
The right side of the Optimus G has only the Power/Screen Lock button; there is an LED built into the button which will give you a choice: you can have it flash red when you have a notification from any app, including downloaded apps or missed calls, voicemails, calendar reminders, emails, or other messages, OR you can set it to flash red when charging and stop flashing once charging is complete. I’ll admit that I wish the LED would glow green when charging was done, but that’s a small quibble.
The bottom of the OG has the same “speaker grill” cross-hatching as the top. In the center is the microUSB syncing and charging port, and to the right there is a microphone; on either end there are mini torx screws that add a bit of flash — and that will likely void your warranty if removed.
On the left side is the three-way volume rocker; pressing either end will raise or lower the volume, and pressing in the middle will activate Quick Memo, LG’s fab note taking and screen capture tool (more on that, later).
Just below the volume rocker is the little door that hides the extremely accessible miniSIM and microSD slots. Since the back panel (ergo, the battery) is not user removable, these items are not hidden in the battery compartment like they are on most devices. Side note: These types of doors are great on items that you seldom need to access, and using them does make the device appear more sleek. I love that LG chose to cover these slots, yet they didn’t make the regrettable mistake of trying to hide the sync/charge port (something that is often used) under the same type of cover.
The back of the Optimus G appears to be glass, with a pattern that LG calls “Crystal Reflection” in it; crystal reflection is a subtle diamond-shaped pattern which is more prominent depending upon the angle you are viewing it from.
Here’s Sera Park, the Optimus G Design Team Leader, with a bit more about the new Optimus G design elements, which some may recognize from the previous LG Chocolate and Prada phones:
The 8 megapixel camera lens has an LED flash directly underneath. AT&T manages to keep their branding subtle; all you see is their stylized and instantly recognizable globe. I so wish that other phones could keep all of their own and their carriers branding as subtle!
At the bottom is a bit of FCC and maker’s info next to a vertical mono-speaker.
The Optimus G has a generously sized 2100 mAh Li-Polymer battery, which is supposed to give up to 10 hours talk-time and up to 13.5 days standby. I have found that the battery is easily able to get me through a typical day, one that is full of taking a few pictures and forwarding them to Facebook, Foursquare, or Twitter, using the WordPress app, catching up on my social networks, answering email, forwarding email, looking things up online, and texting like crazy. The battery life is much better than what I get on my iPhone 5, and it is about the same as what I get on my Lumia 920; in other words, the battery is excellent.
Here’s where it gets a bit more interesting, though: evidently you can expect to squeeze somewhere around 500 charging cycles from the average smartphone, and yet LG announced in September that the Optimus G’s “new battery from LG Chem has a longer life of 800 cycles, a significant improvement over existing mobile phone batteries.”
The 4.7″ True HD IPS+ display is, in a word, gorgeous. It is described by LG as being 1.6 times clearer and sharper than AMOLED, even when zoomed in, and it boasts low power consumption. Everyone who has handled this phone has remarked about its beautiful bright screen. Not so immediately noticeable, yet just as note-worthy, is the Zerogap Touch Technology used in the screen. LG describes it this way:
Bring the latest display technology to your fingertips with Zerogap Touch, a high gloss tempered glass design featuring a clearer picture, minimized reflections, better outdoor visibility, and super responsive touch input.
The result of the Zerogap Touch Technology used in this screen is that your finger seems to rest directly on top of the images that you are touching; there is no perceived gap like there is on other screens. This is most noticeable by me when playing games or editing photos, but it might be something you wouldn’t notice if you hadn’t been told and you weren’t particularly detail oriented — all you’d notice is that it “sure is a pretty screen”.
Richard Bang, VP IT/Mobile Product Planning Division, LG Display, explains a bit more about True HD IPS+ and Zerogap Touch:
The Optimus G screen is so good, that the only thing I think it’s missing is the(found in the Nokia Lumia 920) which “optimizes the touch experience by automatically detecting the presence of skin, gloved fingers, or fingernails, giving users a seamless multi-touch experience regardless of input methods.” Pretty neat stuff! Anyway …
You’ve read Dan and me talking in the past about how certain single or dual-core processor devices were so efficient that we couldn’t really tell that they weren’t running something more powerful, but this is a case where the power is there, and you will not take it for granted! The Optimus G is the first smartphone to use the Qualcomm S4 Pro Quad-core processor and it is definitely one of (if not the) zippiest smartphones I have ever used. I’m talking zero lag, beautiful and immediate graphics, and just a stunning, satisfying, and near-perfect user experience. I have absolutely no complaints about the speed or performance of this phone; none.
The LG Optimus G launched with Android 4.0.4, commonly known as Ice Cream Sandwich. The average consumer is not going to be aware that “Jelly Bean” is the newest flavor, and to be honest, knowing that the Optimus G wasn’t running the absolute latest update didn’t detract from my experience with it in the least. I don’t know if LG or AT&T will offer a 4.1 (Jelly Bean) update for the Optimus G, but it shouldn’t put a real cramp in any user’s style if it doesn’t happen (which isn’t to say that I don’t hope it will).
Calls made and received on the Optimus G are clear, and the 4G service is flawless when available. In a word, my experience with the Optimus G hardware has been excellent.
So let’s talk about the software included and the actual user experience …
If you don’t have a lot of experience setting up a new smartphone, or if you’re moving over from another operating system and you aren’t sure yet about where everything is located in Android’s settings, AT&T Ready2Go is a great way to personalize and set up your Optimus G. You will get a personalized code to use that will send everything you set up on your desktop directly to your smartphone; it’s an easy and efficient set up process.
These are some of the LG Specific apps included on the Optimus G:
Quick Memo - Capture, comment on and share screenshots with live links
Quick Memo is a baked-in app which is activated by pressing the middle of the volume rocker. It essentially allows you to add notes to the current screen or create a new note on a blank screen for saving or sharing via Note Pad, Amazon Send to Kindle, AT&T Locker, AT&T Messages, Bluetooth, Pinterest, Dropbox, Email, Evernote, Facebook, Fileshare, Flipboard, Foursquare, Gmail, Google+, Instagram, Kik Messenger, Messaging, Path, Picasa, Twitter, WordPress, etc. You are only limited by which apps you have installed that allow sharing. You can also use it to take screenshots with no edits, which is a big improvement over many of the Android devices I’ve used in the past; those required rooting just to get a screenshot. I absolutely love this feature, as it allows the OG to perform like a mini tablet.
Q Slide – Perform two functions simultaneously on the same screen
With Q Slide, you can take care of a second task when you are in the middle of another. For instance, if you are watching a video and you remember that you were supposed to text your friend about what time you’ll be able to meet her, you can do so without exiting the video. This is yet another way to multitask and further divide your attention, because you obviously aren’t distracted enough already. =P
Dual Play – share content from Optimus G to another screen while different/separate content is on the device’s display.
Dual Play allows you to stream content from your Optimus G to a larger screen . While doing so, you can “perform other tasks at the same time with Dual Screen Dual Play. Discreetly check notes on one screen while giving a presentation on another. Or send an email on your phone while watching a movie on your TV.”
Live Zooming – This feature allows you to zoom in and out on videos during playback by pinching or spreading your fingers; it’s actually quite useful if you want to see something more clearly.
NFC technology – This feature allows you to share and receive files with other devices, but it goes one step further. If you use the dedicated LG Tag+ app, you can create, read and send NFC tags.
Using Near Field Communication, you can share contacts, URLs, memos, messages, calendar events or even a call request to another NFC-enabled device or a tag.
Advanced Camera Features
LG has included a bundle of camera tricks including:
• Choices of Normal, HDR, Panorama, or Continuous Shot photos
• Continuous Shot: takes six photos immediately after each other; you can choose the one you want from Auto-Review.
• Time Catch Shot Mode: Displays pictures taken in the moments up until you took your photograph; this should be great for photo ops where everyone is ready … and then one person inevitably blinks. Problem solved!
• Cheese Shutter: allows you to snap a picture when you (or the photo subjects) say one of the following words — Cheese, Smile, Whisky, Kimchi, or LG.
Here are a couple of unretouched photos; each is a thumbnail that can be clicked to enlarge.
The camera on the Optimus G is very good, but it is not as good in low light situations as the camera on the Lumia 920; I honestly don’t know of any other smartphone camera that even comes close.
¹To go back to the surprising conclusion that I had made when I was setting up the LG Optimus G and the Nokia 920 next to my iPhone … it was a real eye-opener for me to see just how many of the iPhone apps I use are now available on Android, and how many are still missing on Windows Phone. I guess this is yet another example of patience (and market saturation) being a virtue.
The Optimus G is the first Android Phone that has ever truly wowed me. I say that without reservation, and I say that wanting you to understand that my iPhone 5 has been in a drawer since the beginning of November, and the only phones I have used since then have been the Nokia Lumia 920 and the LG Optimus G.
I love the fact that I can use all of the apps I enjoy on the iPhone on the Optimus G, and I feel that in many ways it is a much better device than the iPhone because of its hardware and internal specifications; the amazing 4.7″ True HD IPS+ display and speed alone make it a contender for anyone who is undecided and could go either way.
Some will make the inevitable comparisons to the Nexus 4, since this was the phone that it was based on, but consider this: even though the Nexus 4 beats the Optimus G by adding wireless charging (which I love on the Lumia 920), the Nexus 4 doesn’t have a memory card slot, and the Optimus G does. The Nexus 4 only comes in 8GB or 16GB, the Optimus G is 16GB with a 16GB microSD card included — with the option of sticking a 64GB card in that expansion slot for a total of 80GB. The Nexus 4 is $349 with no contract, but the Optimus G is only two hundred more (contract free) with double the memory; The Nexus 4 does ship with Jelly Bean (Android 4.2) and a “pure” Google setup, but the Optimus G doesn’t skip a beat with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.4), and the included AT&T apps are easily deleted*.
*I should probably clarify that “deleted” statement, because it was a bit too brief, and probably will be misunderstood by someone. The AT&T apps can be deleted from showing on your screen (which is great for people like me who don’t want to see apps that they don’t ever use … but they are still stored in ROM, and if you do a hard-reset, they will reappear. Make sense?
The choice is clear, at least to me. If I was in the market for an Android phone, I would absolutely buy the AT&T LG Optimus G.
The LG Optimus G is available from AT&T and other vendors.
MSRP: $199.99 with two-year contract; $549.99 contract free
Update: For a limited time, AT&T is offering the LG Optimus G for $99.99* on a two-year contract. The offer runs from 1/11 through 2/21.
*Offer ends 02/21/2013. Requires new 2-yr wireless agreement with qualified voice (min $39.99/mo) and data plans (min $20/mo) or Mobile Share plan. Other charges, terms and conditions apply. Visit a store or att.com for details.
What I Like: Excellent hardware that fits well in my hand; superb 4.7″ True HD IPS+ display; speedy Qualcomm S4 Pro Quad-core processor; Quick Memo is a handy screen snap and note taking app; excellent battery life
What Needs Improvement: Camera is not good in low light without a flash; Q slide is gimmicky; ships with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.4) rather than Jelly Bean (Android 4.2)
Source: Manufacturer supplied review unit