When it was launched last year the LG Optimus G was the very definition of state of the art. It was the first smartphone to have the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2GB of RAM and it even beat the iPhone 5 by implementing a Zero-Gap display before it. Today though, in a post Galaxy S 4 world it’s not that anymore. It does not have the latest and greatest specs, but then again it does not cost in excess of Rs 40,000 like most flagship smartphones.
The Optimus G offers a great build, an impressive feature set, and a design that was an inspiration for the Google Nexus 4, which also recently landed in India. This means it competes with the likes of the Galaxy S III, the Sony Xperia SP, and the Xperia ZL rather than wizards like the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S 4. But can it compete? Read on to find out more.
The LG Optimus G is punctuated with an all glass design that harkens back to the iPhone 4. Clearly, it is not the first device to don an all glass front and back design, and it is not the last one either. Google clearly likes this design language, and it adopted the Optimus G as the basis for the Nexus 4. However, there are some subtle differences between the two devices that cause massive use case differences for the end user. For example, the curvy lines of the Nexus 4 make it a lot more comfortable to use for long durations, the same cannot be said for the Optimus G which feels like a rectangular block.
In fact, the entire design of the Optimus G is not that different from the Optimus 4X HD or even the Samsung Galaxy S II for that matter. LG has adopted an interesting stippled pattern on the back which resides beneath the Gorilla Glass frame. This looks quite classy in our opinion and the glass back generally feels very nice to hold and it gives users a sense that they are using an expensive device, something which cannot be said of competing Samsung phones.
At 8.5mm and 145 grams it is neither the sveltest device on the market nor the thickest one. Its glass back also gives it some weight thought it’s not very heavy. It hits a mid-point of sorts which helps it maintain a decent balance between the weight and length of the device. However, people used to devices like the Samsung Galaxy S III will find the Optimus G to be a tad overweight. We don’t see that to be a big issue.
Adding to the baggage there is the glass back that clearly adds a sense of fragility to the device and if it takes a fall, chances are the back panel will shatter. We have learnt that from the Nexus 4 and two generations of the iPhone. That said, the back is indeed quite attractive and it also is home to the 13-megapixel snapper which is accompanied with a LED flash.
The back panel is not user removable underneath which there is an 2,100 mAh battery. This can be a deal breaker for some, so that’s something one should keep in mind before purchasing the device.
The side spines are made up of a rubberized plastic material, and it also has a chamfer of sorts like the iPhone 5, but it is not polished like the iPhone. It is there to serve a purpose. It has more to do with improving the ergonomics of the swipe gestures that the user will make while using the device.
The front is home to a glorious 4.7-inch TrueHD+ IPS display that uses a technology similar to the in-cell technology seen in the iPhone 5 display. This means there is no gap between the touch sensor and the display which in turn improves the crispness of the text rendered on the display. On the bottom one gets the standard three Android capacitive buttons, and the top of the display is flanked with a suite of sensors and a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera.
When the LG Optimus G was launched it was the first smartphone to use the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor clocked at 1.5GHz, but today this spec is not exactly state of the art, though still very powerful. It also has 2GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel rear camera, 32GB of internal memory and a 1.3-megapixel front camera. It has a gorgeous 4.7-inch IPS display which has a resolution of 1280×768 pixels and has an RGB stripe.
LG uses its zero gap technology for the display on the Optimus G which means the touch sensor and main display assembly are fused together. This is similar to the display employed on the iPhone 5. That said, at times we did find the black levels to be a tad low and the display appeared to have a slight grey hue to it rather than a pure black gamut.
Overall, though in terms of 720p display we found it to be among the best and personally speaking we prefer the more natural colors of LG Optimus G over the artificial saturation adorned by the Super AMOLED display on the Galaxy S III.
LG is known to provide a decent software experience on its smartphones. The last LG device we reviewed was the Optimus 4X HD, and we really liked the software experience on it. Back then we found the Optimus UI to less intrusive than TouchWiz on Samsung Android smartphones or Sense running on HTC handsets. We maintain the same notion even this time around, but we would definitely prefer the software updates to come faster, as the Optimus G is still stranded on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
Still though the Optimus G provides for a clean and faster Android user experience that is closer to Google’s own vision than a complete fork in the vein of Samsung’s TouchWiz which strives to create an entirely new experience. LG implements a cool yet efficient lockscreen animation. This animation is drool worthy, and when we showed off the device to onlookers they were curious about the device.
Enter the homescreen, one will find largely the same UI that we saw on the Optimus 4X HD, which is a good thing. The launcher can also be customized like third party launchers, and we believe more OEMs should follow suite. The biggest changes come in the form of extended toggles on the pull down menu and the addition of LG’s own Q-Slide apps that allow two apps to run at the same time. There is also a translation app that works via OCR technology. Additionally, the camera on the Optimus G responds to voice commands, and if users use some of the pre-determined commands he can click photos using just voice.
The big negative out here is LG’s insistence on maintaining cartoonish icons that just don’t look good. Look don’t get us wrong, we don’t like it but apparently this is the Asian thing to do as Chinese vendors like Huawei, and Korean companies like Samsung are also doing similar things with their software.
LG has also customized the music player in the Optimus G, and it adds an equalizer, which is good if one likes to tinker around with the EQ. However, the UI of the app is slightly cluttered, and if does manage to put a lot of music on the Optimus G, then navigating through one’s collection can get a little problematic. The video player on the Optimus G impressed us as it managed to play most movies we threw at it. These included .AVI, .MP4 and .MKV files. The only files it did not play were encoded in .MT2S format.
When it was announced at IFA in August 2012, the LG Optimus G was the first smartphone to be powered by the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chip which is clocked at 1.5GHz. At the time, it was the de facto, performance benchmark and even today it performs almost as good as any top of the line Android smartphone in the market. This includes the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and the HTC One.
Of course, under the hood it also has the Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM, so everything runs silky smooth. Things can be further optimized, if one ditches the stock launcher and installs something like a Nova launcher. Then the phone just starts to fly.
In terms of pure artificial benchmarks the Optimus G is a notch below the newer Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 and Exynos Octa 5 based smartphones. The gulf may look quite dramatic, but trust us in real world usage one will not feel a thing. Even in terms of gaming because the Snapdragon S4 Pro and the Snapdragon 600 share the Adreno 320 GPU, performance largely remains the same.
The 13-megapixel camera on the back manages to take some really nice shots in proper daylight. These can be compared to the Galaxy S III, but they are a step below the Galaxy S 4. In low-light, like most smartphone cameras, the performance is not that good, but still better than many. Let’s just say it’s not the iPhone 5, but it does manage to eclipse the Nexus 4, a device which is largely based on the Optimus G. That said, the Nexus 4 uses a lower resolution 8-megapixel sensor.
The camera has also highly configurable, and there are a number of features like HDR and Panorama, which is always good. The quality of the video captures was also solid especially in low-light. In bright lighting it tended to be a little over exposed but it was not too bad.
The call quality on the LG Optimus G was average at best. Especially for a phone of its caliber. While it did well in areas where we had a decent signal, it floundered in areas where the signal dropped. For instance, in the basement, once the signal dropped, making calls were quite difficult.
But the biggest disappointment was the battery life on the Optimus G. It struggled to last a day and some hand holding was always needed. We would constantly be on 3G and would make calls for around 2 hours. Our testing would normally involve heavy social networking, an hour of web browsing, some photography and streaming music via Google Play music.
We would normally end up with around 17-20 hours of battery life on a daily basis. Considering it has an 2,100 mAh battery that has been developed by LG Chem, this is not exactly impressive. We would often revert to Juice Defender, which is a battery life optimization app. Using it we managed to extend our usage by around 3 to 4 hours, which would make the phone barely cross the 24 hour mark. Suffice to say if one left home for work on a full charge, by the time one came back home, it would be in the red below 10 percent.
At Rs 31,899, the LG Optimus G is an expensive proposition considering one can have the exact feature set and a 1080p screen to boot at Rs 35,990 with the Sony Xperia ZL. LG also sort of cannibalizes the Optimus G, with the launch of Nexus 4 in India which costs Rs 25,990 and offers the identical feature set, save for the lower resolution 8-megapixel camera and 16GB of storage, but with the advantage of stock Android, with the updates being pushed out by Google itself.
That said, one cannot go wrong with the Optimus G. It has a gorgeous screen, it flies like a rocket and is solidly built. Its main flaws are its below par battery and call quality. Though we still believe, the extra software features on the Optimus G are not worth it and one should rather opt for the Nexus 4, which basically is the same phone with a more ergonomic design, and better software and costs Rs 6,000 lesser.
Photographs: Namrata Juneja