Sprint and AT&T LG Optimus G review and hands on: Did LG finally get a flagship?

Whenever people talk about Android phones, LG generally doesn’t come up in the conversation. Companies like Samsung, HTC, and Motorola seem to get the most press, but there’s no question LG has a big following. Even so, they never came out with a phone that put them over the top. The Optimus G just might be that phone, and so far things are looking pretty good as they impressed Google enough to morph the phone into the Nexus 4. Assuming you’re not going to buy a Nexus 4, is the Optimus G the phone for you? Hit the break to get started

Design

The Sprint version of the Optimus G is the more truer design when comparing it to the international version so I will start with that. I think I am going to be in the minority on this, but I am not all that impressed with the design of the Optimus G. I think the quality is up there, but I am not a fan of the glass back. The crystallized pattern underneath is cool, and the glass back might look cool, but it only creates problems. It only makes the phone more delicate and covering it with a case only hides the so called beauty of it. I can safely say that if you rest either one of these phones on something that is slightly off level, it could drop to the floor because it’s so slippery. I have had this happen to me on more than one occasion. I personally prefer the Kevlar coating on Motorola’s devices or even the newer texture that HTC is using in the DROID DNA. I am also not a fan of the very thin silver band that is visible around the display. Depending on how the light hits and/or the angle, it makes it look like an older phone with worn edges. All in all it does feel comfortable to hold and feels rock solid. I will say that this is probably the finest phone LG has ever made.

Now the AT&T version is a another story. The body is different in that it’s actually wider by 0.11 inches and the right and left sides are rounded. It actually resembles the body of the Samsung Galaxy S II. It has the same glass backing, but overall the phone doesn’t feel as comfortable in the hand. Not sure why AT&T would go this route, but it’s definitely a downgrade.

Both phones have a non-removable battery just like the Nexus 4 and comes in at 8.38mm thick. As far as buttons and ports go, both phones are identical except the AT&T version has a cover on the left side that holds the SIM and microSD card. The Sprint version doesn’t have a microSD slot and the SIM is embedded in the phone. You will find the microphone jack at the top left. Along the right side is the power button at the top. On the left side is the volume rocker towards the top (SIM and microSD slot below that on AT&T version). The bottom has the microUSB port.

 

Hardware

Both devices feature a 4.7-inch (1280 x 768) IPS LCD display at 318ppi, 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (Sprint) /16GB of storage (AT&T), microSD slot (AT&T), 13MP rear camera (Sprint) / 8MP rear camera (AT&T), 1.3MP front camera, 2100mAh battery, and Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

Performance

The speed and snappiness is a delight thanks to the Snapdragon S4 Pro. Even with LG’s UI, it cuts through everything you can throw at it. I did run the AnTuTu benchmark, which came in at 11,213 for the Sprint version and 11,095 for the AT&T. It’s considerably lower than the Samsung Galaxy Note II, but you have to look really hard to notice any kind of a difference. The bottomline is that transitions between homescreens and apps is as fast as any phone available today.

The display is also one of the best. I still think the HTC One X (and soon to be the DROID DNA) is the king of the throne, but the Optimus G is knocking on the door. The viewing angles are more than adequate and the colors are vibrant. It truly is one of the best displays out there.

Battery

For my battery tests I always run continuous video while connected to LTE. In the case of the Sprint version, I am only able to get 3G so my test reflects that. I was able to get  about 7 hours and 30 minutes out of it. For the AT&T version I was able to test it while connected to LTE and I got just under 8 hours. As a side note, for all my tests, I set the display to 2/3′s brightness, turn on GPS, WiFi (not connected), and Bluetooth (not connected). Both results aren’t too bad and should get you through most of the day of moderate use without any issues

Software

The area where LG has suffered in the past is in their UI. I haven’t met too many people who liked it. Now that they have refined their hardware, the question is if they have refined their UI?  For the most part the look and feel isn’t too bad, and it appears LG went the route of adding a lot of customization. That can be cool, but unfortunately most people will never know these options exist. What’s also interesting is the AT&T version differs from the Sprint and international version, which is bizarre. It’s mind boggling why AT&T or LG would want to change the UI, and this is something I have never seen before.

Lets start with what’s the same. Both phones have Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, which is already feeling a bit dated. You can have up to seven homescreens with the ability to choose the transition between them with options like basic, accordion, carousel, and more. If you would like a different wallpaper for each homescreen you can do that as well. For icons, you can change the image easily or even add your own photo. Folders are created the same way as stock Ice Cream Sandwich, but you also get a manilla folder look to it. You can change the color of it as well as change the folder name. You can even expand folders to make it widget like, and you can also create folders in the app drawer. The drop down notification has a quick settings menu that you can customize as far as what settings you want in it and what order.

Samsung introduced Popup Video with the Galaxy S III, and LG came up with their own version called the Q Slide. It’s limited to only videos that are physically on the device. While watching a video you can tap the Q Slide button to overlay the video over any app you would like. There is a bar to slide that will make it more transparent if you need to read something. You can’t move the video around, but the transparent feature is pretty slick.

Another feature is Quick Memo which is much like Samsung’s S Memo without all the bells and whistles. By hitting both the volume up and down or hitting the icon in the quick settings, a new memo will open for taking notes. You can change the colors or pen style as well as easily erase. You can then save it in the Quick Memo notebook or save it in the gallery. It’s also useful if you use the Quick Memo to write a phone number down. You can make any memo overlay the dialer so you will see the number you wrote down, which makes it easy for you to dial the number you needed to remember.

As I mentioned the AT&T version has some differences. First, the main settings screen is set up with tabs rather than the traditional ICS feel. The lockscreen has a completely different look, and out of the box, you only have three homescreens. Unfortunately it’s not so easy to find out how to add homescreens as you have to make a pinch like gesture on one of your homescreens. The apps tray is also different in that the app launcher is in the center as opposed to the right side. This is the one change that actually made sense. I still can’t understand why LG and Samsung continue to put the app launcher to the right.

All in all you will find a lot of customizations, but you will need to spend some time to find them all. I put together a hands on video on both of these devices showing you how some of these things work.

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Camera

This is yet another area where both phones do not agree. The Sprint version has the same 13MP lens that you will find in the international version. For whatever reason, AT&T opted for an 8MP shooter. The 13MP shooter is obviously better, but I was not all that impressed with either camera. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t awful, I was just expecting more. LG did add a unique feature called Time Catch Shot. After taking a picture, you will be presented with a few images just before you pressed the shutter button. It’s in a sense another form of burst shooting. It’s cool, but I found it useless. Speaking of burst shooting, LG has an Epic fail in this area. In burst shooting (or consecutive shots), it will take six consecutive shots, but unfortunately those shots are not at the full resolution. They are at 1MP. After getting my review unit, I spent the weekend with family, and it wasn’t until I came home that I realized all my burst shots were at 1280 x 768 as opposed to the 4208 x 3120 that single shots were. This is an absolute embarrassment and neither Samsung or HTC implement this. I rely on burst shooting a lot since I have a 4 year old that doesn’t sit still, and this was a huge disappointment. As to basic picture taking, I have included some images from both cameras for you to judge for yourself. The Sprint versions are first followed by AT&T’s, and the last photo of each set required flash.

 


Closing

LG has come a long way with the Optimus G, and even though it’s a fantastic phone in terms of specs and performance, it just didn’t do it for me. If you’re on Sprint, it’s probably the best phone on the network, but if you really don’t think you need a quad-c0re, the HTC EVO 4G LTE might be your better option. As to AT&T, the HTC One X+ or even the Samsung Galaxy S III is the better bet in my opinion. I don’t see how anyone could want the AT&T version after seeing the Sprint version. It just feels cheap as compared to the Sprint version. The other thing to consider is LG has a lousy track record when it comes to updates. I think it’s a really nice phone that’s super smooth and fast, but I personally feel that both HTC and Samsung are making better quad-core phones right now.

 


About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.


  • Thomas

    So….Samsung copied Apple…..LG copied Samsung….who’s going to copy LG?

  • justinbergmans

    I just g got the phone.not sure if quadcore is that big a difference.benchmarks don’t mean much.

  • Michael H.

    I have had my LG Opt G for over a month now and love it! Not having an sd card takes a little getting used to, but using a wire to transfer files is much easier than taking a battery off to get to sd card. Can’ t wait to see bigger phones from LG, and some with keyboards. I also love the professional look and feel to the phone. The back plate is very stylish. I never considered LG until I got bored with Samsung (same company I know).