If you’re as enamored by high-end smartphones as we are, you’re likely blinded by the storm this segment is witnessing in the period immediately after Mobile World Congress. With titans like HTC One and Samsung’s Galaxy S4 expected soon, and flagships like the BlackBerry Z10 and Sony Xperia Z already on shelves (not to mention the evergreen iPhone 5), it’s easy for devices like the LG Optimus G to flow unnoticed under the radar. But is it the David that will bring down the Goliaths? Or is it another me-too that will sink without a trace? It took its time coming, but the Optimus G has landed on Indian shores and we’ll try to answer that question as we take it for a test drive.
Design and hardware
The Optimus G follows a very similar design language as the Nexus 4. A blocky, industrial design and a black monoblock chassis mean it’s not going to win you any second glances. However, the smartphone doesn’t feel cheap or plasticky at all, feels quite solid, and thanks to its 4.7-inch screen, is fairly comfortable to hold. The crystal pattern on the glass-coated rear is possibly its only design highlight, along with a thin chrome accent that runs around the bezel. The rear does collect fingerprints and smudges quite easily. Of course, this is where you’ll find the 13-megapixel camera, with the square lens protruding slightly and making it prone to scratches.
At front, the 4.7-inch display dominates proceedings, and there are three backlit capacitive keys placed below it. A notification LED is also provided, placed above the screen adjacent to the 1.2-megapixel front shooter. The battery is sealed inside the device and as far as ports are concerned, you’ll find a power / sleep key on the right, placed near the top. The left is where the conjoined volume key is located, along with a microSIM tray that can be pulled out with help of the included eject tool or a thin pin – the orifice is too tiny, so a bent paper clip doesn’t really do the job. The top is home to the 3.5mm headphone socket and a noise cancellation mic. Missing something? In case you haven’t figured it out by now, there’s no microSD slot for memory expansion and you’re stuck with the 32GB provided. Overall, it’s an underwhelming package design-wise.
The screen may not be at par with some of the rival flagships we’ve seen recently, both in terms of size or the resolution, but that doesn’t mean it can’t deliver. As most of the new high-end Android smartphones are touching or even crossing the 5-inch mark and proudly flaunting their 1080p screens, the Optimus G can only boast of a 4.7-inch, 320 ppi, 1280 x 768 display. However, the IPS+ display is quite vibrant, with good color reproduction and decent viewing angles. Possibly the only niggle we have with it is reduced sunlight legibility because it’s a tad too reflective, but otherwise, it’s extremely capable – displaying sharp text and vibrant graphics.
Staying abreast of the megapixel race, LG’s bestowed the Optimus G with a chart-topping 13-megapixel snapper and one that includes most of the frills we’ve come to expect. In keeping with the customization theme, even the camera UI can be customized with your choice of shortcuts. There’s control over ISO and white balance, various scene presets, different modes such as HDR, panorama and burst, even a “Time catch” shot that attempts to capture the moment even before you press the shutter. Consider it cheesy, but there’s also a feature dubbed “Cheese shutter“, and it lets you click shots just using your voice – with the trigger words being cheese, smile, whisky, kimchi and LG. While we aren’t sure if you’re one of those who smile when you hear the word “whisky”, the feature works as long as you can mimic the recorded voice of the sweet-sounding lady who attempts to guide you through this.
Below are some sample pictures taken from Optimus G. They are uncompressed images and hence might take a little longer to open.
As far as quality is concerned, the camera fails to impress. While overall quality of images captured in well-lit areas is generally nice, some images tend to look a tad washed out, while some look over-saturated. Low light photos are riddled with noise. Video performance is not its strongest point either, especially in low light where the videos turn out overly dark. Videos captured in good ambient light are usable though, but don’t plan on ditching that camcorder anytime soon.
Android Jelly Bean, more specifically, Android 4.1.2 is the OS of choice here, and it comes skinned (heavily, we might add) with LG’s Optimus UI. Any device running Android device is extremely customizable, but LG has upped the ante here, making the Optimus G one of the most customizable phones straight out of the box. Pretty much everything can be customized, from the lock screen animation, to the system font. You can also specify your own choice of four apps to be set as lock screen shortcuts. For the overall look, there are four built-in themes, and you can choose from a set of different screen swipe effects. The notification bar provides access to connectivity toggles, and these can also be customized by choosing which ones you want displayed and in what order. The same bar also provides a shortcut to QuickMemo, LG’s note-taking app that lets you scribble on top of the screen. Then there are what are dubbed “QSlide Apps“, LG’s own version of the Multiview mode used by Samsung. Five of them are available – videos, browser, memo, calendar, and calculator – and again you can select which ones you want from these and the order in which they are listed. Two of these can be used simultaneously, appearing as resizable, movable windows on the screen. What’s more, you can even customize each one’s opacity in case you want to hide them for a bit. It’s a nifty feature, and could be useful for some. There there are a slew of the usual gestures such as flip to silence, and even “Smart screen“, a feature akin to Samsung’s “Smart Stay” that keeps the screen on if the front camera detects your eyes looking at it.
Pre-loaded goodies include a backup app, Polaris Office for document viewing and editing, a RemoteCall Service app for remote troubleshooting, a video editor, and Video Wiz — an app that helps create video montages by integrating music, images and video clips into a single video. While you can group app shortcuts into folders on any of the home screen per usual, you can even create folders in the main app drawer, akin to iOS and BlackBerry 10. The LG keyboard replaces the default Android keyboard, and brings with it word correction and word prediction features, along with slide gestures to input text. If you have small hands, there’s even a one-handed mode that compresses and docks the keyboard to left or right in portrait mode, depending upon your preferences.
Performance and battery life
For all its customization options and its Optimus UI, there’s no negative impact of LG’s software tricks on performance. Helped by the speedy 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core chip and 2GB of RAM, the phone flies through apps and makes mince meat of everything thrown at it. An Adreno 320 GPU handles the graphics. Animations are super smooth, and overall the smartphone is fun to use, with no lag whatsoever, even while multitasking. Connectivity options include everything from dual-band wi-fi to NFC, MHL to DLNA, and even Miracast. USB on-the-go is missing, and this is notable in the light of no memory expansion, with only 25GB of the 32GB storage being available to the user. Battery life isn’t too bad, and you should be able to get a day’s worth of medium usage from its 2,100 mAh pack. A customizable power saver mode helps extend battery life, and there’s also an eco mode that switches the processor from quad-core to dual-core depending upon usage. Make no mistake, in terms of sheer performance, this is one of the most capable devices available at this price range.
With an MRP of Rs. 35,500 (~$650) and a street price of roughly Rs. 30,990 ($570) for a sim-free unit, the Optimus G is great value for money, mainly due to its solid build and top-notch performance. However, at that price, the smartphone doesn’t really need to face the heat from any of the newer flagships, almost all of which are priced much higher. Instead, the strongest threat it faces comes from a relatively older device, the Samsung Galaxy S III. Sammy’s chart-topper remains a compelling device, and after its recent price drop, should be available for a slightly lesser price compared to the LG Optimus G. And while it doesn’t match the Optimus G’s specs with its older chipset, 1GB of RAM and 8-megapixel camera, and feels more plasticky in comparison, it does have a pretty useful USB OTG support and a microSD slot for memory expansion. And while looks can be quite subjective, we feel it looks a tad better as well. On the other hand, the LG Optimus G’s rocking performance, the customization options and the better build it offers can’t be overlooked. Overall, LG does have a bit of an edge we feel, but at the end of the day, it’s your call.
Overall Rating: 8/10