Itís been a bit of a boring year for LG. Aside from a few mid and entry level handsets, the last really interesting phone that LG brought out was the Optimus LTE.
During that time, we've been treated to phones like the HTC One S, One X, Motorola RAZR HD LTE, ATRIX HD LTE, Sony Xperia ION, and Samsung Galaxy S III. One similarity between all those phones are that they all have similar Qualcomm dual core processors.
One thing Iím sure many manufacturers hate about Android is that they all have access to similar hardware so they all end up having to play the hardware game. I was a little surprised that LG didnít join the party with their own similar offering.
Now, LG is launching their new flagship phone. The LG Optimus G. It actually shares the same guts as the upcoming Google Nexus 4 with a few changes that I'll discuss later.
Whatís special about it is that it ups the stakes in the hardware game with itís new Qualcomm processor that doubles the core count plus adds a new more powerful graphics processor: The Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro. While Iím sure itís going to become quite ubiquitous for now it makes the G unique.
While quad core processors in phones are not new; the Nvidia Tegra 3 has been around for 3 quarters, but the Gís chip is different. You see the Tegra 3 sports 4 ARM Cortex A9 cores while the G has 4 Qualcomm Krait cores. Qualcomm has been using dual core chips with Krait cores to compete with quad core Cortex A9ís with a lot of success. In many of my benchmarks, the dual Krait cores are more than a match for the Corex A9 quads. You see the Krait is sort of half a generation ahead of the Cortex A9ís so itís a more efficient design.
Another thing that sets the G apart is itís graphics processor: the Adreno 320. Up till now Qualcommís Krait chips have been making due with the Adreno 305. While itís generally faster than the Tegra 3, itís a lot less powerful than the iPhone 5ís A6 chip. Weíll see if the Adreno 320 is able to close the gap later.
The G is a really solid phone. Thereís no flex or twist at all when you squeeze it. Make sure you donít drop it!
The display is a 4.7" 1280x768 IPS LCD display. It looks amazing. It's sharp, has great viewing angles. Unfortunately it's been raining every day lately so I haven't had to chance to try it out in bright sunlight.
Both the screen and the back are covered with Gorilla Glass 2. The back is polarized with an awesome 3D pattern. I love the finish on the LG logo. Both are actually underneath the glass.
Having glass on both sides makes the G kind of slippery. You might get one consider putting a polyurethane screen protector on the back to add some grip. Those are the type of screen protectors that you have to wet first before you apply them. The kind that feel kind of sticky.
The G has a really narrow bezel. It's not an easy phone to use with one hand because the screen is really big. Also because my palm keeps touching the screen when I'm reaching across with my thumb. If you get the G make sure you buy a case for it that has a raised lip around the edges.
separate volume buttons, microSIM card slot
camera, LED flashlight
When it comes to Android software, manufacturers take 3 approaches. First, you have Nexus devices which are vanilla Android. Then you have some like Motorola and Huawei take a minimalist approach and try to add as little as possible to Android.
Others, like Samsung, try their hardest to add to Android and make their phones as different as possible.
All three approaches have merit. If you have a Nexus device, all the manufacturer has to do maybe update their drivers when thereís a new version of Android. Itís a similar story for the minimalist approach. When Google announces a new Android, there will be less to customize. This saves the companies money and allows them to get their updates into the hands of customers faster.
On the other hand, Samsung customizes Android heavily. This means that they have to do more work to get a new Android release working on their phones. Fortunately, for them, they have the financial resources to make this happen because theyíre making money faster than a rapper can spend it.
The thing is, if you just sell your phone as being an vanilla Android phone, thereís very little to differentiate it from other Android phones. Itís fine if youíre interested in playing in the lower-end of the market. The problem is that you probably wonít make a lot of money if you go this path. Just look at the LG Optimus Gís cousin the Nexus 4. It has almost the same hardware but itís priced much lower.
If you donít customize Android then thereís less you can do to make your offerings stand out. You end up competing on hardware only. When that happens you have less to tell consumers which makes it harder to tell them why you're phone is better.
What most OEMs are aiming for is to create something that is more than the sum of itís part that will help them distinguish their product from the rest of the pack.
Samsung has succeeded in doing this. Most people who buy a Galaxy series phone donít care that itís running Android. Itís become a question of iPhone or Galaxy.
Compared with previous phones, LG has set down the same path as Samsung with the G. Itís a very customized phone. Whether they can sell enough Gís to make enough money to keep up with software development costs remains to be seen.
Anyways, itís good that theyíre being ambitious. If youíre going to aim for something, aim for the stars. Since weíre talking about stars, many of LGís customizations are very similar or at least were inspired by Samsung. You can watch videos while using the rest of the phone (though LGís implements this in a different manner), the phone watches you when you use it to see if it should keep the screen on, you can screen capture the screen and then write on it, there are some motion features like the ability to move home screen icons by tilting, that sort of thing.
Since weíre talking about software development, one thing the G has going for it is that many carriers are no longer interested in having exclusives. The G is the first higher end phone from LG in quite a while that is available on Bell/TELUS/Rogers. While the Rogers version is slightly different, theyíre all very similar. Remember the Galaxy S II Vibrant, Captivate, Obfuscate? Carriers donít care about exclusivity as much now. This should make it easier for LG since there are less phone SKUís to focus on.
The Telus and Bell versions supports LTE on AWS frequencies while the Rogers one has LTE support on 2600Mhz.
The Optimus G comes with Android 4.0 AKA Ice Cream Sandwich. ICS came out around a year ago and has been superseded by Android 4.1 and 4.2 both of which are known as Jellybean. While Jellybean isn't common yet some high-end Android phones like the Galaxy S III and Note II already have Jellybean so I'm a bit disappointed that the G doesn't come with it too.
To me the biggest difference between 4.0 and 4.1 is that 4.1 has smoother menu transitions and it has Google Now, a sort of personal assistant.
At the launch, LG choose to highlight 4 main software features: QSlide, QuickMemo, Time Catch Shot and Live zooming.
QSlide allows you to view a video while youíre using the rest of the G. Sounds familiar? Itís like Samsungís pop-up video but LG implements QSlide differently. Pressing the QSlide button makes it so the video is transparent. That way you can see both the video and what youíre working on at the same time. If you have trouble seeing what youíre working on you can adjust the transparency so the video becomes more opaque.
Iím sure LG will say QSlide is better because it allows you to see more of your screen plus you donít have to constantly move your video around while youíre trying to use the phone. Personally, I think QSlide is much worse than pop-up video because I find it hard to look at the phone. I also found that the QSlide controls sometimes get in the way - just like pop-up video does.
QuickMemo allows you to capture a screen shot and then write on it. Sounds familiar right? LGís QuickMemo is better, in that you can capture the screen and then choose to have a solid background so that you can write on it. To start-up QuickMemo, just press both volume buttons simultaneously.
With QuickMemo, you can be in a phone call, launch it, choose a solid background and then write down a phone number. Itís actually a really cool idea. After youíre done you can save the QuickMemo to your gallery or share it.
Videozoom allows you to zoom into videos. Iíve never really wanted to do this before on my phone but I guess someone might find it useful. I thought LG could have done a better job implementing this feature. When you zoom into a video, the area the video takes up is bounded by whatever area the video originally took up. When youíre zooming in, the zoomed in area should fill the entire screen.
Time Catch Shot is a camera feature. When itís on, the G is constantly taking pictures. When you press the shutter button, it automatically saves the last 4 pictures it took, plus the one you just snapped. Itís like a burst mode that works in reverse. Itís an interesting feature but it would be more useful if you could use it in conjunction with burst mode.
There are many small customizations, many of them are quite useful. Hereís an example: Lots of Android phones allow you to launch the camera and other apps from the lock screen. The problem is that if you turn pattern unlock you lose this option. On the G, if you draw your unlock pattern and leave your finger on the screen it will bring up shortcuts for the camera and other programs. Very nice!
LG also allows you to make a few other customizations. You can set the home screen and main menu animations when you move left and right. I really like how you can back up the layout of your home screen. Iím talking about the widgets and wallpapers.
Most of the included applications along with the home screen supports landscape mode. You can disable this if you want.
Another Samsung feature that LG has borrowed is the ability to change settings from the notification area pull-down. I prefer how LG has implemented theirs: You can customize it and choose which options show up.
I love the File Share feature. When you turn it on, you can access files on the G from a computer (and other devices) using Samba. Itís similar to what you can do with a Playbook or a rooted Android phone. I turned it on and was able to copy pictures to and from the G to my PC.
While the G supports microHDMI, whatís really cool is that it also supports Miracast. Miracast allows you to mirror the contents of the screen on your TV. It works via WiFi so it provides similar functionality that youíd get from an HDMI cable only wirelessly.
To use Miracast, you either need a fancy TV with Miracast or a Miracast dongle. The demo I saw had mixed results. While it worked, videos skipped occasionally plus there was too much lag to use it for gaming. Still, the demo was downtown so it might be matter of Ďdirty airí. Maybe it will work better if you try it in the suburbs or somewhere where thereís less WiFi.
If you donít have any Miracast hardware, you can always stream videos using DLNA.
One interesting feature is aspect ratio correction. Recently, every high-end Android has come with a 16:9, 1280x720 display. The G has a 1280x768 display with an aspect ratio of 15:9. Itís basically more Ďsquareí. Since 1280x768 isnít a common aspect ratio many program will appear to be stretched on the Gís screen. You can fix this by telling the G which programs you want to run with a 16:9 ratio.
Thereís a backup feature. You can set a schedule for it to run. Since the G has no microSD slot the backups get saved to the G. That means youíll have to save the backups to your computer.
You get 2 video editing programs. One is a more traditional editor where you can insert and split clips, add transitions and titles while the other is a more hands off one where you insert clips, select a style and let it do its thing.
Neither has tons of feature but it makes them easier to use. They should be enough to please most people.
I really dislike how you canít disable the camera shutter sound. It makes a sound even if you use a 3rd party camera applications.
Despite the Gís monster processor, the cameraís performance is a lot slower than the Galaxy Note IIís or the Apple iPhone 5. Focus speeds, picture to picture times, burst modes are all slower than on the Galaxy S III and Note II.
I can forgive slow performance if the camera takes razor sharp photos but unfortunately it looks like LG skimped on the Gís camera sensor. Itís not sensitive at all which means it struggles mightily indoors. Itís extremely difficult to take sharp photos indoors without the flash - even if you have a static subject (like a plate of food).
Apple iPhone 5: 1/15 f/2.53 ISO 3200
Galaxy Note II: 1/17 f/2.6 ISO 1250
Galaxy S III: 1/15 f/2.6 ISO 800
Optimus G: 1/10 f/2.4 ISO 1600
The G looks like it does well in this test but it's actually using a very slow shutter speed (1/10 sec).
There is a burst mode but itís similar to the Motorola RAZRís. You turn it on, press the shutter button and it takes around 6 photos.
You can have the Optimus G shoot when everyone says Ďcheeseí. I didnít try this feature.
While the G does a good job of capturing audio, video quality isnít that great.
SunSpider (lower is better):
Apple iPhone 5: 911.7
Samsung Galaxy Note II: 1005.4
LG Optimus G: 1314.1
HTC One X (Tegra 3): 1550.9
Samsung Galaxy S III: 1781.5
While the G's SunSpider score is a little disappointing, letís move onto our next test Vellamo which is a suite of browser tests.
Vellamo 2 HTML 5 (higher is better):
LG Optimus G: 1713
Samsung Galaxy Note II: 1841
Samsung Galaxy S III: 1630
HTC One X (Tegra 3): 1608
Vellamo 2 Metal:
LG Optimus G: 643
Samsung Galaxy Note II: 628
Samsung Galaxy S III: 580
HTC One X (Tegra 3): 492
Here, the Note II edges out the Optimus G by a whisker in the HTML 5 portion while it wins the Metal by a small margin. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that the G doesn't do better given that it has 2 more of the GS3's processor cores. While I don't expect quad cores to double the score over dual cores, I was expecting a little more. I guess it's a case of diminishing returns when you go past 2 cores.
GL Benchmark is an OpenGL gaming benchmark. The on-screen test is useful for comparing devices with similar resolutions.
GL Benchmark 2.5 on-screen (frames per second):
LG Optimus G: 37
HTC One X (Tegra 3): 15
Samsung Galaxy Note II: 17
Samsung Galaxy S III: 21
While I was expecting the G to be faster than the other phones, its margin of victory is pretty amazing.
The off-screen test runs the test at 1920x1080. This allows us to compare devices with different screen sizes.
GL Benchmark 2.5 off-screen (frames per second):
LG Optimus G: 29
HTC One X (Tegra 3): 9.7
Samsung Galaxy S III: 13
Samsung Galaxy Note II: 17
Apple iPhone 5: 29
Here the G ties the iPhone 5 which is pretty astonishing. It's more than 3x faster than the One X, more than double the speed of the S III and nearly double the speed of the Note II. Wow!
Basemark is another OpenGL gaming benchmark.
Basemark (frames per second):
LG Optimus G: 39.1
Galaxy Note II: 43.27
Galaxy S III: 31.13
HTC One X (Tegra 3): 19.2
Here, the G is about 33% faster than the S III and about double the speed of the One X though the Note II edges out the G by a hair.
Itís hard to say if the 2100mAh battery is big enough. I went downtown and noticed the battery drained about 30% on the way in - thatís not bad considering I was watching videos, surfing the web, checking in on Foursquare, doing other stuff all the same time while using Bluetooth headphones. Itís also impressive because the train was stuck for about 15 mins due to a tree that fell on the tracks. Just to compare, my GS3 which has 2 less cores and the same battery drains about 40% on my way into town - and thatís without a 20 min delay.
The thing is, Iíve noticed the Gís battery meter doesnít always drain linearly. There are times when the battery meter falls off a cliff. Anyways, my seat-of-the-pants feeling is that the G will make it through the day albeit barely. Itís best to charge it when you get the chance.
GL Benchmark 2.5 battery test (mins, higher is better):
LG Optimus G: 153
HTC One X (Tegra 3): 115
Samsung Galaxy S III: 165
Samsung Galaxy Note II: 277
Apple iPhone 5: 129
I'm impressed with the Optimus G's performance here given it's 2100mAh battery. Despite having double the cores and a brighter screen it's only slightly behind the Galaxy S III here.
I couldnít help noticing but the G gets really hot right next where the camera. While itís true most phones get warm, itís more noticeable on the G. If youíre doing something intensive, youíll notice that after a minute. The G is a very powerful phone, thatís really thin. I guess heat is the price you pay.
As a phone:
The earpiece is pretty loud. Itís actually louder than the iPhone 5 and similar to my Blackberry Bold 9900. Sound quality is slightly fuzzy sounding.
The speaker on the back isn't very loud.
Compared to my Note II the G seems a little better at hanging onto a weak LTE signal in my house.
L to R: iPhone 5, Galaxy S III, Optimus G, RAZR HD LTE, One X, Galaxy Note II.
top to bottom: One X, RAZR HD LTE, iPhone 5, Galaxy S III, Optimus G, Note II.
Compared to the Galaxy S III, you get a much nicer feeling device, better screen and faster processor. The GS3ís camera is better plus Samsung has a decent track record of updating their flagship devices. The GS3 also has a MicroSD so it has more flexibility storage-wise though I suspect most people will be satisfied with the Gís 32GB.
You know what's funny? I was thinking about all the customizations LG has done and you know what? They're very comparable to what Samsung has done. With the exception of the camera the G is a very well thought out device. It feels nice in your hand, the software is intuitive, it's a real home run.
Itís funny that the Gís quad-core processor makes it more future-proof but LGís terrible track record of abandoning their phones has the opposite effect. I suspect the GS3 will age better and hold its value better than the G.
Still, I'd pick the Optimus G and not just because of it's fancy hardware.
Compared to the Galaxy Note II, Iíd say go for the Note II. The G may have a better display and faster processor but, as long as you can fit it in your pockets, the Note IIís size makes a lot of sense to me. The Note II also has a gigantic battery, a better camera and more flexible storage.
Really, the Note II's size makes it a better interpretation of what you can do on Android. Advantage: Note II.
As for the iPhone 5, itís always difficult to compare the 2 because theyíre so different. I guess the only comment Iíll have is that, like the GS3, the iPhone 5 is almost sure to age much better than the G. Based on Appleís track record, the 5 will probably be running the latest version of IOs in a few years, while who knows what software will be on the G.
Really, the question here is whether you should get an Optimus G or a Google Nexus 4. Both have virtually the same hardware. The G has 32GB of storage while the 4 has to get by with just 8GB or 16GB. Neither has expandable storage. The G also has LTE while the Nexus 4 has penta-band HSPA and the latest version of Android.
If you like to hack your phone and play with custom ROMs then there's no question, get the Nexus 4. Still, you have to consider the differences.
32GB is enough storage that you wonít hear me complaining about the lack of expandable storage. 8GB or 16GB on the other hand isnít. Some games can take up more than a GB. Add some pictures and video to the mix and you have a phone that will fill up very quickly.
LTE support is also very important. If you find your providerís HSPA to be congested, then you should give LTE a try. While you may think you donít need LTEís super fast speeds, remember that all else being equal, LTE will be faster than HSPA. That means it will be faster, even if it has a weak signal. Personally, LTE is very important and itís not a feature I want to give up. Still, penta-band HSPA gives you a lot of flexibility. You can use it and get faster than EDGE speeds on AT&T, T-Mobile, Rogers, Bell, TELUS, Mobilicity and Wind. Which leads me to my next point.
The wild card is the price. The 8GB 4 is available for $299 while the 16GB for $349. Both are unlocked. If youíre not interested in signing a contract, itís hard to say no to these prices. Youíre getting absolutely bleeding-edge hardware for about half the price of an unlocked iPhone. If youíre not signing contracts then youíre probably sensitive to your monthly costs. Why not get the 4 and port your number to a lower cost carrier?
In the end, the LG Optimus G represents the state-of-the-art phone. The finish, screen, processor, RAM are all top-of-the-line. Unfortunately, its Android version is about a generation behind and the camera is second-rate.
While it is heavily customized, many (but not all) of the customizations are well thought out. They're not just change for the sake of change. LG has done a really good job. Hopefully customers can connect with the changes they've made.
As for the phone itself, itís earie to see many of the Touchwiz features that LG has stuck in the G. The LG Optimus G. What does the G stand for? Goldstar? Good? My guess is Galaxy.
It's appropriate because it's a better Galaxy.
- nice design
- screen is out of this world
- able to view video while doing other stuff
- powerful processor
- customizable home screen animation
- Android 4.0
- gets hot
- quiet speaker