The Optimus G presents a compelling package, combining top of the line internals and a premium build, especially when compared to that flaghsip from that other South Korean electronics giant. However, the current wave of superphones hasn’t completely arrived yet as there are a few more flagship superphones that are still to hit local retailer’s shelves. So is the Optimus G worth considering over anything else the competition has to offer? Let’s find out in my full review of the LG Optimus G.
What’s in the Box?
The LG Optimus G comes in a small white retail box bearing the letter G, and it has all the basics that you would expect it to come with. You’ll probably want to upgrade to a better headset though. The one packaged with the Optimus G might look nice with its flat, tangle-free cables and silver buds with red accents, but the sound quality left a lot to be desired as there was very little bass output to speak of whatsoever.
Build Quality and Design: Understated Elegance
LG has already established their design philosophy, as evidenced by the Prada 3.0 and Optimus L series. It has pretty much carried over to smartphones that have followed from LG, culminating in the Optimus G. It feels a bit like more of the same, but it does have a few design tricks up its sleeve.
For one thing, the Optimus G features an almost borderless display, with just a minimal amount of bezel to make sure you can comfortably handle the phone without your hand coming in hand with the screen. Also when the screen is turned off, you’ll be able to appreciate the Jet Black finish where the screen is almost indistinguishable from the bezel. It’s an impressive effect to be sure, lending an even more premium feel to the device, making it stand out in particular if the phone has been cleaned off.
Of course, there are a few other design elements on the front of the Optimus G aside from the Gorilla Glass 2-protected screen. The capacitive navigation buttons – back, home and menu – can be found along the bottom of the display, while the LG logo, earpiece and front-facing camera can be found at the top along with the array of proximity, light and facing gesture sensors.
There isn’t anything to be found on either side of the Optimus G aside from the volume rocker and SIM tray on the left and the power/lock button on the right. The volume rocker doubles as a physical shutter button though, which is a trick that a few smartphones have used before in one way or another.
At the bottom, you’ll find the micro USB port, which doubles as the charging port, along with the microphone pinhole. There are also a couple of screws on either side that secure the back.
At the top is the 3.5mm headset jack and noise-cancelling mic.
The back features the 13mp camera and LED flash, LG branding and loudspeaker, which is toward the bottom. You’ll also find that the back makes use of LG’s Crystal Reflection finish, which features an underlying pattern similar to the Nexus 4 that shifts according to your viewing angle and lighting.
The front and back are protected by Gorilla Glass 2, which allows you to get away with just a bumper case for protection. A silver strip of what is probably chrome-plated plastic runs along all the sides.
At the LG Optimus G Philippine launch event, LG made a big deal of the materials that went into the construction of the phone’s body. The Optimus G is a sleek and elegant phone and certainly feels premium in the hand, however the Gorilla Glass is very much a fingerprint magnet and most people won’t be able to distinguish it from regular plastic. The Crystal Reflection is a nice and subtle touch, but you would have to constantly wipe of the back for you to really appreciate. Still, I do like the design and the silver accent strip and hardware buttons are all the design accent the Optimus G needs for it to achieve a notably elegant and understated look.
I especially like that I don’t have to worry about dropping the phone and shattering one thing or another too much the way I would with say an iPhone. I’ve actually dropped my Optimus G on a couple of occasions and even kept it in a pocket that had some coins and my house keys with it without worrying about it getting scratched. I wouldn’t recommend doing that a lot though since the sides aren’t likely to be as scratch or shatterproof as the front or back of the device, but at least you can get away with it once in a while.
The Screen: Retina Sharp
The 4.7 inch True HD IPS+ display is one of the obvious selling points of the LG Optimus G, and while there are now Full HD screens coming out, it still has more than enough clarity than you’ll ever need. The IPS+ display has a resolution of 1280 x 768, giving it a pixel density of 318ppi. In comparison, the iPhone 5’s Retina display has a pixel density of 326ppi, but on a smaller screen. That means you’re getting comparable clarity on a larger 4.7 inch screen that allows you to consume content more easily.
Of course, being a flagship device, LG has managed to squeeze in a few more notable features into the Optimus G’s screen to help it really stand out from the competition. The IPS+ display is also much more power efficient than regular IPS panels, even when displaying an all-white background. This is something I came to appreciate, having come from a Super AMOLED screen on the Galaxy Note. No longer did I have to stick to dark themes as the screen seemed to just sip through the battery.
One thing I didn’t like was that the Optimus G would often limit the maximum brightness of the display down to 72-87% when its internal temperature would reach higher levels. Sure, setting it to 100% might be too bright for most people, but why make that amount of brightness available at all if it can’t be used at all times. Anyway, 72% brightness should be plenty bright enough in almost all cases.
The Chipset: More Power Than You’ll Ever Need
The LG Optimus G utilizes the 1.5GHz quad core Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064 Krait CPU, coupled with the Adreno 320 GPU, providing more processing power than you’ll ever need for today’s apps. The speed of this phone is just ridiculous, if it is behind a generation in the Qualcomm Snapdragon family. Apps load and execute very quickly and there is absolutely no perceivable lag when navigating through the UI.
I ran the Optimus G through my three favorite benchmarking tools: Antutu, Quadrant and Nenamark 2. Antutu and Quadrant are similar in that they both check for CPU, I/O and graphics performance, while Nenamark 2 is purely graphics performance-oriented. Check out the results for yourselves.
RAM and Storage: 2Gb RAM But Storage is Non-expandable
The LG Optimus G comes with 2Gb of RAM and 32Gb of internal storage. Of course, keep in mind that user available RAM and storage is about 1.8Gb and 25.6Gb respectively. That’s because the system reserves part of the RAM and storage for itself. That’s still not bad as that’s more RAM than you’ll need for most processes anyway, and most people will find the onboard storage to be adequate. The only downside is that the internal storage is non-expandable. So if you like carrying a small movie collection with you on a high capacity micro SD card, you’re out of luck.
The Software and UI: Theme-able Out of the Box!
The Optimus G that I’m using runs Jelly Bean 4.1.2 with LG’s custom Optimus UI, so not only are you getting all the improved features over ICS, but the functionality of the Optimus UI as well. I was surprised at the amount of customization options available to me, ranging from simply changing the look and feel of the launcher from different themes to being able to customize the lockscreen elements, and even the way swipe effect itself when unlocking the screen!
There are 4 themes to choose from that change the wallpaper, icons and font. The variety should be enough to satisfy most tastes, and if you don’t dig the wallpaper you can always change it. You’ll be stuck with the font and icon combinations though.
If you want to tweak the overall behavior of the Optimus UI launcher, you can do that too. There is a lot of screen transitions to choose from, and because of the powerful GPU, they all look nice and snappy.
There are also a number of widgets that are exclusive to the Optimus LG apps, my favorites being the weather/clock and music widgets. It’s worth mentioning that the Optimus UI widgets also work in other launchers, which I personally like because I’m a happy Apex Launcher user.
My favorite part of the UI layer on the Optimus G is the ability to customize the lockscreen. There are the usual screen unlock methods, consisting of swipe, face unlock, pattern and password, but if you choose swipe-to-unlock, you’ll also be able to choose between four unlock effects, which are pretty unique to the Optimus UI. Yeah, it’s just a simple drag-your-finger-from-anywhere type of unlock action, but the effects were oh, so pretty and I’ve never seen anything like them on any other launcher before.
Another customization option I like is being able to choose between different clock layouts for the lockscreen. This can range from a simple widget-style clock that just displays the time and date, to even being able to display the full calendar month along with the current date and time.
Finally, you can customize the four shortcuts at the bottom of the lockscreen and choose the specific apps they should open. Unfortunately, the shortcuts are only available if you choose the Swipe to unlock option, as all the other ones will take you directly to whatever your screen was last viewing before being locked.
Telephony and Connectivity: Everything a Flagship Should Have
As smartphones continue to become more powerful, people are using them less and less for their originally intended purpose, which is to function as a phone should. However we live in the texting capital of the world after all, which is why I’m not letting the Optimus G off the hook if it fails to function properly for texting or calling.
The stock messaging app on the Optimus G is simple and has all the functionality you would need. Opening the app takes you to the conversation list where you can view who you’ve been texting. Here, you can choose to view a specific conversation, start composing a new message, and delete individual conversations by long-pressing on one. You can’t initiate a call from here though, as you’ll have to enter the actual conversation.
Similarly, the dialer app is simple and functional. Opening it for the first time takes you to the dialer, but you can also access call logs, contacts, favorite contacts and groups through the different tabs. Having a separate contacts app is kind of redundant since it’s essentially the same app as the dialer, except that it takes you to the contacts tab first when you launch it for the first time, but this isn’t a biggie as that’s the way it is with a lot of other Android phones too.
The Optimus G has a complete set of connectivity options: MHL-enabled micro USB, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS with A-GPS, WiFi a/b/g/n, and mobile browsing speeds up to 4G LTE. It was very good at picking up a WiFi signal even in areas of my house where coverage was borderline crappy. Browsing over 3G while on a commute was also hassle-free. There weren’t any instances that I can recall where I would lose the signal, unless I was in a mall or something. Sadly, since I don’t live in an area with LTE coverage, I wasn’t able to test it, but HSPA+ speeds should be good enough for most people anyway.
Entertainment: PowerAmp? Never Heard of It.
Most major phone manufacturers prefer to load their phones with their own home-baked apps, rather than the stock ones that come with Android. LG is no different, providing us their own versions of the FM Radio, Music and Videos app.
The FM radio app is simple and just as stripped-down in terms of functionality as the stock Android radio app. There’s no record function, but you have controls for skipping to the next station and choosing up to 6 favorite stations so you can set them up with shortcuts.
The Videos app is a little more functional on the Optimus G compared to the stock Android video app. You won’t get the kind of options from an app like MXPlayer, but you still get the ability to choose the best aspect ratio to allow the video to fit in the screen in a way that suits your preferences.
I especially like the Music app if only for the gorgeous music widgets that come with it, but it also offers slightly better functionality over the stock Android music app.
Gaming: Adreno 320 FTW!
The Adreno 320 GPU that powers the Optimus G’s graphics is one of the most powerful you’ll find on any smartphone at the moment. The only one that bests it is its big brother, the Adreno 330 GPU. That means the Optimus G has some very serious gaming credit and should allow you to play through some of the most system-intensive games.
I tested the Optimus G on a couple of the most system-intensive games that you can download from the Play Store: NOVA 3 and Real Racing 3. NOVA 3 is one of the most gorgeous first person shooters you’ll ever be able to play on a mobile device, while Real Racing 3 is a racing simulation game that is known for its realistic cars and environments. Both can only really be enjoyed on a high end device that is capable of playing them without lagging, and I must say, the Optimus G is more than just capable.
It is rare for me to play around with a device that doesn’t lag playing these two games, yet I was able to enjoy them in full graphical detail. The controls were also very responsive, which is very important when it comes to reacting in first person shooters like NOVA 3 or maintaining tight control on your car in racing sims like Real Racing 3. The Optimus G will play any game you throw at it without missing a beat.
Imaging: A Complete Point and Shoot Replacement
With many smartphones doubling as a primary camera among consumers, it’s nice when you can have a smartphone camera that can actually perform on par with the dedicated point-and-shoot cameras out there. That way you can leave one more device at home and let your smartphone do double-duty. The Optimus G does exactly that. It sports a 13mp sensor, which is the highest that can be found on a flagship phone these days, save for the original Nokia 808 Pureview.
There are hardly any gripes that I have about this phone. Sure, the storage is non-expandable, but the only ones who’ll be affected are those who like to bring around an extensive movie library on their phone, so if it’s just music and games, the 32Gb on the LG Optimus G should be more than enough. The FM radio is a little prone to interference and the phone doesn’t filter out the white noise the way other phones manage to do with their own FM radios. Finally, the Gorilla Glass 2 provides excellent protection, but it can be very fingerprint prone, and if you’re going to use the Optimus G without a case then expect to be wiping it off a lot. I also hate that you’re not able to have the display set to full brightness all of the time since the Optimus G automatically dials it down to just 72% once the phone starts to get a bit warm.
Another cause for concern is LG’s track record for updates. Yeah, I can’t name one company that has been excellent at pushing out updates for their phones on time, but LG has had some especially notable cases. To be fair, the Optimus G originally launched internationally with ICS, but LG managed to have the new Jelly Bean 4.1 firmware ready in time for the Philippine launch, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now. Most of these are small issues for sure, but I just thought I’d point them out.
So Should You Buy the LG Optimus G?
It’s hard not to fall in love with the LG Optimus G. The build quality is solid despite its thin and light body, and the colors just pop out of the screen without being overly saturated the way it is with Super AMOLED displays. It’s also been designed for performance, so there’s not a chance that you’ll ever encounter any slowdown, at least, for the next year or so.
Overall, the LG Optimus G represents another step in the right direction for the Korean electronics giant. You get a premium build and blistering performance at a price that’s lower than the incoming flagships that are yet to hit the market. Don’t want to plunk down more than Php30k on an HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4? The Optimus G only retails for Php26,900 without any compromise to performance. Sure, the specs may be a step behind this year’s wave of monster superphones, but really, who needs 441ppi and even more processing power than your apps will ever have a need for?
LG Optimus G Specs
- 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro Krait CPU
- Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean
- Adreno 320 GPU
- 4.7 inch WXGA (1280 x 768, 320ppi) True HD IPS Plus Display
- 2Gb RAM LPDDR2
- 13mp autofocus primary camera with LED flash, 1.3mp front-facing camera
- 32Gb Internal Storage, non-expandable
- WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
- GPS with AGPS support and GLONASS
- 3G, HSPA+, HSDPA, LTE
- 2,100mAh battery
- Price: Php26,900
Disclaimer: The Opimus G featured in this review was won by me (JM Balicano) at the official launch event when 2 units were raffled out. While I thank LG sincerely for making my day at the time, this review was written under no contractual obligations and the words and ideas expressed in this review are completely my own and uninfluenced.