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LG Optimus G Review: Calm, Considered Design Meets Great Specs

The LG Optimus G turns heads when it’s off – it’s a black slab of seemingly solid glass. It turns heads when it’s on – a true HD IPS display renders images crisp and colors natural; nothing is over-saturated.

Here's a macro food shot sample.

Here’s a macro food shot.

Meet the first Android smartphone to go Quad Core: the LG Optimus G.

Front. There's a vividness to anything shown on the display.

Front. There’s a vividness to anything shown on the display.

Back. Slightly protruding 13MP rear camera, and a kind of reflective checkered surface underneath the glass-encased back.

Back. Slightly protruding 13MP rear camera, and a kind of reflective checkered surface underneath the glass-encased back.

Top half. I replaced the Home screen weather widget - I am so tired of seeing it - with the Flipboard one.

Top half. I replaced the Home screen weather widget – I am so tired of seeing it – with the Flipboard one.

04 Bottom Half

Bottom half. “Standard” Android capacitive keys – Back, Home, and Menu – except that no space on the Optimus G’s “chin” is wasted. 

Rear Camera, 13MP. Good enough as a back up to my Fujifilm Finepix X10, which I use for macro product and food shots. You'll see how good the sample shots are, later.

Rear Camera, 13MP. Good enough as a back up to my Fujifilm Finepix X10, which I use for macro product and food shots. You’ll see how good the sample shots are, later.

Speaker, Micro USB port for charging, Made in Korea.

Speaker, Micro USB port for charging, Made in Korea.

Oh, and just so we’re clear, I’m the guy who writes reviews with more pictures than words.

Unboxing shot.

Unboxing shot, with nearly everything still clad in plastic.

(*Rubs hands together.*) Let’s do this.

Spec Sheet 02

Greats

Solid, satisfying physical build. In your hand, the Optimus G doesn’t  feel like a screwed-together case with tiny electronics inside. Instead, it feels like a good-heft-solid piece of glass with nothing inside but more of that glass. That it cannot be opened – the battery is not replaceable – helps secure the feeling that this is one solid and sturdy phone. Despite the glass front and back, which should be bad when your hand is wet or sweaty, I’ve never dropped the phone; it’s never slipped from my hand. The heft forces your hand to secure it, grasp it well, despite my early complaints about its heft. The physical width, by the way, feels just right. The edges don’t dig into my hand. I can’t say the same for the Sony Xperia Z.

Out of the Box shot, again. Things are neater this time.

Out of the Box shot, again. Things are neater this time.

Ultra snappy responsiveness. Videos pick up where you left off, and quickly loading at that. Not a single lag or stutter even when I’m quickly swiping and swiping for no reason at all. But it’s really the app loading and switching that gets the benefit of that quad core engine. By the way, this snappy-ness applies even when the apps you’re loading and switching between are graphically demanding ones. The LG Optimus G is a phone that almost begs to be abused.

Games 02

The display is bright, images are crisp, colors appear natural (not oversaturated), and viewing angles are great. The Optimus G is just begging to be used for movie marathons, picture viewing, gaming, and reading – not a single lag or stutter. Downsides to long hours of use – the back can warm up a bit, but not debilitatingly so, and the battery drains faster, but which quad core phone doesn’t?

Viewing Angles 01

Viewing Angles 02

Viewing Angles 03

Viewing Angles 04

Viewing Angles 05

Graphically demanding games really shine. This deserves an entry on its own as it demonstrates that the Optimus G is not just a pretty face. Here are some of my favorites.

Games 03

Games 01

Games 04

As long as the battery holds, even if you have no Internet connection, you’re bound to find a favorite game you’ll play to death. More on that battery stamina later.

The 13MP rear camera is good enough to be a back up to your main camera or, even, within limits, a replacement.

Here’s a food shot. I like it that the colors are not popping out abnormally. That means what you see here is close to how the same image will be rendered on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Subjects that move suddenly, causing blurs in your images, can be contained. Here's my pesky kitten Baji, a nano second before she leaps. That's pale-poor indoor lighting, too.

Subjects that move suddenly, causing blurs in your images, can be contained. Here’s my pesky kitten Baji, a nano second before she leaps. That’s pale-poor indoor lighting, too.

This was done in HDR mode, which detects any overbearing background lighting, and adjusts the settings accordingly. So the over bright white background was "contained". That's my go-to camera, by the way, the Fujifilm Finepix X10.

This was done in HDR mode, which detects any overbearing background lighting, and adjusts the settings accordingly. So the over bright white background was “contained”. That’s my go-to camera, by the way, the Fujifilm Finepix X10.

Macro shot of the LG LED TV Smart Remote (review of this TV and its theatre system forthcoming). The camera was about an inch away from the subject.

Macro shot of the LG LED TV Smart Remote (review of this TV and its theatre system forthcoming). The camera was about an inch away from the subject.

Shot taken in uneven and dim lighting, using only the Optimus G rear camera's brighten setting to force-bright the subject. Either the camera is not bad or I am extremely lucky with exposure control.

Shot taken in uneven and dim lighting, using only the Optimus G’s rear camera’s brightness setting to force-bright the subject. Either the rear camera is not bad or I am extremely lucky with exposure control.

The camera options are not extensive, but they are easy to access, and as you've seen, the resulting shots are great.

The camera options are not extensive, but they are easy to access, and as you’ve seen, the resulting shots are great.

I dare say the rear camera of the LG Optimus G is better than that of the HTC Butterfly. But there are other camera features I love.

Time Catch. Because, sometimes, the best moments happen just before you click the shutter key.

Time Catch. Because, sometimes, the best moments happen just before you click the shutter key.

Time Catch is a kind of burst shot that’s easier to access. You can choose which of the pre shutter-clicked shots is the one you want, and the rest are erased. Great for shooting kids and pets and over-excited people at weddings even when they are not even related to the bride or groom.

Cheese Shutter walkthrough.

Cheese Shutter walkthrough.

Cheese Shutter, a voice activated shutter feature, is now staple in the LG Optimus L Series II.

Customizability – from the home screen theme and wallpapers down to the fonts and icons.You can even change the background of message threads.

Custom Lock Screen.

Custom Lock Screen.

Girlie mode theme option. There's always someone you know who'll go gaga over pink.

Girlie mode theme option. There’s always someone you know who’ll go gaga over pink.

You can change the system wide font, and that'll even affect the look and feel of the keyboard. I like this font.

You can change the system wide font, and that’ll even affect the look and feel of the keyboard. I like this font.

Some apps are also affected by the font change, like Facebook. Cute, huh?

Some apps are also affected by the font change, like Facebook. Cute, huh?

Screen Zooming. This is great for scrolling through albums, since you’ll be using the rear camera more often than you think, and that means tons of pics and vids. Pinch in to increase the number of thumbnails to display, pinch out to reduce.

Screen Zoom Album 01

Screen Zoom Album 02

Screen Zoom Album 03

Screen Zoom Album 04

Screen Zoom Text 01

Screen Zoom Text 02

Screen zooming also works great for text messages, for those mornings when you can’t find your glasses or when you don’t want to be squinting because you’re hardly awake. Simply pinch out to zoom in, no need to dig into menus and settings. Great for not-morning people like me.

Power management options extend battery life. Having a Quad Core engine and a powerful GPU for graphics has a certain pay off: battery life. Despite this, the Optimus G’s 21oo mah battery lasts throughout the day, but only when you use both Power Saver and Eco Mode. If you’re really keen on not seeing a single slow down when playing graphically demanding games and launching full HD videos and switching between them, by all means disable both options. Bottom line, there’s a way to prolong battery stamina, and that can’t be a bad thing. Also, you can kill apps running in the background to save up on battery life, via Task Manager.

Both the Power Saver (cutting down on consumption when power is below, for example, 30%), and Eco Mode (which optimizers CPU use to extend battery life) are just a tap away.

Both the Power Saver (cutting down on consumption when power is below, for example, 30%), and Eco Mode (which optimizers CPU use to extend battery life) are just a tap away.

Task Manager, which you can use to kill running apps that eat up resources, is available. Long press on the Home key and tap Task Manager.

Task Manager, which you can use to kill running apps that eat up resources, is available. Long press on the Home key and tap Task Manager.

Flip phone gestures. Remember when landline phone calls could be ended by slamming the phone into the cradle? Want to turn off an alarm or a reminder for an annoying meeting because both things annoy you? Flip phone, which is the closest thing, to the rescue. Thank heavens the Optimus G is one sturdy unit. Oh and this is also great when you don’t want the public (remember the great viewing angles on this phone?) to see what you’re watching.

Flip Phone Gestures

What follows are not exactly life-changing features, but you can see or imagine scenarios when these would be useful.

Because of the crisp display, the LG Optimus G makes for a passable emergency computer. Just pair any good Bluetooth keyboard and you’re good to go. I have already uploaded two drafts of Technoodling stories on this phone, as the Chrome browser seems to render WordPress perfectly.

Belkin Bluetooth keyboard paired with the Optimus G. That's a portion of my wife's resume, which I had been editing on Polaris Office.

Belkin Bluetooth keyboard paired with the Optimus G. That’s a portion of my wife’s resume, which I had been editing on Polaris Office.

QSlide.

QSlide is a limited take on multitasking by having either two small apps running in separate windows, or one dominant app, like a movie, while having a smaller app in a small window, like text messaging, running at the same time.

QSlide is a limited take on multitasking by having either two small apps running in separate windows, or by having one screen-dominant dominant app, like a movie, while having a smaller app in a small window, like text messaging, running at the same time.

QMemo.

One way to use this is to screen capture a portion of Google Maps, where you live, and then share that with friends invited to your party, so that there are fewer excuses about getting lost.

One way to use this is to screen capture a portion of Google Maps, marking where you live, and then sharing that with friends invited to your party, so that there are fewer excuses about getting lost.

Dual Screen Dual Play.

Play a movie on the comes-with Movie player, and share that on a Smart TV found on the same WiFi network. 1080p movies, believe me, really shine.

Play a movie on the comes-with Movie player, and share that on a Smart TV found on the same WiFi network. 1080p movies, believe me, really shine.

Miracast. If you thought Dual Screen Dual Play was slightly cool, wait till you realize that everything on the LG Optimus G can be shown in real time on a big screen. On an LG 55″ LED TV (review forthcoming), that’s Facebook overwhelming! If you’re an Android developer showing off an early build of your app, this might be useful. Otherwise, you can brag about the games you’re playing, in real time, on a bigger screen.

Miracast 00

Miracast 01

Miracast 02

Smart Screen (below). I am not even sure if have tested this right, only that I have left it activated since day one, and that I don’t remember a moment when the display died on me while I was reading or watching. (Hmmm….you think it works?)

Smart Screen

The Current Price. That would be P20,000.00. Not bad. The LG Optimus G had an SRP of 26,990.00 upon local launch last March. Four months can make a difference. Call quality, incidentally (I’ve been so wrapped up over every other feature except that one), is flawless. Noise cancellation works so I am heard perfectly on the other end, and I hear the caller just as crisply.

Sadly, not everything can be great. For the first Quad Core ever, something has to give. Now we move on to the…

 

Gripes

No microSD slot. So you’re stuck with the given internal storage. But this is a problem only if you stuff your phone with videos for movie and series watching marathons. Besides, if the LG Optimus G’s thinness is the result of ditching the microSD card, by all means let’s keep it that way.

Internal Storage

I’ve always seen this as the bar graph of greed. The green portion tells me how much space I have left for apps and images and movies. The view isn’t always this generous, trust me.

I don’t really see this storage cap as a gripe. For one thing, this forces me to really choose the media files I want to bring with me, and it also forces me to regularly sift through pics I’ve taken, erasing the bad as I go along.

The most direct way to get files into the LG Optimus G is still via USB.

The most direct way to get files into the LG Optimus G is still via USB.

Display visibility is poor even under indirect sunlight, even with the brightness dragged to max. The glare may be a trade off of the Zero Gap technology applied to reducing the thickness of the display. The upside of that Gap tech is that, when not under direct sunlight, the display’s images look “closer”, as if you’re really touching the images. Viewing angles are also made superb, but still, reflective surface, and no backlighting to fight off the harsh sun. When you have to check your phone under the painful glare of the noon sun, for example, find a shade.

Under direct sunlight, the sun and glare combine for a good deal of display blindness.

Under direct sunlight, the sun and glare combine for a good deal of display blindness.

Display brightness can’t be maxed out when unit heats up. This happens when too many apps are open, too many browser tabs, too many games and videos loaded one after the other, which is really the point of having a quad core device: to push the unit to its limits. The default (approximately) 75% brightness ceiling is okay if you’re indoors. On the street, under sunlight, you need that extra brightness. Or a shade.

Brightness Limit

The rear camera protrudes slightly, so the back never completely rests flat on a table. I only noticed this when I started, absentmindedly, tapping on the phone’s upper left side while it had its back “flat” on a table. It’s not annoying, just a design compromise. Because you somehow expect that clear flat slab of black glass on the front to be the same on the back.

There is a slight protrusion, but nothing catastrophic.

There is a slight protrusion, but nothing catastrophic.

Quad Beat Earphones are only okay. The earphones that come with, at least as far as wearing them goes, need some getting used to, to get the most out of them. The rubberized tips need to be tilted up into your ear so that the bottom part is lodged right. Only then will the sound be better and the earpieces won’t fall off. I discovered this the hard way. The sound is okay, not Beats Audio material, but okay.

Earphones, with two sets of ear gels, one size smaller than the other.

Earphones, with two sets of ear tips, one size smaller than the other.

 

Verdict

It’s a good buy.

You’ve seen the pics, the LG Optimus G is gorgeous, if only because the display highlights how sparse everything else is, leading some to speak of how simple its design is. That’s exactly the point: everything defers to the beautiful screen because every other physical trait gets out of the way. Unlike the uncomfortably long body of the HTC Butterfly and its annoyingly top-placed power button, the interaction with the Optimus G seems designed so you can focus only on that screen. That’s not a bad thing.

It’s not water or dust proof like the Sony Xperia Z nor does it have the display-oversaturated approach of the Samsung Galaxy S4 (and its tons of features and apps), but for that price, it’s a good buy. I consider it a good thing that LG’s skin and UI are not that far from stock Android, so that means there’s not a lot to get used to if you’re jumping ship from another Android phone maker; despite that, it’s unmistakeably LG: the clean, light, no angst, and “happy” approach to UI and icons.

Front. There's a vividness to anything shown on the display.

Front. There’s a vividness to anything shown on the display.

Though it was considered thin at its launch last year, the Optimus G can now seems chunky by current Android quad core flagships standards. But some people like it that there’s a certain solid heft to their phones, that way they know their phones won’t get crushed in their bags, and that their phones are still in their pants pockets. Like me.

My only real gripes are the battery stamina, though I have learned to manage it through Power Saver and Eco Mode options, and how harsh direct sunlight defeats the beautiful Optimus G display, which I’ve learned to angle properly outdoors and, when needed, to find a shade. For P20k, for a sturdy just-right-sized phone with a great camera and movie-marathon-plus-gaming potential, the LG Optimus G is a good buy.

Irwin Allen Rivera

Irwin Allen Rivera

Irwin Allen Rivera loves his wife's cooking so much he's now twice the man he used to be. He and his wife maintain www.storiesaboutph.com, where you can read the best short fiction in English, by Filipino authors, for free. Irwin's English essay won a Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in 2012. His philosophical-horror story appears in Philippine Speculative Fiction 8 (2013). He was managing editor and lead writer of Sites and Symbols 2 (2005), a coffee-table book about buildings in UP Diliman - his alma mater (BA Philosophy; MA Creative Writing continuing). He worked at the UP Diliman Information Office before shifting to web content writing full-time. His sudden fiction, "Notwithstanding Pigs," initially a Friendster testimonial, appeared in Philippines Graphic (2006) and in Very Short Stories for Harried Readers (2007).

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