REVIEW: LG Optimus G

LG has so far played a small role in the overall Australian mobile industry but with the LG Optimus G the South Korean conglomerate is clearly aiming higher.

Graph for REVIEW: LG Optimus G

LG has so far played a small role in the overall Australian mobile industry but with the LG Optimus G the South Korean conglomerate is clearly aiming higher.

Historically, LG has been nothing more than a supplier of prepaid phones in Australia, however, the LG Optimus G is a bold statement from a company that reckons it’s ready to mix it up with the likes of Apple and Samsung in the higher margin premium market. Unfortunately, its shot across the bows of the smartphone heavyweights may prove to be a futile exercise, despite the Optimus G’s impressive capabilities.

Dodgy timing

The LG Optimus G was launched in Korea during Q3 2012 but has taken its sweet time coming here and in the mobile game that sort of delay can be huge. While the Optimus G is a good phone it just won’t make the splash it could have made had it been available to the market earlier.

The timing is especially egregious as the new wave of 2013 release phones - the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4 - get ready to hit our shores within the next month or two, joining the recently launched Sony Experia Z.

A year ago LG Australia's head of mobile communications, Ben Glimmerveen told IDG that "we were behind the game in smartphones, we dropped the ball", predicting that LG would have launched 4 LTE smartphones in Australia by early 2013. This target has obviously slipped because the current line-up sees Optimus G as the flagship device and it is accompanied  by two midrange 4G phones “Optimus F3 and Optimus F5 – which are scheduled for launch later this year.

LG Australia’s launch release claims that the Optimus G is “the best phone LG has ever produced”. However, a search for LG Optimus G reviews reveals news about the newer, faster, bigger LG Optimus G Pro. An LG spokesperson told us that they do not plan to release the Optimus G Pro in Australia.

High end smartphones now all have large screens and are quite fast so manufacturers are trying to differentiate from competitors via software differences, which was demonstrated by the recent Samsung Galaxy S4 launch in New York.

Hits and misses 

LG’s effort at this begins with their Qslide function which can show up to three apps simultaneously on the display eg: sending a text message or searching the web while watching a video, with controllable transparency. It’s likely that few people will make use of this gimmick.

Other software initiatives include being able to pinch and zoom live playing video up to 5x times and enter a note into the Memo app as a semi-transparent popup window. A software change that annoyed us was the LG keyboard which isn’t as good as the standard Android keyboard and far inferior to third party alternatives Swype or Swiftkey. Advanced users will know how to buy a replacement keyboard app but novices will be stuck with the mediocre built-in one.

The Optimus G has launched with Android  version 4.1.2 Jellybean. LG has a history of being slow to release new versions of Android for their phones and an LG Australia spokesperson told us that they do not plan to release Android 4.2.x for the Optimus G but are considering the next, yet to be released version.

In terms of speed, the LG Optimus G will be sure to please even the most impatient user thanks to its 2GB of RAM for applications and the Android operating system, speedy Snapdragon S4 Pro 1.5Ghz quad core processor and the capability to download data on the Telstra 4G network at up to a theoretical 100Mbps. Speed tests in a Sydney 4G coverage area regularly hit close to 40Mbps down/20Mbps up.

The screen size of 4.7" is slightly smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S III but bigger than the iPhone 5. Technically speaking, it’s a TrueHD IPS display with WXGA 1280x768 screen resolution. Smart design means the capacitive buttons for back, home and menu are separate from the display area but with a matched background so when the phone is off or sleeping the front looks solid black. The relatively new Zerogap Touch technology employed by LG eliminates air gaps found in other touch-screens which makes it easier to see, bright enough to see in daylight and highly responsive to touch.

While similar in overall dimensions to the Galaxy S III, the LG Optimus G feels quite different to hold because of its defined sharpish edge falling straight off the phone screen.

Connectivity is enabled by support for Bluetooth 4.0, USB2 data transfers, 802.11 a/b/g/n dual band WiFi, so either 2.4ghz or 5ghz networks can be connected to and navigation aided by A-GPS and Russian GLONASS compatibility. DLNA multimedia file sharing to/from the LG Optimus G from sources like a NAS or destinations like a Blu-Ray player is enabled in the phone’s hardware and made easy to use by the LG SmartShare app.

Video and audio

Cleverly the LG Optimus G’s screen can be output via HDMI MHL cable or paired with a Miracast dongle using WiFi Direct. The first 5000 sold through Telstra get a Miracast dongle worth $99 for free. We tested the ability to mirror the Optimus G’s screen and output video while displaying different content on the phone screen and found it worked well for high resolution video and PowerPoint files.

Mentioning video files, while the Optimus G lacks micro SD expansion capability it has 32GB internal storage of which 25 GB is usable. When connected to a Windows 7 PC to transfer files back and forth we were initially disappointed to see that user unfriendly LG drivers had to be installed to enable MTP file explorer mode and these didn’t work until we did some fiddling.

Audio can be played from the phone through the headphone jack or via DLNA, output was very clear and for a change the included earphones weren’t rubbish. When conversing with callers the speakerphone has a very useful nice and loud top volume and the conversations were clear thanks in part to the DUAL Mems microphone.

Camera and battery life

Disappointingly, LG has opted to go down the path of increasing the back camera megapixel to 13MP for marketing purposes. The idea that more megapixels means photos will be better might be false but it’s still a surprisingly convincing lure for consumers. Photos on the Optimus G are of good quality but the unnecessarily large file size hinders smooth mobile transfers. A good software feature is time catch shot which has to be enabled manually each time and stores 5 photos including just before you press the shutter button. The front camera for video chats is 1.3MP and videos are recorded by the back camera at 1080P @ 30fps.

The Optimus G’s battery is sealed so it’s not user swappable. However, LG claims it will charge to the rated 2100Mah capacity about 800 times before the maximum capacity deteriorates, compared to other high end phones which average about 500 charge cycles before the battery deteriorates.

It’s universally acknowledged that 4G capable mobile devices burn through battery life at an astonishing rate if you’re in a 4G coverage area and are transferring data constantly across the mobile network. The LG Optimus G’s 2100 Milliamp Hour (mAh) battery will be enough to last a working day under light to medium use but heavy data consumers should consider the 4G capable Samsung Note II which has a much larger 3100 mAh battery that can last late into the evening without need for recharging.

Decent value but no world beater 

The LG Optimus G is exclusively available on the Telstra network for $63/month on a 2 year plan or $620 outright which is a sharp price considering it’s specifications. Readers who can work around its shortcomings will find it a value for money mobile productivity booster. However, the Optimus G just doesn’t have that extra oomph to make LG a big enough contender to challenge the supremacy of Apple and Samsung. Not yet, anyway.

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