LG Optimus G Review (AT&T/Sprint)

LG hasn’t had much luck in the Android device market, but their previous phones haven’t been all that great. However, the LG Optimus G was meant to turn things around for LG. They packed really high end specs into a very premium body. It looks good, and on paper, is supposed to fly through any task. But how does it fare in every day use? Read on to find out!

Video review:

Hardware

The LG Optimus G comes with some amazing specs. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064) processor at 1.5GHz, and it doesn’t stop for anything. Then you get 2GB of RAM, a 4.7″ 1280×768 True HD IPS+ display, a 2,100 mAh battery, and Ice Cream Sandwich paired with LG UI (the Sprint model was recently updated to Jelly Bean 4.1, but I haven’t had a chance to use it).

The main part of any phone is the display, and LG really got that down. The display resolution is 1280×768, so you’re getting a display that’s slightly wider than a standard 720p display. However, that width does not make it harder to handle. And the colors, the sharpness, everything about this display is gorgeous. The viewing angles are very good too. The only issue I have with it is that the blacks aren’t perfect, they’re a bit gray even for an LCD panel, but the other aspects of the display easily make up for that. And their gapless technology really made a difference, making it feel like I was touching the screen, not a thick sheet of glass. Bravo, LG!

I was lucky enough to get to review both the AT&T and the Sprint models of the LG Optimus G. They have their differences, especially in design, so this section will be separated into two parts.

AT&T model:

The AT&T model is substantially different from the international and Sprint models. It’s a bit shorter and a bit wider while adopting rounder edges. The only differences in terms of specs are that the AT&T model has an 8MP camera and 16GB of storage with a microSD car slot. That slot is an awesome addition exclusive to the AT&T model.

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The bottom and top have textured plastic inserts. The bottom houses the micro USB jack along with two industrial looking screws. It’s pretty sexy design.

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The top has a 3.5mm jack and a secondary microphone. Along the sides, there is chrome plastic. On the top right, you have a power button surrounded by what is actually a notification LED. No, it’s not all that useful on the side, and it’s limited to only red as far as I can tell. But at least it’s there. The earpiece is not a cutout in the glass but a small piece etched out right where the glass meets the plastic.

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The back is a sheet of glass just like the front with a beautiful sparkly design underneath. The cutout on the bottom is a speaker, with the camera on the top. The text is under the glass, as is the AT&T logo. It’s stunning.

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Sprint model:

The Sprint model looks identical to the international version. It even lacks Sprint branding, surprisingly. It has a much sharper design that’s also a little narrower. Unlike the AT&T model, it has a 13MP camera and 32GB of storage, but no microSD slot.

The sides are all smooth plastic that surround the two panes of glass. At the bottom you get the same screws/micro USB jack as the AT&T model, just lacking the textured inserts.

The top is similar to the AT&T model, except the power button does not have a notification LED. That LED is actually in the place it should be, above the display.

On the back, you have a similar look but a sightly different pattern. Instead of being small diamonds, it’s small circles. Also, it’s a lot darker, more of a black/blue than the gray of the AT&T model. The camera, being a bigger sensor, sticks out of the body.

Build quality

The Optimus G is an interesting device in terms of build quality. I say this because both devices are built extremely well, but suffer from one major flaw. But first, the positives. When you pick one up, you know you’re holding an expensive device. It has a good heft to it without being heavy. It’s definitely not a light phone, and I like that. It also feels extremely solid, without a single creak in the plastic. Everything is put together excellently and feels premium.

However, the single flaw is a really big one. The front and back are made of glass. Do you remember the iPhone 4 and 4S? They were shattered by so many people because both sides were made of glass. The Optimus G is no different, and while I did not shatter either device, I was always afraid to. The back is so slippery, that placing the device on any non-flat surface guarantees that it’ll slide off. Place it on your leg? It’s on the floor. It’s a bit dangerous.

But if you buy it for the specs, and not the looks, a simple case will do the trick. With glass, you have to be careful about shock, so a TPU case would be best. I reviewed a pair of TPU cases by CruzerLite for the devices, so you can read that review if you’re interested.

Software

At the time of my review, both devices were running Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich with LG UI on top. The Sprint model now has Jelly Bean 4.1, but I have not gotten a chance to test it. Keep in mind the user experience may be different on the Sprint model.

The software is heavily customized: You probably won’t even recognize Ice Cream Sandwich under there. Everything is themed white and gray with blue highlights, including the settings menu. On the AT&T model, the settings menu has four tabs, each dedicated to its own thing. On the Sprint model, it’s the standard settings layout.

Yes, the software varies between the two phones, but there isn’t anything major aside from the settings looking different. There are only minor differences, like one button missing in the gallery.

The wonderful part of the software is the customizability. You can change the animation on the launcher, the clock on the lock screen (no, you can’t throw DashClock on there), and the unlock animation. And the unlock animations are all beautiful and functional. Even the unlock sounds are different for each animation! Some serious thought went into this, and it really shows. For normal people and power users alike, LG UI won’t disappoint. However, being on an old Android version may.

There are a few problems I’ve noticed though. First of all, some proprietary apps (like Settings and Messages) have no back button in the top left, like their AOSP counterparts. It’s an inconvenience if you use it, a non-issue if you don’t. Also, there are a few proprietary apps like Social+, an app by LG that can post to many social networks. Social+ isn’t really an app, it’s just a widget. If you use a custom launcher, Social+ cannot be used. That’s not a good way to go about things, LG. If you make a social app, put it in the drawer. And on a smaller detail, if you switch to symbols in the middle of a word on the stock LG keyboard, auto correct stops working until the next word. In my opinion, manufacturer keyboards are fairly useless. Luckily, the AT&T model comes pre-loaded with the AOSP keyboard (Sprint model doesn’t).

Developer community

This isn’t something we usually talk about, but it’s worth bringing up for those of you who buy phones just to mod them. Of course, we do not endorse modifying your devices, as it can and often will void the warranty and risk damage, but what you do with your device is none of our business, we’re just here to provide the information.

The developer community for the AT&T model is pretty good. Available is a mod that converts your device into a Nexus 4, literally. Your microSD card slot stops working, as does LTE, and your memory is cut down to 8GB. But you get updates straight from Google. Yes, it’s a true Nexus 4 conversion. However, it’s quite a big mod, and isn’t for the faint of heart. The Sprint model has less development and no Nexus 4 conversion, unfortunately.

Performance

To avoid rambling, let me just say this: the Optimus G flies through anything and everything. It’s incredibly smooth, and with 2GB of RAM, you can’t bog it down. Even games running in the background can’t stop it. With Ice Cream Sandwich lacking Project Butter, it’s still smoother than my Note II on Jelly Bean. It performs amazingly.

All the games I tested worked flawlessly, with no bugs or visual artifacts. The stock launcher along with third party launchers are smooth as butter, and apps load crazy fast.

While the AT&T model performed ever so slight better than the Sprint model, I believe it’s all software optimization. Maybe Sprint’s ROM is slightly worse, but again, this might have changed with the Jelly Bean update. Either way, the difference was barely noticeable.

I don’t personally believe in benchmarks, as they say nothing about real world performance. But the Snapdragon S4 Pro, along with LG’s good software design, are faster than anything I have ever used in real world usage. Need I say more?

Battery Life

Battery life on these devices is great. Without a doubt, they’ll easily last you a day without a charge. In the screenshot above, I did not use the device all that much for the first day (it would be what I consider light use), but pushed it the second day with a lot of screen on time. The battery took it like a champ. Standby is remarkable, even with all radios on and many accounts refreshing for notifications. Not quite Note II good, but still fantastic.

I should note that the AT&T model did get better battery life than the Sprint model. The difference wasn’t huge, but it was noticeable. But either will easily get through a day of decent use.

Camera

The camera is where things get a little sticky. The cameras are by no means bad, but they aren’t what I expect of a high end phone. They do decently in good light, overexposing shots sometimes, but low light is where they suffer. If light is decent but not great, it’ll start to blur. Even though the devices have different sensors (8MP vs 13MP), they perform quite similarly. The 13MP camera seems to edge out slightly in low light, having less blurring from shake, but that’s my experience.

Unfortunately, many of the photos I took over the review period were deleted, so the samples are few. However, I do have a few shots remaining that show the poor “normal” light performance indoors.

AT&T Optimus G samples:

Sprint Optimus G gallery:

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Network

Network connectivity on the AT&T model was just as strong as my personal AT&T Note II. 4G LTE speeds were fast (for my area, which has notoriously bad coverage for all carriers) and calls were clear. It performs solidly with absolutely no complaints, and as always, AT&T’s network is pretty fantastic.

The Sprint model ran into some issues in my area. While I wouldn’t blame the device itself, Sprint’s coverage is pretty terrible around here. I got flickers of LTE (it was rolled out in areas around SF recently), but the signal strength was at 0 bars a majority of the time. Outside of my area, the device caught signal just fine. Again, don’t blame the device, blame the network. Sprint could use a little boost out here.

Conclusion

In the end, the LG Optimus G is a wonderful device for both carriers. Each has its small differences, but they’re both great. You can expect insanely fast performance, a beautiful display, solid software that won’t disappoint, and a premium feel. However, the fragility of the glass is an issue you must consider, and the sacrifice you make will be in camera quality. If you’re ok with settling for a mediocre camera, then go and buy this phone!

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