Wednesday, October 24, 2012

LG Optimus G

Design, Call Quality, and Network

The Optimus G on AT&T looks a lot like it does on Sprint, which is a good thing. LG created the gorgeous Prada phone, so it's no surprise that the Optimus G is quite a looker. Made of high-quality plastic on the sides, with glass panels on the front and back, the phone has a vaguely incandescent pattern on the back that looks different depending on the angle you view it from. I miss the silver accent ring wrapped around the middle of the Sprint version, but the phone still pulls off simple-chic very well. Next to the Apple iPhone 5, this is easily the nicest-looking phone we've seen. And at 5.12 by 2.82 by 0.33 inches and 5.19 ounces, it's a reasonable size given its large 4.7-inch display.


That 4.7-inch HD IPS Plus LCD is pretty awesome. It features 1280-by-720-pixel resolution, which works out to a crisp 312 pixels per inch. And unlike the Samsung Galaxy S III $179.99 at Amazon Wireless, this phone doesn't use a PenTile pixel layout, so it looks even sharper. That big screen is ideal for watching video, playing games, and taking photos. It also means you get a sprawling keyboard for typing; I actually had to stretch my entire thumb across the screen in order to hit every letter. It's a little big and unwieldy, but so are all phones with a screen this size.

One big problem: I did most of my testing with the screen brightness set to maximum. I noticed it dip considerably after about 10 or 15 minutes of benchmarking. When I checked on it in the phone's Settings, I saw the brightness level had dropped down to 66 percent. I tried to turn it back up, and got the message, "Unable to brighten more due to high temperature. Try again later." This happened on multiple occasions. Especially when using processor-intensive applications like games, the top half of the phone became increasingly warm. LG claims it has not encountered this problem, but this device, along with two test units on Sprint all showed the same behavior in our tests.

Three function keys beneath the display light up when the screen is on, otherwise the front of the phone is completely black. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top, a cool glowing power button on the right, a volume rocker on the left, and a charging port on the bottom. There's also a microSD port on the left side of this phone, a welcome addition that's missing in the Sprint version.

The Optimus G supports AT&T's 4G LTE network, as well as HSPA+ 21. AT&T scored high in our Fastest Mobile Networks tests earlier this year, especially for its LTE network. Speeds in New York City were incredible. I saw an average of 33Mbps down and 12Mbps up, along with a high of 44Mbps down, which is about double the speed I get on my home internet connection.

Reception was solid, and call quality was good overall. Voices are a little muddy in the phone's earpiece, with some audible fuzz in the background. But calls made sounded clear and natural, with good background noise cancellation. The speakerphone sounds harsh, but is loud enough to use outdoors. The phone paired easily with my Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset. LG's Voice Command app was extremely finicky, and I had to repeat a number of commands over and over again.

The Optimus G uses Bluetooth 4.0, which allows various smart watches and fitness devices to communicate with the phone. It also supports 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. The nonremovable 2100mAh battery was good for an excellent 13 hours and 37 minutes of 3G talk time.

Android and Apps

The Optimus G is the first U.S. phone powered by Qualcomm's 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064 processor. Samsung's upcoming Galaxy Note II will be packing a 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos 4412, but performance there remains to be seen. As it stands, this is the fastest Android phone we've tested—even faster than the Sprint version. According to our benchmarks, performance can sometimes be almost double that of phones like the Galaxy S III. It's actually closer to results we've seen on top Android tablets, especially for gaming. Internet performance is solid, on par with the Editors' Choice Galaxy S III.

The Optimus G ships with Android 4.0.4 "Ice Cream Sandwich," which LG pledges to update to Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" within the coming months. Although Ice Cream Sandwich lacks Google's Project Butter, which smooths out the Android experience, the quad-core processor still makes everything feel fast.

Camera, Multimedia, and Conclusions

Whereas Sprint's model boasts a 13-megapixel camera, the AT&T Optimus G has a more standard 8-megapixel shooter. That's not a huge deal, because as we saw with the Sprint phone, those extra megapixels don't compensate for a sensor that's merely average. Fortunately, the camera doesn't fare much worse here.

Compared with the Sprint model, this camera captures less detail. Still, our tests confirmed that even the Sprint phone was still a long way off from capturing a truly sharp image. In the realm of phone cameras, this one falls somewhere in the middle. Compared with the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S III, images taken with the Optimus G look a little washed out, and details aren't as fine. They're still good enough for Facebook, but they're nothing to write home about. The camera records fine 1080p video at 30 frames per second both indoors and out. There's also a 1.3-megapixel, 720p front-facing camera for video chats.

You also get some fun features, like LG's silly-sounding Cheese Shutter, which triggers the camera to snap a photo when you say "cheese." It's great for setting the phone up on a tripod to take a group shot, but be warned that it may also go off when you say "knees" or "please."

The Optimus G's beautiful display makes it a good device for media playback. It comes with 11.08GB of internal storage, along with a side-mounted microSD slot, which worked with out 64GB SanDisk card. I was able to play all of our music test files except for FLAC, and all of our test videos up to 1080p. Audio was great through wired earbuds, though for video it was slightly out of sync while using Altec Lansing Backbeat Bluetooth headphones.

The LG Optimus G is the fastest phone on AT&T, but an average camera and overheating issues keep it from being the best. If you're a speed freak who can look past those issues, the Optimus G will make you very happy. There aren't enough differences between this phone and Sprint model to justify switching carriers. And if you aren't already committed to a carrier, I'd say to choose one based on carrier performance where you live rather than on the phone.

Otherwise, the Samsung Galaxy S III offers you excellent (though slightly less) performance, a microSD card slot, and even better call quality. Or, if you're willing to look past Android, the Apple iPhone 5 is also fast and elegant, with an unsurpassed app ecosystem.



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