Review: LG Optimus G

The Optimus G isn't perfect but it's certainly LG's best smartphone ever.

The Optimus G isn't perfect but it's certainly LG's best smartphone ever.

Design & display

The LG Optimus G is a relatively well designed smartphone. It's basically a rectangular black slab with a chrome edge around the front and glossy, curved sides. It's relatively lightweight and comfortable to hold, though like the Samsung Galaxy S III, the plastic-feeling build doesn't feel as premium compared to devices like the Apple iPhone 5 and the Sony Xperia Z.

The design highlight of the Optimus G appears to be the back of the phone, which has a pattern LG calls "Crystal Reflection". It's a clear, glossy finish on top with a reflective pattern underneath that only appears when you're looking at it at certain angles, or under the right lighting. The look isn't horrible but it won't suit all tastes and can be slippery to grip.

LG has positioned the Optimus G's buttons and ports in all the right places. There's a power/lock screen button on the right, a volume rocker on the left, a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top and a micro-USB port on the bottom. Both the volume and power buttons are very well positioned, making them easy to press when you're holding the phone with one hand.

One downside to the Optimus G's design is the lack of a removable battery, which may annoy hardened Android users. There's no room for a microSD card slot either, so you'll have to make do with the 32GB of internal memory.

The Optimus G may not have a full HD 1080p display but its 4.7in IPS screen is one of the most bright and vibrant we've seen on a smartphone. It has excellent viewing angles, outstanding colour reproduction and displays very crisp text, though we found sunlight legibility a little poor. The screen pushes almost to the edge of the phone leaving minimal bezel, so it actually feels larger than it is without compromising on the size of the handset.

Software & performance

The LG Optimus G runs the 4.1 Jelly Bean version of Google's Android platform but is skinned with LG's own user interface. This interface overlay adds some unique features but many of them are gimmicks that we didn't use too often. We aren't a fan of the overall look and feel of the skin, either, which is rather cartoon-like. Whether you agree really comes down to personal taste.

Swipe down the notification bar on the Optimus G and you'll get quick access to up to 14 completely customisable toggles called quick settings. You can add and edit a range of toggles here including QuickMemo, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, sound profiles and screen brightness. It's a nifty inclusion and definitely adds value to the standard notification pull down.

Below these toggles are five "QSlide apps" which allow you to watch a video, browse the Web, write a memo, see the calendar or use a calculator while another application is open. You can open up to three of these apps at once and keep them on the screen while you switch between regular, open applications. The QSlide apps don't slow down the phone which is quite impressive, though we're not sure how many people are desperate for such a feature. It also makes for a rather confusing notifications panel, with icons and buttons everywhere. There's no way to remove the feature if you don't plan to use it.

There's a few other LG-exclusive features, too. QuickMemo lets you use your finger to write on screenshots, which handy if you need to take a quick note or jot down a phone number. There's also a 'Dual Screen Dual Play' feature that mirrors content from the phone to a TV using Miracast technology. Conveniently, you can play a video on your TV and then use other functions on the phone itself, or you can display a powerpoint presentation on a TV and read notes on the phone's screen.

The lock screen on the Optimus G is also worth mentioning. When you put your finger on the screen to swipe and unlock it, a circle appears and gradually gets larger as you swipe. The circle is translucent and reveals the screen you're swiping into. It doesn't add any real functionality but it looks impressive. You can choose one of three different clock widgets or two calendar widgets to display on the lock screen, and you can swipe open into four customisable apps.

One feature we wish LG didn't change is the on-screen keyboard. It's space bar is positioned too far to the left so we frequently mis-hit it when typing. The keyboard includes Swype-style typing called "path" but we found it far less accurate to the excellent Swiftkey keyboard.

Although LG's skin and extra features might not suit all users the Optimus G is certainly a fast smartphone. The 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 2GB of RAM seems to keep things ticking over nicely. We rarely experienced any lag, even when using some of the phone's more taxing applications.

Most basic operations, like unlocking the home screen, switching between apps and scrolling in the Browser are very smooth and fast. The Optimus G has no trouble playing the most graphically intense games, either, with titles like Real Racing 3, GTA III and Shadowgun running without any major issues.

Camera & battery life

The LG Optimus G has a 13-megapixel rear camera and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video calls. We found photos captured with the phone were impressively detailed, especially outdoors in good lighting. However, indoor performance was less impressive with noticeable image noise and grain hindering our shots. Overall, the 13-megapixel camera isn't significantly better than most 8-megapixel camera phones we've seen, including the Samsung Galaxy S III and LG's own Nexus 4.

LG has added some extra features to the camera interface on the Optimus G. The most notable inclusion is 'Time catch shot', which captures three photos before and one after you press the shutter button for a total of five photos. There's HDR, panorama and continuous shot modes, along with the ability the capture photos using a voice trigger. Thw latter works with one of five pre-programmed words: "cheese", "smile", "whisky", "kimchi" or "LG". However, we found this feature hit and miss with some words not always registering. The Optimus G also allows users to zoom into videos while recording by up to 5x.

The LG Optimus G has below average battery life. In most instances, the 2100mAh battery only lasted up to 14 hours before needing to be recharged, a pretty poor result. The large screen and 4G connectivity do take a toll on the battery, though more prudent users may be able to push a full day out of the phone, depending on usage patterns.

The LG Optimus G is available now exclusively through Telstra in Australia.

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