LG Optimus G (Sprint) $199.99
24th Oct 2012 | 02:16
LG's most powerful yet phone arrives on Sprint
Introduction and Design
The good ship LG has long navigated the world of electronics, making everything from televisions to air conditioners. Its strategy on the smartphone battlefield mainly had it providing reasonably priced handsets or more niche devices.
On November 2 the LG Optimus G will arrive on American shores. A 4G capable phone, it has a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich, 32GB of storage, a high-resolution display and enough memory to choke a mid-range handset (a whopping 2GB, to be exact). Additionally, a prompt upgrade to Android 4.1: Jelly Bean awaits it in December.
While the essential specs will remain the same, the two U.S. carriers for the LG Optimus G are getting slightly different models. AT&T's version has removable SIM and microSD support, and a slew of carrier apps, while Sprint's has a completely sealed design (no swapping SIMs or storage here) and a grandiose 13-megapixel camera. A tweaked bezel gives the two phones a marginally different appearance.
This review will focus on the Optimus G for Sprint. We've tested both phones, for information on the other version, read our LG Optimus G (AT&T) review.
Past LG phones have undercut the competition on price, devices like the 4G-ready LG Spectrum, the stylish LG Prada world phone, or the the LG Intuition, one of the lamentably named "phablets." However, it was always the Optimus line that had the power. The Optimus 4X HD was the company's first quad-core phone, but it lacked 4G network speed.
With the Optimus G, LG has truly entered the 4G competition. Beefy hardware and a large, sharp display make it a real showpiece, but as a carrier Sprint's stable is growing crowded with impressive devices. At $200 with two-year contract, the Optimus G is racing alongside some of the best phones out there, the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC Evo 4G LTE.
On paper, Sprint and LG seem like perfect allies. Both companies are looking to grow in the U.S. smartphone market, but have the two come up with a compelling deal for consumers? Is it even the right time to buy a 4G phone with Sprint, whose 4G network is still "coming soon" in most US cities, including our own San Francisco Bay area?
And is the Optimus G really the best LG has to offer? How long will we be waiting for the Nexus 4 by LG? The device is rumored to be a collaboration between LG and Google that may bring about the next version of the Android OS, Key Lime Pie. Should buyers just be waiting for that? These are the questions to be asked as we review the LG Optimus G for Sprint.
The LG Optimus G for Sprint (model number LG-LS970) is big and rectangular, to the point where it feels like a tablet that was shrunk down to fit in your pocket. Other than the fact that it doesn't come in white, it bears a heavy resemblance to the LG Optimus 4X HD. It's a slab of black plastic with rounded edges and a spacious 4.7-inch screen, measuring 5.19" x 2.71" x 0.33" (131.9 x 68.9 x 8.5 mm) in total.
The overall body of the LG Optimus G may be Gorilla Glass but it sure feels like plastic. Smooth, durable, seamless plastic, but plastic nonetheless. Running a finger across the screen to the the edge of the bezel, you can hardly feel any gap between the two. It has a slick feel in the hand that helps to offset the inherent awkwardness of a such a large handset. The Sprint version has a thinner bezel, with a line of metal running around the side, making it a look a bit like an overgrown iPhone 4.
The phone is big, but surprisingly skinny. Being only 0.33 inches thick adds to the overall slickness of the handset. The relatively thin body is owed to a completely sealed design. While neither carrier's Optimus G has a removeable battery, the AT&T version has a removable SIM card and microSD slot. The Sprint version does not, so the onboard 32GB of storage is all you're getting. This is one of only a few major discrepancies between the two versions, in addition to the different bezel and higher megapixel camera on the Sprint handset.
The sides of the Optimus G are rounded, but the backside is flat, unlike the Samsung Galaxy S3 or HTC One X, which have slightly bubbled rears. This makes the G feel even more like a slab of technology. The lense for the 13-megapixel camera is pronounced, preventing it from having completely flat clearance, like the AT&T model.
Holding the phone, it feels slick but not slippery. Thankfully, the polycarbonate body is just grippy enough that it won't fly out of your palm. While we generally prefer phones with aluminum bodies, like the Droid Razr M or the iPhone 5, the Optimus G is not unappealing to the touch. It's a nice combination of smooth but easy to hold on to.
The LG Optimus G's power button is located on the upper right side, with the volume rocker set slightly lower on the left side. On the AT&T version of the phone, the power button glows, serving as a notification light. The Sprint handset lacks this feature, and simply shows alerts on the lock screen.
Physically, the two carrier versions of the LG Optimus G are just different enough to be worth noting. As we mentioned, the LG Optimus G for Sprint measures 5.19" x 2.71" x 0.33" (131.9 x 68.9 x 8.5 mm). The AT&T version (model number LG-E970) is 5.15" x 2.82" x 0.33" (130.8 x 71.6 x 8.4 mm). The essential specs like processor and memory are the same, though. The primary differences are the lack of removable storage and SIM on Sprint and discrepancies between the cameras. We'll address differences between data service and carrier apps later in this review.
That big 4.7-inch multi-touch display is one of the best feathers in the Optimus G's cap. It's huge, and running at 1280x720 resolution (318 ppi) makes it great for reading, browsing the web or playing games. While 1280x720 is the G's default resolution, LG claims support for up to 1920x1080 for the right video. We'd say it's one of the best displays on the market, alongside the the beautiful HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3.
If you live within Sprint's limited (but expanding) 4G service area, your video watching and web browsing should benefit immensely from high speed access. Unfortunately, Sprint has no 4G service in the Bay area as of this writing, so we had to conduct our tests on 3G. More on that later in the review.
Back to the Optimus G's screen, which does a great job of handling of color tones. Watching True Grit via Netflix, the display did excellent work balancing darkness and light sources in nighttime scenes, and capturing the subtle blues of cold, wintery moments.
Still images were even more impressive. The screen makes surfing the web or perusing pictures on Pinterest or Facebook a real pleasure. Viewing angles on the device were also very strong, a pair of friends would have no problem watching a YouTube video together on the bus.
Rotating the phone in and out of landscape mode is a bit disappointing. It's not as snappy as we'd hoped, considering all the horsepower under the hood. This is especially true on the home screen, where you have a to wait a beat for app icons and widgets to pop back in. The browser, however, does an admirable job of quickly resizing the page between landscape and portrait. Overall, not an unreasonable amount of lag, just more than we'd expect from a quad-core phone with 2GB of RAM.
E-book fans, take note, the Optimus G's large screen size and penchant for displaying sharp text make it great for doing a little reading on the go. Fan's of Amazon's Kindle app will appreciate the extra display real estate. There's enough room so that pages don't end up formatted oddly, and you don't need to flip across several screens just read a single paragraph, as on smaller smartphones.
The LG Optimus G will be getting an upgrade to Android 4.1: Jelly Bean in December, LG has announced. Out of the box, however, it's running Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich. There's also LG's own Optimus 3.0 custom user interface, which adds a handful of cute visual tweaks and customization options some user.
Ice Cream Sandwich
We're excited to see what the Optimus G's hardware can do with Jelly Bean, and it's nice to hear that the update will be here soon. We do wish it had been installed in this new flagship from the get-go, but if devices from Google-owned Motorola, the Droid Razr M and Droid Razr HD, can't even ship with it, we suppose it's to be expected.
Still, the Optimus G's hefty hardware runs Ice Cream Sandwich very well. You can whip across those seven home screens as fast as your thumb will allow with nary a stutter, even if you really load up on widgets. We surely have that quad-core processor and the excessive 2GB of RAM to thank for that.
The Optimus G's has three Android buttons: back, home and menu. They are capacitive, aka non-physical, with haptic feedback, and quickly go dim when not in use (this can be adjusted). A long press on the home button brings up a scrolling recent apps menu, and holding menu triggers a Google search.
Three buttons is an interesting choice by LG. While we agree that there's no need for a search button, since there's a Google bar on at the top of every home screen, we would have liked a dedicated recent apps button.
From the lock screen you can jump directly into Phone, Messaging, Email or Camera, by default. Of course, these four icons be altered from the settings menu . We swapped in Chrome, our personal browser of choice. From this menu you can also change the type of clock and calendar that are shown when the phone is locked. Calendar alerts can also be displayed on the lock screen, as are incoming text message and email alerts.
LG's Optimus 3.0 UI
The Optimus G isn't a vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich device. There's also LG's Optimus 3.0 UI, and you'll notice its visual flair from the moment you unlock the phone. Swipe your finger to unlock reveals the screen below like growing drop of water. It's a neat touch we appreciated.
Locking the phone is a reverse of this effect. It's a sort of "iris out," like at the end of a silent movie. The screen goes black from the edges, quickly forming and then closing up a circle in the center of the screen. It happens in the blink of an eye, and it's another nice effect.
Optimus 3.0 adds its own touch to home screen transitions. Skipping from one home screen to the next, widgets and icons get smaller as they move away, and bigger as they move toward the center of the screen. Whipping across home screens creates a "spring" effect as icons bound into place.
The pull-down notification center displays your unread emails, updates and social media functions. It also has icons called Quick Settings that allow you to toggle Bluetooth, WiFi, Airplane Mode, NFC and more with ease. You can edit which icons appear here, as well as their order. The Sprint version allows you to toggle Mobile Hotspot mode from this menu, while the AT&T version does not.
The icons for LG's pre-loaded apps and utilities can be customized. You can choose from a couple dozen pre-loaded icons, or make a custom icon from a photo you snapped or a picture in the gallery.
Certain apps can also be transformed into widgets, and vice versa, by adjusting their size. For example, expanding the Chrome app into a widget will show shortcuts to bookmarked websites of your choose. Expanding it further increases the number of shortcuts displayed. It's a great option power users will eat up.
Optimus 3.0 takes ICS's native support for folders and adds to it. Folders labels and colors can be changed, and the size of a folder can be be expanded so you can jump into the apps inside without opening said folder.
Thanks to the combo of ICS and LG's own UI, the Optimus G has a ton of customization options that we enjoyed. A lot of them, such as expanding folders and changing app icons are not terribly intuitive. The average user may only stumble across them after a few weeks of use. Still, they're great options, but easy to overlook if they're not the kind of thing you want to fool with.
Whereas the Optimus G for AT&T is awash in mostly useless carrier apps, Sprint's version is rather restrained when it comes to carrier bloatware. Most of it is concentrated in two apps, Sprint Zone and Sprint ID.
Sprint ID is an odd little application that allows you to make your Optimus G unrecognizable very quickly. The app lets you choose from sets of "ID Packs," which load up all your Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich home screens with pre-made selections of apps, widgets and even wallpaper images.
With packs titled DisneyJr., OWN Network, Country Music Television and ABC News, most of the apps are shopping or entertainment related. Even innocuously named ID Packs like Android Basics load up your home screens with links to Gap, Groupon and Amazon. While it does dole out some essentials, like CNN, Twitter and Angry Birds, the icons themselves are quite dated.
Since it can't be uninstalled and it's so commercially driven, it's the definition of bloatware, but Sprint was actually rather polite to wrangle all the junk into one easy-to-avoid app. Also, once you download an ID you can customize it, stripping out all non-essential apps and adding ones you want. You can then use Sprint ID to jump between unlimited sets of fully customized ICS home screens, but we can't envision even the most meticulous of power users ever doing this.
Once again, it's bloatware, but inoffensive bloatware, considering the eleven carrier apps jammed into AT&T's Optimus G.
Sprint Zone, however, is a far more typical carrier app. It collects your account details, bill pay, data usage and shortcuts to technical support, all in one place. It also has an interesting Security & Privacy tab, which lists all the apps that you've allowed to access your location, mobile number and other information. It looks sort of like Facebook's App Settings. It's not terribly useful since you can't adjust those settings from within the app, but it's a nice bit of transparency to see them all laid out as such.
Thanks to the Optimus G's massive screen and powerful specs, it's a real pleasure to game on. Fast moving, graphically intense titles like Asphalt 7: Heat were no problem for the phone's peppy processor and ample RAM. The racing game loaded with enviable speed and handled smoothly throughout.
Rayman Jungle Run, a new game with particularly nice art direction, looked just plain stunning on the Optimus G's display. A fast moving "runner" game full of surprisingly intricate animations, nary a frame was dropped while we played.
Like any good Android phone, the LG Optimus G comes preloaded with the awesome Google Maps app. Between that and its Navigation function, you should never be wanting for directions and maps.
Want to make an iPhone 5 user cry? Show them your Google Maps, which has only gotten better with age. Not only does it provide turn-by-turn directions on Android devices, it's even begun to show interiors of famous places and large metropolitan transportation stops. These days it even calculates bike routes and public transportation, where available. Apple Maps has a ton of catching up to do.
Navigation and maps are another place where the Optimus G's big and detailed display really steps things up. It really does justice to almost-Orwellian satellite photography. Being able to see so much of the city at once is a boon, and will make you glad you're hauling around such a larger handset.
While the lack of 4G Sprint service in San Francisco was disappointing, and meant we were experiencing loading times and pop-in that are so very two years ago, we did maintain a reliable connection. Sprint's 3G was steady, and we rarely suffered interruptions using the turn-by-turn Navigation function.
Google Maps also comes with some a great Traffic widget thats worth noting. Placed on a home screen, you load a destination in the icon. Then, pressing the icon gives a fresh report on the drive time from your location to that predetermined destination. The glow traffic light icon reflects traffic conditions. It's slightly more compact version of the info provided by AT&T Navigator on the LG Optimus G (AT&T), though it is available on both versions of the phone.
Calling and contacts
With its massive screen and impressive specs, it's easy to forget that Optimus G makes calls too. While the microphone quality on the Optimus G isn't great, we never had any trouble getting a signal or maintaining a connection using Sprint's service in the San Francisco Bay area.
As we mentioned, LG Optimus G's microphone is average at best. Calls often had a bit of static in the background, and voices over the line were fuzzy. It was usually necessary to play with the volume levels in order to get things comfortable. It leaves a little something to be desired, not a deal breaker, but not a feather in the Optimus G's cap either.
Speakerphone performance was equally fuzzy. When put over hald volume, calls got distorted and voices became harsh. The Optimus G has two pinhole microphones, and their range doesn't pick up very well beyond sitting at the end of a desk. Within that range voices came in loud and clear.
Your contact information can be found the Contacts app, as is standard with Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich. Unfortunately its been hijacked by AT&T Address Book, a rather quirky carrier app.
Your contact information can be found the Contacts app, as is standard with Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich. The Sprint version of the Optimus G has a leg up on the competition here, since the AT&T model is saddled with AT&T Address Book, a rather quirky carrier app.
We've never been crazy about how ICS imports contacts information from social networks and then doesn't let you edit some of them. The Optimus G's People app is hampered by this, imposing inscrutable restrictions on which of your contacts can be collected in the Groups feature. It's a real shame, because it displays your friends using great-looking tiles. Luckily, favorites is far more functional and just as good looking.
Messaging and Email
Messaging on the LG Optimus G is handled through the Messaging app, which is found on the dock by default. Like all icons on the Optimus G, it can be moved or completely done away with.
Messages appear in the typical back and forth of an instant message conversation. In the upper right there's a phone icon that allows you to quickly call the person you're texting with.
Turning the phone to landscape mode shows previous messages on the left hand side. It's both attractive and convenient. Touching the Enter Message field brings up the wide landscape keyboard, but obscures the current conversation. While we appreciated the bigger keys, not being able to see the whole conversation felt odd.
Email is, of course, handled by the Email app. While Gmail and Exchange are the default email addresses it asks for, it will accept other types of accounts easily.
Email does an admirable job of handling multiple accounts, allowing you to see a selection of or all of your inboxes at once.
There's a Gmail app on board by default, and it comes along with a fantastic widget that offers you a preview of your inbox, right from your home screen.
The Optimus G's keyboard has two available keyboards, the standard Android keyboard and LG's keyboard. Both sets of keys are a good size on the G's big screen, and have a mic icon for quick access to Google talk to text.
LG's keyboard provides fast access to symbols like @, / and ? by giving alternate functions to basic keys. You just give a key a long press to access these. It takes a little getting used to, but it can be faster than scrolling key menus in the normal fashion.
In text messaging mode, the keyboard's key are signifigantly wider and easier to type with. When browsing the web, or whenever the Optimus G decides its relevant, a .com and @ button are crammed in. This forces all the other keys to slim down in order to make room, which makes them a bit harder to hit.
Battery and 3G
We thought a quad-core processor and 4G LTE support would spell trouble for the LG Optimus G's battery. Since the battery is non-removable, we were worried, but ended up pleasantly surprised with the phone's 2100mAh cell's performance.
Of course, we weren't actually able to test 4G's drain on the Sprint Optimus G's battery, since Sprint doesn't have a 4G coverage in San Francisco. However, AT&T does, since the two phones have the same batteries, we'd imagine their performance is roughly the same. Check out the battery section of our LG Optimus G (AT&T) review for more information.
We did give it a run with the TechRadar battery test. After 90 minutes of playing a video file with full brightness, WiFi, 3G and GPS enabled, it still had an impressive 73 percent of its battery remaining. That's not bad at all, considering the size of the Optimus G's display and the drain of its quad-core processor.
It didn't score as high as the Samsung Galaxy SIII though, a phone that also has a quad-core and the same 2100mAh battery. The Galaxy still has 82 percent at the end of our testing.
Testing the phone around town, we found that a day of heavy usage would generally have battery life in the twenties by nighttime. This is after a day of browsing the web, checking Facebook, making calls and watching videos.
Overall, the Optimus G's better life is respectable. It's definitely a charge every night kind of device, but it's reliable enough to get you through the day with average use.
The LG Optimus might be 4G capable, but for the average Sprint customer in the U.S., it'll be a 3G device. While Sprint is expanding its limited 4G LTE network, it's just not available in most markets, including our own San Francisco Bay area.
Although it can feel like dial-up after using 4G, Sprint's 3G is reliable and blankets San Francisco quite well. We only experienced connectivity issues in extreme locations, like when driving across the Bay Bridge. It was easily good enough for web browsing and streaming radio services like Spotify. Obviously, more data intensive services like Netflix and downloads from Google Play suffered the most.
Data speeds were generally within the 800-550KBps range, which is pretty average for 3G service. The speeds themselves were not impressive, but we were generally able to maintain reliable, four-bar connection, even in crowd urban areas.
The lack of 4G really stinks because the Optimus G's hardware is built for browsing with multiple tabs and watching crisp HD video, but we won't dismiss Sprint as a carrier. It's one of only a few companies who still offer unlimited plans data plans to new customers. The only way to get a plan like with AT&T and Verizon is to be grandfathered in from years back, and that can often come with considerable caveats and red tape. Sign up for unlimited 3G data with Sprint now, and get unlimited 4G whenever it comes to your area, if you can stand the wait.
The camera is one place where the AT&T and Sprint versions of the LG Optimus G really differ. The AT&T model has an average 8-megapixels, while Sprint's boasts a whopping 13-megapixels. While neither camera produced spectacular results, it may surprise you to find that the lower-megapixel AT&T camera took the better shots. See our comparisons below:
Overall, AT&T's camera was much sharper. Colors were brighter and it was easier to make out fine details, as with the trees in the pictures below. The writing on the sign is also far less washed out by sunlight.
The same factors are on display here. While both cameras capture the blue of the sky nicely, the AT&T model gives a far sharper image of the brush and trees, as well as a stronger shine off the water.
Neither camera does particularly well with dark objects and low light. However, in the AT&T shot the tree branches are sharper and more distinct, and the foliage is greener.
As with many phones, balancing light and shadow gives the camera trouble, but the 8-megapixel AT&T model handles it a little better, providing darker shadows and less blown out bright spots.
Thanks to LG's UI, both cameras have an amusing voice command feature. When activated, saying phrases such as "cheese," "whiskey," "kimchi" or "LG" will trigger a picture. It's a handy way to snap a selfie. We actually took a few pictures by accident when we were explaining the feature to friends and uttered the shutter phrase.
There are also a handful of camera modes, including HDR, landscape, panorama and continuous shot.
All in all, both cameras are rather average, but it was AT&T's camera that took the better pictures. It's proof that more megapixels doesn't always make for a better camera, on the Optimus G, at least.
With its beefy stats, beautiful display and 4G capabilities, the Optimus G is easily the most capable phone LG has ever produced. Still, as a $200 for two-year contract device on Sprint, it falls in with serious competition from the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S3 and the HTC Evo 4G LTE. Then there's the matter of Sprint's small 4G coverage area in the U.S., and the approach of the Google Nexus 4 by LG, which is rumored to have specs very similar to the Optimus G. Is now the right time to go 4G on Sprint with the LG Optimus G? For the most part, we'd say yes.
That hardware. If you're picking the Optimus G's best asset, it's a toss up between the internal specs and its awesome display. A quad-core processor and an impressive 2GB of RAM makes playing games, browsing the web or just flicking across home screens smooth and downright fun. With all that memory, the browser can handle a dozen or so tabs with ease and the latest games are no sweat, either. For such a large phone, it's also lighter than you'd think, weighing just 5.11 oz (145 g).
The screen is big and sharp, making pictures and videos gorgeous. All that visual real estate is great for gaming, maps, and even makes the Optimus G a decent e-reader substitute. The fact that it can do all this with reasonable battery life avoids a real deal-breaker in the functionality department.
We're happy with LG's UI, for the most part. It's a tad obtuse, but once figured out, it can add yet another layer of personalization to the already highly customizable Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich. Letting users design their own app icons and create organized, functional folders is a niche but neat feature. We're excited to see how this phone handles Android 4.1: Jelly Bean. We won't be waiting long, the update arrives in December.
Finally, we'll always appreciate that Sprint still offers unlimited data plans, 4G or otherwise, and the carrier has put far less junk software on its version that AT&T did.
Sprint, not giving your version of the Optimus G a removable SIM card is marginal, but no microSD support while AT&T's version has it? That's disappointing. Also, this 13-megapixel snapper is not the 'world's best camera.' It's pretty average, a bit of an underperformer, really, considering the excessive pixel count. The 8-megapixel version on AT&T actually took more consistent shots.
The 5-inches length and slick build of the Optimus G won't be for everyone. The size of the handset and its nondescript face will prove divisive. It might be made out of Gorilla Glass but it sure feels like plastic, far from the space age luxury of the iPhone 5 or Droid Razr M, phones with a build we prefer on a purely aesthetic level.
The call quality on the handset speaker was merely average, as was the speaker phone. In that way it harkened back to the days when smartphones were pocket computers first, actual phone second.
Last, but certainly not least, having Sprint as a carrier also makes it throwback, since you'll only have 3G service in most areas. That's all we were able to test in the San Francisco Bay area, where Sprint's 4G coverage has yet to arrive.
Thanks to powerful hardware and (some) 4G service, the Optimus G is most capable smartphone LG has ever produced. Media, games, web browsing and even Google Maps all benefit from that large and ever-so sharp display.
Only a few things stand in the way of a more enthusiastic endorsement of Sprint's Optimus G. First, the phone is huge, not so heavy but a whopping 5-inches tall. Big phones aren't for everyone, but for those who like a larger handset, the Optimus G deserves to be on your radar.
Second is Sprint's 4G service, which just isn't available in the majority of the U.S. yet. However, if you don't minding waiting and using 3G, you'll be hopping on one of the last carriers to continue offering unlimited data plans.
Finally, there's the imminent arrival of a possibly even better LG device, the Google Nexus 4 by LG. It could still be a long way off, and way more expensive, but the announcement is rumored to be October 29. Savvy, patient consumers may want to hold off and see how long the wait will be for this possibly game-changing device.
Those hitches aside, we quite liked Sprint's take on the LG Optimus G. It's big, beefy but not cumbersome, and the proprietary software doesn't get in the way of the user or good old Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich. We're excited to see what the Optimus G can do with Android 4.1: Jelly Bean, and look forward to updating this review when the upgrade arrives in December.