LG Optimus G: Nice phone, but not for a traveler

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I was recently lucky enough to get my hands on a brand spanking new Optimus G, one of LG’s flagship Android smart phones.  When it came time to review it, I had pretty high expectations, especially given the recommended price point of $550 – a price which many of our readers would pay in full since they probably don’t have a contract with their mobile provider.

So for a traveler, how does this phone stack up to others on the market? Well, unfortunately, not so great. Here are my thoughts.

 

First Glance

Optimus GLike many current smart phones, the device is kind of large (I come from Galaxy S2 territory.) This is a trend that I think we’ll have to get used to – many smartphone manufactures are packing in so much hardware (Quad-Core CPUs, LTE Radios etc.) into flagship phones that they have a tendency to get big. This phone is no exception, although it finds itself in the middle of the pack weighing in at 145 grams.

The build quality is second to none. LG did a great job packaging the device, the phone feels solid, the buttons are appropriately placed and it fits well in the hand, if not a little wide. On my LS970 version, LG opted for capacitance back, home and menu buttons, a subtle silver trim and blue/black dot matrix back piece making it sleek, smooth and downright sexy. Maybe that will draw too much attention for some folks, but it’s definitely shiny.

5.19 x 2.71 x 0.33 inches 5.11 oz(131.9 x 68.9 x 8.45 mm, 145 grams)

 

Screen

The display is the same 4.7” 768×1280 IPS LCD display you’ll find in a Nexus 4 – a common theme as you’ll see. Your typical display is 720×1280, making this screen 48 pixels wider and changing the form factor from 16:9 to 16:10. Buried in the display options is a feature that will stretch applications that aren’t designed for the extra horizontal real-estate.

While I’m all for extra screen pixels, I think this was a move in a bad direction. When using the phone with one hand, I found myself really having to stretch my thumb over to the other side of the screen – it seemed that I had less control over the phone, and would be more likely to drop it, as a result.

 

Camera

The camera changes slightly based on the version you have. I had the LS970 (Sprint) version which was equipped with a 13MP camera. I found the camera to be satisfactory in both still and video modes. I’m not sure how much the extra megapixels gain you here, but this camera will do the job for quick Instagraming. There’s also a silly feature that will automatically take photos when saying cheese, or my preferred setting, kim chi.

 

Speed

This phone is fast. I mean, really fast. The Optimus G comes well-equipped with a 1.5Ghz Quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro and 2GB of RAM, making it ready to handle just about anything you throw at it. This was made apparent immediately after I started up the phone, with a surprisingly fast setup and boot time . Other applications were quick – well except the Facebook app … but that’s always slow.

 

Battery and Storage

I found the battery to be very satisfactory in day-to-day light use. The stand-by time was quite brilliant – I made it through 36 hours in a single charge. I did find that any heavy or extended use really started to take a toll on the battery, but that’s expected of almost any smart phone. It did get a little warm when the quad-cores were banging away at my YouTube videos, but again, that’s nothing unusual.

The SL970 that I had didn’t have a micro-SD slot, but LG was generous enough to provide 32GB of internal storage so I found the lack of expandibility a non-issue. Other versions have 16GB of internal storage with a micro-SD slot.

 

Software

Optimus GHere’s where things start to go south. Remembering that you are paying $549 for a flagship phone, you’d expect such a device to have the latest and greatest operating system version on it – but this one doesn’t. Instead, you get the previous version of the Android OS (Ice Cream Sandwich.)

I’ll give LG some credit and say they did a great job with their rendition of ICS. I didn’t experience any lockups, weird bugs or slowness – all in all, it was quite a fluid experience. Regardless, though, I really expected Jelly Bean 4.1 or later. I’m told Jelly Bean is on its way but with no estimated arrival date. Until then, no Google Now. If they do as good of a job as they’ve done on ICS, maybe it’s worth the wait … but I doubt it.

The Optimus G comes from factory with a ‘Swype-like’ keyboard similar to that of many Samsung devices. I really appreciate this feature on my S2, but I found the accuracy of the Optimus G’s word choices to be less than satisfactory. I found myself correcting words far more often than my S2, thus eliminating any speed boost from using the feature. Some work is needed here.

 

Network

By far the most important factor in a traveler’s phone purchasing decision is whether or not the device comes unlocked with an accessible SIM card slot. This phone, sadly, for all intents and purposes does not have that. Your connectivity options change slightly depending on the version, but any way you slice it, it’s not good.

The LS970 (Sprint) model that I had uses Sprint’s CDMA network and jumps onto LTE bands where available (not many places at the moment). The phone is considered a ‘world phone’ that can be taken abroad, but you’ll be subject to Sprint’s international roaming rates since you’re stuck with the integrated SIM. That’s right integrated. I don’t think it gets much worse than that. I can deal with the phone’s non-removable battery … but non-removable SIM as well? No thanks.

The E970 (AT&T) model is slightly better in that it has an actual micro-SIM slot with a Quad-Band GSM radio as well as the appropriate LTE radio to obtain 4G speeds on AT&T’s network. However, you’re locked to the AT&T’s network and stuck with their international roaming rates. Bummer.

Perhaps you’ll find a way to circumvent the security on the phone and unlock it (which is now illegal in the United States), or maybe buy the hard-to-find E973 Korean version on eBay that’s unlocked for $600. There’s also a European model of the Optimus G coming, but it’s unclear whether or not this model will be unlocked.

Not many here options the way I see it, especially if you’re traveling long-term. No unlocked phone, no fun.

 

Conclusion

While the phone is very fast and sexy, it falls short in the important areas that makes it a great phone for travelers. It ships locked to the carrier in most cases and with a somewhat stale Ice Cream Sandwich … see what I did there?

Even if the phone had Jelly Bean and was unlocked, there are still better options, specifically the Google Nexus 4 made by … wait for it … LG.

The Nexus 4 is essential an Optimus G without all of the bad stuff. Much of the hardware is exactly the same. With the Nexus 4 you get Jelly Bean 4.2 and an unlocked SIM slot. Yes the Optimus G has an LTE radio, but trust me, you’re NOT going to be using that abroad anytime soon. Plus the Nexus 4 supports GSM’s DC-HSPA+ (42Mbps), which is about the closest thing to 4G that you’ll get in your travels.

Let’s do a quick comparison of the two phones. Pay attention to the last two lines.

LG Optimus G

Google Nexus 4 by LG

The Winner

Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

Android 4.2.1 (Jelly Bean)

Nexus 4

131.9 x 68.9 x 8.45 mm @ 145g

133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1 mm @ 139g

Draw

4.7” 768×1280 IPS LCD

4.7” 768×1280 IPS LCD

Draw

8 or 13MP Camera

8MP Camera

Draw/Optimus G

1.3MP Front camera

1.3MP Front camera

Draw

2100mAh Battery

2100mAh Battery

Draw

Snapdragon S4 Pro Quad-Core 1.5Ghz

Snapdragon S4 Pro Quad-Core 1.5Ghz

Draw

2GB RAM

2GB RAM

Draw

32GB Internal storage

8GB Internal storage

Optimus G

Locked Quad-Band GSM, LTE, CDMA

Unlocked Penta-Band GSM

Nexus 4

MSRP $549

$299

Nexus 4

 

The Nexus 4 is almost half the price, unlocked from the box and will always have Google’s latest and greatest Android OS. While the Optimus G is not a bad phone, it’s simply better suited for those who don’t travel much and don’t mind being married to Sprint or AT&T. LG’s slogan “Live without borders” doesn’t apply to the Optimus G.

The choice is a no brainer. Buy an LG phone, but not the Optimus G.  Buy a Nexus 4 instead.

 

3 Responses

  1. Ren

    I guess it’s not a good option for travelers from the United States, but here in Singapore, the Optimus G already comes with Jelly Bean. The battery is still non-removable, but the SIM can be removed/replaced.

    So… maybe clarify that the device isn’t great for travelers specifically from the US? Coz if you’ve got the international variant of it – or at least the one they’re selling here in Singapore – then the main reasons you’ve given it a thumbs down wouldn’t be applicable, and I assume they wouldn’t be applicable most places outside the US.

    Reply
  2. Anthony Secco

    Hi Ren, thanks for the comment!

    I wasn’t made aware that the Singapore market’s version had Jelly Bean. Thanks for that. Even so, I feel the Nexus 4 is still the better option of the two. While the Nexus 4 doesn’t have an LTE radio(which you’re likely not to be using abroad), it’s considerably cheaper.

    When it’s all said and done, a traveler looking to purchase a new Android phone in almost any market can be assured the the Nexus 4 will work quite well for them. Being that many are on a tight budget, the lower price-point is favorable as well. The Optimus G could work, but the Nexus 4 will work.

    Reply
  3. Nick Rutten

    Decent review! I don’t need a new phone as I’ve got a nice S2 but it’s nice to stay updated on things, especially traveling specific :)

    I’ve got a hunch that things like integrating a SIM card happens more in the US than anywhere else. I haven’t seen that in Europe yet, and you can usually buy the unlocked version in the brand store if there is any, or in a phone store that sells multiple carries.

    Reply

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