Living in New York City, a place where even the most modest apartments cost an arm and a leg, I've come to appreciate smartphones with enormous screens. The way I see it, if my apartment is going to be the size of a shoebox, at least my phone can feel sumptuous. Having all of that screen real estate is downright luxurious. If you're also itching for a little bit of breathing room, then LG's latest smartphone offering, the Optimus G with a 4.7-inch screen, is worth considering.
Bold and Beautiful Screen
The $199 (with two-year contract) Optimus G currently runs Android's 4.0 operating system (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) and comes in two hardware variations, one for Sprint and the other for AT&T. You'll notice right away the phones are sizable in-hand. Sprint's phone measures 5.19 x 2.71 inches. AT&T's model is a hair shorter and wider, at 5.15 x 2.82 inches. Both have 4.7 inch displays. Compare that to the iPhone 5 display, which measures 4.0 inches, and the Samsung Galaxy S III, which is bigger than both, at 4.8 inches. The phone is made of glass and feels superslick, almost as though it could fly out of your hands if you're not careful.
LG is a major manufacturer of flat-panel displays, and they've brought their expertise here to the Optimus G. The displays are supercrisp and clear, thanks to the company's True HD IPS Plus technology. At 320 pixels per inch, LG claims it is 1.6 times sharper than the Amoled displays regularly found on other smartphones. This translates to bright onscreen colors that really pop, something we noticed in the LG-manufactured Nexus 4 as well. (The Optimus G is a lot like the Nexus 4 -- it has the same screen size, similar back and shape.)
Software With Tricks
The combination of a vivid display and bigger-than-average screen makes for a great user experience when reading emails and surfing the web, and not just for those of us who have less than perfect vision. All movies and TV shows benefit from the display's enhanced clarity. And thanks to their Qualcomm quad-core processors, both phones were zippy and fast. Switching among applications was quick and seamless.
The biggest difference between the Nexus 4 and the Optimus G is the software. While the Optimus G runs Android 4.0 with LG's own software, the Nexus runs Android 4.2, with no software tweaks from LG.
Included in LG's bag of tricks is a new feature called QSlide, which allows you to overlay two screens on top of each other and switch back and forth between them using a slider button. The slider works kind of like a lighting dimmer you can gradually adjust to "dim" or make one screen transparent, while a second screen becomes brighter and more visible. The two screens can be shown at the same time, superimposed on top of each other. Why the need? Say you're watching a movie and wondering what other films the lead actress has starred in. With QSlide, you can bring up a second screen to search the Internet while the dimmed movie plays at the same time in the background. Having two screens superimposed on top of one another results in a distracting and jumbled collage of images and text. Still, it offers a new way to multitask.
On AT&T's Optimus G, the home screen is split into three separate screens that you can swipe across left or right. I prefer it over Sprint's, which is divided into six screens. Depending on how many apps you like on your home screen, swiping across extra screens in search of one app can be a drag.
The extra screens do come in handy for QuickMemo, another exclusive feature that lets you jot down random notes right on the screen with your finger. It's best to keep the notes short though, since all that jotting actually fills up the display pretty fast. QuickMemo works great for the times you want to capture and share an online image or webpage, and a scribble a line or two to go with it. Unfortunately, if your handwriting is more like chicken scratch, the QuickMemo feature will only enhance it.
Both versions of the phone come with front- and rear-facing cameras, the rear camera on Sprint's phone has a higher megapixel count - 13 versus AT&T's 8. In test pictures, I found the Sprint camera produced truer-to-life colors while images taken with AT&T's phone had a yellower, golden overcast to them. One neat trick is the Cheese Shutter feature, which automatically snaps pictures via voice commands like, "Cheese" or "Smile." It didn't work in noisy settings like the press event where it was first demoed for me, but I had no problems in settings with lower volume levels. Both phones have a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera for video chats, and the rear cameras do an excellent job capturing HD video.
Battery life is quoted at 10 to 13 hours of talk time, and I found both phones more or less lived up to this. I was able to get a full day's worth of checking emails, surfing the Internet and streaming online videos before having to recharge. Both phones also are equipped with LTE. Both phones were fast in and around New York City; AT&T's network is more widespread as Sprint has just started to roll out its LTE network in the U.S.
And for some, those LTE speeds will make the Optimus G a better choice than the Nexus 4, which we criticized for not having access to LTE networks in the U.S. That said, the Nexus 4 offers a cleaner software experience and Android updates as soon as Google releases them.
But bottom line: The Optimus G is a worthwhile choice for those seeking a larger-than-average smartphone.