We don’t lightly throw around the word best when it comes to smartphones, especially Android smartphones, which are essentially a dime a dozen. With LG’s latest offering, the Optimus G, we’ve seen a huge change in the way the company operates and designs their devices. LG has not necessarily been known as a company with the best smartphones, and many users have had absolutely terrible experiences with previous devices like the Optimus 2X. Since the beginning of this long term review, I have recommended the Optimus G to many of my friends and acquaintances and the biggest problem I had was convincing them that LG made good smartphones. Now, after trying the Optimus G, most people were completely taken aback by the responsiveness and overall sleek nature of the phone. In this review, we’ll not only talk about this phone, it’s internals and the overall experience and performance, but we’ll also explain why it’s the best phone on each respective carrier.
The Optimus G – The Google Nexus 4’s Faster Brother
The truth is, the Optimus G and Nexus 4 are very similar phones. They both have the same size screen, they both have the same SoC, and they both have the same modem. Both phones are also manufactured by LG, which means that the similarities are not a coincidence. The big differences between the Optimus G and Nexus 4 are that the Optimus G runs LTE and has LG’s custom Android overlay UI rather than stock Android and 3.5G/HSPA+ on the Nexus 4. The Optimus G ships with 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich (for now) while the Nexus 4 ships with 4.2. Jelly Bean. They both have 2100 mAh lithium polymer batteries and feature the same APQ8064 quad core Snapdragon chip clocked at 1.5 GHz. They both have 2GB of RAM; however, the Optimus G comes with 32GB of internal memory (16GB + SD card on AT&T). Both of the phones also have features like NFC, which is almost standard on Android phones nowadays. The Nexus 4 also features an 8 megapixel camera, while the Optimus G features a 13 megapixel camera, both have similar resolution front-facing cameras. The AT&T variant of the Optimus G actually has an 8 megapixel camera compared to the global and Sprint versions. Those are the immediate similarities and differences between the two devices and with the Nexus 4 still being in scarce availability, the Optimus G is a much easier to obtain device with LTE.
The Optimus G on AT&T vs. Sprint
So, since we are reviewing both versions of the Optimus G, we wanted to clarify the major differences between the Sprint and AT&T versions. Both of these phones physically look different, with the AT&T (Optimus G E970) being more unique and the Sprint version (Optimus G LS970) looking and feeling more like the global E973. The first difference beyond looks is that the Sprint version ships with the 13 megapixel camera, while the AT&T version has an 8 megapixel camera. Additionally, the 13 megapixel camera actually protrudes out from the back of the phone, while the 8 megapixel camera is flush with the rest of the back of the AT&T version. Also, the AT&T version ships with 16GB of internal memory and supports an additional 64GB via MicroSD, which is HUGE. We’ve been starving for a powerful Android smartphone with expandable memory for practically ever and now LG has given it to us. The Sprint version, however, does not have this but rather 32GB of internal memory with no MicroSD card slot. So, it appears that the major trade off between these two devices is cameras and internal capacity.
Sprint Version, on the left, and AT&T version on the right
Both devices support LTE, however, the different between coverage and speeds on the two networks is night and day with AT&T being leaps and bounds ahead of Sprint. We unfortunately do not have Sprint LTE (or even WiMax, for that matter) in San Diego, so we have no way of actually testing the LTE on it. LG actually launched the Optimus G in San Diego at CTIA’s MobileCon back in October and none of the reviewers were actually able to test the LTE on the Sprint device at that time as a result. Each of the phones also has each of the respective carrier’s ‘bloat’ on there with AT&T and Sprint being about equal in terms of their own apps that they preload on the devices. I found AT&T’s to be more intrusive than Sprint’s, but not by much. Neither carrier really messed with the fundamental experience that LG wanted to deliver to consumers, which was absolutely speedy on both devices.
AT&T version on the top, and Sprint version on the bottom (both pictures)
The last and final difference between these two carrier versions was the power button. The power button on the AT&T version actually serves as a notification button as well and lets you know when the device is charging or when you have a new message. The Sprint version, however, does not have this nice little feature and instead has the standard notification LEDs on the front of the phone. Structurally, both phones feel very similar and solid, as they are held together by two very deeply set screws in the bottom of the phone.
The user experience that we had on the device, overall, was absolutely fantastic on both devices. We did the majority of our testing on the AT&T version (E970) as it featured AT&T’s LTE which was absolutely fantastic. The Optimus G’s LTE is so good that it actually made us change our opinion of AT&T’s LTE network as we were able to do unheard of speeds and get reception in places that no other device could do. Our Optimus G was our most reliable smartphone at CES and gave us constant connectivity and signal.
The size of the Optimus G is actually very interesting, because if you compare it in your hand against a One X or Droid DNA, it fits in my hand much better. Being 4.7 inches compared to 4.8 and 4.99, respectively does have a big impact in comfort. The AT&T version is also an eye catching device with its carbon fiber-like back and sleek single-piece-of-glass back. Everyone who saw me using the Optimus G over the past few months could not help but ask me what device it was that I was using.
Upon powering on the device and logging into my Android account, I could immediately tell that this was going to be the fastest Android phone that I had ever used. I admittedly had some time with the device at the launch event back at CTIA MobileCon, but having my own review device was quite different. Simply put, the phone was incredibly responsive and the touch was almost flawless in terms of accuracy and responsiveness. The animations between different panes of the Android widgets that LG had implemented were absolutely fluid and felt very natural compared to other devices.
Going online, we didn’t particularly like LG’s implementation of the Android browser, so we ended up using Google Chrome as our default browser. The sheer ability to sync passwords, bookmarks, and share web pages is too hard to pass up with Chrome for Android. The texting application on the device was quite good, however, the keyboard on the AT&T and Sprint versions turned out not to be the same. The AT&T version, for some reason had less accurate recommendations than the Sprint device did, which I found annoying at times.
The impressive thing about the LG Optimus G is that even though it has a relatively powerful quad core SoC and 4G LTE modem, it still is capable of delivering full day battery life in almost all scenarios. Rarely did I actually find myself trying to find a charger for the Optimus G. The AT&T 4G LTE coverage is so thorough that the strong signal enables the phone to use less battery searching for signal, and the screen is incredibly bright even at lower power settings. The phone also has face detection so that it turns off the backlight when you’re not looking at the screen, a feature we found interesting.
The one feature on both of the phones that we could have gone without was actually the QuickMemo feature that allows you to quickly take notes and save them. Personally, I didn’t find myself using this feature and found it more of a detriment as I accidentally clicked on it a few times.
What we did like about these new LG phones is that the power cable is located in the bottom of the device, so you can easily hold it while charging it or connecting it to a computer or TV. Additionally, the power buttons are very well placed, exactly where your thumb would be if you were holding it right handed (sorry lefties). If you hold it left-handed, however, your index finger should be near the power button anyways.
In this section, we’re mostly going to be focusing on benchmarks and the like. We will also be checking out the overall performance of the AT&T Optimus G on LTE, as well. The phones we’ll be comparing in this benchmark are the HTC Droid DNA (same chip as the Optimus G, but faster) and the Tegra 3 based quad core One X. So, we’ll be comparing four different quad core phones against each other. Prior to testing, we made sure that we disabled all of the power-saving options and that all devices were tested on battery power only.
AnTuTu is designed to be more of a system benchmark with a heavy focus on processing capability.
Looking at our results, the Droid DNA, is the fastest phone of the bunch by quite a bit. Additionally, the HTC One X is the slowest. When you consider the age of the Tegra 3 versus the APQ8064, these results seem pretty reasonable. Do note, that the AT&T Optimus G is 200 points faster than the Sprint, but this is a difference of 1%, within the margin of error.
Vellamo is Qualcomm’s own internally developed benchmark which was eventually made into a public benchmark. They’ve made it a pretty balanced benchmark over the years, so we’re more than happy with the result, especially this second time around.
Looking at our results, the Droid DNA once again wins the performance segment in both the HTML5 and system benchmarks. The Droid DNA does this by quite a bit, and even though it is a slightly newer phone than the Optimus G. Comparing the Sprint and AT&T versions, however, the Sprint version this time comes out slightly faster than the AT&T version, by about 4%.
Basemark GUI is a test that is designed to test the phone’s ability to render user interfaces smoothly and at what frame rate, using actual user interfaces and 3D objects. This benchmark comprises of two scores, on-screen, which utilizes the native resolution, and off-screen, which is run at 720P.
In this benchmark, we can clearly see that the Droid DNA has a faster clocked GPU on the APQ8064 than its counterparts. In the on-screen test, The AT&T Optimus G takes the highest score at 61 FPS, while in the off-screen test, the Droid DNA routs the competition with a score of 185 FPS compared to the second place Optimus G Sprint at 153 FPS.
Basemark ES2 Taji Free
Basemark ES2 is designed to be an OpenGL ES 2.0 game benchmark, which is supposed to help measure the maximum graphical capability of the GPU on the smart phone at its current resolution. This is Rightware’s OpenGL ES 2.0 freeware benchmark.
In this benchmark, we got the Sprint Optimus G with the highest FPS score, getting a score of 47.85 frames per second, and the AT&T Optimus G and Droid DNA basically tying at 39 FPS. Meanwhile, the One X got 13 FPS, significantly lower than the much newer competition.
GLBenchmark 2.5 is very similar to Basemark in terms of what it tries to accomplish, but is a competing OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark from Kishonti. This test is also made up of two tests, being on-screen (native resolution) and off-screen (1080P).
Looking at our results, we can see that in the on-screen Egypt HD test, the LG Optimus G from Sprint clearly won with a score of 41 FPS compared to the Droid DNA at 29 FPS and AT&T Optimus G at 28 FPS. In the off-screen test, however, the results were much closer between the Optimus G on Sprint and the Droid DNA. The Optimus G got a score of 31 FPS while the DNA got 30 FPS. The AT&T Optimus G, however, got a score of 20, continuing the expected trend of the AT&T phone running slower than the Sprint version.
Browsermark is the final benchmark that we ran; this is Rightware’s latest browser benchmark. In this test we compared all of the phones default browsers and then followed by running Chrome on all of them to even the overall differences and just to compare the raw performance between the devices. After all, many manufacturers do implement different features in their stock browsers than Chrome does.
Looking at our results, the AT&T Optimus G won in the default browser test with a score of 1970 compared to 1928 on the HTC One X, 1885 on the Sprint Optimus G, and 1695 on the Droid DNA. Comparing our Chrome scores, we obviously had a much narrower spread. The Sprint Optimus G won by a hair with a score of 2023, versus the HTC One X’s 2004. The Droid DNA came in next with a score of 1924 and the AT&T Optimus G brought up the rear with a score of 1881.
Photography and Video
Here we are looking to compare the differences between the two cameras, mostly with photography. We also have a video to show you the quality of the AT&T Optimus G at full quality. Remember, that the AT&T version shoots full quality at 8MP while the Sprint shoots at 13MP.
The following photos have not been altered in any way other than to resize them to fit on the site.
First, we have the Sprint, followed by the AT&T, well lit outdoors.
Then we have them again indoors in the same order.
Finally, we have them looking into the sun to see how they deal with too much light.
The Optimus G has without a doubt changed our opinion of the AT&T LTE network in a way that we never thought possible delivering speeds upwards of 64 Mbps. Admittedly, one of our tests was almost at 1am at night, so we re-tested the device and were able to get 65 Mbps at 7:30 in the morning, a much more impressive feat considering the time of day and actual speed.
Currently, the Optimus G is a great value. Especially on AT&T. The Optimus G sells for $99.99 on AT&T with 2 year contract, which is frankly a steal. This is likely due to the fact that the Optimus G Pro was just announced in Asia this week, and that phone will have a much higher res and larger screen, but won’t likely come to AT&T for another month or two. On Sprint, the Optimus G is a bit pricier, selling for $199. This price is closer to what the phone has been selling at for the past few months, but this is because Sprint’s current smartphone offering is quite stale and lacks real depth. We do commend Sprint, though, for going out and getting the Optimus G. It does have LTE like that AT&T version, but for $100 more than the AT&T version and with virtually non-existent 4G and fairly slow 3G, the Sprint Optimus G is simply not a superior value proposition unless you’re stuck with Sprint.
Based on our experiences with the Optimus G on AT&T and Sprint, we can safely say that at this moment, these two are the best phones that you can buy on their respective carriers. If you look at the feature set alone, you can see that the Optimus G is a superior device compared to other Android phones available on AT&T and Sprint (especially Sprint). The resolution, display quality, network speed, overall system responsiveness and feel in your hand all culminate into one damn near perfect device.
Now, the Droid DNA is arguably a faster device, but if you’re committed to AT&T or Sprint, then the Optimus G is the phone you should get right now. As we stated earlier, there is going to be a larger, more powerful Optimus G Pro, however, it won’t likely be much faster and it will be bulkier and likely harder to hold in your hand.
As such, we give the Optimus our Editor’s Choice Award for all of the improvements that LG has made as a company and brand, as well as the amazing experience we had with the Optimus G on AT&T. If I wasn’t a T-Mobile customer I would have begged LG to let me keep this device.