updated 11:05 am EST, Mon February 14, 2011
We try the LG Optimus Pad and 3D at MWC 2011
LG's MWC 2011 event this morning saw it bring out just two devices, but some of its most important: the Optimus Pad tablet and Optimus 3D. The tablet (also known as the G-Slate in the US) was undoubtedly the highlight for most and is a design experiment for Android: it's the first Android 3.0 device with a less than 10-inch screen and a gauge as to whether 8.9 inches is a good balance between the iPad and the Galaxy Tab. Read on for our hands-on impressions of the Pad and the Optimus 3D smartphone.
During its presentation, LG made the case that the iPad was too wide for portrait aspect ratio typing, but the Galaxy Tab was too small for landscape mode. For the most part, it got that right. At 8.9 inches, it's wide enough that you can comfortably thumb type even to the middle of the keyboard; Apple's tablet is often a stretch. Tilting the Optimus Pad on its side also works.
We're not convinced that the push for maximum portability is panning out here, though. The wide aspect display still means that it ends up being as wide as an iPad in landscape, but narrower. So while it helps with typing, it doesn't really help as much with portability. Its main advantage is simply displaying 16:9 ratio video with fewer black bars. With web pages, it's only somewhat better than a Galaxy Tab since the page is still small enough that you may not be able to read a page at a full zoom out.
Performance wise, it also reveals that Android 3.0 is a mixed bag and, very good, still needs to catch up in key areas. Despite the OS having hardware graphics acceleration, we still noticed a significant number of transitions stuttering; the web browser was also choppier and less responsive than we would have hoped for the dual-core Tegra 2. That it was software-bound was quite obvious since many non-visual elements responded instantly. Google and LG together need to work more on optimizing the code, since we noticed it was a bit faster on the Xoom, and of course visuals were faster still on an iPad.
Having already tried Android 3.0 on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, we won't completely rehash the actual interface other than to say it's good, if not necessarily as direct as iOS. Some interface elements can be confusing as they're split between the top and bottom of the screen. Still, it's for now the only tablet OS to offer real competition to the iPad's, and we enjoy it for what it is.
We couldn't try 3D playback in earnest, but we did get to see the 3D video recorder. It's fairly self explanatory: a 3D Camcorder app launches and provides a pseudo-stereoscopic 3D view on the (2D only) display. The interface is simple, albeit perhaps too simple. Unfortunately, unlike the Optimus 3D, you can't just watch in real glasses-free 3D on the device itself. You have to use HDMI out.
As a whole, the Optimus Pad is very competent, but apart from 3D, it doesn't do anything particularly special. The size might be nice for some, but it strikes us as a sign that Android 3.0 tablets may quickly fall into a me-too philosophy. We prefer stock Android to the frequently worse custom interfaces, but there isn't much to truly make it stand out.
The Optimus 3D, of course, is different. It superficially resembles the Optimus 2X, but it feels faster than just about any dual-core phone so far. Transitions and just about every action is fluid. We wouldn't be surprised if Texas Instruments' OMAP 4430 processor might have been easier to optimize than the Tegra 2. We're not entirely convinced the dual channels and dual memory chips made a huge difference, but they certainly didn't hurt.
The OS is LG's customized version of Android 2.2 from this year, but it adds a new Hot Zone feature and, with it, a new interface. The Hot Zone, as it's called, is more flash than substance: there's lots of border trim and 3D thumbnails to remind you of what you're using. The carousel for video was helpful.
3D recording works much as on the Optimus Pad, but playback is another matter. The 3D effect is based on parallax and needs a "sweet spot" to get the intended effect. Otherwise, it can often resemble the parallax stickers we received as kids. It's likely the only way you'd want to watch real 3D on a phone, but a wider field of view would make more sense for watching with a friend or for reclining in a chair.
Apps, games, movies and photos all produced the same effect. We wanted to try 3D YouTube, but it wasn't an option on some of the early prototypes at the show floor.
The design is large with a 4.3-inch display, but the combination of a bright LCD (even with 3D invoked) and a very thin profile makes it relatively easy to hold.
Of the two devices, we're definitely inclined more towards the Optimus 3D from a practical standpoint. We see 3D as something of a gimmick, but this phone still remains a speed leader in Android with benchmarking almost twice as fast as devices like Google's own Nexus One. The Optimus Pad is a good tablet, but it's precisely that it's not great that it faces a significant battle uphill. Apple, RIM and others aren't standing still.
Expect the G-Slate version of the Optimus Pad on T-Mobile USA in March, followed by the Optimus Pad in other countries by April. European carriers are known to be getting the Optimus 3D in May, but North America so far hasn't been included.