updated 11:25 am EST, Mon February 27, 2012
We try LG's flagship phones at MWC 2012
LG put out a trio of headlining smartphones at Mobile World Congress, and we've had the chance to try all three. The Optimus 4X HD is clearly the star: with a quad-core Tegra 3 and a 4.7-inch, 720p display, it's one of the more powerful devices at the show. Read on for its take as well as looks at the Optimus Vu and Optimus 3D Max.
The Optimus 4X HD certainly feels fast. As a whole, the interface transitions quickly, and you can play games like Riptide GP or Shadowgun (the quintessential Tegra 3 benchmarks) as fluidly as you would on the much larger ASUS Transformer Prime. We also liked the overall feel, which was light but had a slightly more reassuring textured back.
Its display feels like an improvement on that of the Galaxy Nexus: slightly less dense by half a millimeter, but no Pentile 'woven' effect and thus a perceived sharper image.
That said, the interface is classic LG, for better or for worse. It tends to keep the excessive custom interfaces to a minimum and is generally easy to use in areas like the Media Home, which aggregates music, movies, and photos. However, we tried more than one phone and had a slightly maddening time with a lack of responsiveness from the screen. We hope it's just prototype troubles, or it could be a major problem.
NFC SmartTags weren't readily on hand. They do feel like a niche addition, though, an attempt to justify near-field wireless with mobile payments not having panned out.
Looking at the Optimus Vu made us shake our heads somewhat. While we actually like the 4:3, 1024x768 screen ratio more than the taller if sharper 1280x800 of the Samsung Galaxy Note, the extra width just isn't ideal. It's good if you're using the Vu two-handed or browsing the web; it's just too wide if you're trying to make a phone call or do anything one-handed.
The LG customizations are somewhat similar to those on the 4X HD, minus a nice landscape orientation for the home screen. LG won't win favors with its pen input, however. It's a thick, rubber-like tip (similar to some iPad pens) rather than the precise point of the Galaxy Note, and it's just not pleasant to use, with a lot of force required and so-so accuracy. There are even fewer apps to use, too. As such, the Optimus Vu can't help but recall the feelings we had about the Galaxy Note: the pen is an attempt to justify a too-large screen, and it's proof that bigger doesn't mean better.
The Optimus 3D Max (Cube in Korea) is solid, but somewhat underwhelming. Really, it's an optimization of the original. Its most noticeable upgrades are the slightly faster 1.2GHz dual-core processor and support for 3D movie editing features like adjusting depth, not just capturing footage. That and 2D-to-3D game conversion helps create more of a justification for the 3D, but we still wonder how many people want to shoot videos in 3D.
We do appreciate the slimmer design; it's no longer as much of a brick. LG is still using Android 2.3 and only plans to upgrade to Android 4.0 later, so you currently miss out on the features and interface benefits the Optimus 4X HD gets. It's worth looking at if you like 3D movies, but still a pass otherwise.
All told, we were somewhat lukewarm on LG's lineup this year. There are strong points, but what could have been a revolution has a slew of catches and drawbacks attached that somewhat mar the experience. If the Optimus 4X HD can have its screen responsiveness improve, we'd see it carve out share. Otherwise, Apple and Samsung may just keep getting larger.
LG Optimus Vu
LG Optimus 3D Max