LG Optimus G (AT&T) review: The quad-core powerhouse that falls just short

Video controls are similar, but you do have a few different options. The first is whether to record a long video or a short one for MMS. Another feature, QSlide, makes it possible to use other apps while a video is playing in the background. The function is nestled in the video app, and is denoted on the top right corner by an icon of two rectangles layered on top of each other. When a video is playing, you can tap this icon and a transparent app drawer will spring up. Though QSlide isn't intuitive to find, it's easy to use and I can see it coming in handy when you don't want to stop watching a movie, but need to quickly attend to a text or e-mail.

QSlide lets users access apps while watching video. Lynn La/CNET

You can add a live effect while shooting with the camera, which will "humorously" convert features into bug eyes, a huge grin, a small mouth, and so on. You can also choose backgrounds like sunset and disco. We say skip the tricks; if your hands so much as jiggle, the backgrounds immediately become choppy.

Now that we've walked you through the tools, it's time to tackle the image quality itself, starting with the camera. But first, a disclaimer. We took indoor and outdoor shots around San Diego (all in automatic mode), and peered at full-resolution images as well as photos that we resized on a laptop. We plan even more tests back in the Bay, including a photo shootout between this the 13-megapixel Sprint version. So for now, let's consider this camera quality evaluation preliminary.

Camera quality on outdoor shots was often very good, yielding great, balanced hues that really reflected what our eyes took in. There was some noticeable saturation with the colors, which made them pop, but for the most part, whites looked white, purples looked purple, and greens were green. Some images looked extremely crisp, with sharp edges and details that really stood out. However, other shots that should have looked fantastic came out a little soft, even when taken in optimal lighting.

We also noticed that indoor images suffered, despite a mixture of natural and artificial lighting and the Optimus G's powerful flash. Features didn't pop or look particularly defined, and the level of premium detail we expect from a high-end smartphone camera was hard to come by. Overall, we were most pleased with the outdoor shots, but there were trouble spots that couldn't be ignored as well.

Testing AT&T's 8-megapixel LG Optimus G camera
The LG Optimus G took lovely outdoor shots and had colors that popped. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

LG Optimus G (AT&T) SSI
Indoor shots showed a lack of detail in dark hues. Josh Miller/CNET

Check out our smartphone photo gallery for more comparison shots from our studio still life.

The Optimus G's 1080p HD video quality was very good, in both indoor and outdoor sample videos. Outdoor shots were the best. Audio was high, the image was clear and strong, and we experienced no stuttering or jerkiness during playback, only smooth video.

One feature we couldn't find when shooting video was the option supported by Android 4.0 to easily snap a still photo while shooting video.

We have yet to take a flattering self-portrait with a front-facing camera, and the Optimus G's 1.3-megapixel shooter isn't going to break any records. However, LG has gone to lengths to make the process as painless as possible with two optional features. Beauty shot is a built-in airbrush algorithm that will render skin brighter and smoother using a sliding control. You can also save the photo flipped, so your self-portrait comes out oriented the way others see you, not as your mirror image.

Performance
We tested the LG Optimus G in San Francisco on AT&T's network. Signal quality was solid -- we didn't experience any dropped calls or audio clipping in and out. And while voices came in clearly as well, we did hear subtle static during calls. Turning down the volume helped somewhat, but we still heard a noticeable fuzziness during every word that was spoken. This doesn't render callers' voices completely inaudible, but we've heard crisper calls before, and with a phone of this caliber, we expected better.

Output speaker quality during calls came off harsh, especially on max volume. The sound only exits through one small slit in the back, so our friends sounded extremely tinny while speaking. The speaker also rendered music flatly. Its small opening takes away much of the depth and body, especially from songs that are instrumentally rich.

Listen now: AT&T's LG Optimus G call quality sample


The handset is powered by an impressively fast Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset; in fact, it's the first phone to feature Qualcomm's quad-core processor. When we played the graphics-heavy game Riptide GP, the app ran without any stalls or hiccups. Images were sharp and rendered smoothly. The game displayed a high frame rate with high-resolution graphics.

The Optimus G's quad-core CPU powers graphics-intensive games easily. Josh Miller/CNET

Simple tasks like swiping through the app drawer, launching the camera, and transitioning back to the home screen were executed in a snap, and on average, it took about 45 seconds for the device to power off and restart. We're still in the process of running lab tests for the handset's processor, so we'll update this review when we can report more times.

The handset runs on AT&T's 4G LTE network (850/900/1800/1900) and clocked impressive data speeds. On average, it loaded our CNET mobile site in 5 seconds and our full desktop site in 5 seconds. The New York Times mobile and desktop sites took 4 and 6 seconds to load, respectively. ESPN's mobile site downloaded in 5 seconds and it took 8 seconds to load the full site. It took about 19 seconds on average to download the 22MB game Temple Run. And the Ookla speed-test app showed me an average of 25.99Mbps down and 10.56Mbps up.

Performance: LG Optimus G (AT&T)
Average LTE download speed 25.99Mpbs
Average LTE upload speed 10.56Mbps
App download (Temple Run) 22MB in 19 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5 seconds
CNET desktop site load 5 seconds
Boot time 45 seconds
Camera boot time 1.89 seconds

During our battery drain tests for video playback, the device lasted 7.55 hours, which is noticeably shorter than its Sprint counterpart (which clocked in at 9.2 hours). Anecdotally the handset had disappointing battery life. True, the Optimus G has a 2,100mAh battery under its hood, but remember that that has to power four processor cores and a bright screen. After spending just a couple of hours with it watching TV, surfing the Web, and remaining on standby, we found the Optimus G had lost about a third of its reserves. Though we haven't yet tested how different battery life is with eco mode and CPU optimization turned on, it's clear you'll easily need a good charge or two during the day. According to FCC radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 0.67 watt/kg.

Conclusion
There is a lot to like about the Optimus G, but it's not without its nagging distractions. Its 8-megapixel camera can't compete with its rivals' cameras and the battery life on this quad-core handset didn't offer enough juice to get through the day. However, the phone performed exceedingly well in terms of its internal and data speeds, the display is beautiful, and we dig the extra goodies like QSlide and NFC.

For as much as it has to offer, the Optimus G won't blow all other flagship phones out of the water. As we said, the Galaxy S3 or the iPhone 5 received a higher raw score from us, plus both devices got an Editor's Choice. And it will face a heavy threat from AT&T's upcoming models . But against older phones like the HTC One X and the Lumia 900, it easily holds its own.

In addition, AT&T announced that it's offering the Optimus G for $199.99, which is on par with other flagship phones. It's a price we'd gladly pay, however, because the Optimus G would finally be an LG to buy.

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LG Optimus G (AT&T)

Part Number: 6280453 Released: Nov 2, 2012
MSRP: $549.99 Low Price: $274.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Nov 2, 2012
  • Service Provider AT&T
  • Technology LTE
  • Weight 5.19 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.7 in
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