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We're not big fans of superlatives, but for LG's flagship phone of the season, we'll make an exception. Sprint's LG Optimus G is the best phone from the company, which is saying a lot considering its string of ho-hum handsets that were good but not great.
Like its AT&T counterpart, Sprint's version still retains that powerful Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core CPU, has an impressive display, and NFC capabilities. In addition, while we don't get 4G LTE data connection in our San Francisco area, the device itself is 4G LTE-enabled.
But what sets this model apart is its 13-megapixel camera. Since both devices cost $199.99, the boost in megapixels comes at no extra cost, meriting a higher score from us compared to AT&T's 8-megapixel unit.
Though, even with the improved camera, it's important to keep in mind that when comparing it with other flagship phones, we still have the same reservations with this unit as the other Optimus G. Namely, its design is uninspiring and it has poor speaker quality.
Editors' note: Due to their similarities, sections of this review have been taken from our review of AT&T's LG Optimus G.
Design and build
At 5.2 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide by 0.33 inch thick, Sprint's Optimus G comes in slightly narrower, taller, and thinner than AT&T's model (which measures 5.01 inches by 2.8 inches by 0.37 inch). Its 5.12-ounce heft makes it solid, and also a tad lighter than AT&T's as well.
The handset comes in black and white, and has a familiar square slate design. The corners are ever so slightly rounded, but the edges of the phone face drop in steep, noticeable cliffs. The left and right spines then slope more gently into the back, creating a more comfortable handhold than if you grip the phone by its face. While pleasant-looking and functional, it certainly isn't pushing boundaries, defining your personality, or wowing you with standout machining. In fact, it reminds us of the unlocked Samsung Galaxy S II.
Like other jumbo phones, the Optimus G can't be squeezed into smaller pockets, and this is not a device to use one-handed. However, tossing it into a bag or larger back pocket works just fine. We were able to tote it around in a stretchy back pocket. It didn't look very attractive protruding from the material, but ambulation was possible.
LG calls its 4.7-inch Optimus G's screen a True HD IPS+ display; that translates to a 1,280x768-pixel resolution (WXGA). The Optimus G's 15:9 aspect ratio is a little off the 16:9 standard, but that hasn't bothered us so far. Pixel density comes in at 320ppi. For reference, the Nokia Lumia 920 has 332ppi, the iPhone 5 has 326ppi, and the Samsung Galaxy S3 has a 306 pixel-per-inch density.
The absolute pixel density, by the way, only indicates clarity, but suffice it to say that this beautiful screen did not disappoint, giving bright and crisp edges and vivid, appealing color.
There's more to know about the dominating screen as well. LG boasts that its Touch Hybrid Display technology makes the screen 30 percent slimmer because it removes the air gaps separating the cover glass from the touch layers -- and light source -- below. LG isn't the only company to do this; the iPhone 5 and HTC One X advertise a similar process. In addition, the use of Corning's Gorilla Glass 2 on the front and back panels contributes to the weight, but could also lend strength. However, we didn't want to smash the phone on concrete to test durability against cracks.
Below the display are touch-sensitive buttons for Back, Home, and Menu. Press and hold Home to also open your list of recent apps. Do the same to the Menu button to pull up a Google search bar.
Above the screen, you'll find the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. The volume rocker hangs out on the left spine and the power button is on the right. (We not-so-secretly wish that a hardware camera button were here too, but its absence doesn't earn the phone any black marks.) Unfortunately, you can take a cue from the two screws securing the back panel in place and stop your search for expandable memory right here. Unlike the AT&T model, which has a microSD card slot, you won't find any beyond the 32GB internal storage in the Sprint version.
You'll charge the Optimus G through a Micro-USB charging port on the bottom of the phone, and you'll connect your headset through the 3.5mm jack up top. Nestled into the polarized (and patent-pending!) back panel are the 13-megapixel camera lens and LED flash.
Features and OS
The LG Optimus G runs on the Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich OS. Although we'd prefer to see Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on this device, we can't really fault LG for not being more current. With Ice Cream Sandwich, the Optimus G receives all of Google's services, like Chrome, Car Home, Gmail, Maps with Navigation, Search, Shopper, and YouTube. The Google Play stores for Books, Magazines, Movies & TV, and Music are included as well.
Sprint also loaded Sprint ID, which allows you to customize your phone with preselected apps, widgets, and other items depending on which ID profile you install. There are 59 available packs so far, and they cater to a number of interests including music (CMT and MTV have a Sprint ID pack), sports (ESPN, Fantasy Football), and even colleges like University of Notre Dame and UC Davis (go Aggies!). Note that deleting a Mobile ID package won't uninstall the apps that you downloaded -- you'll have to remove those apps manually. The carrier also included Sprint Zone so you can check your phone and data information.
Other goodies include two file-sharing apps (SmartShare and FileShare), Polaris Office 4.0 mobile office suite, two video editors, and Qualcomm Enhanced Location Services, which lets you determine your location and conserve battery life simultaneously. And of course, there are more basic apps, such as a native browser and e-mail client, music and movie players, a clock with alarm functions, an address book, a notepad, and voice command.
Furthermore, LG packed its flagship device with tons of interesting features. Some we've seen before, like the Optimus 3.0 user interface. We're internally divided over this UI. On one hand, LG has done a nice job of adding some functionality without imposing too much of its own personality on top of Ice Cream Sandwich. On the other hand, it's not as sleek and elegant as Google's vision of the OS, and certain widgets look dated. However, users can customize some app icons with four differently themed choices for completely new icon looks. Rest assured, at any rate, that the OS doesn't get in the way of using the phone.
LG's signature note-taking app, QuickMemo, comes packaged with Optimus 3.0. With this app you can use your finger or a stylus to jot down quick notes and sketches directly over screen images, which you can then save and share. You can also customize the color and style of your pen tip.
Another feature, Dual Screen Dual Play, lets you mirror screen images between the phone and another TV or monitor. And what's displayed doesn't necessarily have to be the same content. Other extras include pinch-zooming during recorded video playback; Wise Screen, which keeps the screen on when it detects someone's face staring at it; an aspect ratio corrector that corrects how downloaded apps display in case of screen distortion; a battery saver that helps to conserve power and battery reserves; LG motion gestures so users can control certain functions (like pausing video or turning off an alarm) through physical gestures; and an eco mode module that optimizes the Optimus G's quad-core performance.
The phone has the usual connections of Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth. There's also NFC support, which LG told us can be used in conjunction with packaged LG Tag+ stickers that can activate customizable phone settings. You'll be able to access system settings from the notifications pull-down, and pinching and zooming on the home screens gives you a bird's-eye view.
Camera and video
A 13-megapixel camera, you say? We were skeptical when we first heard about it, too. Of the handful of very high-resolution smartphone cameras we've tested, few live up to expectations. Nokia's 808 PureView's 41-megapixel camera was one exception, but HTC's Titan II disappointed.
In many cases, Sprint's Optimus G's full-resolution images did pack in more information than AT&T's 8-megapixel Optimus G. The same photo take on Sprint's Optimus looked sharper and richer in many test photos; yet in others, AT&T's photos looked sharper too, and more alive. Some of that may have to do with the higher-contrast we saw from AT&T's camera module -- many images were noticeably more saturated, but also less natural compared to the real-world subject.
However, both phones have the same camera software. There are controls for choosing among seven scene modes, five white-balance modes, and four color effects. You can select resolution that goes from 13 megapixels down to 1 megapixel. Geotagging, brightness, and flash are other settings. While you can select your favorite of four shutter sounds, we weren't able to turn the sound off. LG gets a slight demerit there for the lack of a stealth mode.
For fancier shooting options, you can turn on HDR (high dynamic range) mode, or take a sweeping panorama shot. There's also continuous-shot mode, which takes a burst of six photos. There are some other fun things you can do with the camera: Time Catch Shot, for example, takes a series of six shots around an event, so you can choose the best single image to keep.
You can also set a voice trigger to take photos if you say one of five programmed words: "cheese," "smile," "whisky," "kimchi," or "LG." Just be aware that you may snap unwanted shots when instructing people to say cheese.
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.
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 and the Bay (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, including a photo shootout between this and the 8-megapixel AT&T version as well. So for now, let's consider this camera quality evaluation preliminary.
Camera quality on outdoor shots was often very good. But more often than not, several photos appeared washed out. Blue skies and light pink flowers turned almost white. Where the camera excelled were places with low lighting. Small details can be made out from even the darkest corner of a building, and when colors weren't washed out, they were truer to life than on the AT&T model, which had a tendency to oversaturate some of its hues. Images were extremely crisp and sharp edges in text stood out.
Indoor images fared better than the AT&T's version. Again, colors were true to life, and the higher megapixel count meant more information being captured. This translates into finer details, like the cracks in floors or the folds in fabric, being more noticeable and well defined. This was especially apparent when zooming into photos at the maximum level. Though images on both devices became fuzzier, lines showed a lot less aliasing and there was less pixelation with the Sprint unit.
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 there was no lag between our moving of the camera and the video we saw during feedback.
The indoor video required the full strength of the phone's flash to light up the subject (Lynn) in a dark room. She blinked her eyes and acquired a pained expression as soon as the flash turned on. Note, of course, that indoor videos take on the lighting of the surrounding environment, and your audio will always sound louder than your subject, who is farther from the microphone.