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LG Optimus G (Sprint) review: Undoubtedly the best phone LG has ever offered

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.

LG Optimus G camera test
With outdoor shots, colors were true to life on Sprint's device. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
LG Optimus G (Sprint) SSI
In our studio shot, the flash casts a harsh blue light on the objects. 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 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.

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.

We tested the LG Optimus G in San Francisco on Sprint's network. Signal quality was solid -- we didn't experience any dropped calls or audio clipping in and out. Voice quality on our end sounded clearer than the AT&T model, as there was no subtle static like we heard previously. Our friends sounded clean, full, and lour. Strangely, however, we were told that our voices sounded less clearer on the Sprint unit and that we came off as "nasally."

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: Sprint'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.

Riptide GP
Riptide GP ran smoothly and swiftly on the Optimus G's quad-core CPU. Lynn La/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 42 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 Sprint's 4G LTE network (850/900/1800/1900), however we were only able to clock in 3G speeds in our San Francisco area. On average, it loaded our CNET mobile site in 22 seconds and our full desktop site in 46 seconds. The New York Times mobile and desktop sites took 14 and 41 seconds to load, respectively. ESPN's mobile site downloaded in 20 seconds and it took 34 seconds to load the full site. It took a whopping a whopping 20 minutes and 22 seconds on average to download the 22MB game Temple Run. And the Ookla speed-test app showed me an average of 0.30Mbps down and 0.75Mbps up.

Performance: LG Optimus G (Sprint)
Average 3G download speed 0.30Mpbs
Average 3G upload speed 0.75Mbps
App download (Temple Run) 22MB in 20 minutes and 22 seconds
CNET mobile site load 22 seconds
CNET desktop site load 46 seconds
Boot time 42 seconds
Camera boot time 1.78 seconds

During our battery drain tests for video playback, the handset lasted 9.2 hours. Anecdotally, it 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 surfing the Web, taking pictures, and remaining on standby, we found the Optimus G had lost about a third of its reserves. However, we did notice that because our Sprint unit didn't connect to 4G LTE, the battery drained slightly slower than the AT&T's. 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 1.01watt/kg.

Though its not without its problems -- like a lack of a microSD card slot and a poor audio speaker -- we'd recommend this LG Optimus G if your area is covered by Sprint's 4G LTE network. It still maintains the speedy, quad-core guts of its counterpart and both have that gorgeous display. However, it's that 13-megapixel camera, which captures more true-to-life colors and details in low-lighting, that we dig. And better yet, the higher megapixel count won't come at a higher price tag.

However, as we mentioned previously in the AT&T review, in the context of flagship phones, the Optimus G falls slightly below the others. It still received a lower raw score than that of the iPhone 5 and the Samsung S3, and it will face stiff competition this fall from upcoming handsets. Don't get us wrong, though, this phone is definitely the best handset LG has to offer, and we're glad to see the company finally taking the kid gloves off in this competitive market with this powerhouse chipset.

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