LG Optimus Vu (unlocked) review: LG Optimus Vu (unlocked)

The 8-megapixel camera offers a variety of options: autofocus, touch focus, a flash, a 15x digital zoom, face tracking, geotagging, a timer, continuous shooting, and panoramic shooting. It also has an exposure meter (-2 to +2); four image sizes (ranging from 1,280x960 to 3,264x2,448); six scene modes (normal, portrait, landscape, sports, sunset, and night); four ISO options (100, 200, 400, and auto); five white balances (auto, incandescent, sunny, fluorescent, and cloudy); and four color effects (none, mono, sepia, and negative).

The front-facing camera offers the same exposure meter, white-balance options, color effects, timer, and geotagging feature, but only two scene modes (normal, and night) and two sizes (either 640x480 or 1,280x960). There's also a "mirror image" option that saves a vertically flipped version of your photo and a "beauty shot" meter that lets you adjust the brightness and blurriness of an image. This comes in handy when you're taking self-portraits and want to soften the photo.

Recording options consist of the same digital zoom, flash, exposure meter, geotagging, color effects, and white balances. In addition, there's audio muting and you can choose from seven video sizes (ranging from full HD 1080p to QCIF).

Though the front-facing video camera has fewer options, it still retains a good deal of features; you get the same exposure meter, white balances, color effects, and audio muting, but there are only five video sizes (ranging from HD 720p to QCIF).

I tested the unlocked quad-band (850, 900, 1800, 1900) LG Optimus Vu in San Francisco using an AT&T mini-SIM card. Signal quality was perfect adequate, without any dropped calls, extraneous buzzing, or audio clipping in and out. Sound quality, however, was mediocre. Voices were audible, but muffled. I had to ask my friends to repeat themselves a few times than usual. Though turning up the volume helped a bit, my friends still sounded like they were talking underneath a scarf. Likewise, I was told I too sounded stifled.

The output speakerphone quality was also poor. Calls, as well as music, sounded incredibly sharp and severe, making it unpleasantly harsh. You can also hear the sound bouncing off the back plate of the phone. Turning the volume down helped somewhat, and you can still hear what's being said, but it was disappointing regardless.

Listen now: LG Optimus Vu call quality sample

The 8-megapixel camera's photo quality was respectable. To take photos, you can use the onscreen shutter button, or the physical volume buttons. Images were in focus with distinct edges, and objects were well-defined both in indoor and outdoor lighting. The front-facing camera was also perfectly adequate. The smaller number of megapixels did mean more graininess and poorer focus, but you can still make out faces and objects easily.

In this sunny outdoor shot, you can see the distinct outlines of the bricks. Lynn La/CNET
In this indoor shot with ample lighting, colors are true to life. Lynn La/CNET
In our standard studio shot, a slight yellow hue is cast over the objects. Josh Miller/CNET
Photos taken with the front-facing camera were noticeably blurrier. Lynn La/CNET

Although the feedback speed of the camera and my moving of the device didn't lag with the rear-facing lens, the front-facing camera had significant drag. Through the viewfinder, movement was slowed down, and I could momentarily catch myself blinking at the lens. What's odd, however, is that when switched to recording mode, the front-facing camera's speed quickened, and aligned itself more with real time.

Video recording also was decent. Audio was picked up well and images were crisp. Colors were true to form and there was no lag time between the viewfinder and my moving of the camera. Due to the 4:3 aspect ratio, the videos you record will be played in letterbox form. Furthermore, while watching recorded videos in landscape mode was fine, when held in portrait mode, recordings played noticeably choppily, similar to stop-motion animation.

Since the Vu that I reviewed was developed for the Korean carrier SK Telecom, it was not compatible with AT&T's data network. As such, I had to connect to a Wi-Fi network to send and receive e-mail and use the Internet. I had no problems using Wi-Fi, but lack of data support for U.S. networks will limit the Vu's stateside usability. Stay tuned when I get a unit that can connect to a U.S. carrier and I'll update this review.

During our battery drain tests, the Vu's 2,080mAh battery lasted 16.08 hours. Anecdotally, the handset had decent battery life. After spending a few hours playing games, watching videos, and chatting with my friends, I found the battery had only drained by about three-fourths of its charge. With heavy usage, it's easy to see this thing needing a few charges throughout the day, but with basic tasks like making short calls and texting, you can get a good handful of hours without much loss of battery. According to the National RRA, the Vu has a SAR rating of 0.462 W/kg.

After you get over the LG Optimus Vu's, uh, interesting size and its throwback antenna, you start to realize that something about it feels rather unpolished. Maybe it's the outdated OS, or the odd aspect ratio, or the lagging camera, but the device doesn't seem like it will help usher in a modern era of phablets that the Note opened the doors to.

Plus, the fact that the unlocked version is going for nearly a grand makes it even more of a wasteful investment. So while you might say that the United States isn't ready for a large phone like the Vu, it's more correct to say that the Vu isn't really ready for us.

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