The LG Optimus 3D feels a bit like somebody turning up at a fancy dress party just as everyone else is leaving. The Nintendo 3DS has been out for months, and so far has met with a rather lacklustre reception, so can a phone with glasses-3D 3D as a USP fare any better? Join us for our full LG Optimus 3D review and we’ll break it down for you.
We did not have high hopes for the LG Optimus 3D, or the LG Optimus 3D P920, to give it its full name. Back at Mobile World Congress in February, the twin cameras and parallax barrier covered display seemed like features for the sake of feature, especially since nobody wants to play Asphalt Bloody 6 any more, in 3D or not. But you know what? There’s something to be said for a big beefcake phone like this. Let’s take a look.
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Big, fat and fully functional
If the Samsung Galaxy S 2 were a Milky Bar, the LG Optimus 3D would be a Kit Kat Chunky. At 11.9mm deep, it isn’t that thick, but it feels massive. The screen width is actually the same size as the HTC Sensation (4.3-inches), but the whole phone feels much bigger, largely due to the less slender screen aspect ratio, and there’s something very Motorola Droid X about it, another muscle mobile with a big lip at the back caused by the camera module’s girth.
And yet, we rather like it. Granted, we have the largest handspan of anyone we’ve met, but the LG Optimus 3D feels functional, easy to use, and very much present. It’s not going to snap in half like a Jacob’s Cream Cracker as you might think the Galaxy S 2 could, and it feels like it could take a big old tumble down concrete stairs, and the smooth rubber back and metal strip holding the camera sensors feel premium.
All the prerequisite ports are on hand too. There’s a 3.5mm audio port and a power/lock button on the top, while the left side houses micro USB and HDMI sockets behind closed plastic doors, and the right stores the volume rocker and a dedicated 3D button. But more on that in a second.
The screen sans stereoscopy
We tackle 3D performance in another section, and you’ll be using the phone in 2D for the most part, unless there’s something deeply wrong with your priorities in life, so we’re looking at that first, if you don’t mind.
The IPS display on the LG Optimus 3D is first class. Blacks are only bettered by AMOLED-screen smartphones (simply because they can actually turn off individual pixels), and colours are vivid, with broad viewing angles and decent visibility in direct sunlight.
It’s true that its 800×480 resolution isn’t the sharpest, but you’d be pretty hard pressed to spot the pixels so we wouldn’t let this bother you. More troublesome is that LG hasn’t fixed one of our big gripes with its Optimus 2X jumbo phone: the capacitive buttons below the screen (menu, home, back and search) don’t remain lit up when the screen is active. In fact, it seems quite arbitrary as to when they elect to kick into go, which can be annoying if you’re using your phone at night or in a dark environment.
Android 2.2 for far too long
LG has been absurdly slow to adopt new builds of Android, so it’s no surprise to find the LG Optimus 3D shipping with Android 2.2, a version of the smartphone operating system released more than a year ago.
Now, there aren’t that many new user features in Android 2.3 “Gingerbread”, but there’s more at stake here than a touchscreen keyboard that phone manufacturers strip out anyway. Eventually, you’ll see apps that only support Gingerbread and up and where does that leave the LG Optimus 3D? A company spokesperson told us that a 2.3 update is due later in the Summer, but considering we’ve never seen LG roll out an Android update in the UK before, we wouldn’t hold our breath. As we’ve said before, never buy a smartphone for what it’ll do in the future, rather than what it can do now.
That said, Android 2.2 is still a superb operating system, with all sorts of tricks up its sleeves, from Flash support to the ability to turn into a Wi-Fi hotspot for free. And many, many apps, including a couple of exclusive ones, such as LG’s easy to use DLNA streaming app, SmartShare.
LG’s interpretation of 2.2 “Froyo” is a little odd however. Its keyboard, stretched across such a large display is perfectly usable, but the South Korean company has done some funny things with the menu showing all your installed apps.
Open your menu, and instead of a list of apps in alphabetical order, you get these separated by folders. 3D apps come first, then LG’s pre-installed apps come second (confusingly just labelled “applications”), and only then do the ones you’ve downloaded appear. You can move these categories around and add your own, but you can’t delete them and just have one long list – and regardless, many customers won’t realise how to do this.
South Korean (and Japanese) mobile manufacturers have a notorious reputation for impenetrable user interface software, and while Samsung seems to have upped its game lately, it’s touches like this that suggest LG isn’t thinking as globally as it ought to. This is a world in which video editing is not only possible on phones, but simple. If you own an iPhone anyway.
On the plus side, LG has relegated its absurd custom Facebook and Twitter “for LG” apps to a mere widget on your homescreen showing your friends’ updates, so it’s a lot less confusing than on the Optimus 2X and Optimus Black. Baby steps, but LG needs to figure this UI thing out pronto since everyone else got the memo ages ago.
Also, LG, get rid of the LG World app. If you want to have people like your exclusive content, find some that matters – HTC’s Watch movie streaming service is a good start. Hell on the HTC Evo 3D, you can even rent 3D movies. Speaking of which.
3D – the main event?
After handling a HTC Evo 3D prototype last week, we did not have high hopes for the LG Optimus 3D’s glassed-free 3D abilities. But LG has actually done a better job as far as we can tell, with much less crosstalk and ghosting evident – so long as you look at it in just the righty way.
You see, in order to display different images to your left and right eyes simultaneously, there’s only a small viewing range in which the effect can work. Otherwise you’d need more even more images for all the angles. The sweetspot on the LG Optimus 3D is very small (Horizontally, anyway), but so long as you’re not on a bumpy train journey, you won’t break from it.
3D kicks into action with a press of the button on the side, or the app’s shortcut icon. Pop either, and you’ll fire up the 3D launcher with access to 3D content (press it in the camera app in 2D mode and you’ll switch to 3D shooting).
The effect is very similar to that on the Nintendo 3DS (Though we would say that the vertical striping appears more obvious: you can see the texture of the barrier when 3D is on): games and movies look like little puppet shows. Sometimes, it’s quite nifty, especially in games, but other times it just feels pointless. We’re not convinced that 3D movies are better than 2D ones on the silver screen, never mind screens that can be measured in centimetres.
LG has provided some other content though. There’s a shortcut to the 3D YouTube channel, which works splendidly in landscape mode, but of more interest are the preloaded games. They’re all from Gameloft, and some, particularly NOVA 3D and Let’s Golf 2, look ace. If you want to buy more, the’s a homescreen shortcut to Gameloft’s web portal – they’re going for 99p at the moment, which seems like a bargain.
It’s a fun experience (for a burst of a few minutes at a time anyway), akin to a 21st century version of those reflective rulers with holograms in that you used to have at school. It’s one you can even have on the big screen. The LG Optimus 3D can output 3D imagery to a TV through HDMI, but it needs to be a 3D TV, naturally: try it on an ordinary telly and you just get squished, side by side images like so:
Having slagged off 3D movies, we still feel LG needs to provide some as HTC plans to. And not just trailers. The company tells us it’s in talks, but well, HTC’s executed already. LG should take a leaf out of their book and just buy a movie streaming start up.
We have to admit, the LG Optimus 3D has one of the best five megapixel cameras we’ve tested in a good long while. Stills are really crisp and detailed, and macro performance was top notch, though we’d say colour accuracy is a bit off, and unusually for a smarpthone under-saturated, rather than over-saturated. See for yourself in the shots below (click to enlarge), taken on a bright Summer day in South-East London.
Sterling stuff though, and the 1080p 2D video looks just as good:
Of course, it actually has two cameras.
3D images depict a vivid sense of depth, though naturally quite a dim one (since you only get half the light you normally would, split between the two images for each eye) and while most people will probably only be able to view these on the handset themselves, you can take the .jps files and do as you will with them.
Naturally, they’re a lot better than the low resolution stills a Nintendo 3Ds can grab, but there’s honestly not much use for them. One thing we noticed the LG Optimus 3D doesn’t offer is the ability to adjust 3D images after the fact, as the HTC Evo 3D does. But since it’s better at minimising ghosting anyway, it’s not such a big deal.
3D video meanwhile is nabbed at a maximum 720p resolution, and it looks swell. You can upload it on YouTube, as we have below, but be warned that there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to do this directly from the phone.
(You may have to click through to YouTube to view in 3D)
Performance, battery and call quality
The LG Optimus 3D is a monster of a performer, and in practice, we found its dual-core 1GHz TI OMAP 4 processor proved much swifter than the LG Optimus 2X’s Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset. Add to that the dual-channel 512MB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage (Faster than a microSD card, though you can insert one of these as well), and you have a stellar smartphone for speed, only bested by the Samsung Galaxy S 2.
We regularly topped 2,600 on the Quadrant Standard benchmark, where the Optimus 2X barely scraped 2,000. Replace the Optimus 3D’s launcher with the free LauncherPro app, and things get even faster.
This does come at the cost of battery life alas: in practice, we found the LG Optimus 3D didn’t quite scrape through a day of use with all connections on and brightness cranked to the max. The 1500mAh cell still makes it better at lasting away from the mains than an HTC Desire HD, but then that’s true of every phone ever made (and plenty of laptops as well).
We had no trouble making calls meanwhile, though we wouldn’t say that audio quality was outstanding – the same is true of the slightly fuzzy loudspeaker.
If you’ve ever picked up a smartphone, even an oversized one like the HTC Incredible S, and thought, “You know what? This is still too small”, the LG Optimus 3D might just be for you. Sure it’s bloated, but it’s also bloody fast, and it’s one meaty mobile. You can’t really go wrong with Android these days (Unless you’re Acer, in which case God help you) and a decent camera thrown in the mix is something few would balk at.
However, while it doesn’t exactly fail at 3D, the LG Optimus 3D doesn’t convince us that it’s a necessity. We’re glad LG is pushing to get 3D games rolling out on Android (HTC’s Evo 3D won’t ship with any, we’ve confirmed) and we’re intrigued to see where it goes, but right now, we’re simply not seized by the urge to watch a 3D YouTube clip rather than peruse Facebook in an idle moment.
What could change that? Games of Nintendo calibre perhaps, but even then, it’s a big ask.
Thanks to Carphone Warehouse for providing the LG Optimus 3D review unit.