There isn’t normally a huge amount of hype surrounding an LG smartphone launch. The company isn’t well known for high end devices, and is often overshadowed by other companies such as HTC and Samsung. With the launch of the Optimus 3D, however, all eyes are firmly fixed upon the South Korean company.
The latest Optimus is the world’s first glasses free 3D smartphone, and boasts an array of 3D content including games and stereoscopic images taken with the two rear cameras, but is the extra dimension simply a gimmick to capture a curious audience or a valuable feature that will find its way onto other devices in the next year?
Hardware: Look and Feel
The Optimus 3D comes packaged in a very minimalist and sophisticated red box, which pulls open to reveal the device. Despite its 4.3-inch display, the device doesn’t look like an oversized phone, and is comfortable to hold and type with one hand thanks to the minimal bezel on either side of the screen. Below the display there are four standard Android capacitive touch buttons and you’ll find a front facing camera above the display for video calling, too.
The back of the device is dominated by two cameras, which are separated by an LED flash, and you will find the headphone jack and power switch above. Infuriatingly, the USB charging port and HDMI port are both blocked by small flaps that prove almost impossible for any man with regular nails to remove. A credit card will work wonders here, but I’d rather have the USB port available to charge and transfer data without having to worry about removing a silly flap first.
On the opposite side of the phone is the volume rocker at the top, and a small 3D toggle button at the bottom, which can be used to access the 3D portal within Android (more on that later on). The Optimus 3D is quite a thick phone compared to other devices, but it feels solid in your hand as a result, and slips in to your pocked without a fuss.
Rendering 3D games and playing 3D video content is no small feat, and the Optimus has ample power to take up the challenge. Behind the scenes, you’ll find a 1GHz, dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor and 512MB of RAM. I’ve been largely impressed by the battery life on the Optimus, provided by the standard 1500 mAh battery. It’s consistently lasted longer than our HTC Sensation review unit did, and I’ve even gone without charging overnight to find it still going strong the next day for a good few hours.
Despite being 4.3-inches big, the Optimus 3D’s display still packs a disappointing resolution of 480 x 800. Whether this is down to a lack of power to handle a 3D image at larger resolutions I don’t know, but it’s a hard trade-off to make. From the moment you turn the device on, you can tell that the resolution is low without even consulting the specs sheet. Pop-up menus look oversized compared to smaller phones such as the Nexus One, although it’s something that you soon get used to after using the phone for a few days. Also, visibility is surprisingly good outdoors, in 2D mode at least.
When using any 3D features on the phone, the stereoscopic display immediately comes into its own. 3D games are a great feature for anyone looking for a different angle on mobile gaming, although due to the limited viewing angles of 3D, accelerometer based titles are firmly out of the question. Take Asphalt 6, for example. Normally, you would control your car by tilting your phone every which way, but the experience here is limited to tapping either side of the screen for steering. Other titles fare better, though. NOVA looks great in 3D, and you feel like there’s an added depth to the gameplay when you’re shooting your way through the levels.
I normally wouldn’t dedicate an entire section of a phone review to the GPS system, but in this case it’s definitely worth mentioning. I often use Google’s fantastic Navigation app when getting from A to B, and it’s worked flawlessly on every device I’ve ever used. My Nexus One, Desire HD, Xperia Play and HTC Sensation have all been able to lock on to a GPS signal within a couple of seconds and direct me accordingly, but the Optimus 3D didn’t quite seem to grasp the whole concept.
When using the Navigation application, the phone was searching for a GPS signal for over a minute, and when it finally found one, it was inaccurate and didn’t know where I actually was. I was in the middle of civilisation as well, not trekking up a random mountain in the Lake District, so for a brand new phone to take so long to inaccurately find my location is inexcusable. Whether this is a software or hardware issue, I don’t know, but hopefully it can be rectified in a future update.
The two cameras at the back of the phone are both capable of taking images at 5MP, and support 1080p 2D video capture or 720p 3D video capture. The quality of the rear camera is quite good for a mobile device, although I found that when zooming in on objects, blurring was a big issue. Although images look sharp, the colour can seem a little washed out, so you may want to do some simple editing if you intend to use the photos for printing. Both of the shots below are completely unedited and taken straight from the SD card of the phone.
Software: The OS
The Optimus 3D comes with Android 2.2.2 installed underneath a tweaked LG user interface which provides a dock at the bottom of the display very similar to Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. LG’s theme includes changes to the lock screen, which you slide up to unlock, and an application drawer which is split into three categories: 3D Applications, Applications and Downloads.
Strangely, all of your Market app downloads are placed completely separately from the stock applications in the ‘Downloads’ section, which makes very little sense to me. I can understand why LG would want to separate their 3D and 2D applications, but separating your Market purchases from stock applications makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Fortunately, you can change the layout of the app drawer and change the default ordering of your apps, but it’s an additional step to take that simply shouldn’t be needed.
The custom software loaded onto the Optimus 3D by LG does include a number of really useful widgets that you don’t normally find in stock Android. The weather widget looks great on the home screen, and saves you from buying the popular ‘Beautiful Widgets’ package from the Market if you don’t want to spend the extra money. There is also a Wi-Fi toggle widget and a social widget that combines your social feeds together so that you can view them in one widget, although I still prefer to use the official Facebook and Twitter widgets to keep track of things.
The notification bar has been given a functionality boost with a number of widgets along the top, again,a feature which is very similar to that seen in Samsung’s TouchWiz. There is also a music control widget directly above the notifications area, that you can use to select and control the music playing on your phone. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to remove this widget if you don’t want it taking up a lot of space in your notifications area, so for someone who doesn’t use their phone for listening to music it can be slightly annoying, but it doesn’t get in the way too much.
Android’s default messaging application has also been given a facelift, and now resembles the messaging system on Apple’s iPhone, with different coloured speech bubbles helping you to keep track of the conversation. In fact, it’s not just the messaging app that borrows some design cues from the iPhone. The contacts list also carries some iOS influences with it, although they are far more subtle here.
With the Optimus 3D being marketed as the world’s first 3D smartphone, it’s no surprise that there is a separate ‘3D Applications’ section in the app drawer for any content with an extra dimension. You can also launch the ‘3D Space’ app to see a rotating menu of 3D content in, well, 3D. This includes games, a guide, YouTube, the Gallery app and the camera.
The 3D gaming titles include NOVA, Asphalt 6 and Let’s Golf 2, each of which look great on the device. As I mentioned earlier, however, racing games such as Asphalt are always going to suffer under 3D, as you can’t use the device itself to steer your car as the effect will be ruined. Instead, you have to tap and hold either edge of the screen to steer. NOVA and Let’s Golf 2 both work better, with the 3D effects coming into their own when shooting through levels in NOVA. Landscapes are given an added depth, and although the effect isn’t in your face, you do feel more immersed when playing, given that you’re holding the phone at an ideal angle
Ant 3D videos on YouTube are marked with a little label next to the title, and if you access YouTube through the 3D Space, you’re taken to a channel full of great 3D content. There’s a wide selection of things to take in if you want to test out the capabilities of the stereoscopic display, and some of the nature videos look really fantastic.
The 3D Gallery app allows you to flick through your photos with a cool 3D effect, and all of the photos that you have taken in 3D mode will be available to view here. When viewing photos, you can change the depth of the 3D effect depending on how you’d like to see your shots, although by default the depth is set at maximum. There are also some fairly woeful videos that show off the capabilities of the display. Just avoid ‘Pinocchio’ at all costs and you’ll be fine…
The Optimus 3D, through its stereoscopic display and powerful dual core processor, has demanded the attention of the market like no other LG phone that I can remember ever has. Before looking at the Optimus 3D, I never gave an LG device a second glance in any store that I was in, because I’ve never seen their phones as high-end devices.
There’s no doubt that the 3D changes this, as that feature alone instantly sends LG soaring up to the high end market. That isn’t to say that this phone is without its weak points, though. The display’s resolution is disappointingly low, and some people may not like the thick, solid exterior.
Also, without any standout modifications to Android, I’d love to see some manufacturers embrace stock Android the way it is on Google’s Nexus devices. In attempting to differentiate themselves in a crowded market, a lot of manufacturers make changes to Android simply for the sake of making changes, and it doesn’t result in any fantastic features being added to the OS. Still, I’ve seen far worse Android skins, and compared to some other manufacturers, LG’s modifications are fairly light.
All things considered, the Optimus 3D would be a great device for someone looking for a phone which has something that little bit different, but I personally couldn’t use it as my main phone mainly due to the low resolution on the 4.3-inch display. Still, it’s a solid device, and if you want to get it for yourself, then Three UK has it available for free on deals starting from £35 a month.
Hoping to study Computer Science at University in the near future, you’ll seldom see John without a computer in touching distance! His interests include building computers, reading all sorts of literature and of course writing for Zath to keep you updated on all the latest in the world of tech! You can follow John on Twitter as @british_geek.