MWC2012: LG’s Optimus, L phones look to new frontiers

LG came into MWC this year with a new slogan; “LTE, its always LG.” While many smartphone manufacturers are gunning to include LTE radios in their handsets, LG looks like it wants to put it in all their high-end and mid-market mobiles and become the mobile maker of choice for superfast data connections. So, this last Sunday it unveiled a wealth of “Optimus” and “L”  devices aimed at every segment on the market. Like all Droid phone manufacturers, LG has to cover all its bases if it wants to stay relevant and compete against Samsung and HTC for the honours of being bought by consumers.

First up is the flagship model, the Optimus 4X HD. LG really wants to make a good impression before the Galaxy S III hits stores and mindshare, and begins by showing off its 4.7” 720p IPS LED which is near enough to be an iPhone rival (which they actually call HD-IPS, for some odd reason). Keeping up with the trend of going bigger, it ships with a quad-core Cortex A9 processor and a Tegra 3 chip and 1GB of RAM. That alone, however won’t do.





LG also put to work a fifth, low-power core running at 500Mhz in the middle of all this to run background tasks while the phone is idle, putting battery life equal to that of a lower-end Droid on 2G with a massive 2150mAh battery. It’s nice to see manufacturers finally approach the strain Android puts on battery life in innovative ways, and it remains to be seen whether others will adopt this technique. The GSMArena team noted that while they were zooming around and trying to get the phone to fire up all fours constantly, it was actually difficult to do so without firing up a game or benchmark. Like Symbian S^3, most of the graphics grunt is handled by the Tegra chip, with the fifth core doing most of the calculations required.





Moving along, though, the Optimus 3D Max updates the original 3D with a better chipset and more RAM. Style-wise it remains the same, however LG have changed the mini-HDMI port on the older phone to a MHL port, which requires a special adapter. MHL is a bit like DisplayPort in that it requires only one cable and less power to run. However, its not an official standard yet, and I doubt the 3D Max will stay relevant enough to make use of it. Like the Nintendo 3DS, the 3D Max can flip off 3D with a hardware switch, and turns all standard content into proper 3D imagery. 3D buildings in Google Maps will now really be in 3D! The dual 5MP cameras also allow for better augmented reality apps to make use of the hardware, as well as doing some pretty clever things like using the camera to figure out how long something is (Smart Ruler) or to create a fake DSLR-looking shot with a greater depth of field than standard auto-focus cameras.

DSLR off...
DSLR On...
Smart Ruler...


Here I have to pause for a moment. The way LG is using these cameras is a lot like how Nokia achieves noiseless and sharper photos with the 808 Pureview. Nokia’s 41MP sensor interpolates pixels to create a smaller 5 or 8MP shot, working out which colours and angles are correct and mashing all the pixels together beautifully to create the final image. LG’s DSLR likewise does something similar, focusing the lenses at two different lengths digitally and taking their combined efforts to create good depth of field and colour reproduction, and to reduce noise. It’d be interesting to see how the two phones match up later when Steve Litchfield hears about this.

The Optimus Vu is a strange one, alright. There’s a growing trend of making Droids with 720p widescreen displays, and even tablets support the 16:9 aspect ratio these days. The 4:3 ratio of the Vu is likely to create some incompatibilities, so LG chose to release it with Gingerbread instead, and customized the interface to fit.





It’s not immediately clear why they chose 4:3 as the default aspect ratio. E-reader apps like Kindle will look a whole lot better, but HD videos will suffer the dreaded black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. If this was perhaps bundled with an S-Pen-copy then it’d be a little clearer, but for now the Vu is relegated to the oddball corner.

Finally, LG’s budget phones now fall under the “L” moniker (not to be confused with Death Note, obviously). The L7 P700 is more a copy of the Samsung Galaxy S with very similar specs – a 4.3” LED screen, dual-core 1Ghz TI Omap 4430 processor with 1GB RAM and a 5MP auto-focus camera with a flash. Looks-wise it’s not winning any competitions, but its go to start somewhere, and with ICS pre-loaded it’s definitely going to win some hearts, if not appease bank accounts. Interestingly, LG also incorporates a screen filter technology that makes it appear as if the screen is floating off the surface of the device, minimising the width of the bezel surrounding it.






The L5 is a dumbed-down L7 with a single-core 800Mhz CPU, an unspecified amount of RAM to be revealed later, and Android Gingerbread 3.6. A number of cutbacks are evident from the screen used to the lower-priced standard HSDPA radios. Only the camera remains the same, and this device won’t be upgraded to ICS. The L3 is almost the same, but sports a smaller screen and a 3.15MP camera. Both take the fight to the low-end, but with HTC’s One V taking up the reins where the Legend left, it’s going to be a very trying time for the “L” range.