LG Optimus 3D P920 review

The LG Optimus 3D P920 boasts the distinction of being the first smartphone to market with an admittedly cool gimmick – a display capable of rendering auto-stereoscopic 3D images thanks to parallax barrier sorcery.

It is clearly an entertainment-oriented device, but 3D aside, with a recommended retail price around R5,499, we wanted to find out if it’s any good as a phone.

On the outside

When first laying hands on the LG Optimus 3D you will immediately note the size and heft of the device. Measuring 128.8 x 68 x 11.9mm and weighing 168g it is certainly among the larger smartphones available.

Due to the size, despite being relatively slim, you best have deep pockets to carry around this phone. It did tend to be rather uncomfortable to sit with it in-pocket, and it even slipped out on a few occasions.

The ladies shouldn’t have too much trouble slipping it into their clutch purse while out on the town. If you are looking for a light and agile device to carry around, this might not suit those requirements.

The phone is likely rather thick, thanks to the two 5MP cameras on the rear which are used for 3D photography and filming. The lenses and LED flash are contained in a protruding steel strip in the top half of the phone and the cover of the lenses is slightly inset – which should prevent scratching.

The loud speaker is found on the rear as well, in the lower portion of the phone; it wasn’t the loudest we’ve heard, but it was acceptable.

LG Optimus 3D P920
LG Optimus 3D P920

The screen is a large 4.3-inch LCD capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 480×800 (16M colours, 217ppi). Above the screen are the earpiece speaker, the light and proximity sensor, and a 1.3MP camera for video calling.

Touch-response was good for the most part, but it did feel a little sluggish when interacting with the 3D menus.

It will dominate most palms when in use, but the large screen is a pleasure to work with. There were no complaints regarding resolution and clarity during 2D use.

As with most shiny touchscreens, it quickly accumulated greasy finger marks, and visibility wasn’t great in direct sunlight.

On the top and bottom edge of the screen are slightly raised metal strips, which aside fromm a stylish touch, presumably are intended to keep the screen from making contact with a surface if it laid screen-downwards.

The phone has rounded edges and the rear section (the entirety of which is also the battery cover) uses soft touch plastic. The battery cover comes off with ease – a simple lift with a finger nail.

With the battery in place, the SIM cannot be removed. Thankfully the MicroSD slot (supporting up to 32GB) is accessible meaning the memory cards can be swapped out while the phone remains on.

Although the cover clips back firmly, the plastic clips seem rather small and flimsy and makes one wonder if they will snap in future.

On the top edge you have the on/off/sleep button and 3.5mm headphone jack. Along the left is the micro-USB and mini-HDML ports, each covered with a flexible rubber tab – easily removed using a finger nail. On the right is the volume rocker and the dedicated 3D button that takes you into LG’s 3D zone.

LG Optimus 3D P920
LG Optimus 3D P920

On the inside

On the performance front, the LG Optimus 3D is no slouch, thanks to its Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 system-on-chip (Soc). The SoC features dual Cortex A9 cores, a dual channel DDR2 memory controller for the 512MB of RAM, and Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR SGX 540 graphics processor running around 300MHz.

For an in-depth performance analysis of the device, check out Anandtech’s benchmarking. Suffice to say, the LG Optimus 3D is one of the most powerful smartphones available right now.

Call quality was fine; no complaints here.

One of the biggest problems with the device is its battery life. With the day-to-day usage one would perform with a regular smartphone (browsing, e-mails, instant messaging, app market browsing, phone calls, etc) it lasted just long enough to make it home to the charging station in the evening.

Fire up the 3D gimmicks, and the battery life drastically decreases. When you rock up among your friends with a 3D capable phone, they all want to play with it, take and look at 3D photos and videos, and generally have their way with the device.

Altogether, you can maybe squeeze 6 hours of life out of it if you are a heavy 3D user.

The LG Optimus 3D ships with Android 2.2 Froyo, with an update to 2.3 Gingerbread supposedly on the horizon. This update is claimed to improve the battery-life situation, but we didn’t have chance to test that, and there is yet no sign of the update available in SA.

LG Optimus 3D P920
LG Optimus 3D P920

Software and 3D

On the software front, it’s largely standard Android all the way, with the LG Optimus UI unobtrusively pasted on top.

LG’s software keyboard is not the best but it gets the job done. The large screen helps with typing, but annoyingly the special characters are found on a second screen – a real hindrance if you are the type who likes to punctuate messages.

Obviously, the 3D capabilities of the phone are the star attraction, and there is a dedicated section for this – the ‘3D Space’. Pressing the hardware 3D button or accessing the widget whisks you off to a 3D UI, a carousel of icons for the various 3D things you can do.

There is the 3D guide (essentially a tutorial); the fun YouTube 3D; the 3D Gallery of videos and pictures; the 3D Camera software; and 3D Games & Apps.

Preloaded were a bunch of admittedly enthralling 3D videos which showed off the stereoscopic 3D capabilities to good effect. These will quickly wear thin though, and then it’s off to YouTube to find some more content. YouTube did seem to have a fair amount of content on offer, and I personally didn’t run out of clips to rummage through.

Preloaded games included NOVA, Let’s Golf 2 and Asphalt 6. My personal opinion on FPS games on mobile touchscreen-only devices is simple – they are terrible; 3D gimmick or not.

The golf game was about as much fun as a game of 3D golf can be, with plenty of tracking shots of the ball in flight to prove that things are indeed running in 3D. Asphalt 6 was a standard racing game, and really only had the 3D effects going for it.

On the app side, there were a few big name titles shoring up the store, such as Assassin’s Creed, and hopefully more will fill it out over time.

The question is, do you really want to be spending money on 3D games for a first generation 3D device? I wasn’t convinced, and I’m the type to blow a good R600+ on pointless collector’s editions of games.

LG Optimus 3D P920
LG Optimus 3D P920

When operating the LG Optimus 3D in 3D mode, you are required to keep stationary; a bit of movement in the head or hands throws the 3D effect out the window to be replaced with a blurred dual-image overlay. A bit of self-training and this gets easier over time, but it is one of the major limitations of the technology at this point.

The visuals also aren’t that great, with the resolution taking a knock with an interlacing effect when entering 3D mode. Using the Optimus 3D has given me new respect for the Nintendo 3DS.

The camera software is functional enough, and taking photos and recording videos in 3D is a simple point and shoot affair. The images come out rather well actually, relatively speaking – this is still a cell phone camera after all. Low-light situations produced a fair bit of noise, but in general, picture quality was acceptable enough for happy snap situations.

The 3D effect is most certainly there, and it’s convincing, albeit a bit shallow in depth. Unfortunately, we did not have the luxury of a tremendously expensive 3D television on which to playback our videos and pictures, which raises another point:

The Optimus 3D may only appeal to those who have the full 3D entertainment eco-system in their homes so they can fully enjoy its capture potential.

The added value of false (and fairly shallow) depth is questionable. While your brain can easily be tricked into perceiving an image with depth, I can’t honestly say that it adds a whole layer of value to the images of your friends and family. Still, maybe it’s worth being on the bleeding technological-edge while documenting your life, so that one day your kids can see great grandma is all her 3D glory.

Both images and videos are stored in a special file format, which essentially stores the two different frames in the same file. These can be extracted in future, should one wish to have only a 2D image, or if 3D home entertainment suddenly goes the way of the LaserDisc (sorry great grandma).

With 8GB of internal storage, you have enough to get you going, but it will soon fill up with 3D videos, pictures and games if you use the phone to its potential, and an additional MicroSD card would/will be needed.

Through LG’s SmartShare app, the Optimus 3D is also capable of DLNA streaming from networked devices, enabling you to watch or listen to content on your phone.

LG Optimus 3D P920
LG Optimus 3D P920

Conclusion

With a recommended retail price around the R5,499 mark, the LG Optimus 3D sneaks in cheaper than the likes of the Nokia N9, the iPhone 4, HTC Sensation and Galaxy SII – but it is still very firmly in the high-end of the price scale.

It is a full specced Android device with fun gimmick, although how long the fun lasts with the 3D will depend on the user. If you are shopping in that price range, it is certainly worth a look if you can deal with its shortcomings and the unexplored future of 3D capabilities on a smartphone.

However, it may be wise to see where this new avenue of technology leads and perhaps wait for a second generation of 3D phones that can (hopefully) manage power consumption better.

Optimus 3D Smartphone Key Specifications

  • 1GHz Dual-Core Dual-Channel processor (Texas Instruments OMAP4)
  • 4.3-inch 3D WVGA screen
  • 8GB memory and 4Gb LP DDR2
  • 1,500 mAh battery
  • 5MP dual-lens camera
  • 2D: 1080p MPEG-4/H.264 recording and playback
  • 3D: 720p H.264 SEI recording and playback
  • HSPA+, DLNA/HDMI 1.4
  • H.264, H.263, DivX, MKV, WMV-9, ASF, AVI, 3GP, MP4

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LG Optimus 3D P920 review