LG hasn’t had the best of luck when it comes to smartphones. The company has delivered decent, value for money Android phones in the past, with the Optimus One P500 being one of the more popular ones, but only with moderate success. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and seeing the success Samsung has achieved with the Galaxy Note, LG has decided to take that route in hopes of wooing some undecided customers. The Optimus Vu is by no means an ordinary smartphone; in fact, we doubt it even qualifies as one, or even a phablet for that matter.
Design and build
Unlike the Galaxy Note, which still maintains its 16:9 aspect ratio, the Optimus Vu sports a 4:3 aspect ratio. Any sense of ergonomics goes for a toss here when you pack a 5-inch screen with this aspect ratio. The Vu is terribly uncomfortable to hold as you have to really stretch your hand across for a good grip. You can pretty much forget about one handed usage here as there’s always the fear of you dropping it. It also feels really strange in your pocket and we wouldn’t be surprised if the corners were to bore holes in your pocket over time. It’s quite a heavy phone too at 168 g, which adds to the discomfort. The 5-inch HD-IPS display surprisingly does not have an HD resolution. A resolution of 1024 x 768 on such a large screen is not the best when you compare it to the 4X HD from LG, which had a 4.7-inch HD screen.
Inspired by a hip flask?
Our second biggest gripe with the Vu is the poor build quality. The plastics and the fake chrome trim just feel tacky, not what you’d expect on a phone costing upwards of 30K. Besides the volume and power button, there’s a very flimsy flap for the microSIM and a dedicated button to activate QuickMemo. This essentially takes a screenshot of your current screen and lets you write on it with the bundled stylus. Like the S Pen, LG calls the stylus a Rubberdium, which seems to use the similar inductive technology as it won’t work on any other phone. The pen is a lot thicker than the S Pen so it’s more comfortable to hold like a real pen. The trouble is that there’s no place to tether it to your phone. Given the thickness of the phone, we feel LG could have easily made some provision to slot the stylus in.
The rear camera and flash
The Vu has a row of four capacitive buttons below the screen—the first three being the same as the ones on the Galaxy Nexus and the fourth one being the ‘Option’ menu. The design and build leaves a lot to be desired and sadly, this is one area where LG has a long way to go before it can even think of competing with the likes of HTC.
Like many of the newer handsets, the Optimus Vu comes with Android 4.0.4 and LG's own Optimus UI. The UI is similar to what we saw on the 4X HD; it is functional and simple to use. The new lockscreen gets a cool little animation and you can unlock it by sliding your finger anywhere on the screen. The toggle switches in the notification bar are a nice touch and you can even edit, add and replace them. The colourful icon set and layout of the menu look an awful lot like Samsung’s TouchWiz UI.
A familiar interface
Since we’ve covered all the features of the UI in the Optimus 4X HD review, we’ll jump to the new one and that’s the QuickMemo app. You can activate it by simply pressing the shortcut key on the top. This lets you either write directly on the screen that’s captured or switch the background to that of a notepad. You can choose between different pen styles, colours, crop the screen to a certain section and then share it via email or any other means. The stylus has only one level of sensitivity and does not react to pressure like the S Pen does. It’s just a feature that’s been added in order to compete with the Note more than anything else.
The QuickMemo app for the Rubberdium
The UI is otherwise very smooth with hardly any lags or slowdowns. The Vu is powered by an Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC so you get four CPU cores and twelve GPU cores. This makes it ideal for gaming and you can really take advantage of some of the games that are optimised for the Tegra 3 SoC, like Dead Trigger. Speaking of apps, most of them (especially games) will overflow beyond the screen limits. To compensate for this, LG has included an app that automatically fits the apps to the aspect of the Vu. This means you’ll have to deal with unnecessary black bars around the app, which isn’t the best of experiences.
The music player is quite simple and straightforward to use. Your music can be sorted according to the usual assortment including folder view. There’s Dolby Mobile for audio enhancement that can be toggled on and off. This makes quite a bit of difference in the audio quality but only works when the headphones are connected. The speaker around the back is plenty loud for alerts as well as listening to music or watching a movie.
Media playback is good
The video player comes packed with some nifty features like a video preview when seeking forward or backwards. If you want to skip ahead in the video, you now get a little pop-up preview of the scene at that particular time while your current video plays. This works very well for files up to 720p, as 1080p files stutter a bit when you use this feature. The video player also supports DivX HD, so overall, it’s quite feature packed.
The Optimus Vu is a quad band GSM and 3G handset. You also get Wi-Fi, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, and last but not least, NFC. LG also bundles along three programmable NFC tags that can be used in conjunction with the Tag+ app. You can stick these tags in your car, at home or at work and program each of them to automate certain tasks. Browsing the web is a better experience thanks to the wider aspect ratio. This is probably the only area where the 4:3 display makes sense.
Good for web browsing
The phone comes with an Application Manager, a Backup App that lets you back up your downloaded apps, bookmarks, calendar, call log, contacts, messages and system settings onto the internal memory or the SD card. The Media Home works as a hub for your videos, photos and music. We also have a Task Manager to free up some additional memory. The other apps include LG’s SmartShare for DLNA streaming, LG SmartWorld, LG RemoteCall for diagnosis and Memo.
You get an 8MP shooter, similar to the one on the 4X HD, along with an LED flash. We found the touch to focus system a bit daft though. Once you touch an area to focus on, you expect the camera to capture the still after pressing the shutter button, but it simply tries to focus again. This way you end up with a badly focused image most of the time. After a little trial and error, we managed to get some decent outdoor macro shots. The level of detail captured is good but not the best. HDR mode works very well too as you can see from the second sample image; the camera was able to stitch both the photos very well together.
Decent close-up shots
HDR mode works well
Video recording at 1080p @30fps is possible and there is ample image stabilisation while recording. The video also has live effects that provide silly faces such as big mouth, big eyes and backgrounds to your shots, similar to stock ICS.
Despite the large size of the phone, LG has fitted the Vu with just a 2,080mAh battery. In our video drain test, the battery lasted for 7 hours and 10 minutes; it's not bad, but LG could have done a lot better. Under heavy use though, the phone does drain a lot quicker and won’t last you for an entire day.
Verdict and Price in India
With a price tag of Rs. 34,990, the LG Optimus Vu is one expensive phone and quite frankly, doesn’t make sense at all. You can find it online for as low as Rs. 30,000 but this is still quite expensive. Our main issue is the form factor and while it may suit web browsing, it’s terribly inconvenient for both apps as well as ergonomics. What we don’t get is that the 4X HD from LG has a better feature set than the Vu (dual-band Wi-Fi, higher ppi screen and expandable storage) and is lighter and a lot cheaper, so why would anyone spend nearly 8K more for some inconvenience? The Vu was a bad idea right from the drawing board, and it doesn’t seem like LG has learnt anything as the Vu II is somewhat similar in design, except for the internals.
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