While the hardware used on the Optimus G is clearly high-end, if somewhat polarizing in design, the software experience is decidedly underwhelming for a flagship phone. LG's shipping this unit with Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which is now two full point releases behind the most recent build of Android Jelly Bean. We understand that it's difficult to completely sync up with Google's release schedule. And LG has made clear that it's intending to update this handset to at least Android 4.1 in time, but LG's track record in this department is less than stellar, and given the carrier attachment, that's an additional layer of QA testing that'll likely hold things up.
What does this mean for end users? It means they're paying a premium price for a premium phone, but they won't have access to all of the goodness Jelly Bean has to offer. Mostly, that's the lack of Google Now, which is a killer feature that'll be missed by those that may have experienced it on a pal's phone or a Nexus tablet. With no time table in place for Android 4.1+ to arrive on the Optimus G though, we're forced to take the software as it is.
As with most other Android device builders, LG has placed a light skin atop Ice Cream Sandwich. It's a mixed bag, with several useful additions and a few that left us wanting. On the plus side, LG has a great scrolling settings bar in the drop-down menu, which make it quick and easy to access virtually any setting on the device. There's also a QuickMemo option, which allows you to scribble and save notes with your finger or a stylus. There's also a "Quiet Time" setting which works almost exactly like Apple's "Do Not Disturb" feature, enabling notifications and buzzes to be silenced during designated time periods.
The "Wise Screen" feature prevents the phone's display from falling asleep when your face is looking at it, and it supports wireless video streaming to an LG Miracast dongle should you own one. There's also an NFC chip here, but sadly, Google Wallet isn't supported. The usual litany of AT&T bloatware is included, but thankfully, they don't seem to have too huge an impact on performance. Speaking of performance, there's a switch in the settings menu that'll flip the CPU down a notch in order to conserve power, which is nice for those times when access to a charger isn't available.
One of the major downsides is the overall look of the UI. LG's design language is somewhat bland in our opinion. The icons look almost cartoonish, and really don't serve to add any real style. The built-in widgets are also unimpressive. Compared to something like HTC's Sense, there's just a lot less substance found in LG's Android skin. None of this serves to have a negative impact on use, and you can still pick up something like HD Widgets to spice things up a bit, but it all leads us to one point that we just can't ignore: LG also makes the Nexus 4.
Unfortunately for the Optimus 4G, the Nexus 4 is available (for less money) with pure Android 4.2. The software found on the Nexus 4 is much better than what's included on the Optimus G, and since it's a Nexus device, it will always be first in line to receive updates from Google as well. In terms of software, the Nexus 4 is clearly the better option.