General Performance, Camera and Battery Life
Now that the specifics are out of the way, let's talk performance. The 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor is a powerful SoC, and the inclusion of 2GB of RAM is another plus. While downloading a dozen apps, we were still able to flip across home screens, sort icons in folders and generally hop into and out of anything we wanted without so much as a stutter. We viewed HD videos, threw a game or two into the mix, and never really found a way to make this phone feel slow. Not surprising given that there really aren't any more powerful SoCs shipping at the moment in mobile phones.
The 8MP rear camera with LED flash is actually one of the better ones in the Android space. Quality and sharpness were above average, and the ability to take multiple shots without experiencing much shutter lag was impressive. There's also an incredible amount of options in the Camera app. You can adjust the scene mode, flash, exposure, and effects, while the "Modes" screen lets you select Panorama, Multi-shot, Timed shots and HDR.
One of our biggest gripes with iOS 6 was Apple's refusal to open up more advanced options in its camera app; it's great to see LG (and most other Android OEMs, truthfully) going against that grain and providing shooters with far more tools. It should be noted that stock images look a tad bit flat in terms of color saturation, but inbuilt editing help pull out the colors and generally makes them "pop" without too much effort.
Even in dim lighting, the Optimus G camera held its own. The only major gripe we had was the omission of a hardware shutter button. With many Android and Windows Phone products, as well as iPhones with iOS 6, there's an option to use a dedicated shutter key or the volume rocker. But on this phone, you have to tap the screen to capture an image, which introduces a subtle but notable amount of camera shake, particularly when trying to capture an image in low lighting. The only silver lining is the option to say a handful of "cheese" phrases, allowing voice to snap the shutter as well.
As for call quality it's outstanding. We tested mobile-to-mobile calls an they were clear and loud throughout. It's also worth praising AT&T's LTE network. It's easily quicker than many home broadband connections, which in turn makes it super easy to blow through your monthly data allowance. A major question, though, is how the LTE network will stand up now that the iPhone supports LTE and millions of additional devices are going to be taking advantage of it. Also, AT&T's LTE network is far smaller than Verizon's LTE network, but the company is planning to double its reach in 2013. Better late than never, we suppose.
You may remember how the introduction of the iPhone 3G, 3GS and 4 put AT&T's 3G network in a world of hurt, particularly in major areas like New York City and San Francisco. There's little doubt that more devices on LTE will saturate those towers more and degrade performance overall for everyone, but only time will tell just how bad it gets. Hopefully, all of the major carriers have had enough time to properly ramp up for the onslaught.
As for battery life, it's not great. The quad-core SoC in this phone can be a real power hog. Yes, there's an option in the settings to throttle things back in the name of battery life, but we ran our standard test with things left wide open.
In average use, which includes browsing the web, checking social networks, sifting through e-mails, making a few calls, navigating to a few nearby locations and just generally enjoying the spoils of having Instagram and Foursquare at our fingertips, we were able to get around 16 hours of use. Lighter, more casual users could easily get through a full day, and perhaps two full work days if you don't use an app like Navigation which keeps the display on for an extended period of time.
On a more measured note, we put the phone through our typical browser refresh test, which loads a page automatically every three minutes. Display brightness was set to 50%, while LTE was flipped on and social networks and e-mails were set to refresh every 15 to 30 minutes. As you can see in the chart above, it outperformed the Spectrum, but fell short of the flagship Galaxy S III, HTC One X and HTC Arrive. Still, for a phone with this much horsepower, its battery life is pretty solid.