The latest flagship smartphone from LG, the Optimus G, is no laughing matter. Past LG handsets have been lackluster, but don’t let that stop you from considering the Optimus G as a potential next phone. It’s a bold new step for the company that I wholly endorse. From my short time with the phone thus far, I’m impressed. But can it unseat our current king, the Samsung Galaxy S III?

With the holidays coming around and the last batch of smartphones releasing in just under a month I wouldn’t recommend anyone just go out and buy the Galaxy S III today. That’s not to say you’ll be disappointed, because you surely won’t. There’s a reason why Samsung’s flagship is both the best-selling and most popular Android phone on the marketplace. Our savvy readers know, of course, that those who are patient are more often happier. They don’t buy products that ship broken, sell on day one with problems, or end up only marketing fluff.

So which is the best device? Unlike our comparison earlier this week, which we didn’t have hands-on time with both models, this time I’ve personally reviewed the Galaxy S III and have two different Optimus G models on-hand. So let the comparison begin!

Size

There doesn’t seem to be a major difference between the Galaxy S III (GS3) and Optimus G in terms of size, but hold both and it becomes abundantly clear that the two couldn’t be more different. The GS3 is sleek, thin, and both looks and feels like a futuristic phone, and that’s partly due to the large size but still relatively small impact. Not so with the Optimus G, which is a Siberian tiger compared to Samsung’s bobcat. The Optimus G both looks and feels like a brick in the hand, but in a manly, “yeah, this is my phone” sort of way.

The screen sizes are only slightly different, 4.8″ for the GS3 versus 4.7″ on the Optimus G, but the real size difference is in bulk and width. With .1″ less screen size diagnolly, the Optimus G is actually wider and has more pixels going across as well, as you’ll see in the display section below. This makes it too big to use one-handed, but not too tall, which is a perplexing change of pace for Android phones. That’s not to say it’s better or worse. It’s just different.

Out of all of these things, the only one that really makes a difference is the weight, and that’s where Samsung’s phone is miles ahead of LG. The GS3 is 133 grams; the Optimus G is 145g. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you hold the two phones in your hand, the difference in weight is astonishing. The LG phone feels heavier because of its size as well, which doesn’t help in the hand or the pocket.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which is thinner and lighter.

Appearance

As I mentioned earlier, the GS3 looked and looks stunning, at least from a distance. The relatively cheap-feeling plastic shell gave it the appearance of grandeur, which in this bout is all that’s necessary. And the Optimus G? Depending on the model you get, it will look how you feel after eating two meals at McDonald’s and hating yourself, or it will look like a standard smartphone.

That’s because here in the US there are two models, one for Sprint and the other for AT&T. In a strange twist the Sprint model is identical to what everyone else in the world gets: a sleek, cut handset that’s thin around the edges and almost looks elegant, if you let it. It may be big, but it looks pretty good for a smartphone.

Not so with AT&T. Their changes make the phone thicker around, add on a textured top and bottom, all with a slapped-on AT&T logo on the back and an utter lack of class. As much as it pains me to say, the two phones side by side look and feel like twins separated at birth, one in the US and one in Europe. Guess which is which? Then again, these twins aren’t ugly, but they’re 5′s compared to Samsung’s 9. Or, well, maybe an 8. It has smart curves, a solid build for a glossy plastic panel, and is shiny in all the right ways. LG just can’t compare.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which looks sleeker, more streamlined, and isn’t a fat buffoon from any distance.

Display

Ahh, the good stuff. The Optimus G has an IPS panel that boasts a strange 15:9 aspect ratio, but with a display resolution you’ve likely heard before: 1280×768. If that sounds familiar, it’s because most 720p TV sets support up to 1366×768 when you plug a computer in. Don’t ask me why. And frankly, the extra 48 pixels across do very little for the phone’s display, but as they say, you can never get enough pixels.

What actually makes the Optimus G stand out is that it uses an IPS panel, compared to the GS3′s decent but relatively weak SuperAMOLED Pentile display. The reason the GS3 doesn’t really compare is screen brightness is way down, even if overall contrast is higher. The Pentile system, which uses an RGBG (that’s red-green-blue-green) pixel system (instead of traditional RGB) looks good, but not great. Samsung was able to get away with it because the screen was so dense that nobody could notice how actually terrible it was, which is brilliant. Think about it: they defeated the human eye from noticing an odd design that makes no sense compared to competing technologies!

LG doesn’t have that problem and uses a more traditional IPS screen which is extremely bright, provides great color and light contrast, and is actually visible in sunlight. Oh, and don’t forget it has more pixels.

Winner: LG Optimus G, which provides better overall picture quality with an IPS panel. And it has more pixels.

Operating System

Both phones run Android 4.0, though in Korea the GS3 already has 4.1 running. We’re expecting a worldwide release of Jelly Bean on the GS3 sometime this month. Or not. Who knows with these crazy release dates.

For the time being, the major difference between both operating systems are the extras that Samsung and LG have built into their respective phones. The GS3 includes some extras, but is pretty clean in spite of Samsung’s worse judgment. LG on the other hand has taken “optimization” to another level, but I must admit in a lot of useful ways. The drop-down menu includes the same quick-menu functions, but they’re completely customizable. The four apps on the bottom that stay with you on every homescreen page actually houses up to six apps. Swiping between pages, depending on which model, offers several very clean and pleasant graphics. I especially enjoy the lock-screen, which by default acts like a portal into the phone that you have to swipe to open.

Then there are the excessives, but they’re on both devices. App organization on the Optimus G is more confounding, but that’s a relatively moot point. LG simply offers more customization, and if there’s anything that Android users love, it’s exactly that.

Winner: LG Optimus G, which offers a lot more customization, though the OS is the same.

Processor

Putting the GS3 against the Optimus G head to head in processing power is like using a bald eagle for a cock fight. It just isn’t fair, and everyone knows it. Well, you may not know it, but the engines in these two phones are a generation apart, and we all know how much of a gap that can create. The first benchmarks I’ve taken of the Optimus G are anywhere from 20% to 150% faster than the GS3. Web browsing is only slightly better, but graphical performance and raw computing power are so much faster on the Optimus G that the chicken knows it’s cooked. Pun intended.

Winner: LG Optimus G, which uses the newest generation Qualcomm Krait processor which is anywhere from 20%-150% faster than the one in the GS3.

Storage

Normally I’d skip this one altogether, considering that the GS3 and Optimus G both have expandable memory and ship 16GB models. Except for one little detail: the Optimus G ships with 32GB of storage. Well, if you’re on Sprint or not in the US. If that’s the case, then you don’t get expandable memory, but for the same price you get double the space, while we’re still waiting for Samsung to release a 64GB model sometime in the near future (it’s available from some retailers, but none that I would trust).

And the AT&T model? It comes with 16GB plus a MicroSD card slot, so users can get a total of 48GB. The GS3 has a MicroSD card slot too, so it has the same maximum, but the difference of course is on the Sprint/World version you get 32GB for $200 versus 16GB on AT&T with a fatter, uglier phone, that has expandable storage.

Which is better? I’d rather have 32GB with no MicroSD card, but that’s just me. Android isn’t particularly good at managing storage properly between internal and external memory, and I’ve rarely found need to go above 32GB on an Android phone even with a ton of music, movies, and apps. Heck, I don’t do that on my iPhone. And internal memory is always better because it’s faster…but it’s ultimately dependent on what you do with your phone.

Winner: Tie, because they offer the same type of storage, and the Sprint 32GB model will likely be enough for users on the Now network.

Camera

Based on the testing I’ve done, in general the Optimus G does not have that great of a camera. it’s 13MP, compared to the GS3′s 8MP, but everyone should know by now pixel count means less than nothing when it comes to picture quality.

Then again, the one smart thing AT&T did with their model was used an 8MP sensor, which does two things: it makes picture quality clearer and keeps the lens inside the frame of the phone. Sadly for LG, this helps but not enough. The GS3 has one of the best cameras of any smartphone, as we’ve seen in the past with our extensive camera comparisons, and the Optimus G just doesn’t do the more powerful phone justice. We’ll have a full comparison of the cameras shortly.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which provides better quality photos no matter which Optimus G model you’re comparing it to.

Battery Life

Both handsets feature 2100 mAh batteries, and you would think that the latest Krait processor in the Optimus G would be optimized for battery life, but the sad fact is that it isn’t. Well, unless you select the phone to throttle itself and go into the hippie “eco” mode. Selecting this non-default mode boosts battery life so much that it practically doubles it. Without “eco” active, the Optimus G drops about 10% of battery life every hour fifteen, even idling. That’s pretty bad.

Meanwhile the GS3 offers exceptional battery life with no user help. Sure, the processor isn’t nearly as powerful, but put LG’s “eco” mode on and the two are much, much closer in benchmark performance. And this is all very surprising, because one would expect that while a more powerful processor requires more power to run, it also doesn’t need to actually process data as long because it does it faster. So, in a sense – *puts on glasses* – the Optimus G isn’t optimized. Yes, I used that pun twice. I regret nothing.

What’s more important however is battery life with “eco” active, and frankly the Optimus G runs for a long, long time. It does as well as the GS3. I haven’t completed my barrage of battery tests just yet, but there’s one reason that Samsung wins this contest of longevity, and that’s the default standard and additional complexity that LG is introducing. Having a high-end mode is fine, but that shouldn’t be the default standard. Most users won’t even know how to turn it on or off, or even what it means. That’s just wasteful.

Winner: Galaxy S III, because while both offer fairly equal battery life, the GS3 does so normally. The Optimus G has to be set to do so, doesn’t do so by default, and that’s a level of complexity most smartphone users don’t ever want to deal with.

Carriers

Ouch, this one’s easy. The Optimus G is stuck on Sprint and AT&T. Meanwhile, the GS3 is on all four major carriers and pretty much all smaller carriers as well.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which supports all carriers.

Price

Both handsets sell/will sell for $200, though since the GS3 has been out for a few months there is an expected price drop closer to the holidays. Don’t bet on being so lucky with the Optimus G, since it isn’t even out yet. Slated for November 4, you’ll be lucky to get it at any discount. Plus, a quick search will reveal that you can already get the GS3 at a discount with some carriers.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which is available for less and will be even cheaper when the holidays finally come around.

Overall Winner

The scores are close. LG has done a tremendous job with the Optimus G, though corners were cut, or in this case, grew. Some of it isn’t LG’s fault. The fatter AT&T model is just because Ma Bell has this urge to be different to the extent of being a hipster.  In the case of the camera they made the right call, but everything else — from thicker hardware to more bloatware — is just too much.

What sets the Optimus G apart is its breakneck speed, the sort that just isn’t available on any device today. That’ll change in the coming month, but likely won’t come to too many phones because we’ve already run through the summer releases. So if you want the absolute fastest phone, the Optimus G is it. It also has a really great screen, which for a phone that may turn into your media player, is far more important than anything else we compared.

Ultimately though, the Optimus G is worse but only ever so slightly. Samsung just built a better phone. It has a smarter design, it’s more comfortable regardless of hand size, it’s lighter and feels better, and it does all that without making the user fix things. But the Optimus G is really quite close. The few areas that it loses in are slight. From my use thus far, I would recommend it for purchase, and with a few weeks before release there may be some changes to the software that improve on the overall device. We’ll have to wait and see.

The point is you can’t go wrong with either device. Both the Optimus G and Samsung Galaxy S III are great devices. Samsung’s is better, but LG’s is newer. Make your choice starting from there.



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.