LG Optimus Vu - Larger Than Life

Launch SRP: S$768

Performance & Conclusion

Smartphone Performance

The Optimus Vu initially came with a dual-core processor but has since been updated to the NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor alongside 1GB of RAM. These specs and its 5.0-inch screen place the device as a high-end 'phablet', taking its rightful place alongside other quad-core devices like the Galaxy S III, HTC One X and LG Optimus 4X HD. For reference, we would be using the older dual-core 5.3-inch Galaxy Note as a benchmark for all these devices.

As usual, we subjected the review unit to the Quadrant benchmark, which can be found on Google Play. To gauge how it performed against the competition, we matched its scores against a mixture of devices using dual/quad-core processors such as the LG Optimus 4X HD, Samsung Galaxy Note II LTEHTC One X and Galaxy Note. For those who are unfamiliar with the Quadrant benchmark used below, it evaluates the CPU, memory, I/O, and 3D graphics of Android devices.
 

Test Phones Compared
Device LG Optimus
VU
LG Optimus 4X HD

Samsung Galaxy Note II LTE

HTC One X Samsung Galaxy Note
CPU Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core 1.5GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core 1.5GHz Exynos 4412 Quad
quad-core 1.6GHz
NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core 1.5GHz ARM Cortex-A9 Exynos dual-core 1.4GHz
GPU 12-core GeForce Mali-400MP 12-core GeForce Mali-400MP
RAM 1GB 1GB 2GB 1GB 1GB
OS Google Android 4.0 Google Android 4.0 Google Android 4.1 Google Android 4.0 Google Android 2.3.5 (Updated to 4.0)

 

The LG Optimus VU scored an impressive 4627, overtaking both the LG Optimus 4X HD and HTC One X. All three devices feature the same Tegra 3 chip clocked at 1.5GHz, with the LG Optimus Vu and 4X HD sharing same specs as seen in the comparison table above. We attribute the Optimus Vu's much higher score to the possibility of enhanced LG software and UI on its part, since both handsets run on Android 4.0. On the other hand, the HTC One X and the Optimus VU share somewhat similar scores, with the former gaining chalking up a score of 4025. Of course, the Samsung Galaxy S Note III reigned supreme with its powerful Exynos quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM.

Raw benchmarking results aside, the LG Optimus VU, like its 4X HD sibling, ran extremely smooth in actual usage and had absolutely no problems rendering pages or running graphic-intensive apps like Temple Run or popular games like Angry Birds. The phone's lag-free performance, brisk day-to-day user experience and blazing fast web loading definitely contributed to a positive user experience.

 

Imaging Performance

The new LG Optimus Vu comes with a 8.0-megapixel camera and a standard 1.3-megapixel front camera. This is of course, congruent with its high-end specs. The camera software for the Optimus Vu is pretty standard fare, showcasing 4 customizable shortcut buttons and a settings tab. The latter allows access to the same pool of settings but is presumably reserved for opening up less popular options like shutter sound, swap camera and so forth. There are two standout camera features that comes with the VU, which are namely the Cheese Shot and Time Action Shot. The Cheese Shot function is, well, as what it is named - the shutter activates when the subject (if near enough) or the photographer shouts "cheese". This worked accurately indoors in a moderately quiet environment but not quite so in noisy places with high human traffic. Time Action Shot captures extra still footage at 1-2 seconds before and after the capture button is pressed. Both prove to be pretty useful especially in terms of minimizing hand shakes.


Images captured on the Optimus Vu showcased white-washed, overly red colors with moderate levels of details. We attribute this to perhaps, a not-so-intelligent white balance system. Aside the haziness spotted in our indoor photo, we noticed a strange green hue in the middle of the photo.The level of noise was a little too high for our liking, so much so that they were pretty visible even without zooming in. Overall, we found that the camera performance was slightly below expectations.




Video & Browsing Experience

The phablet-sized devices starting picking up the pace once again with the release of the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note in late 2011. When the Optimus Vu was first unveiled at MWC this year, it was yet another addition that belonged to the same growing pool of phablet devices. Soon after, the Optimus Vu II successor and the Galaxy Note II were announced. These gadgets have paved the way for a flood of upcoming 5.0-inch smartphone devices, in an era where bigger is better.

The big difference between the Optimus Vu and these devices is not just cosmetic (squarish form factor quite like an e-book reader) or UI-centric. The big difference is in the Vu's 4:3 screen aspect ratio, which is an oddity since most smartphone devices stick with the widescreen 16:9 format. The 4:3 ratio is primed for reading, no doubt, but not quite so for viewing widescreen clips, even for popular video sharing website YouTube. The 16:9 widescreen ratio has been the preferred option for videos as it conforms very well to current video standards. Thus, while using the Vu to watch videos, you will have to contend with distracting "letterheading" that occurs as seen in the screen shots below. On the other hand, this screen format allows you to browse the internet with more readability and will be handy e-book usage. As such, how you use the device or what you intend to do, makes or breaks your experience with the LG Optimus Vu. It's a choice you'll have to make prior to purchasing the device.







The Aspect Ratio Correction feature might be a nifty one for those who prefer their games to maintain the original widescreen aspect ratio but in all honesty, we had no troubles playing or using apps in the default 4:3 aspect ratio. Plus, there weren't any annoying black letterheads to contend with.

While we're still on the topic of the display, thankfully the quality of its IPS screen is relatively high, one that delivers quite the same experience as its LG Optimus 4X HD cousin. Picture clarity and quality is on the high side, with crisp details, good viewing angles with adequate brightness even under sunlight.  

 

Battery Mileage

Using the same 480 x 800 pixels resolution video that we use across all our mobile device battery tests, we set the same test parameters which includes having the video looped under the following conditions:

  • Brightness and volume at 100%
     
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
     
  • Constant data streaming through email and Twitter
     
Test Phones Compared
Specifications/Device LG Optimus VU LG Optimus 4X HD Samsung Galaxy Note II LTE HTC One X Samsung Galaxy Note
Processor
  • Quad-core 1.5GHz
  • Quad-core 1.5GHz
  • Quad-core 1.6GHz
  • Quad-core 1.5GHz
  • Dual-core 1.4GHz
Display Size
  • 5.0-inch
  • 4.7-inch
  • 5.5-inch
  • 4.7-inch
  • 5.3-inch
Display Type
  • HD-IPS LCD
  • HD-IPS LCD
  • HD Super AMOLED
  • Super LCD 2
  • HD Super AMOLED
Display Resolution
  • 1024 x 768 pixels
  • 1280 x 720 pixels
  • 1280 x 720 pixels
  • 1280 x 720 pixels
  • 1280 x 800 pixels
Dimensions
  • 139.6 x 90.4 x 8.5 mm
  • 132.4 x 68.1 x 9.19mm
  • 151 x 81 x 9.4mm
  • 134.36 x 69.9 x 8.9mm
  • 146.85 x 82.95 x 9.65mm
Weight
  • 168g
  • 141g
  • 180g
  • 130g
  • 178g
Battery
  • 2080mAh
  • 2100mAh
  • 3100mAh
  • 2150mAh
  •  2500mAh


The LG Optimus VU didn't fare well on our battery tests, quite like its 4X HD sibling. In fact, both shared remarkably close results with the former coming in at 245 minutes and the latter closing in at 280 minutes. Unsurprising of course, since the only obvious reason for this is because the Optimus Vu shares the same energy-sapping HD IPS touch screen but at a bigger 5.0-inch size.

Do note that due to its odd 4:3 aspect ratio, it is unfair to say it is just slightly bigger than say, a 4.8-inch, widescreen aspect ratio Galaxy S III. These screen measurements were taken diagonally and suffice to say, a 5-inch screen with a 16:9 screen aspect ratio will not have the same screen area as one with a 4:3 aspect ratio. As a point of reference, we took the measurements of a 4.8-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio device and the Vu. And just as we iterated, the LG Optimus Vu has a 20% greater screen area (10.2cm x 7.7cm) than the former (10.7cm x 6.1cm). With a bigger screen area to power, it is obvious why the LG Optimus Vu didn't fare as well as the others. As a point of reference, the Optimus Vu goes up to 650nits at maximum brightness, which is about twice the level of brightness even for laptops. This will definitely factor in when it comes to its low battery life.

While its battery capacity is slightly higher than the 4X HD, it is obvious that it didn't compensate much in terms of mileage. Compared to its AMOLED-touting competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Note II, it certainly didn't match up to par with its 769 minutes' worth of battery life. And just like Samsung, this LG device refuses to run our test any further beyond the 4 to 5% mark to conserve battery.

The results are likewise replicated in the portability index (battery to volume ratio). Despite being the lightest out of the phablets in this comparison, the LG Optimus Vu came out last in this index - unsurprising of course, due to its low battery life performance and high battery consumption.

Other than the above formal usage based tests, we observed that the phone could last through a working day, with emails and Twitter feeds pushed constantly to it when using the phone in a casual manner for day-to-day needs. Other activities included occasional web surfing and phone calls. It is highly advisable to charge the device before leaving the office and when you are back at home. To conserve battery, do keep the brightness to a minimal level as its not-so-energy-efficient IPS panel will definitely consume a lot of unnecessary battery. We find that this does help prolong the battery life by a substantial amount.

 

Conclusion

The Optimus VU is frankly, a reasonable quad-core device with smooth performance, save for its dismal battery performance. Otherwise, it is probably Samsung's next best competitor and that in itself, being in close proximity in comparison with an extremely popular flagship device, has definitely cast a shadow over the device's potential popularity. Of course the extremely late availability of the device doesn't help it any better and probably hurt its relevance (and sales) quite a fair bit.

Sure, there are things about the Vu that we didn't really fancy, but we felt they could be improved upon. For instance, the fact that the stylus should have been incorporated into the phone's build and that the camera performance was a lackluster. Its unusual 4:3 screen ratio might not pander to everyone's tastes, especially given its squarish form, but it works well for those looking to double up the device as a reading/note-taking gadget. On the plus side, its Note function and user interface offer a generally positive experience that's easy to transit to, especially if you have previously used an Android device.

The major dent in its performance, as we have mentioned earlier, is in its less than stellar battery life. At 245 minutes, it is much lesser than its direct competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Note II, who stands at a grand total of 769 minutes. We suspect that its 5.0-inch IPS panel is the main culprit here (as it was on the LG Optimus 4X HD) but mercifully, the display performs splendidly, showcasing crisp details, high levels of details and clarity.

At a RRP of S$768 (with a free specially designed leather case while stocks last), the Optimus Vu is reasonably priced compared to the rest of the 5.0-inch and above contenders. But of course, if you are planning to opt for an LTE-ready device, the Samsung Galaxy Note II LTE ($998) and Galaxy Note LTE (only sold with an existing plan 1, 2, 3) are your best phablet options. However, if you are not specifically looking for a phablet device and are willing to settle for options with smaller screen sizes, there are plenty other Android options around.

7.5
Design
7.5
Features
8
User-Friendliness
8.5
Performance
7.5
Value
8
The Good
More real estate
Bright and crisp HD IPS screen
User-friendly UI
Excellent performance
The Bad
Lackluster battery performance
Camera performance needs improvement
Width of device is very wide
Very late market availability