The LG Optimus 3D isn’t the first gadget with a 3D screen that doesn’t require glasses, but it is the first phone and, as such, the first 3D device you’ll carry everywhere. Nintendo has been receiving criticism over its screen, so LG is likely to find itself having to explain away reports of headache-inducing eye strain. Perhaps this explains why the HTC EVO 3D has been delayed. LG is clearly aware of potential issues, too, given the warning notices that appear when you enable the 3D mode. You can turn the warning off, otherwise you’ll be told every time to stop using the 3D mode if you start to get a headache or eye strain.
Before continuing any further, there’s an important thing to make clear. The 3D mode is something you must enable, either from the 3D Space app or the 3D button on the side of the phone. The device doesn’t operate in 3D mode all the time, nor will it ever do so (the UI is the normal Android one, with LG’s own S-Class UI on top).
For normal use, in landscape or portrait mode, it looks much like LG’s other dual-core smartphone, the Optimus 2X, with the notable difference being the 3D camera on the rear.
LG Optimus 3D: 3D capabilities
Just like buying a 3D TV, you probably won’t use the 3D capabilities all the time. Besides the reduced brightness that comes with the way the screen works, you have to also compromise the resolution, as the screen gets divided up via a parallax barrier that ensures every column of pixels is alternated to be seen by the left or right eye. On that basis, it’s not such a silly idea to consider this phone, even if you’re not desperate to experience 3D all the time, or consider the usage of 3D to be minimal. Despite waning interest in paying more money to watch a film in 3D, the phone does make it possible to do much more. You can play games, as well as enjoy your own 3D photos and videos. If the 4.3-inch screen isn’t big enough, you can output 3D to your 3D television, too. LG has bundled a number of games on the LG Optimus 3D, with more available to download from Gameloft, which seems to have gone 3D mad. Let’s Golf! 2, Asphalt 6 and N.O.V.A. (Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance) come pre-loaded and are the full versions, not time-limited demos. The level of 3D (depth) is adjustable to try to reduce the effects of eye strain. Likewise, the gallery app (for both pictures and video) allows you to adjust the level too, but for YouTube you’re stuck with the standard setup.
LG Optimus 3D: Ideal conditions
Once you’ve adjusted the 3D depth, it should all be fine, right? Well, when I took the phone out of the box and used it in the office, as well as showing it off to colleagues (it certainly does attract interest), I found it hard to get used to. Not only that, but some of the pre-loaded content actually made my eyes hurt. However, I didn’t give up there and then, as you might if you got a demo in a phone shop for a few seconds, but gave it another try later in the evening at home. It was then I noticed that the problem seems to be down to looking at the screen in a bright location with things going on around you. Things happening in your peripheral vision while you are trying to adjust to the 3D screen isn’t a good combination.
This does limit the usefulness of the screen, but there’s another problem, too: holding the phone steady. If you don’t hold the phone still, you’ll lose the 3D effect and cause more eye pain. Tilt the phone or move it back and forth and you lose the effect again. This is where the phone demonstrates the same problems as the Nintendo. So, what is the point of having something you can only really use at home, in a dark room, with the phone held perfectly still?
LG Optimus 3D: Performance
One great feature is the camera. If you haven’t bought a 3D television, you’ve even less likely to have splashed out on one of the many 3D-capable digital cameras now on the market. With this phone, you won’t have to buy a separate camera, although a 3D television is probably going to be the best way to view your content – unless you want people to take it in turns to look at your phone. For recording video, the camera can capture 1080p video in 2D and 720p in 3D, although like the still-photo mode, you can view 3D content in 2D if you want; useful for uploading to Facebook or YouTube.
If you upload your 3D videos to YouTube, anyone without a 3D TV can switch to the old-school anaglyph mode and watch the 3D action with red/cyan glasses. There’s something nice about the added dimension when you record your own videos, making it feel like less of a gimmick.
When you’re not using the 3D mode, LG has produced an excellent Android smartphone in its own right, with a powerful dual-core chipset running at 1GHz per-core, and dual-channel memory (totalling 512MB) that promises to improve performance significantly. The 4.3-inch touchscreen is also incredibly bright, at least in 2D mode, and very responsive to the touch.
Sadly, there’s one problem that is bigger than the screen, which is the battery performance. Despite the promise of an update to Android 2.3, which offers improved battery life through software optimisations, the LG Optimus 3D’s battery life is worse than the other dual-core handsets we’ve reviewed.
What I find hard to understand is why. Other dual-core handsets can still operate for a whole day with usage, but the LG Optimus 3D can be running low in a matter of hours if you’re using the screen a lot. It has a 1,500mAh battery too, so the screen obviously sucks power, and if you turn down the brightness, it really does impact on the 3D mode. If you can accept needing to charge regularly, either with a portable charger or perhaps a spare battery, the LG Optimus 3D is a great phone. It feels nicer in the hand than the LG Optimus 2X, too.
When used in the right conditions, LG Optimus 3D is an excellent experience – and you get all the benefits of a powerful Android phone too. But, the battery life is a problem and there’s a heavy price to pay to go 3D too.
What Mobile Test Verdict: 4/5