LG hasn’t had the best of luck when it comes to smartphones. The company has delivered decent, value for money Android phones in the past, with the Optimus One P500 being one of the more popular ones, but only with moderate success. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and seeing the success Samsung has achieved with the Galaxy Note, LG has decided to take that route in hopes of wooing some undecided customers. The Optimus Vu is by no means an ordinary smartphone; in fact, we doubt it even qualifies as one, or even a phablet for that matter.
Design and build
Unlike the Galaxy Note, which still maintains its 16:9 aspect ratio, the Optimus Vu sports a 4:3 aspect ratio. Any sense of ergonomics goes for a toss here when you pack a 5-inch screen with this aspect ratio. The Vu is terribly uncomfortable to hold as you have to really stretch your hand across for a good grip. You can pretty much forget about one handed usage here as there’s always the fear of you dropping it. It also feels really strange in your pocket and we wouldn’t be surprised if the corners were to bore holes in your pocket over time. It’s quite a heavy phone too at 168 g, which adds to the discomfort. The 5-inch HD-IPS display surprisingly does not have an HD resolution. A resolution of 1024 x 768 on such a large screen is not the best when you compare it to the 4X HD from LG, which had a 4.7-inch HD screen.
Inspired by a hip flask?
Our second biggest gripe with the Vu is the poor build quality. The plastics and the fake chrome trim just feel tacky, not what you’d expect on a phone costing upwards of 30K. Besides the volume and power button, there’s a very flimsy flap for the microSIM and a dedicated button to activate QuickMemo. This essentially takes a screenshot of your current screen and lets you write on it with the bundled stylus. Like the S Pen, LG calls the stylus a Rubberdium, which seems to use the similar inductive technology as it won’t work on any other phone. The pen is a lot thicker than the S Pen so it’s more comfortable to hold like a real pen. The trouble is that there’s no place to tether it to your phone. Given the thickness of the phone, we feel LG could have easily made some provision to slot the stylus in.
The rear camera and flash
The Vu has a row of four capacitive buttons below the screen—the first three being the same as the ones on the Galaxy Nexus and the fourth one being the ‘Option’ menu. The design and build leaves a lot to be desired and sadly, this is one area where LG has a long way to go before it can even think of competing with the likes of HTC.
Like many of the newer handsets, the Optimus Vu comes with Android 4.0.4 and LG's own Optimus UI. The UI is similar to what we saw on the 4X HD; it is functional and simple to use. The new lockscreen gets a cool little animation and you can unlock it by sliding your finger anywhere on the screen. The toggle switches in the notification bar are a nice touch and you can even edit, add and replace them. The colourful icon set and layout of the menu look an awful lot like Samsung’s TouchWiz UI.
A familiar interface
Since we’ve covered all the features of the UI in the Optimus 4X HD review, we’ll jump to the new one and that’s the QuickMemo app. You can activate it by simply pressing the shortcut key on the top. This lets you either write directly on the screen that’s captured or switch the background to that of a notepad. You can choose between different pen styles, colours, crop the screen to a certain section and then share it via email or any other means. The stylus has only one level of sensitivity and does not react to pressure like the S Pen does. It’s just a feature that’s been added in order to compete with the Note more than anything else.
The QuickMemo app for the Rubberdium
The UI is otherwise very smooth with hardly any lags or slowdowns. The Vu is powered by an Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC so you get four CPU cores and twelve GPU cores. This makes it ideal for gaming and you can really take advantage of some of the games that are optimised for the Tegra 3 SoC, like Dead Trigger. Speaking of apps, most of them (especially games) will overflow beyond the screen limits. To compensate for this, LG has included an app that automatically fits the apps to the aspect of the Vu. This means you’ll have to deal with unnecessary black bars around the app, which isn’t the best of experiences.