For the past three months, I have been using an LG Optimus 4X along with my Samsung Galaxy S3. To be honest, I came to LG with a lot of reticence and excitement. After all, when you consider the spec sheet, they always seem to have winner devices on their hands but somehow this fails to translate into real blockbusters. Part of it is probably due to their Android skin: while you might find a few people who love HTC’s Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz / Nature UI, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who’ll blatantly tell you that they favor LG’s Optimus UI.
I’m here to debunk that myth. Three months in, I’ll easily proclaim that if I were to run a non-stock Android device as is, without any mods, I’d pick LG over any other OEM. Actually, if it weren’t for custom ROMs like FoxHound, the S3 would be unusable for me. By comparison, I use the Optimus 4X as it came out of the box and I love it. Below are five reasons why.
If there’s one feature I instantly fell for on the Optimus UI, it’s QuickMemo. From the notification drop-down, click QuickMemo and you can instantly write on top of the screen with your finger and save the image. There’s no need to take a screenshot prior, no need to have a dedicated stylus — I can’t stress this enough. Plus, you can easily crop to the part of the screen that you want, as well as change the type of brush and color. All of these options are more than enough for a quick annotation.
Set Bluetooth Devices as Authorized
Back in 2006, we had bluetooth on our dumb phones, and we could give automatic access to certain devices so we didn’t have to confirm every single transfer. Yet here were are, in 2013, and Android requires you to manually approve each bluetooth transfer, regardless of the sender. I’ve never been annoyed by anything on the platform as much as this.
HTC used to allow setting devices as authorized but removed it from newer versions of Sense, Samsung doesn’t have the option, but the first time I paired my computer with the Optimus 4X, I saw a checkbox with “Always allow this device” and almost jumped of giddiness. There’s simply no reason why this shouldn’t exist on all Android devices.
Another no-brainer when it comes to daily use is connecting a micro-USB cable to charge your phone from a computer. For some reason, unbeknownst to anyone, several OEMs like Samsung won’t give you that option: if you connect your phone to your computer, it assumes that you must be about to transfer files through PTP or MTP. It will also charge your phone, but you will be stuck with the MTP/PTP notification regardless of whether or not you’re transferring files. Stock Android allows you to uncheck both, hence using a counter-intuitive approach to get you a charge-only mode.
On LG’s Optimus UI — and HTC’s Sense — Charge-Only is an option you select, and that’s that. I connect my phone to my computer, and I’m just charging it.
Customizable Launcher and Icons
Look, I know there are enough launchers for Android to satisfy every customization geek — free or paid, simple or full-featured, there’s an option for anyone. But what we have to remember is that us geeks are the minority. Average users simply keep the launcher that came with their device. And if I had to go with an OEM’s launcher, I would pick LG’s, no questions asked. You can add icons and widgets, change the scrolling animation, and even change the “theme” — akin to HTC’s Sense — but it also offers customization options I haven’t seen anywhere else.
First of all, the Optimus UI launcher is the only I have seen that allows you to change the number of screens. I don’t want 5 or 7 homescreens, I’m perfectly fine with 2 or 3, so out goes the rest. Second, when you click and hold an icon, you’re given an option to change it. So you could use a better suited image for your app from preloaded sets or from your own photo gallery. It’s a nifty option that makes personalizing your phone a little bit more accessible.
The same debate about homescreens applies here. There are many alternatives, but for the average user going with whatever was preloaded on his device, LG’s lockscreen is by far the best out there. You get a choice of 5 clocks to suit your image — analogue or digital, with or without a calendar. You also get 4 quick shortcuts on the bottom, which can be re-assigned and easily flipped.
It’s the Little Things
Besides the points mentioned above, the Optimus UI keeps a rather ICS-like stock look in the notification bar, comes with a Backup solution that saves your homescreen and settings to restore on other devices, allows you to uninstall some of the bloat like SmartWorld or the Today Widget, offers a small preview window while skipping a video, lets you fully control your phone from its computer suite, and comes with more easter eggs than I can count.
If you look at each of the above points by itself, you’d think that it’s insignificant and that you could — and probably do — live without it. All of them are just tiny features, interspersed here and there throughout the UI, that you barely notice because they’re intuitive and blend into your daily use. But add them together and they make a compelling offer that significantly improves your satisfaction with the product.
After all, stock Android is quite excellent, so it should’t really take that much to make it better. Yet, HTC is stuck trying to emboss and add shadows to anything on Android, Samsung is implementing gestures no one will bother using beyond the first week and for demonstration purposes only, and Sony is focusing more on hardware, all of them neglecting the small gaps in Android that could easily be filled with a few lines of code.
Only LG has bothered to look at those and fix them, and they get zero credit for it. It’s a shame that somehow, we can all get excited over the silliness of holding an icon and physically panning our phones to move it to another screen, yet we can’t appreciate the usefulness of an always-authorized bluetooth connection. Samsung devices will keep selling like hotcakes, but as I said in the beginning, if you plan on using your device as is, without custom ROMs, I can’t recommend LG enough.