LG Optimus 3D P920 is one of the first widely available 3D-capable smartphones on the European market and is also among the first mobile devices with an autostereoscopic 3D display (not requiring you to wear special 3D glasses), in combination with a 3D camera for recording photos and videos. Besides the Optimus 3D there is also another very similar product that is widely available in USA for example and that is the HTC EVO 3D, and these two are pretty much fighting for the title of the “first 3D smartphone”. Although besides these two, there are some other much less known products that are usually available only for specific regions such as Japan, but nobody is counting these, right? Anyway, the focus of this article is the LG Optimus 3D smartphone and more specifically it’s 3D capabilities that I’ve tested and will present here in order for you to get a better idea on what to expect from the device. As far as the other standard functionality and capabilities are concerned, there is nothing very special or some big surprises as the platform the Optimus 3D is built on is actually quite good – you get good hardware performance, very nice display, and pretty much everything else that you’d expect from a good and up to date Android-based smartphone. And because of that fact I won’t be giving too much attention to the non-3D capabilities of the smartphone and instead will focus mostly on what the 3D functionality offers and what level of quality you should expect from it. Not to mention that you probably won’t be very interested in reading just another standard smartphone review, as much as you would want to read a more detailed review focusing on the 3D capabilities of the device…
Specifications of the LG Optimus 3D P920 smartphone:
Display: 4.3″ 480×800 pixels in 2D (400×480 per eye in 3D), capacitive multitouch panel
Processor: Dual-core 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9 CPU, PowerVR SGX540 GPU, TI OMAP4430 chipset
System Memory: 512 MB RAM
Storage Memory: 8GB integrated, microSD flash card slot for up to 32GB cards
Operating System: Android 2.2 Froyo, with upcoming update to 2.3
Camera: dual 5 Megapixel, maximum 2560х1920 resolution in 2D mode, 4095×1536 in 3D (Side by Side), autofocus, LED flash; up to 1080p 30 fps video recording in 2D, 720p 30 fps video recording in 3D
Wireless Connectivity: GPRS, EDGE, 3G (HSDPA 14.4 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76 Mbps), WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0
Others: microUSB v2.0, microHDMI 1.4 interface with 3D support, GPS, accelerometer, gyro sensor, proximity sensor, Flash 10.1 support, DLNA, WiFi hotspot
2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz
3G Network: HSDPA 900 / 1900 / 2100 MHz, HSDPA 1700 / 2100 / 850 MHz
Standby Time: up to 100 hours
Talk Time: up to 4 hours
Battery: Li-Ion 1500 mAh
Size: 128.8 x 68 x 11.9 mm
Weight: 168 grams
LG Optimus 3D P920 comes with Android 2.2 (Froyo) operating system pre-installed, with an option to get a future update for Android 2.3 at a later time this year. An interesting new feature for the device that is expected to be introduced with the 2.3 update is the ability to autoconvert 2D applications and games into stereoscopic 3D ones in real time. At this time the smartphone can only autoconvert 2D photos and videos into stereo 3D ones and display them in real time, that in terms of 3D autoconversion capabilities, you can of course directly record 3D content with the device and it will of course provide you with better volume perception compared to the automatically converted content. The addition of a capability to convert all kinds of 2D content into stereoscopic 3D one is just a good extra feature to have at least until more 3D content becomes available especially for this new category of 3D-capable devices. Of course the update should also bring some other new features and fixes for some of the issues that the device currently has, some of which will be noted in this review as I was able to observe them while testing the smartphone.
When talking about 3D applications, you should have in mind that these that come bundled with the phone are a fairly limited in number and are far less than the other 2D only applications that are included with the device. As you can see on the photo above LG has decided to clearly separate their 2D and 3D applications, so that the user will not be confused what supports 3D and what not, definitely a good choice. You should have in mind that when using 3D applications on the smartphone you should hold it only in Landscape mode and not in Portrait mode. This requirement is connected to the technology being used in the device to provide the stereoscopic 3D effect, so you will have to rotate it every time you are using a 3D application. When using 2D applications you will of course able to work in both orientation modes of the device.
Besides the application for using the 3D camera – photo and video recording in stereo 3D mode, the software for previewing 3D photos and videos, on the phone you also have a short visual guide with some tips for using the 3D capabilities of the device optimally and of course there are a few stereoscopic 3D games as well. The 3D Space applications provides you with a nice looking stereo 3D interface for running all 3D applications on the phone, 3D Games & Apps is another software menu that will show all stereoscopic 3D games you have installed on the smartphone and opening the 3D Games icon will lead you to Gameloft’s website where you will be able to buy a few more 3D games for the Optimus 3D. One of the useful features of the device however remains a bit “hidden” from the user, I’m talking about the access to the specialized YouTube 3D video channel as it is directly accessible only through the 3D Space interface and not through the traditional applications menu. There is a YouTube application in the list of normal 2D applications, it is the same client software that supports 3D video playback from YouTube, but just running it will not open the YouTube 3D channel by default. You should also be aware that the 3D camera application has a feature for direct uploading of 3D videos that you’ve shot with the phone in YouTube in 3D format, another feature that you should know is there as it is also not very apparent from the menu.
The four games you get with the device that support 3D mode are: Asphalt 6: Adrenaline 3D, Gulliver’s Travels 3D, Let’s Golf! 2 3D and NOVA 3D. Besides them you can also purchase a few more stereo 3D-capable games from GameLoft’s website, these are: Real Football 2011 3D, Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Cronicles 3D, James Cameron’s Avatar 3D, Fishing Kings 3D и Spider-Man: Total Mayhem 3D. Bur more about 3D gaming and games on the phone in a bit…
And now let us take a look at a short video demonstration of some of the 3D capabilities of the LG Optimus 3D P920 smartphone. The video that you see above is a short overview of the features that the different 3D applications on the phone offer, it is not a complete wall through showing you everything… there is more. The video of course is shot with a 2D camera, so do not expect to be able to see the 3D effect from the 3D capable applications on it. What you can see as a side effect from the display of the phone being 3D capable and showing 3D images – the shadows around some of the objects being displayed on the screen, or with other words some part of the image intended for one of the eyes of the viewer getting into the view for the other eye due to the fact that the phone is shot under an angle and is moving a bit, so it is moving out from the optimum viewing zone. The video is just to give you an idea of the features you get from the 3D apps on the phone, in order to be able to get a better idea of how good the 3D effect produced by the autostereoscopic 3D display it is best to go and try the phone live in a shop.
Before moving to doing a more detailed look at the autostereoscopic 3D display of the device and the capabilities it provides I still need to mention a few more other things. I’m talking mostly about the 3D camera that the LG Optimus 3D smartphone comes with, a 3D camera that pretty much consists of two independent 5-megapixel CMOS sensors with an interaxial distance of about 2.5 centimeters (about an inch), a distance which is suitable for shooting mostly not so distant objects in 3D mode. Between the two cameras there is a LED light that is being used for both a flash when shooting pictures and a constant light when recording video. The LED’s position is totally inappropriate for usage in 3D mode, as using it in dark environment would create different contradicting shadows to be captured by the left and right sensors and will thus create unpleasant feeling that something is not right when watching the result in stereo 3D mode. In order to prevent that from happening LG has decided to completely disable the user access to the LED light when in 3D mode, you can only use the light when shooting photos or videos in 2D mode. But this can also be considered as slight issue with the smartphone, because the 3D camera becomes unusable for taking pictures in darker environments, because as you should know the darkness is enemy number 1 for 3D… it makes it hard to capture details that can be used to perceive depth in an image. So you should just be prepared to forget about the option of taking good 3D photos or video in the dark or with low ambient light, unless you think of some external light source, but you should be careful with this as well.
Another important thing regarding this device is that it features a hardware button labeled 3D instead of the traditionally placed at the same position button for taking photos, but considering that we are talking about a 3D-capable device this hardware 3D button is more important. The main idea is for you to be able to quickly and easily switch between 2D and 3D mode when using a 3D-capable application such as a game, but have in mind that pressing it while in a 2D only application you will not be able to make it in 3D mode (at least not before the 2.3 update becomes available for this device). You can however use this button to autoconvert 2D photos or 2D videos into stereo 3D mode, but you are not able to use that feature for 2D video clips from YouTube for example, so there is yet more to be desired.
An interesting extra functionality worth mentioning is also the ability to connect the 3D smartphone to a 3D HDTV and to playback stereoscopic 3D content from the mobile device on the big screen in 3D. This can be done thanks to the presence of an HDMI 1.4 interface on the phone (microHDMI connector), and you are able to use this not only for photos and video in 3D, but also to play games in 3D as well or run any other 3D application on the big TV screen in stereo 3D mode. You should however be aware of the fact that not all 3D content from the smartphone may look great on the big screen of the 3D HDTV due to the lower resolution of the Optimus 3D’s display, so do not be too critical, especially to the way some of the 3D games may look in terms of detail levels.
And now, finally it is time to take a closer look at the autostereoscopic 3D display of the LG Optimus 3D smartphone, the thing that is main feature of the phone’s 3D capabilities, because thanks to it you can watch stereoscopic 3D content without needing to wear any special 3D glasses. The 4.3-inch LCD display used by LG in this device is with standard resolution of 800×480 in 2D mode, but when you activate 3D mode for each of the user’s eye you get different image with a resolution of 400×480 pixels, or with other words the horizontal resolution you get for each of the eyes in 3D mode gets halved. This is being achieved with the use of parallax barrier that allows each of the eyes to see different pixels from the display and thus each eye perceives a different 2D image and the brain fuses these two images into a 3D one with the user getting a perception of volume of the objects being displayed.
On the photo above you can take a look at how the subpixels from the display of the LG Optimus 3D smartphone look like when seen up close with the help of a digital microscope. On the left is what the microscope sees normally when the display is in 2D mode and on the right is what it seen through it when you switch the display into 3D mode. As you can see in 3D only half of the pixels are being seen, one column with pixels then black column then another column with part of the image and so on, of course this is because the microscope sees the image only for the left eye and the right eye should see the other image where the black columns are. Of course the eyes of the user of the smartphone won’t be seeing subpixels and pixels like the microscope on the photo above, but will instead see the image that these pixels form.
The use of autostereoscopic 3D displays with a parallax barrier that can be activated and deactivated for achieving a solution that can display both 2D content as well as stereoscopic 3D one without the need of wearing special glasses is a good solution for compact mobile devices such as LG’s 3D smartphone. This type of solutions however are not without their issues and that of course goes not only for the implementation that LG used, but for most other similar 3D products using the same technology for the display. The first major disadvantage as you should be guessing already is the reduced resolution you get for the image each eye sees when in 3D mode as you effectively halved the horizontal resolution of the display available in 2D mode. This means that you get less details in the image when in 3D mode as compared to the details you have available in 2D mode due to the difference in the resolution, although on smaller screens such as the one on this smartphone it is not that apparent. But aside from the lower resolution as you are essentially using half of the pixels on the display to show one image and the other half for another image you also get a lower level of brightness as you are essentially splitting the max level it into two, so each of the images and the combined 3D image can seem darker than if you look at the same thing in 2D mode.
Another important thing to note when using a parallax barrier over an LCD display is the fact that you can have the display working in 3D mode only in one plane, meaning that you can either have the 3D support working in Portrait or in Landscape orientation of the smartphone, but not in both. And obviously the right choice here is to have the parallax barrier placed in a way to allow you to use the 3D mode in Landscape mode only as otherwise in Portrait mode the horizontal resolution would’ve been too low to be usable in 3D mode and after all this is a multimedia device with 3D capabilities, so most 3D content would be optimized for wide aspect ratio anyway. But there is another important thing that you should be aware of when using this type of an autostereoscopic 3D display and that is the fact that you only get a few optimum viewing positions for the display at which you can perceive the volume of the 3D image being show on the screen. After doing a quick test of the display with a special test 3D photo I’ve found out that the LG Optimus 3D smartphone offers 5 different viewing positions at which you can see the 3D image as 3D. Obviously the center one is the widest and will be most used for such a device that is personal by design and most of the time will be used by just one person, but there are time when you would want for example to show some 3D photos or a 3D video you’ve taken to some friends and in such cases it helps to have more viewing position, so more people can see the 3D effect at the same time… although even with the 5 positions the 3D display offers you might still have trouble in such situations.
Anyway, even with the 5 viewing positions you get for the autostereoscopic 3D display if you decide to play a racing 3D game such as Asphalt 6 for example and it has an option for using the accelerometer and to rotate the smartphone to control the car you will get into trouble with seeing the stereo 3D effect. You will be constantly moving in and out of the optimum viewing positions for the 3D and as a result the game will become in 2D then in 3D again and so on. This is most definitely not comfortable for the user, so you can be pretty sure that some game developers will be ignoring this option when developing 3D titles in order to avoid possible issues like the one described above, making their customer unhappy with the game. And even if a game has such an option you should not be using it in order to avoid the unpleasant effect…
Now, moving to the capabilities of the LG Optimus 3D smartphone for taking stereoscopic 3D photos using the 3D camera that it has built-in. Although the 3D camera of the device consists of two 5-megapixel sensors when you are in 3D mode you can only use up to 3 Mp of of the 5 Mp and in 2D mode you can use the full resolution of the sensors. Aside from taking 3D photos with 3 megapixel resolution, you can also use smaller resolution of 1 and 2 megapixels, although you better shoot at the maximal one, so that you will be able to do some editing if required. When you record a 3D photo it is saved in Side by Side format with full resolution for the left and for the right image of 2048×1536 each or a total of 4095×1536 pixels and the stereo 3D image is being saved in JPS file (standard JPEG compression with both frames next to each other). As you can see from the resolution you can pretty much guess that the photos are not being saved in a widescreen 16:9 format, but instead are recorded in 4:3 aspect ratio and that is something not so convenient when you are most likely to be showing them on a bigger 16:9 widescreen 3D display later on – 3D LCD monitor on your computer to a 3D HDTV. You can of course do some editing after the photos are taken (good to have that in mind when composing the 3D shot) in order to crop them a bit and apply some simple adjustments in order to get the photos into 16:9 aspect, bring out some extra detail and even make them look a bit better. By default the camera software does automatic parallax adjustment in other to provide you with good results in terms of volume of the objects on the saved 3D photo, even if you are a total novice to 3D shooting, but you can also play a bit with manual adjustment of the parallax to get a stronger effect in a photo for example. And if you were wondering where the extra resolution of the camera in 3D mode is being “wasted” here is the answer, as to where some if it is used to cover for the parallax adjustment without having to sacrifice anything from the 3 Mp you have usable as resolution out of the 5.
And here are a few recommendations that might be useful for when you are shooting 3D photos with the Optimus 3D smartphone’s 3D camera. You should be careful when you are following a moving object in order to shoot it on a 3D photo as there is about a second delay after pressing the shutter button to take the photo until you actually have it taken and saved. So if you stop moving the phone to follow the object you were following right after you press the shutter button it is very possible that what you wanted to shoot will be cut or even entirely out of the frame of the actual photo you take, so in order to avoid that continue to follow it until you actually have the photo saved. Now, considering the interaxial distance of about 2.5 centimeters (about an inch) of the two sensors of the 3D camera you should be well aware of the fact that in order to achieve the optimum results the things you will take 3D photos of need not be too close to you or too far from the camera. According to LG the optimum distance for the best volume perception effect when shooting something in 3D is between half a meter and 2 meters, but after some experimenting with shooting at different distance you can pretty much do very good 3D photos for things that are in between 20-30 centimeters up to about 3-4 meters, although when in the closest and furthest points you might need to adjust the parallax manually for best results. With this small interaxial distance unfortunately you won’t be able to take nice panoramic 3D photos with a lot of depth in them, more distant objects will simply appear flat, but you will quickly get used to getting good results and planning your 3D shots for getting the best results. And just one more very important note, when you are taking 3D photos you must hold the device only in Landscape orientation, not just because otherwise you will not be able to compose the photos using the 3D display for previewing, but also because the two sensors of the 3D camera are going to produce usable 3D photos only when the device is in that orientation.
The situation with the recording of 3D videos with the 3D camera of the LG Optimus 3D smartphone is pretty similar as when using the device to take 3D photos, but there are also some differences as well. In 2D mode you can record Full HD video with a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, however when you are in 3D mode the maximum usable resolution you get to use is 1280×720 (or the lower 720×480 and 640×480 resolutions), the good thing here is that at least you are getting the video in 16:9 wide aspect. The not so good thing is that unlike when shooting 3D photos where you get both left and right frame of the image saved in their full resolution, when you are recording are actually getting both frames squeezed in a single 720p frame. This means that the horizontal resolution of each of the frames is halved while you still get a Side by Side configuration of the recorded 3D video material, so instead of getting two frames each with a resolution of 1280×720 and a total of 2560×720 you only get 1280×720 with both frames squeezed inside. This of course leads to some loss of sharpness and detail of the resulting 3D video, but it still remains quite good in terms of quality. You will hardly notice it when previewing the 3D videos you’ve recorded on the smartphone’s 3D display, but it will be more noticeable if you try to play them on a Full HD 3D-capable monitor or TV set.
Here as well as when taking 3D photos the parallax is being adjusted automatically and you also have some manual control over it if you decide you need to use it for getting better results when the automatic mode does not do so well or for achieving some special effect with the depth. And interesting feature here is the ability to also do slight parallax corrections for a video that you’ve already shot, so you can tweak it a bit more when playing it back to get better results with the 3D effect, although this time you do it at the cost of some of the resolution. When shooting video you also have an option for extra digital stabilization of the video when recording in 3D mode, and although it may help a bit you should not expect too much. The stabilization is good enough to handle some of the small shaking and movements of the camera, but do not expect it to stabilize the image well when there is a lot of movement and shaking of the device. Although the camera does not suffer a lot from the CMOS rolling shutter issue you will not be getting great results when shooting 3D video while walking, but if you are just panning the camera you should not have problems with the recorded image.
Another important moment you should note is the unpleasant effect you are getting when strong light like the sun for example gets directly into the camera sensors or gets reflected from a shiny object, although sometimes you may also get lucky and achieve some cool effects this way. I’ve also noticed that at times there could be a small momentary issue with the automatic white balance when recording a video and the level of the light in the scene changes rapidly, but these are things that can be avoided by being aware of them and being more careful when shooting and also some of them may get fixed with future software updates for the device.
It is time for a few words regarding the stereoscopic 3D games for the LG Optimus 3D smartphone. As I’ve already mentioned the device comes with a free 3D games pre-installed and Gameloft also offers a few more 3D titles for the device that you can purchase. Of course more games should become available with time and as more 3D-capable Android-based smartphones continue to appear on the market, bur for now the 3D gaming functionality of the device is a bit limited due to the lack of a lot of content. An interesting thing that I’ve noticed in all of the bundled 3D games is that they do feature a slider for controlling the strength of the 3D effect allowing you to adjust the level of 3D volume you get dynamically while you play. By default the slider is in the medium position which should be comfortable for most people, especially for the ones that are new to stereo 3D and don’t have a lot of experience watching 3D content. You should not push the slider to the max at first when you just get the device, you need some time to left your eyes and brain adjust in order to avoid getting side effects like headaches or nausea by overexerting them with higher separation and then blaming the device. Moving the slider all the way down will essentially make the game flat or be just like it will look like in normal 2D mode, however you will still have reduced resolution due to the 3D mode being active, although you will be seeing the same image with both eyes, so instead you better just switch to 2D mode in this case.
Before making my conclusion about the LG Optimus 3D smartphone I just want to say a few words about the battery of the device and the usage time you will be getting with a full charge. Quite as expected the usage of the 3D capabilities of the device leads to the faster discharge of the standard 1500 mAh battery that you get with the device. This is due to the higher power consumption you get when using the 3D camera together with the big autostereoscopic 3D display for taking 3D photos or recording 3D video as well as loading the processors of the device and using the 3D display when playing a game for example. But even when if not using the 3D capabilities of the device extensively you would still not get that long of a usage time with a single charge of the battery. With normal use of the device you can expect to need to recharge it in about a day and a half to two, but that will not happen for sure when you first get the 3D device as the first week or two you will most likely be using it a lot trying the different functions it offers. In this situation as well as when you are extensively using it for various things, including of course as a phone talking over it you will probably have to recharge it every day or even twice a day (in the morning and in the evening) just to be sure it won’t leave you without charge of the battery exactly when you need it the most. And this is something that is actually quite common for most smartphones nowadays, because these devices are constantly getting better and faster with more features as they evolve very fast, however the part of them that is related to getting the power they need to function is kind of behind in terms of development. There is nothing much happening with the development of better and longer lasting batteries, instead companies are trying to extend the time you get from a single charge by using more power efficient hardware and adding additional power saving features. That of course helps, but not very much when you are actively using your device and it is constantly experiencing high load of the hardware and thus consumes more power, so a good piece of advice is to get an external portable battery that can help you recharge your smartphone when needed, no matter if it is LG Optimus 3D or another device. So you can have a backup solution and avoid not being able to use your device as a phone when you may need it most because of the battery getting discharged after extensive use of the other functions of the device.
And in the end I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by the capabilities and performance that the LG Optimus 3D has shown during the time I was testing it and although I have found some issues and things that can be further improved in the device, it is still a very good first try for a 3D-capable smartphone for the company. There is always more to be desired as an absolutely perfect device can hardly ever exist, but LG did quite well and they are raising the level quite high for other companies that may now try to get into this new and still niche market of mobile 3D devices. The 3D photo and video recording capabilities of the device are actually quite good in both terms of features and quality, although still far from great, for such a portable solution. Actually at the moment what the device needs most is more 3D optimized content, especially 3D games as this is some of the most desired type of content by the users at the moment and at the same time the one that is lacking the most. If you are already considering about getting the LG Optimus 3D smartphone my advice would be to first go and see and try it personally and then do your final decision as the case with this device is the same as with other 3D-capable products, it is hard to describe and explain everything with just words, you have to see it and play with it in a store to get the full picture. Personally I’ve liked the LG Optimus 3D smartphone, but I don’t have any plans for buying yet another smartphone at the moment, but if you do and are into 3D you may consider it as a good candidate for your next smartphone…