LG Thrill 4G review

The Thrill 4G is the second Android smartphone in the United States capable of recording and displaying 3D video and photos without the need for special glasses. We first saw the phone during CTIA earlier this year and, after delays, it will launch soon on AT&T for $99.99. I spent the better part of the last three weeks carrying the LG Thrill 4G everywhere I went. Are the 3D effects useful and fun or are they just a lame gimmick? Does the “4G” in its name equate to faster data speeds or does it surf on a par with 3G phones? All of this and more is answered in my review, so hit the read link to get started.

Hardware

The LG Thrill 4G is identical to its European cousin, the LG Optimus 3D, in nearly every way. It’s equipped with a 4.3-inch 800 x 480-pixel screen that’s capable of displaying both 2D and 3D content on the fly. Measuring in at 5in x 2.7in x 0.47in and with a weight of 5.9oz, the Thrill 4G is a bit bulkier than other high-end smartphones on AT&T, such as the Infuse 4G, but it’s not terrible.

Despite its plastic back cover, the Thrill 4G feels very study just like its LTE counterpart, the LG Revolution. The front of the phone has black faux-brushed metal accents around the screen and AT&T ditched the matte gray back on the Optimus 3D for a more attractive matte black design with a faint cross-hatch etching. The back of the Thrill 4G is also home to two camera lenses capable of recording 3D content, and a single LED flash. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the Thrill 4G and microUSB and mini-HDMI hatches on the left side of the device. A single button on the right side of the phone can be pressed to quickly enter the phone’s “3D Space” application, and I wish it was a camera quick-launch button instead. AT&T also included an HDMI to mini-HDMI cable, which means you’ll be able to connect the phone up to your TV right out of the box.

The Thrill 4G is a nice package overall but I noticed two yellow splotches towards the bottom of the screen. The discoloration was most noticeable while accessing the web, since most websites have a white background. The defect is too subtle to see in the various images in this review, but it’s there. At first I assumed this was just a one-time flaw with my unit, but I noticed the same problem on my European Optimus 3D and confirmed the discoloration with another journalist, too. Perhaps the screen is responsible for AT&T’s delayed launch of the phone, although that is not confirmed. (Update: A second device from AT&T didn’t have this issue so it was clearly limited to my phone or at least an early batch.)

Software

The LG Thrill 4G runs Android 2.2 (Froyo) out of the box but AT&T has promised an Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) update is on the way. Android ran smoothly and I rarely saw any lag thanks to the phone’s dual-core 1GHz processor. LG overlays Android with its own lackluster and ugly user interface. There aren’t any worthwhile widgets aside from a decent third-party weather app, and the icons that infiltrate the status bar and the main menu are too colorful and toy-like for my tastes. The entire UI reminds me of LG’s experience on feature phones, which was never a good thing. Thankfully there are free applications such as LauncherPro that can rid your phone of the ugly icon and UI problem, but I wish LG had left this a “pure Google” experience as it did with the T-Mobile G2x. LG also added several 3D-specific applications and I’ll go over them in the following section.

3D

3D. Whenever I hear the term I immediately think I’m being sucked into a gimmick no better than a holographic trading card. I won’t even go to a 3D movie. You may remember my impressions on 3D when I reviewed the Nintendo 3DS; the display wasn’t impressive and it took away from the gaming experience in a number of titles.

The Optimus Thrill 4G definitely has a superior screen compared to the 3DS though, and since 3D is optional for the most part I, oddly enough, enjoy using it. LG included a full 3D menu that allows you to quickly browse 3D YouTube videos, 3D pictures and videos in your gallery, and fast access to 3D games.There are a couple of decent games that definitely suck you into the 3D experience. I liked playing Let’s Golf 2 in three dimensions and Fragging in Nova was also decent fun, but it wasn’t much better than playing in 2D. Additionally, there aren’t a lot of games pre-loaded, so you’ll need to buy more to keep the experience going. While there’s a YouTube application with dedicated access to 3D videos, I spent most of my time showing off the pre-loaded videos to friends and strangers in bars. The response was nearly always “that’s cool, but who cares?” And that’s the problem: who cares? 3D is somewhat exciting and it works, but at the end of the day it’s totally unnecessary.

Camera

The Thrill 4G’s camera is capable of shooting in both 2D and 3D modes. In 2D mode you can capture 5-megapixel photos and record video in 1080p HD. The stereoscopic 3D cameras are also capable of snapping 3-megapixel 3D images and recording 720p HD video in 3D. Videos came out well. In fact, here’s a video of a Jane’s Addiction concert on YouTube that was filmed entirely in 720p 3D video with a number of LG Thrill units, if you want a better sample of the camera’s quality.

The tricky part with the camera is that if you aren’t in the right light or aren’t careful enough when snapping a photo, there’s actually an overlap of two images and it looks like a blurry 3D mess. When I was careful to steady the phone and snap a photo of an object in a well lit area, the photos came out pretty well. If I held the phone in a darker area, to avoid any glare, the images didn’t appear to pop off of the screen. A shot of chips, salsa, and plates on a coffee table came out really well, as did a picture of a coffee mug on a bookshelf. Other shots, such as those taken down my street, weren’t as impressive. You’ll need to really get up close to your subject in order for it to appear to pop off of the screen. Otherwise the image looks like it has a lot of depth but it doesn’t pop off of the screen.

Another cool feature: you can take shots in 2D and then view them in 3D, although the effects are much better if you take the pictures in 3D originally. Worse, 2D pictures were often on the blurry and washed-out side (see above). Overall, I liked snapping photos better than recording video; the results came out better. Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to a 3D TV to see my home videos blown up.

Call Quality and Data

Call quality on the Thrill 4G was good during my tests. I used the phone daily for a solid two weeks to place a number of phone calls and didn’t have any complaints. I was able to hear the callers on the other end loud and clear and they said I sounded “crisp.” I dropped a couple of conversations but that’s par for the course on AT&T in New York City. One issue I did notice: the signal strength indicator would frequently jump around between two and four bars. The icon doesn’t always reflect the actual signal strength, but there could be issues with the phone’s ability to maintain a solid signal.

As its name implies, the LG Thrill 4G runs on AT&T’s HSPA+ “4G” network. I ran a number of tests with the Speedtest.net application in my apartment, where I usually run my tests, and rarely saw the phone peak over 1Mbps while running a download test. Instead, I averaged about 750Kbps, which is slower than I’ve seen with a number of 3G phones. The phone’s upload speeds were solid, however: I averaged 1.6Mbps in my upload throughput tests.

Battery

I was able to get through a full day with the Thrill 4G without a problem using the phone moderately. Obviously your mileage will vary if you’re spending more time using the 3D display or streaming video, but generally the battery was on a par with the Infuse 4G on AT&T, which is one of the longer lasting Android devices out there.

Conclusion

I like the Thrill 4G because LG tried to differentiate itself with a device that could display and record 3D content. It’s a fun concept and works in practice, but it’s hard to recommend a phone simply because it offers 3D as an option. The third dimension, as it stands in mobile, is purely for entertainment purposes, and the problem is the phone has so many other faults.

The Thrill 4G has a solid build, despite its plastic accents, but it’s far bulkier and heavier than many of its competitors. Call quality was satisfactory, but I had issues with its download speeds in New York City.

Overall, the LG Thrill 4G is just a mediocre device. You might be better served picking up a Motorola ATRIX 4G for the same $99.99 price, as it still packs a mean hardware punch. If it’s power your after though, my advice is to stick around and see how Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S II handset for AT&T turns out.

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