Just a few weeks after the LG Optimus 3D got placed in the hot seat at our European offices, we're ready to give its American counterpart its fair share of warmth. Better known in the states as the Thrill 4G, this AT&T device is the latest smartphone to follow in the footsteps of the HTC EVO 3D by tossing an extra dimension into the mix. As it so happens, two rear cameras and some fancy special effects are just enough to change a person's judgement of the device in a split-second.
We get it. Few people want to spend their hard-earned cash on a gimmick. But like any other phone with a defining feature, there's more to this glasses-free 3D handset than meets the eye (pun intended). And after peering under the hood and seeing what the Thrill is capable of, there's a possibility this phone can hold its own against the competition in the same price range ($100 on AT&T). How does it differ from its European counterpart? Does the phone's 3D match up against Sprint's contribution? And how does this handset perform apart from that extra D? Join us as we dig through all three dimensions to get to the root of the Thrill 4G.
Hardware and software
Talk about a spitting image of the LG Optimus 3D. Don't get us wrong, we were expecting the Thrill 4G to be incredibly similar to its global counterpart, of course -- we just didn't believe it would be that close. We expect US carriers to take a handset popular in other parts of the world, tweak its design, change the UI and essentially turn it into a completely different phone. Interestingly enough, we found it difficult to find any significant variations at all between the twins aside from a few minor adjustments.
On the outside, the only distinguishable difference is the AT&T logo printed on the back. Nothing else. Nada. Zilch. Even after swimming all the way across the pond, the device remains just as chunky as ever, weighing in at 5.93 ounces (168g), and its dimensions size up at 5.07 x 2.68 x 0.47 inches (128.8 x 68 x 11.9mm). Both versions of the Optimus 3D offer the same 4.3-inch 800 x 480 display, indistinguishable hardware buttons and ports, identical camera placement... the list goes on. The internals of the Thrill are carbon-copied as well: they both run off the same 1GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4430 CPU, 512MB of RAM, and a 1,500mAh battery, and pair of 5MP rear cameras for 3D capture (with 1.3MP front-facing).
The Thrill's software doesn't stray too far from its lookalike, either. Unfortunately, that includes the firmware -- despite AT&T's promise to bump every member of its 2011 Android lineup to Gingerbread, this one is shipping with Froyo (Android 2.2) installed. We're sure a forthcoming update is in the works -- in fact, we're counting on it -- but in the meantime customers will be committing themselves to a brand new device with an antiquated OS. The carrier's also chosen to Rethink Possible by throwing in bloatware and a small handful of UI tweaks so tiny that they're only noticeable when doing a direct side-by-side comparison.
As for the distinct qualities this Froyo-based phone may possess apart from the Optimus 3D, there are a small few we could see. As we alluded to, the Thrill 4G doesn't skimp on the preloaded apps -- the usual suite of AT&T services apply, as well as Kindle, YPmobile, Polaris Office, Qik Lite and Let's Golf 2 (we have a strong suspicion that nobody's actually played the first game in the series). The device also offers the stock Android keyboard in addition to LG's customized version.
An in-depth look at the global edition's hardware and software can be found in our Optimus 3D review, so head over to see all the extra details.
Okay, we'll come right out and say it: 3D still feels like a gimmick. Not everyone drinks the three-dimensional Kool-aid, and even we have mixed feelings when it comes to the subject. Disregarding the polarizing effect it has on all of us, the phone's talents in this area were the most fun for us to review simply because it's a truly unique spec that's offered by only one rival in the US of A: the HTC EVO 3D. Naturally, the two are destined to lock horns with each other, as they're the only handsets that offer this defining feature. Which one comes out as conqueror? Is there even a clear winner? We took both phones for a spin to get a full side-by-side comparison; interestingly enough, the unique quality the Thrill and EVO share are actually significantly different. Let's explore how.
Both devices offer glaringly obvious differences in this category. For starters, the EVO offers a two-stage shutter button and a hardware toggle that allows you to easily switch between 2D and 3D modes whenever you feel the need to get another angle. The Thrill? Oh, it has something that looks an awful lot like a shutter button -- complete with "3D" inscribed in plain sight -- but it carries the burden of two separate roles, neither of which involve taking the picture. In the camera app, this button acts as the 2D / 3D toggle switch; outside of the camera, however, it takes you to a 3D menu screen that offers your various three-dimensional apps in the form of a Sense 3.0-esque carousel (more on that in a moment). The camera is one of the menu options, but alas, it's one more step between you and snapping a picture.
The Thrill 4G's 3D menu can come in handy... sometimes. As we mentioned before, you're taken into a carousel that attempts to make use of the glasses-free parallax barrier display by having the selection "float" above the screen. You can choose between the camera, gallery, games and apps, YouTube and a 3D guide. Having these options incorporated into one cleverly designed folder is nice, but we doubt it's essential enough to dedicate an entire physical button to its cause; the same menu can be accessed by a default icon on your home screen, should you have the desire to check it out. No such feature exists on the EVO, though every option is still accessible in one way or another through the phone's app tray (YouTube 3D vids, for instance, are viewable in the regular app).
In addition to the hardware buttons, the EVO 3D also has a camera quick-access button on the lock screen. When a really opportune moment comes along -- as it often does -- drag the camera into the ring at the bottom of the screen, and you're in. The Thrill, on the other hand, doesn't have such an option; your best alternative is to put the camera app icon on your home screen. That's not a terrible thing, obviously, but it's one extra step in the process -- a step that the EVO can easily bypass.
Viewing 3D images and videos can be a completely different experience on each device, and we can't say with a surety that one was better than the other. Shots taken with the EVO had a much more realistic appearance that make it appear as though the image really is popping out of the screen -- if you can align your eyes with the screen at the precise angle, that is. The Thrill, on the other hand, offers a broader angle and more variable distance by which you can achieve the 3D effect, but it takes a more "layered" approach; instead of the image sticking out of the screen, it's as if one section of the picture has been pulled out of the picture slightly and is simply floating. It still has that third-dimension feel, but we could definitely tell a difference. Check out the galleries below to see for yourself; if you don't have a 3D display to view them on, however, you'll want to have a pair of glasses handy.
Of course, those who're wondering why the two phones contrast so much need only turn the devices over and look at the cameras' intra-axial distance -- the amount of space between each set of lenses. The EVO's lenses are farther apart than the Thrill's, which gives the former a hyperstereo effect. In other words, the greater distance results in a greater perceived depth and an enhanced 3D experience -- not to mention a higher potential of eye strain and the infamous headaches that oftentimes go along with viewing 3D content.
The Thrill 4G has a couple tricks up its sleeve: first, it can take standard 2D images and tack on a third D, a feat that's almost a little too easy to accomplish. All you need to do is view the picture in the gallery and press the "3D" toggle switch button on the right side of the phone. The converted images don't turn out as well as those shot in 3D, as we expected, but we'll likely see the concept spread to devices with 2D-only cameras (such as the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S) and improve upon its quality over time. The other unique feature thrown into the camera is a 3D intensity filter to adjust the image once it's captured and viewed in the gallery.
Interestingly enough, we also discovered that the Thrill simply refuses to snap 3D shots with the flash on. We searched through every little setting we could find, and still were unable to make this work. Taking low-light shots with the EVO, on the other hand, was much more enjoyable since the 3D feature offered easy access to the phone's flash.
Another question arises as to how these 3D images are saved, as two formats -- MPO and JPS -- are commonly used. JPS images are typically easier to view and edit than MPO because they place the left and right pictures side-by-side into one singular JPEG containing additional metadata. The EVO offers you a choice between both in the settings, while the Thrill automatically snaps the shot in JPS and gives you the option to convert to MPO directly on the phone.
Both devices shoot third-dimension video in HD at 720p and 30fps. In comparing the two flicks side by side, we determined that the EVO produced smoother 3D video and had slightly better audio. Unfortunately, we were left unimpressed with the Thrill's video performance (despite its ability to capture 720p 3D and 1080p 2D), as we noticed we couldn't create a smooth movie to save our life -- we had to double-check the settings to make sure we were recording on the highest setting, because it just didn't look like it was playing in true HD. Finally, the audio was just a tad rougher than it was on the EVO. They may look the same on the spec sheet (1080p 2D video on the Thrill excepted), but the video performance was decidedly better on the EVO.
Thrill 3D Sample
EVO 3D Sample
Even though the Thrill has a few clever features that you won't find on the EVO 3D, we'd have to call the latter device the winner in this three-dimensional shootout; it offers a more realistic 3D appearance, gives consistent quality and has easy-to-use hardware buttons that proved to be too much of a frustration on the Thrill 4G.
With such a crazy unique feature like 3D thrown into the phone, we're not entirely shocked that the regular, plain vanilla 2D camera isn't as good as most other top-of-the-line handsets equipped with dual-core CPUs. Sure, the pair of 5 megapixel image snappers aren't the pits, but LG isn't exactly known for putting the highest quality sensors in its mobile devices. As with the Optimus 3D, the Thrill takes satisfactory pictures in most settings, with one exception: the automatic exposure appeared to have difficulty making adjustments in direct sunlight, causing several washed-out photos in an inconsistent manner. As an upside, pictures taken on cloudy days or under the cover of trees were actually very good, macro shots turned out fantastic and images in low light scenarios were average -- let's just say your images of that sunset on the beach won't be getting re-tweeted.
The camera has the usual settings you'd come to expect in a feature-packed phone. It delivers the typical suite of scene modes, white balance effects and focus options for macro, continuous focus and face tracking, and even offers custom exposure settings to help improve those paltry noonday shots. It also offers touch-to-autofocus (only for 2D mode). Notably lacking, however, are ISO adjustments and panoramic shot options.
Nevermind for a moment that the Thrill feels like a gimmick with its 3D capabilities. Forget -- just for a little while -- that its 2D and video qualities are somewhat lacking, and that the phone's running on software in desperate need of being updated. The device is a powerhouse, thanks primarily to its 1GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4430 CPU and 512MB of dual-channel RAM. Seldom did we have any issues with the system lagging or delaying as a result of our multitasking, which involves emails, Twitter, using the browser with Flash, playing games and so on. It was incredibly responsive and didn't crash a single time during our tests.
Quadrant (higher is better)
Linpack (higher is better)
Nenamark (higher is better)
Neocore (higher is better)
Sunspider (lower is better)
Of the above benchmarks, there's one in particular that stands out the most: the Thrill 4G's Sunspider speeds zoomed right past the HTC EVO 3D and didn't bother waving goodbye. In fact, we typically don't see devices register a score beneath 4,000 when using the stock Android browser -- a feat we saw the Droid Bionic achieve-- yet this device consistently passed that milestone. Additionally, Quadrant and Nenamark also cranked out very respectable results, with Linpack and Neocore ranking not far behind.
Its stellar performance is great news, of course, until we consider the phone's battery life. It may perform like a top-notch handset, but you can't enjoy it for very long. The Thrill lasted barely over four hours in our video rundown test, and we weren't able to get much more than ten with moderate usage (emailing, social networking, occasionally calling and taking 2D / 3D pictures and videos). Needless to say, you'll want to become good friends with the task manager and pay it a visit regularly.
Lastly, the call and audio quality was very similar to the Optimus 3D, with reception almost consistently one bar above an iPhone 3GS tested on the same network. Voices, much like its lookalike, were loud though slightly tinny, and calls were pleasant otherwise.
Reviewing the Thrill 4G was essentially a complete rehash of the LG Optimus 3D, with the obvious exception of AT&T branding and price ($100 with a two-year commitment). While we didn't notice a large improvement over the global model to rate it a different score, we're willing to give major brownie points since it's a high-performance phone offered at a reasonable cost. This is one of the least expensive dual-core handsets on the market, and its overall performance is outstanding for the price point. Sadly, the phone's still a small step behind the EVO in 3D capturing abilities but it's not a disappointment by any means. We were, however, let down by its miserable battery life.
You may be tempted to consider the Thrill a niche product, and rightfully so. After all, there's no mistaking that it is -- first and foremost -- a 3D camera hunkered inside a phone. But in exchange for a Benjamin, you're getting a decent dual-core device that uses good (but not great) components throughout the remainder of the phone. Whether or not you approve of this pioneer's adventure into unexplored territories, you could do far worse than the Thrill 4G.