LG Optimus 3D: into another dimension

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The first portable, glasses-free 3D device is on the market, but is the extra price worth the extra depth?

LG’s long-awaited smartphone with a 3D screen was first shown back in January, yet it has only recently found its way into stores.

The Optimus 3D isn’t the first gadget with a 3D screen that doesn’t require glasses, but it is the first phone and, as such, the first 3D device you’ll carry everywhere. Nintendo has been receiving criticism over its screen, so LG is likely to find itself having to explain away reports of headache-inducing eye strain. Perhaps this explains why the EVO 3D was delayed for a while.

LG is clearly aware of potential issues, too, given the warning notices that appear when you enable the 3D mode. You can turn the warning off, otherwise you’ll be told every time to stop using the 3D mode if you get a headache or eye strain.

Before continuing, it’s important to make clear that the 3D mode is something you must enable, either from the 3D Space app or the 3D button on the side of the phone. The device doesn’t operate in 3D mode all the time, nor will it ever do so (the UI is the normal Android one, with LG’s own S-Class UI on top).

Compromises
For normal use, in landscape or portrait mode, it looks much like LG’s other dual-core smartphone, the Optimus 2X, with the notable difference being the 3D camera on the rear.

Just like buying a 3D TV, you probably won’t use the 3D capabilities all the time. Besides the reduced brightness that comes with how the screen works, you have to compromise the resolution, as the screen gets divided up via a parallax barrier that ensures every column of pixels is alternated to be seen by the left or right eye.

On that basis, it’s not such a silly idea to consider this phone, even if you’re not desperate to experience 3D, or consider the usage of 3D to be minimal. Despite waning interest in paying more money to watch a film in 3D, the phone does make it possible to do much more. You can play games, as well as enjoy your own 3D photos and videos. If the 4.3-inch screen isn’t big enough, you can output 3D to your 3D television, too.

LG has bundled games on the Optimus 3D, with more available to download from Gameloft, which seems to have gone 3D mad. Let’s Golf! 2, Asphalt 6 and N.O.V.A. (Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance) come pre-loaded and are the full versions, not time-limited demos. The level of 3D (depth) is adjustable to try to reduce the effects of eye strain. Likewise, the gallery app (for both pictures and video) allows you to adjust the level too, but for YouTube you’re stuck with the standard setup.

Ideal conditions
Once you’ve adjusted the 3D depth, it should all be fine, right? Well, when I used it in the office, as well as showing it off to colleagues (it certainly attracts interest), I found it hard to get used to. Not only that, but some of the pre-loaded content did make my eyes hurt.

However, I didn’t give up there and then, as you might if you got a short demo in a phone shop, but gave it another try that evening. I noticed that the problem seems to be caused by looking at the screen in a bright location with things going on around you. Things happening in your peripheral vision while you are trying to adjust to the 3D screen isn’t a good combination.

This does limit the usefulness of the screen, but there’s another problem, too: if you don’t hold the phone still, you’ll lose the 3D effect and cause more eye pain. Tilt the phone or move it back and forth and you lose the effect again. This is where the phone demonstrates the same problems as the Nintendo.

So, what is the point of having something you can only really use at home, in a dark room, with the phone held perfectly still?

Full article in Mobile News issue 499 (October 10, 2011).

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