JR Raphael

LG Optimus G: 5 big questions about the new flagship phone

September 19, 2012 2:14 PM EDT

LG Optimus GLG's got something big in store for us this holiday season: the LG Optimus G, a high-powered new superphone based on the Android operating system.

LG isn't keeping quiet about the Optimus G: The company introduced the phone during the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin last month. It's holding an event in South Korea this week to show off the phone to select U.S. media. And it held an event in New York City this morning to push the new device to the rest of America's tech-writing forces.

LG's Optimus G certainly looks impressive: The phone sports a 4.7-inch "True HD" 1280 x 768 IPS display, housed in a sleek textured-back shell. It's powered by a 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, and it has a 13-megapixel rear camera along with a 1.3-megapixel front-facing lens.

Some other things about the phone, though, are a little less clear. Specifically, I have five big questions:

1. Where will LG's Optimus G be available in the U.S.?

LG has said the Optimus G will launch in the States in November, but so far, we have no idea which carrier -- or carriers -- will carry it. If the phone launches as an exclusive to one specific network, as most high-end devices do these days, that'll obviously limit its appeal and potential for success in comparison to the multicarrier model manufacturers like Samsung are now using.

2. How will U.S. carriers mess with the phone?

LG Optimus G U.S. ReleaseAmerican carriers are notorious for screwing up devices (see T-Mobile, Samsung Galaxy S II). So will LG let the carriers "put their own mark" on the phone -- a.k.a. screw with its design for no apparent reason and load it down with enough bloatware to sink a small ship? Or will it follow Samsung's lead as of the Galaxy S III and insist on a standard design across the board (in terms of hardware, at least)?

The current rumor, for what it's worth, is that the device will hit AT&T and Sprint, one or both of which might rebrand it as the LG Eclipse 4G LTE. Why? Because they can.

Hey, at least no one's calling it the LG Eclipse 4G Skyrocket Touch with LTE. (Yet.)

3. Will the Optimus G ever get upgraded to a current version of Android?

LG Android UpgradesLG has an embarrassingly bad track record when it comes to Android upgrades. In my most recent Android upgrade report card, the company got a big fat "F" for failing to upgrade five phones to which it had committed giving Ice Cream Sandwich in the second quarter of the year. Worse yet, it hadn't (and still hasn't) said a word about what was going on with the widespread delays.

As of today, LG still has a slew of devices that were promised 4.0 upgrades and haven't received them. And the company has yet to make a single Android 4.1 upgrade commitment.

The Optimus G is launching with a heavily modified version of Android 4.0 -- a version of the platform that'll be more than a full year old by the time the phone debuts. Company reps have gone on the record as saying it's "unclear" whether the phone will ever see the more current Jelly Bean release, which has been out in the wild and available to manufacturers since early July.

4. Why does the Optimus G have dated physical buttons?

The 4.x level of the Android platform is designed for a virtual button experience, like what we see in phones such as the Galaxy Nexus and Droid Razr M. While the software will still work with old-style physical buttons, it's more of a matter of legacy support than true optimization; as I've outlined in numerous reviews, the button-reliant approach is anything but ideal and delivers a subpar 4.x-level user experience, both within the OS itself and with the many apps that now conform to 4.x-level design standards.

To make matters worse, LG has also opted to make one of its buttons a "menu" command -- something that was phased out of Android after the 2.3-level release in order to move away from hidden functions and make the platform more user-friendly. The phone has that command in place of the now-standard 4.x-level app-switching control.

It baffles me that some manufacturers insist on sticking to these sorts of dated configurations. Does LG have any explanation for its decision?

5. Will LG's Optimus G be the basis for a new Nexus?

There's a juicy rumor out there -- and let me emphasize, it is just a rumor -- that the Optimus G could be transformed into a pure Google phone and sold as a Nexus device this holiday season.

Remember, reports suggest Google is planning to launch multiple Nexus phones -- made by multiple manufacturers -- later this year. Given that, some are speculating that LG could be one of the new Nexii masters and the Optimus G could be the foundation of its creation.

Much of the buzz comes from the folks at the blog Android And Me, who say their "trusted sources" expect LG to release a Nexus-branded phone within the next few months. Considering the Optimus G's place at the top of LG's current line-up, the Android and Me crew predicts it could be the perfect candidate for a Google-friendly transformation.

A Nexus phone would run an unmodified version of the latest Android software and would presumably have a 4.x-level button-free design (I can't imagine Google releasing a flagship reference phone with a dated hardware setup). In that sort of form -- and with official Google support for ongoing upgrades -- the Optimus G could appeal to a lot of Android enthusiasts who wouldn't otherwise be interested.

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Android Power TwitterFor now, these questions remain unanswered. With the phone's release right around the corner, though -- and any preholiday Google Nexus announcements inevitably on the horizon -- we should have some insights before long.

Except for questions 3 and 4, that is. I suspect we won't be getting answers to those anytime soon.