Will 3D phones ever catch on? First impressions of the LG Optimus 3D Max

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Make sure to check out our full LG Optimus 3D Max review.

TV manufacturers may have finally put down the pompoms on their 3D cheerleading at CES 2012, but on the phone front, LG isn’t quite ready to walk off the field. At Mobile World Congress 2012 in Barcelona, the company unveiled the LG Optimus 3D Max, a reworked successor to the Optimus 3D.

As you might expect for a successor to a phone that debuted a year ago, the 3D Max will be thinner and lighter. But that’s obviously not the main attraction here, it’s the 4.3-inch glasses-free 3D screen, which is now significantly brighter at 520 nits.

LG has loaded the phone up with 3D games to show it off, including Asphalt 6, Gulliver’s Travels, and Let’s Golf 2. Not many games natively support 3D, but LG has a fix for that too. The 3D Max comes with a 3D app converter that can make otherwise incompatible OpenGL apps and games work on the phone’s glasses-free 3D screen. (The same app is available for the old Optimus 3D with a firmware update).

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Perhaps the coolest demo of this functionality is Google Earth, which is stunning enough on its own, but takes on a literal new dimension in true 3D. Plains stretch out to infinity, mountains seem to jut out of the screen, and the Earth from a far looks like the marble it should look like, not a blue-and-green pizza. Unfortunately, drifting even a little out of “sweet spot” for 3D viewing causes it to all go fuzzy and the fun is over.

Even with new ways to turn on the 3D functionality, that really seems to be the biggest limitation that will plague this phone – the same one that plagued the one before it. You just can’t watch 3D for long without moving the phone enough just enough to topple the 3D effect. Stretch your arms or tilt your head and it pancakes in a hurry.

Lg optimus 3d Max cameraAs for the rest of the device, it’s, well, a pretty solid Android phone with a 4.3-inch screen (that looks superb even in 2D), 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 8GB of internal memory, and a 1,520mAh battery. Like the Optimus 3D before it, you also get a 5-megapixel 3D camera, which worked surprisingly well for us. Unlike the old model, users won’t have to pay as much of a bulk penalty for 3D, if they opt for it. The 3D Max is just 148 grams and 9.6 mm thick. That’s very much in line with non-3D phones of the same class. At least with these specs, customers who have even a passing interest in 3D can consider the Max without making that many sacrifices for the novelty.

The Optimus 3D Max will ship in Korea come March, then begin a slow rollout through other markets starting with Europe. It will ship with Android 2.3, but Google claims an update to Android 4.0 will be available soon after.