It has been quite a year for LG, which despite its top spot among dumbphone sales has had a bit of a difficult time making it big in the Android world. Faced with stiff competition from fellow Korean handset maker Samsung, as well as HTC and Motorola, LG has struggled to create a brand for itself-- despite solid hardware, it has consistently failed to catch the attention of those who decide which Android devices sell and which ones flop-- the consumer.
Then came the Optimus G and, subsequently the Nexus 4, both of which helped LG get back in the game. The Nexus 4 is widely considered to be the best Nexus to date, and the Optimus G has been called one of the best smartphones of 2012, besting even the Galaxy S 3 and the One X.
Not all of LG's releases this year have been as stellar, though, and unfortunately for Verizon customers, two of LG's misses have landed on Big Red's network. The LG Intuition was too "groundbreaking" for its own good with its awkward 4:3 display, and the Spectrum 2, despite its best efforts, manages to feel like an outdated afterthought and a slap in the face to Verizon loyalists who have had to watch LG's comeback from the sidelines.
Read on for our full review.
The Spectrum 2 is a nice upgrade from the original Spectrum, thanks to its gorgeous display and zippy performance. Other goodies like wireless charging and stellar battery life sweeten the deal.
The Spectrum 2 looks positively 2011 with a bulky design and a thick waistline. LG's UI still can't compete with the competition, and thanks to LG's poor track record, it's a safe bet that Jelly Bean is a long way's away.
Inside this review
The Spectrum 2 is Verizon Wireless’ ugly duckling this holiday season, a device that’s wearing jeans among a black-tie crowd. With competition like the Droid DNA, the new RAZR HDs and RAZR M, and Samsung’s Galaxy lineup, the Spectrum 2 feels like a bit of an afterthought, and would certainly be the last one picked for the kickball game. The hardware here feels downright last-generation, lacking the eye-popping thinness and style that we’re beginning to see on even entry-level devices. At .36 inches thick and weighing in at 5.22 ounces, the Spectrum 2 is noticeably heftier than much of the rest of Verizon’s similarly-spec'd lineup, even if it doesn’t translate on paper.
This illusion is due in large part to what I call the Spectrum 2’s “dual layer” appearance. The rectangular slab, accented by LG’s now-signature curved chrome trim and sharp corners, is actually a rather attractive design. The rear battery cover, however, ruins the Spectrum 2’s chances in a beauty contest—the black plastic door adds significant thickness to the phone, blends poorly into the rest of the design. If you didn’t know any better, you might mistake the door for an extended battery, due to how out of place it looks in practice. I described the Spectrum 2 as a low-end, hump back Optimus G to a friend, and it might just be the best way I can describe LG’s choices here. The single saving grace of this battery door, however, is its inductive charging and NFC capabilities, though I’ve seen other companies integrate this technology in a more attractive package.
Underneath that door lies the phone’s microSD and SIM slots, along with a 2,150 mAh rated for 10 hours of talk time. Real world usage was impressive—I easily breezed through a full day (7 a.m.- 11 p.m.) of moderate usage without the need for an outlet. You’ll easily make it through your workday even with extreme hands-glued-to-phone usage, and with light usage you’ll easily make it to 24 hours. When it gets to the point of needing a charge, throw your Spectrum 2 on any Qi-enabled pad and you’ll be back to 100% in just around an hour and a half. Some might call capacitive charging a gimmick, but it has yet to lose its luster for me.
Looking at the Spectrum 2 head-on, you’ll see a relatively attractive device flaunting a 4.7-inch IPS display with full 720p resolution. It strikes a perfect balance between size and portability, and it looks absolutely magnificent. It’s cut from the same cloth as the Optimus G and the Nexus 4’s display, and looks just as bright, vivid, and colorful as its higher-priced siblings. Viewing angles, thanks to the IPS technology, are great here, though direct sunlight viewing leaves just a bit to be desired. I’d rank this device up there with the Droid RAZR HD, though it fails to match the saturation and sheer sharpness of the Galaxy S 3 and the Droid DNA respectively. I personally tend to think that LG’s displays are almost too bright, and at times appear washed out, but I realize this is a strictly personal opinion and therefore can’t place blame on anything but my own tastes.
Underneath that beautiful display, LG has chosen to slap on four (yes, four) capacitive buttons, aglow with a blue hue that comes oh-so-close to ruining the display all together. Some may find this touch endearing, yet others, including myself, will find it to be an absolutely dreadful addition.
Under the hood, the Spectrum 2 has gathered the internals from the Optimus G’s cutting room floor, and matches the Droid RAZR M, its closest competitor, nearly punch for punch. It’s got a 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960 processor, paired with a gig of DDR2 RAM, 16 GBs of internal storage, and a microSD slot capable of holding up to 32 GBs. Around back, you’ve got an 8MP shooter, while up front boasts a more modest 1.3 MP camera. As you'll read in a bit, the Spectrum 2 manages to produce impressive performance even without top-of-the-line specs.
The Spectrum 2 ships with Ice Cream Sandwich buried under LG’s bulky and obtrusive UI-- The experience here is nearly identical to both the Optimus G and the Intuition, complete with overwrought screen transitions, cartoon-like icons, and LG’s Quick Memo, Tag+, and SmartShare apps. I’ve never been a huge fan of LG’s UI, and when faced with the choice between it, HTC’s Sense, and Samsung’s TouchWiz, it will never come out on top.
Thankfully, the Spectrum 2’s performance doesn’t suffer from it. In fact, this is one of the better-performing devices I’ve used lately, ranking right up there with the RAZR M and RAZR HD. The extra gig of RAM in the Droid DNA, the S3, and the Note 2 do bring those devices into a higher tier, but for at least $100 less than those devices, the Spectrum 2 impresses. The UI, as obtrusive as it may be, is absolutely lag and stutter free, with zippy transitions and speedy here-to-there action. I did find a bit of hesitation while browing the web, though switching to Chrome remedied the problem. To be earnest, you won’t find much to complain about here, as I’ve yet to find a processor-heavy task to slow the Spectrum 2 down.
In news called surprising by no one, Verizon has managed to stuff its usual list of misfit apps on the Spectrum 2, including Amazon’s shopping, Kindle, and MP3 apps, Amex Serve, Audible, Let’s Golf 3, NFL Mobile, Real Racing 2, V Cast Tones, Verizon Video, VZ Navigator, and Zappos. If you’re still shocked by this, I suggest opting for LG’s bloat-free Nexus 4 and moving on.
Right off the bat, I had low expectations for the Spectrum 2's camera-- simply put, LG's optics just aren't up to the standards of Samsung's and HTC's. And with the bar set low, I wasn't terribly put off by what the Spectrum 2 produced, though I was far from impressed.
Photo quality here is similar to other LG devices, though falls just short of what the Optimus G is able to produce. I'd liken photos from the Spectrum 2 to what we've recently seen from Motorola's RAZRs-- decent white balance and color reproduction, but an overall lack of sharpness and, at times, a "washed out" feel. There's a certain vibrancy missing here, and photos are recognizable for being from a smartphone camera. In a few words or less, photos are missing a "wow" we've become used to.
Performance wise, the Spectrum 2's eight megapixel camera is admirable: after a minor delay in launching, the camera focuses with speed and snaps with little to no shutter lag. LG has included some goodies to add to the camera's functionality, including a "Time Catch" shot mode which takes the best out of a group of rapid-shot photos, and the surprisingly useful "Cheese Shutter", which snaps your shot at the sound of the "cheese".
The front-facer has a few added bonuses as well, including a "Cheese Shutter" of its own, as well as "Beauty Shot", which LG says will even skin tone and add an overall improvement in self-portraits. I didn't notice too much of an improvement, but I also don't take many self portraits. Regardless, it's a nice added touch.
As with every review I’ve written in the past few months, I find myself a bit harsher than usual, thanks to Verizon’s absolutely stellar lineup this holiday season. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—this is by far the most robust portfolio I’ve seen Verizon offer in my past 15 years of being a customer.
As great as this is for customers, it’s equally as dooming for LG. Among any other lineup of competitors, the Spectrum 2 might just appear to be a decent mid-level choice, but when faced with such stiff competition, LG’s device really pales in comparison. For $50 less, you can snag a Droid RAZR M, which I consider to be one of the best devices on the market today. It’s faster, more attractive, and now ships with Jelly Bean out of the box. You’ll sacrifice some screen size, but it’ll be worth every tenth of an inch. . And if you’re able to squeeze another $100 out of your budget, you’re opening yourself up to some of the best Android devices ever made, like the Galaxy S 3, the Droid RAZR HD, and the Droid DNA.
To be fully honest, the main thing characteristic holding the Spectrum 2 back from being truly impressive is its bulky, outdated design. Despite its ample battery life, zippy performance, and wireless charging capability, the Spectrum 2 simply uglier than what $100 can purchase today. With 2013 at the door, the next wave of thin and light, neither of which are attributes of the Spectrum 2, are about to make its entrance. And that's really too bad, as LG has made some of the year’s best hardware with the Optimus G and the Nexus 4. Unfortunately, though, Verizon must settle for its scraps.
If you’re hell bent on a super-large display, the Spectrum 2 offers a beautiful one; if you’re willing to shave a few tenths of an inch off, grab a Droid RAZR M and never look back. Other manufacturers have upped their games when it comes to entry and mid-level devices; it’s time for LG to do the same.