LG Spectrum Review

Our LG Spectrum review comes at an interesting time for both the smartphone manufacturer as well the carrier on which it resides, Verizon. On one hand you have LG, which has brought us some excellent high-end Android smartphones as well as a surprising low-ender in the Optimus line. And then you have Verizon, whose 4G LTE network is starting to mature at the ripe old age of 1 but at the same time can appear to have a glass jaw.

And now, we have the LG Spectrum. It's the U.S. version of the LG Optimus LTE -- the Korean manufacturer's second foray in to the latest in high-speed mobile data -- and cousin to the LG Nitro HD on AT&T. (The LG Revolution was one of Verizon's fledgling LTE smartphones.)

Join us after the break as we put the phone through its paces and see if it has what it takes to help carry Verizon deep into 2012.


The Good

Fast processor, fast data and a lot of customizations to make things easy for new(ish) users. Has a bright, high-resolution display.

The Bad

The level of tweaks and customizations may turn some off. Battery life isn't stellar, slight UI lag in places.

Conclusion

The Spectrum is a solid phone for Verizon, but the highly skinned user interface is starting to look a bit cartoonish. The display is a strong positive, but yet again we're left waiting for the promised upgrade to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

Inside this review

More info

The video hands-on


Youtube link for mobile viewing

The hardware

When LG first announced the Optimus LTE, you couldn't help but be excited -- especially when Verizon picked it up. The Spectrum's got a 4.5-inch IPS display at 720x1280 resolution. LG calls it a "True HD IPS" display. And it's covered in Corning Gorilla Glass, which the kids are all about these days.

LG Spectrum review

The display itself is pretty good. We've said before that once you go to a 720-pixel-wide screen it's tough to go back, and that remains true here. We do notice pixels ever so slightly on shades of white, but that shouldn't be a deal-breaker for anyone.

Fun fact: You actually get a little more screen real estate on the Spectrum than you do on the 4.65-inch Samsung Galaxy Nexus thanks to the GNex's on-screen buttons taking up some pixels. Go figure.

Above the display is the Verizon logo and a 1.3MP front-facing camera.

LG Spectrum review

Below the display you have a trio of capacitive buttons -- yes, only three. You get menu, home and back. The home button has had a bit of design flare thrown at it. It's recessed ever so slightly under the glass, stenciled into a bit of silver metal with a ring design. It's a nice effect, especially when the buttons are backlit.

Why only three buttons? Why get rid of the search button? The Spectrum is far from the first phone to go this route. It could just be a design decision, or perhaps its in anticipation of the promised Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update. (That would also point to LG having a prominent on-screen search bar, same as in the stock builds of ICS.)

LG Spectrum reviewLG Spectrum review

The LG Spectrum has a decidedly plastic feel, and it's light -- 4.99 ounces. But it's also pretty big, at 5.33 inches tall, 2.71 inches wide. But like other recent 4G LTE phones, it's cinched in its belt and is just 0.41 inches thick. It's definitely got a bit of a boxy feel, but the corners are nicely rounded, as is the transition to the back of the phone. Whereas the front and rear of the Spectrum are decidedly dark, the bezels ring the phone in silver plastic.

LG Spectrum review

Flip the Spectrum over and you'll see the expansive battery cover. It takes up the entire rear of the phone and is done in a deceptive checkerboard pattern that gives the illusion of depth. Here you'll find the LG and 4G LTE logos, speakerphone (which props the phone up every so slightly when it's on its back), and the 8-megapixel camera with flash.

LG Spectrum reviewLG Spectrum

The bottom bezel has only the notch with which you'll remove the battery cover. The left-hand bezel has a simple volume rocker.

The top bezel has the power button, secondary microphone, 3.5mm headphone jack and the microUSB port, hidden behind an easy-to-remove door.

LG Spectrum review

Pop off the battery cover (which seems solid enough and is easy to remove) and you'll find the removable 1830 mAh battery, 4G LTE SIM card (it's a mini SIM card and not the smaller microSIM you'll find in the Verizon Galaxy Nexus or iPhone) and microSD card. The microSD card isn't spring-loaded or anything -- you just slide it loose with a fingernail.

What's under the hood

The Spectrum is powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor running at 1.5 GHz. You can feel a little bit of warmth coming from the top part of the phone when it cranks up, but we're not cooking eggs on it just yet.

For on-board storage, the Spectrum technically has 4GB of flash memory. But you've only got about 1.7GB on which to install applications. (The system dump is a massive 900MB or so, thanks to all of the preloaded apps.) The phone comes with a 16GB microSD card. As for RAM, you've got 1GB total.

The Spectrum is a 4G LTE device, meaning that in addition to using Verizon's CDMA 3G network for voice and data, it uses LTE for high-speed data. And it's fast stuff. But faster data still comes at a price -- and that's battery life. Yours will vary depending on how good an LTE signal you have (bouncing back and forth between 3G and 4G can be a killer) and how often you're using it.

The Spectrum also managed to fail what's long been a battery test for me -- the ability to spend the night off the charger without committing hari-kari. That's pretty disappointing, especially considering I've installed just a single app so far -- which means it's not likely anything I've done.

LG Spectrum specs

 

The software

This is where things get a little sticky for the LG Spectrum. You've undoubtedly heard us and others say that once you use an Ice Cream Sandwich phone (OK, there's really only one so far), it's tough to go back to anything else. And we're fighting through that with the Spectrum. Is that really fair? Probably not. But ICS is the new standard to which many of you (and us) will hold smartphones, and we're not going to shy away from that. We will, however, look at the Spectrum's software in a bit of a vacuum as well. And with that ...

LG Spectrum review

Welcome back to Gingerbread -- Android 2.3.5, to be exact. And LG's got it heavily skinned, as it often does. The look and feel is still akin to Samsung's TouchWiz -- things are very, very colorful. (The swirly wallpaper included by default doesn't help matters any.) You've got seven homescreens on which to place apps and widgets; six of them have items on them already.

LG Spectrum reviewLG Spectrum review

LG's slick multimedia widget -- sort of a flip-bookmark thing -- has returned, giving you quick access to videos, photos, albums artists and playlists. It looks nice, which is why it's a shame that the animations often are laggy. LG's weather widget is powered by Yahoo, and it's nicely done, with an attractive clock thrown in.

You've also got a social networking widget, as well as a newsreader, plus a cadre of app icons. Standard fare.

LG Spectrum ThemesLG Spectrum review

LG's got "Themes" (which very quickly and annoyingly change their names to "Scenes") tucked into the Spectrum -- sets of preloaded home screens for various purposes. There's the "current" theme, which is what you're working with by default. There's also Play (adds more social, photo and music widgets), Work (e-mail, calendar, news and contacts widgets) and Travel (a larger weather widget, calendar, dual time-zone clocks). These are nicely done and are relatively quick to switch between.

LG Spectrum review

Here's a cool feature: LG's got a number of gesture settings available. Some of them work better than others (move cursor proved to be especially frustrating), but it's cool to see something like this included.

LG Spectrum review

The Spectrum's notification pull-down has been customized. You've got toggles for vibrate, rotation, Bluetooth, GPS and airplane mode, plus a mondo button toggling Wifi (which is how it should be).

Now ... Let's talk about the app drawer. Most of us are used to grids of icons, and you've got that on the Spectrum. But LG's long been changing things up here. And while it's been a while since your intrepid reviewer has used an LG device, we're not liking some of what we're seeing here.

LG Spectrum reviewLG Spectrum review

Apps are grouped into categories. That's a good thing, actually. And LG allows for a lot of customizations here. You can add, delete, rename or reorder categories. And you can rearrange apps within categories. (Hit menu>manage apps to do so.) Cool. We're on board so far.

But there's no option for just a straight alphabetical grouping of apps, in the traditional sense. You'll have to install a third-party launcher for that. For all the options LG gives, why not one to present apps in the traditional manner? Oh, and why in the name of all things holy is the "Applications" category empty? Does not compute.

If you just have to have things in alphabetical order, you can change to list view.

Now, this being a Verizon phone, the Spectrum is preloaded with a bunch of apps. Two dozen, in fact. They include:

  • Amazon Kindle
  • VCAST Apps
  • Bitbop
  • Blockbuster
  • Finance
  • Guided Tours
  • Need for Speed Hot Pursuit
  • Let's Golf 2
  • My Verizon Mobile
  • Netflix
  • NFL Mobile
  • Polaris Office
  • Rhapsody
  • Richnote
  • ESPN ScoreCenter
  • Setup Wizard
  • Smart Movie HD
  • SmartShare
  • TuneWiki
  • VCAST Media Manager
  • VCAST Tones
  • Verizon Video
  • VideoSurf
  • VZ Navigator

That's a lot of apps.

The cameras

The Spectrum has a front-facing 1.3MP camera and a rear facing 8MP camera. The latter records video in 1080p (1088p, precisely).

LG Spectrum review

The camera app is nicely laid out and pretty self-explanatory. It doesn't have the most features we've seen, but it should get the job done.

All thumbnails below open in full resolution in a new window.

The front-facing camera (1.3MP, 720p video)

LG Spectrum front camera test


Youtube link for mobile viewing

The rear-facing camera (8MP, 1080p video)

LG Spectrum rear camera testLG Spectrum rear camera test

LG Spectrum rear camera testLG Spectrum rear camera test


Youtube link for mobile viewing

Other odds and ends

  • The Spectrum has Wifi Direct, which allows you to connect to Wifi-enabled devices without going through a router.
  • Wallpaper options abound -- you can even set a different one for when the phone is charging. (LG's included a water live wallpaper that shows the current charging level. Nice.)
  • There's no easy 3G/4G toggle, but you can set the phone to only use CDMA by going to the network settings.
  • The Spectrum's got a decent speakerphone. Not the loudest we've heard, but not the softest, either.
  • If Wifi is available but you're not connected, the Spectrum will prompt you to. That'll help both with your data usage as well as battery life.
  • NFC's nowhere to be found.
  • You've got tethering settings, and you'll need a tethering plan to use them.
  • There are two keyboard presinstalled -- LG's own, which isn't horrible, and Swype. Or you can install your own.

The wrap-up

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that. From a consumer standpoint, the LG Spectrum is a pretty nice device, hitting all the bullet points. The specs are high-end, the cameras are good. It'll be getting an update to Android 4.0. And LG's user interface provides a great starting point for building your own homescreens. Or it'll be entirely usable out of the box.

From a smartphone nerd/tech reviewer's point of view, jumping from the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 back to Android 2.3 Gingerbread -- and a highly skinned version of Gingerbread at that -- is a bit of culture shock. There's a lot in Ice Cream Sandwich that we want to see carried over to manufacturers' implementations. The question is will they, and how long will it take?

For for right now, today, the LG Spectrum shows how far 4G LTE devices have come on Verizon in the past year. Slick and sleek are in. Big and bulky are out. (OK, big is still kind of in.) And for $199 on contract (at the time of this writing), the LG Spectrum is well worth a look.

 
There are 25 comments

I honestly have never seen a negative review of an Androud Device on AC. Its always "Welll It may be not be for you but imm sure those guys over there might like".... Always trying to balance out negatives. Not sure if thats a good or bad thing.

EboMike says:

You could always go to the notorious Google-bashers at Gizmodo and then take the middle of both reviews :)

Meh... Can't take anything I read over at GIZ serious anymore... it's just a causal browser site now...

JtothaR says:

That's cause nobody has just released a 550mhz single core running donut, with EDGE support, non-removable batt., 256MB RAM, and VGA camera lately.

JeffDenver says:

Totally agree. The equivocations are annoying. AC needs to grow some balls. There is no sugar-coating the UI...it is almost universally reviled (yes, even by Android 2.3 standards). I have yet to meet anyone that has used it and liked it.

How does it have more screen real estate than the Galaxy Nexus? -sighs-

aspeo says:

I'm pretty sure he's talking about the GN having onscreen keys that take up some room. You don't lose much screen space because of this, but you do lose some.

DWR_31 says:

How do you say, 4.5 inches without on screen buttons.?

Gnex = 4.65 inches with on screen buttons averaging 4.3 inches.

the mozz says:

I thought this was a 'second gen lte device' as in the lte radios, not LG's second generation. I was wondering how it slipped through! Lol

does anyone have any info of when we may see the newer lte radio specs? And what, if any, improvements they may offer in real world conditions?

@austin remember the nexus has a 4.3" screen, along with .3" dedicated to "buttons"

Grahaman27 says:

nice front camera quality! but still way too big of a phone for me. seems like android comes out with just too many "power phones" that are just too big. I want to forget that my phone is in my pocket... not always know its there.

the galaxy nexus is so thin and light that I hardly ever notice it in my pocket

Grahaman27 says:

less than the nexus s though?

plumhead says:

I can't speak for the Nexus S, but I feel my Gnex in my pocket less than I did my Dinc

bespinct says:

You'd be surprised about how these larger phones feel when in pocket. In the past year I have carried a DInc, a Fascinate, a Droid Charge, a Dr2 and a GNexus. Because it is so light and slim, the GNex feels very much like the DInc in my pocket. The worse feel in pocket was delivered by the D2. That thing was just a brick.

Steve in CT

npo says:

Still trying to make sense of Verizon's statement that this will have global GSM capability once some sort of updates are completed.

Here's a theory:

...the radios in Spectrum, D4 and perhaps some of Verizon's other new LTE phones have the ability to use the GSM frequencies used internationally & here in the US by ATT. These phones will work on those networks now if one uses a GSM sim card in the LTE sim slot (still might require a hack to get data, from what I've read). This functionality is unannounced because Verizon's software and/or current LTE sim cards aren't capable of switching from LTE to GSM. So Verizon isn't able to switch the phones to global mode with a quick reprogram... or more importantly to charge users for global roaming. If someone tells the masses how to program the phones to get full functionality with a foreign sim card, Verizon will lose alot of $$ over the life of these phones. Verizon is working on software and a dual LTE/GSM sim card that will make these phones work within their current pricing structure.

This is all speculation... is it possible or complete BS?

kenyee says:

How can a high end phone *not* have NFC :-P

obi5683 says:

Ask yourself: How much will I really use NFC?

A) A lot during the first week or two, then not at all because none of my friends have NFC phones.
B) All the time because I hacked Google Wallet onto my phone.
C) Never, but I like telling people what I could do with my NFC phone.

JeffDenver says:

THIS

Seriously, it is basically just for bragging rights at this point. It would be nice to have NFC, but I cant say I am missing it at all right now.

brh0507 says:

Um, it does have a search button. Press and hold the menu key, and Google search pops right up.

ludeboy says:

The UI looks like Touchwiz's retarded cousin. Another case of nice hardware ruined by crappy software. Good job LG. Now you know why nobody buys your phones.

JeffDenver says:

LOL...best description of the UI I have seen so far.

socialmuse says:

I am buying this phone. I know how to change the UI = i can fix the ONLY thing wrong with this phone. Better than the GNex and cheaper. Keep your ICS, When the LG gets updated to ICS I will STILL change everything to my own personal settings.
I love the GNex, but this phone is seriously better in every single way. Only thing GNex has on this LG is NFC....which isnt even usable yet.

obi5683 says:

Except when viewing in landscape using polarized eye-wear (which 99% of people will never do). OLED FTW.

Android Beam works.

Both phones are plastic.

GNex wins due to two bloat apps out of the box compared to >2 on this phone.

JeffDenver says:

...and loses due to no SD slot, which the spectrum has. Expandability FTW.

And Galaxy Nexus has a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, not 1.5 GHz (Spectrum)