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.
Fast processor, fast data and a lot of customizations to make things easy for new(ish) users. Has a bright, high-resolution display.
The level of tweaks and customizations may turn some off. Battery life isn't stellar, slight UI lag in places.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
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'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'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.
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.
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.
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
- Guided Tours
- Need for Speed Hot Pursuit
- Let's Golf 2
- My Verizon Mobile
- NFL Mobile
- Polaris Office
- ESPN ScoreCenter
- Setup Wizard
- Smart Movie HD
- VCAST Media Manager
- VCAST Tones
- Verizon Video
- VZ Navigator
That's a lot of apps.
The Spectrum has a front-facing 1.3MP camera and a rear facing 8MP camera. The latter records video in 1080p (1088p, precisely).
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)
The rear-facing camera (8MP, 1080p video)
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.
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.
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