A vanilla UI and dual-core power combined with open hardware make the G2X one of the best Android phones to date
The LG T-Mobile G2X and its cousin from across the pond the Optimus 2X show us LG is serious about getting into the high-end Android market in the United States. LG has always been a major player in the mobile space, but up until now its U.S. Android offerings have leaned towards the mid-range of the market at best. When the LG Star prototype first showed up last November, the Android world (at least the part on the Internet) was all a-buzz with excitement. It's 4-inch display, dual-core Tegra 2 CPU and front facing camera were all still relatively new ideas then, and we ate it up.
But today, those kinds of specifications are a given. Maybe we're jaded, but as a whole the Android community scoffs at phones that aren't dual-core hot rods with big glass and don't have two cameras. So how does the G2X measure up with our current expectations of what makes a high-end Android smartphone? Hit the break and have a look.
Some hands-on time
We've had the LG Optimus 2X here for a while, and have held off so we can bring a kind of two-for. The hardware is identical, and the difference is solely the OS customization (and the radio frequencies, of course). See what I mean with the following hands-ons of the Optimus 2X and the T-Mobile G2X.
YouTube link for mobile viewing
Now have a look at the T-Mobile G2X hands-on for comparison:
YouTube link for mobile viewing
That's a lot of sexy hardware, now let's break it all down.
The G2X is big without feeling big, and weighty without feeling heavy. It checks in at 4.90 x 2.50 x 0.40 inches for its dimensions, and it weighs an even 5 ounces. It's definitely right at the edge of comfortable carrying if you choose to tote it around in your shirt pocket, but the bit of extra screen real estate is handy. Maybe 4 inches really is the sweet spot after all. The soft-touch back and the metal frame and corners make it very hand-friendly, and the fit and finish is easily one of the nicest we've seen. The G2X feels like quality, and if any phone deserved to be called premium this would be one of them.
It's also tough, and survived a brutal trip to Google I/O banging around in a gear bag and being thrown in and out of overhead compartments, coming out none the worse for it. Allow me a bit of artistic license and I'd say you could drive tent pegs with it. The IPS display is everything it was lauded as, with excellent color representation and viewing angles. Side by side you can see the difference between a normal LCD display and the G2X's better technology.
But look and feel isn't everything, the layout and accessibility of ports and controls is important to me as well. The G2X is laid out perfect for a right-hander. Since you'll be holding it in your left hand, everything you need to get to is in the top corner where your index finger rests -- allowing for easy access and quick "training" of your finger to know where things are without looking. Little things mean a lot, especially if you plan on keeping something for two years.
On top you have the 3.5 mm headphone jack, a mini-HDMI port nicely covered by a flap to keep the gunk out, and the power button. On the right side of the phone you have the volume buttons near the top. No rocker switch here, the volume controls have been split into two separate buttons. Working your way to the front of the phone, you have the earpiece, the 1.3 MP front-facing camera, and proximity/light sensors up top. Slide down the four inches of Gorilla Glass and you have four capacitive buttons, in a seemingly random order (of course) at the bottom. The edges of the glass are very nicely beveled where they meet the metal frame, making the front of the phone a seamless experience. It's very nicely done.
On the back, you have the 8MP camera and flash, sitting inside a small hump in the center. Unlike the Motorola Droid X, the hump doesn't extend the full width of the phone and is constrained to the center surrounding the camera assembly. It gives it a bit of an odd appearance, and as any EVO 4G users can testify, a camera that extends away from the body is just begging to get scratches on the glass. Only time will tell. On the bottom of the G2X, you have a microUSB port nestled between a pair of speaker grills. These are all recessed in the metal center frame, and look very nice but are a bit of a lint trap.
Under the battery door you have a 1500 mAh battery, which does a fairly nice job keeping the phone running all day, your SIM card slot, and a microSD card slot. You'll need to remove the battery to access your SIM (which you should be doing anyway -- don't switch them while your phone is turned on!) but the spring loaded SD card slot is accessible while the battery is in and the phone is running. We like that, and since Android gives you the tools to unmount and eject your card while the system is running, they all should be done this way if possible. Another nice touch is the protective glass over the camera assembly comes off with the battery cover, so if the protrusion does cause scratches, replacement is easy enough.
Overall, the hardware is a big plus. It feels like you have a $500 device in your hands when you hold it. Yes, that's all very subjective, but the combination of beveled glass, metal and quality soft touch plastic should appeal to most. It's one of the few phones on the market that feels as well built as the Nexus One or the iPhone 4.
- 4-inch IPS -LCD display (480 x 800)
- 1GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor
- 8 megapixel camera with LED Flash
- 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera for video chat
- 1080p HD Video recording
- micro HDMI port with 1080p HD video playback on an HDTV
- 8GB internal storage
- MicroSD card slot (up to 32GB)
- HSPA+ support (14.4Mpbs)
- WiFi (b/g/n)
- Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR technology
Android phones are connected and cloud-centric, and the biggest question is usually battery life. The good news is that the G2X will make it through the day for most people. On an average day checking mail, doing a bit of texting and making a few calls, you'll have power left by bedtime. On an extreme day of tethering, poor connection, and assorted abuse expect it to be dead by dinner. It's all in your usage, but over all the battery on the G2X is a step above what we're used to from an Android phone.
Calls are nice and clear on both ends, and much better than the average cell phone fodder. I'm not sure if it's a testament to the hardware or the radio engineering, but the G2X rivals the legendary call quality and clarity of Motorola's golden age. You won't be disappointed.
Wifi, Bluetooth, and GPS all worked without a hitch, and both the G2X and the Optimus 2X allowed my Bluetooth headset to access my phonebook with no complaints. The external speaker assembly is plenty loud enough for voice calls, but a bit tinny for music.
The Optimus 2X software
While the hardware between the G2X and the Optimus 2X may be identical, the software is light years apart. The G2X runs what amounts to a vanilla build of Froyo with a few T-Mobile extras tossed in for good measure, and the Optimus 2X is running a full blown custom version of Froyo built by the folks at LG. Both are rather good, and each has it's place -- and in the case of the Optimus 2X that place isn't in the United States just yet. We don't know if any of the other carriers will pick it up, but it seems unlikely with the slew of other already announced dual-core phones on their way.
While the colorful layout and icons aren't for everybody (including yours truly), there's a lot to like about LG's custom user interface. The notification bar has those quick settings switches we all love, and the launcher and app drawer offer a nice level of customization as we saw in the hands-on video above. The jury is still out about how this will affect LG's ability to get the updates out in a timely manner, but everyone we talk to from LG seems confident and excited about the upcoming Gingerbread update.
Our unlocked and unbranded Optimus 2X came with a good many pre-installed third party apps, ranging from the useful to the infuriating. Things like Smartshare for media sharing and Document Master for editing your documents are useful for many, but they are quickly balanced out by App Adviser, which is a list of apps LG thinks you'll like, and "Preloaded Apps," which lists the preloaded apps. No, I'm not kidding. I wouldn't read too much into this, as we all know that carriers love to monkey with the app drawer and an Optimus 2X you purchase may be quite different. But expect the crapplications.
The G2X software
This is more to our liking. The G2X is a vanilla build of Froyo, with a smattering of mostly useful apps from LG, and a few from T-Mobile that you'll soon be looking to remove. The five homescreens, and plain-jane notification bar are ready for you to go to work in the Market and customize to your heart's content. We like that. A lot. It's a solid continuation of T-Mobile's "G" line, proceeded by the venerable G1 and the HTC G2. LG and T-mobile have stayed faithful, and fans of the series won't be disappointed.
A tour of the app drawer and we see the useful (TegraZone, SmartShare), the fun (Nova, NFS Shift), the annoying (AppPack, Highlight), and the ridiculous (T-Mobile TV). T-Mobile, bundling a streaming video application that doesn't work on Wifi, and offering plans that throttle after a set amount of data is a bit silly don't you think? I sure do, which is why it was the first thing to go on my personal G2X.
After that, there's no surprises. It's Froyo. It's not Gingerbread. It does everything you know and love from Froyo, and does it well even if the OS isn't optimized for the CPU just yet. But it's not Gingerbread, and that makes us sad.
Let's hope we see that Gingerbread we have been promised soon.
The camera fixes a good bit of that sadness. No cellphone camera will ever replace even a decent $200 point and shoot digi-cam, but they're getting close. The G2X comes packed with an eight MP shooter, and they're eight usable megapixels. Sure the LED flash will wash out your photo indoors if you're too close. And for the file size, the images are still a bit grainy, but the camera on the G2X is leaps and bounds above last years eight MP offerings. The camera hardware, like all the rest, is identical between the Optimus 2X and the G2X. And the stills are something you would show to family and friends without a second thought:
In the hands of a true photobug who knows how to best adjust things like ISO speed and white balance, the pictures should be of excellent quality. In the hands of someone who leaves everything on automatic, they're just "really good". Taken at the full 8MP, then shrunk down to a manageable file size they are perfect for viewing on a monitor.
The video camera is quite nice, as well. When recording at full 1080p, it lacks a bit in the image stabilization department, but the footage is pretty darn good for a cellphone. At a more sensible 720p (or 480p for sending to a friend) you don't notice it as much. Hopefully it's a software thing.
YouTube link for mobile viewing
One thing to mention here -- there's a bug in the OS, and if you use automatic brightness your camera viewscreen will be very dark. Turn off auto-brightness and slide it up a bit and you'll be good to go. Not very convenient for those quick action shots to say the least. Software bugs happen, let's just hope it gets fixed soon.
In a word, yes.
LG has kept the trend of wide open devices, and are quickly becoming the delight of the Android hacker community. Once the software is rooted, the hardware is yours to do as you please -- we haven't see this level of "open" on any other high-end device. Developer interest is high because of this, and LG isn't afraid to talk with the Android community about it. If you're looking for a phone to hack, this is a great choice.
You won't find a better phone on T-Mobile currently. From a completely subjective point of view, the only thing missing for me is a SAMOLED plus screen, which is something we aren't likely to see on a phone not made by Samsung. The IPS display is very nice in its own right though, and anyone who told me they prefer it over other types would be telling the truth.
If you're the type who likes to wait for the next best thing, then maybe you'll want to hold out for 21 MB/s devices, or the G2X's big brother, the Optimus 3D. I'm not that guy. I bought one of my own on Saturday.