Review : LG Optimus 4X HD

LG first unveiled the Optimus 4X HD back at Mobile World Congress in February. It's been a long time coming, but the Optimus 4X HD is now available in much of the world - even if it's only available outside of a plan (unlocked) here in the U.S. The Optimus 4X HD is the first quad-core LG smartphone, and it boasts a very high end spec sheet.
The LG Optimus 4X HD is a big phone, like most of the other flagship smartphones to hit the market this year. Due largely to its very nice 4.7-inch, IPS touchscreen display, which offers 720p HD resolution, LG's Optimus 4X HD measures 133.0 x 68.2mm x 9.5mm, which makes it slightly shorter and narrower than HTC's One X, but also half a hair thicker. At 133g in weight, the phone doesn't feel like a total brick in your purse or pocket.

The Optimus 4X HD features few external controls. The power button and the volume control are located on the top and left edges, respectively, and the three capacitive buttons for back, home, and menu sit below the display - hidden until activated. I'd have preferred the new standard Android 4.0 button layout, personally, but this Gingerbread style configuration will surely make upgrading users feel at home.
The textured rear cover of the phone comes off to reveal an NFC antenna on its underside. With the cover removed one can also spot the microSD memory card slot (empty) and a full sized SIM slot sitting above the battery. 16GB of storage are built into the phone, and the phone's namesake Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor runs at a speed of 1.5GHz and is backed by a full gigabyte of RAM.

While the Optimus 4X HD's hardware is entirely functional, I find the design to be yawn-worthy. The white surfaces and chrome trim that the phone features remind me more of a kitchen appliance than a tech-heavy, modern smartphone. This is a shame because, as you'll soon learn, the phone is otherwise very capable and fun to use.

Usability :

With the Optimus 4X HD, LG has done a fair bit to differentiate itself from stock Android while improving on a few things at the same time. The notification area, for example, offers a nice set of user-configurable shortcuts. The Optimus 4X HD's lock screen also offers both shortcuts and a number of different clock themes. LG's home screen system is pretty useful, allowing to easily customize home screen panels with shortcuts, widgets, and wallpapers, though the company was wise enough to leave the larger widget list available from the main app tray. 

The app tray, however, is one of the things that went wrong on the Optimus 4X HD. While it offers separate tabs for all apps and downloaded apps, and allows users to rearrange things as they like, it doesn't offer the ability to just sort things alphabetically. Instead, it offers a "reset" function that puts all pre-loaded apps in their alphabetized state, and then tacks on the user downloaded apps to the end - alphabetized starting from 'a' again. It's largely useless. As such you start with "Alarm/Clock" going on up to "YouTube" showing the pre-installed apps, but right next to YouTube is, in my case, "B&N Nook" as the first downloaded app in alphabetical order.

LG includes a decent selection of widgets on the Optimus 4X HD, and I am particularly fond of the resizeable folders. LG's virtual keyboard works admirably well for text input tasks, but I found that the company's efforts came up a bit short when it came to the contacts application, which does not properly integrate social media status updates. Other features like LG's power-saving and quiet modes, its four home screen themes, and the Optimus 4X HD's full suite of gestures, fill out the device nicely.
Apart from that rather large shortcoming with the app tray, most of LG's user interface work is good. The phone is very smooth scrolling, and there's plenty of free RAM for user apps. The only bug I found had to do with quiet mode, which normally would allow the user to specify a time range when the phone would automatically disable notifications, ringers, and other sounds (apart from alarms). It seems that, while activated, any user initiated switches to silent, vibrate, or normal ringer modes will be randomly undone - as if they app fails to properly track the user's intended changes. It does work well at night, though, and I expect LG will address this bug in a future update.

Wireless Capabilities, NFC :

While the international version of the LG Optimus 4X HD that I've been testing was not meant for the U.S. market, I found that it performed quite well on AT&T's HSPA network. Reception was solid, and data rates were quite reasonable, if not staggering. More importantly, I found that call audio on the Optimus 4X HD was very strong overall, which is something that a phone needs - smart or not.

In addition to the typical Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and USB connectivity that the Optimus 4X HD offers, NFC is also supported. LG even includes a pair of re-programmable NFC tags that can be used with the Optimus 4X HD to switch between work and car configurations, for example, with a simple tap. Watch the video below to see a solid demo of how it all works.

LG's Optimus 4X HD includes a nice threaded SMS/MMS application for text and picture messaging. It doesn't offer any control over font sizes, which I find surprising, but it works well otherwise. The email app is also pretty solid, and it even supports a split-screen view when the Optimus 4X HD is held in a landscape orientation.

Google Talk is pre-loaded for instant messaging fans, and LG's own limited Twitter and Facebook support is also available, but IM users and social junkies will likely want to get additional applications from the Google Play Store to better support their vices.

Software, Camera, Conclusion :

Software Impressions :

The European version of the LG Optimus 4X HD that I tested did not come with a lot of pre-loaded junk applications, though there were certainly a few LG-crafted apps that were of questionable worth. To its credit, though, LG allows users to uninstall a number of the pre-loaded apps, including LG SmartWorld, its live wallpapers, and a few widgets. Most of the rest of the apps can also be disabled and hidden from the app tray, which is a standard feature of Android 4.
Once you have finished cleaning things up, it's time to mess them up again by downloading new apps from the Google Play Market, which offers a few hundred thousand applications for the Optimus 4X HD user's pleasure.
LG's standard browser on the Optimus 4X HD is highly functional and offers a somewhat changed user experience from most stock Android browsers. I'm not sure that it is any better than the others, but the changes are at least something different. One such customization is the popup button bar on the bottom of the screen that can be called up with a tap. It offers quick access to forward and back buttons, tilt-zooming, and controls for opening a new window and accessing the bookmarks.

Pages render quickly and accurately in the browser, as well, and it supports both Adobe Flash content as well as HTML5 markup. As an Android 4 device, the Optimus 4X HD is also capable of running Google's Chrome for Android browser, which we are very fond of.

LG includes a fairly straightforward music player on the Optimus 4X HD. It won't win any awards for most bells and whistles, but it does offer a feature that I think will be of use to some people. In addition to allowing music to be organized by standard methods like playlists, album, and artist, the LG music app also lets users sort things by folders.
That might not sound like much, but it means that you can easily access the music you copy over to your device in the same organization that you had it elsewhere, such as on your PC. For some people it won't matter. For others, it will be very nice to have. An FM radio is also included on the phone, and Google's own Play Music app is also available for installation from the Google Play store.

Camera :

The 8 megapixel camera in the LG Optimus 4X HD has caused me some pain during my tests. While it can focus on incredibly close subjects, and does so with great sharpness, it fails to focus on normal objects at times - especially when recording 1080p video.
Images captured with the phone often seem exposed incorrectly (often overexposed), and don't always have good color saturation. Additionally, the Optimus 4X HD's camera suffers from the annoying magenta spot in the center of the frame that we were used to seeing in older smartphones. Ignoring all that, though, and the camera is still capable of capturing really nice photos, which is what makes its inconsistency all the more annoying. It's a bit of a crap shoot, and those random flashes of brilliance encourage the Optimus 4X HD user to try again, hoping for the best, but not always getting it. The phone's forward-facing 1.3 megapixel camera, for its part, does adequately well for video chatting and self portraits. It can even record 720p HD video.

Battery Life :

LG equipped the Optimus 4X HD with a 2150mAh battery. In spite of the potential for power consumption that results from the combination of a huge HD display and a quad-core processor, the Optimus 4X HD managed to do very well in my real world tests.

This phone offers insane standby battery life, in my experience. I can have the phone sit for two hours off the charger, pulling down Exchange and Gmail messages while syncing things like Google Voice, and it will still show 100 percent charge when I finally turn on the screen for the first time. Running apps in the foreground with the display on normally, though, causes power to be drained much faster.
Still, with judicious use of the screen brightness controls, I am easily able to get a full 24 hours out of the phone with the battery stats reporting the screen in use for anywhere from 2.5 to 3 hours. That's better than most phones, even my dual-core processor-equipped HTC One X - though not by much.

Wrap Up :

The question is, does the phone manage to outshine its Bruce Banner exterior to show off what it's Hulk-scale guts are capable of? In short: yes. It turns out that what the Optimus 4X HD lacks in external appeal is more than made up for by its good nature and brainy innards.

After using the phone for over a solid week, I can tell you that I really do like the Optimus 4X HD. It has a nice screen, great speed and fluidity, and the battery life is strong compared to most other Android smartphones. LG even did a nice job with software customizations.

So while the Optimus 4X HD isn't the best looking kid on the block, it certainly turns out to be one of the more brainy and personable kids. That's more than good enough for me to highly recommend the device to those looking for a powerhouse smartphone with a massive display and modern capabilities.

Pros: Super fast, nice display, good user experience, usable NFC capabilities, strong battery life.
Cons: Not the cutest phone in the block. A couple of small bugs, the camera needs more work.
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