LG Optimus 4X HD review: LG Optimus 4X HD

Doing basic stuff like cutting and pasting a block of text was far more fiddly than it should have been. And I also experienced glitches -- with some sites causing the phone's screen to go dark for no reason. At one point, as I tried to edit a draft Gmail email, the phone refused to let me type anything. These niggles were more irritating than major deal-breakers but they would annoy me if I'd shelled out for the phone.

As well as access to Google's Play Store for downloading apps, LG has pre-loaded some of its own software onto the 4X. There's nothing too special here but some apps could be handy. Task Manager is a useful way to see which apps are currently running, stopping any you're not using and viewing installed apps to see how much of the phone's 16GB of storage is used up. Application Manager displays the apps you've installed in a list and offers an easy way to remove them.

Other pre-loaded apps include LG's SmartShare for playing and sharing films and files between DLNA certified devices, a RemoteCallService for remotely diagnosing problems with the phone, and LG's SmartWorld app store -- in case you can't find what you're after on Google Play.

LG Optimus 4X HD
The 4X could be described as bland but if you hated the Galaxy S3's rounded pebble design, you might prefer these cleaner lines.

Design and build quality

With a screen size of 4.7 inches on the diagonal, the 4X is banging on the doors of the enormo-phone club , demanding to be let in. It's not pushing the gargantuan proportions of the Samsung Galaxy Note's whopping 5.3 inches though. Or even its ludicrously large sibling, the LG Optimus Vu -- which has a 5-inch screen that feels even bigger than the Galaxy Note (thanks to its book-like 4:3 aspect ratio).

The 4X is undeniably a big phone but stack it up against the Samsung Galaxy S2 and it's not actually that much bigger. Most of the extra screen real estate on the 4X is at the bottom, meaning the screen is longer but not much wider than the S2. The 4X is also about the same thickness as the S2. If you're comfortable with the size of an S2, you'll have no trouble handling the 4X.

The benefit of a screen of this size is that it means you can happily browse full versions of websites, rather than have to snack on mobile sites. Watching your favourite YouTube clips -- or even eyeballing full-length HD films -- is also enjoyable rather than an exercise in squinting.

On the downside, owning a larger blower means more gadget to lug around and cram into your pocket. Those of you with teeny-tiny hands may find it annoying to stretch your digits to reach everything on the screen.

LG Optimus 4X HD
The display is bright and colourful but don't expect it to burn your retinas to a crisp.

The screen itself is an IPS LCD affair, which offers an excellent resolution of 1,280x720 pixels. That equates to 312 pixels per inch. It's the same resolution and screen size as the HTC One. Look at both panes side by side and the 4X's screen doesn't look quite as vibrant and colourful as the One X, which has a Super LCD pane. Whites do look whiter on the 4X though.

From a hardware point of view, the 4X's display is also less fancy looking than the One X, which has a curvaceous 'waterfall' design that wraps the screen over the phone's two sides. LG has opted for a basic flat rectangle for the 4X's screen. It's pretty vanilla to look at but is easier to hold, thanks to straight chrome-edged sides. The sides are also rigid so there's no risk of phantom selections just because you're holding the phone (something I encountered on the One X).

While there's no shortage of screen real estate to eyeball full websites on the 4X, the resolution isn't as pin sharp and refined as some very high-end screens -- such as the retina display found on Apple's iPhones. Sony's Xperia S also has a sharper panel.

The viewing angle of the 4X, while good, could be better as the screen is set a noticeable few millimetres below the surface. Overall though, the display is bright, clear and colourful. The touchscreen is nice and responsive, although there's a fractional lag before it registers your fingertip and starts shifting pixels where you want them.

Looks wise, the 4X doesn't push any boundaries with its industry-standard-rectangle-with-slightly-rounded-corners design, available in black or white. It's best described as slightly bland. LG says the 4X has a 'prism-edged' design -- which presumably refers to the dual chrome banding running all the way around the edge.

LG Optimus 4X HD
If you look really closely at the 4X's sides you'll find a teeny textured pyramid pattern. It's so subtle you wonder why they bothered.

In the middle of this chrome sandwich is a very thin strip of plastic which, on the phone's two long sides, has a textured pyramid pattern stippling it -- much like the chocolate that falls off patterned wafers. It's not really a tactile addition since the bands of chrome are slightly higher, although at one point the mini pyramids do carry on up and over the raised volume rocker.

There are no physical buttons on the front of the 4X. Instead, you get three touch-sensitive controls to navigate the Android interface -- back, home and menu. These keys spend most of their life being entirely invisible. Indeed, you have to touch them to make them light up -- not much help if you've forgotten which is which.

There's a physical power key on the top of the phone sandwiched between the chrome. I found this a little stiff because it's quite low lying and is located between slightly raised chrome strips.

On the back of the phone, there's more of LG's trademark textured plastic. Here it has what looks almost like a bark imprint. It certainly makes a change from hyper-shiny smart phone surfaces but it does highlight the phone's plasticky character.

Here, you'll also find a rather tinny rear speaker. Crack open the back of the phone and you'll find a removeable battery, a SIM slot and a microSD card slot for expanding the 16GB of board storage.

LG Optimus 4X HD camera
The 4X's camera has a lazy eye -- its lens keeps drifting in and out of focus.

Also on the back of the device is an 8-megapixel camera -- set ever so slightly back into the casing but surrounded by a protective, grooved metal collar. This lens has a back-illuminated sensor that's designed to offer better results in low-light conditions. Together with the LED flash, this should make it a good snapper for parties in grimy underground pubs -- although I found the single LED could dazzle subjects if you got too close, resulting in washed-out colours.

There's also a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for video calling using services like Skype, and for Android ICS's Face Unlock feature.

The 4X also includes a near field communication (NFC) chip. This contactless technology can be used in conjunction with NFC tags as a quick way to fire up apps or change preferences on the phone, simply by tapping your handset to a tag (LG has included a car mode NFC sticker in the box).

NFC can also be used to support contactless payments. Here in the UK, we're still waiting for the banking apps to come along to enable this.

Call quality was average with people sounding slightly muffled. I didn't experience any dropped calls during testing.

Camera

The 4X's camera is a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde creature. When it's good, it's very, very good but when it's bad it's blurrily out of focus. Indeed, staying focused was the big problem it had during testing. It shifts in and out of focus seemingly at random so half the test shots I took were blurred -- such as this shot of a Southwark jogger with the Shard in the background.

LG Optimus 4X HD camera
The 4X's lens artfully dodges being in focus -- so all too often your snap will be an impressionist blur.

However, when you can get the camera to stay focused, it can turn out some truly excellent shots with artful depth of field.

LG Optimus 4X HD camera
The 4X demonstrating how its lens loves nothing more than a depth-of-field shot (click image to enlarge).

In general, 4X shots have a soft appearance, rather than the super-sharp clarity and levels of detail of a camera-phone lens such as the Sony Xperia S .

ILG Optimus 4X HD camera
The flowers look detailed and their colours have been captured correctly (click image to enlarge).

It's up to you whether you prefer this slightly softer look, or the sharpness of the Xperia S. The 4X's lens is superior in lower light conditions, with much less noise speckling photos.

LG Optimus 4X HD camera test
Donald has turned the attitude up to 11 in this excellent close up (click image to enlarge).

The camera interface also includes a neat time-shifting feature -- if you snap a photo with this turned on, it will actually capture a sequence of shots starting from before you press the shutter to a few seconds after. You can then scroll through the snaps and pick the best one (or, all too often, the non-blurred one).

One particular annoyance is the 4X's shutter sound -- I couldn't find a way to turn this off. The only options offered were to alter the tone from a shutter click to a slightly weirder shutter click, including one which sounds like a female android saying "you lick".

Video capture wasn't great as the 4X's oscillating eye causes footage to rove in and out of focus. Test footage also produced a lot of artefacting during these out-of-focus episodes.

So although you can record 1080p HD video, nobody will be marvelling at the detail. They'll just be asking you whether you were drunk when you shot it.

Conclusion

The LG Optimus 4X HD is a phone for hardcore gadget junkies who demand top-drawer specs and don't mind paying a serious wack of cash to get them. These guys are also happy to carry a few spare batteries to keep their pocket rocket juiced up. The Samsung Galaxy S3 offers more impressive benchmark results -- so if you want to own the Ferrari of the Android world, rather than a more workaday supercar, you'll need to save up a few more pounds.

Potential buyers should be aware the 4X isn't perfect. The camera can be great but it also has a focus glitch, while LG's software skin isn't the most elegant Android topper around and can be finicky.

If your mobile needs are more modest than hardcore 3D gaming then there's no shortage of supremely capable dual-core phones to take home instead -- which are lighter on the wallet and less likely to conk out before the day is done. Android fans could consider the super-nippy HTC One S or even the perennially popular Samsung Galaxy S2 -- which has now had an Ice Cream Sandwich update.

Andrew Hoyle contributed to testing and writing.

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