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LG Optimus 4X HD (unlocked) review:

LG Optimus 4X HD (unlocked)

A couple of other services include Wi-Fi hot-spot and gesture support -- the latter of which isn't so uncommon in LG devices. Gesture support lets you stop or snooze your alarm, pause video, or mute an incoming call, all by flipping the handset over.

The 8-megapixel camera offers a variety of options: autofocus, touch focus, a flash, a 15x digital zoom, face tracking, geotagging, a timer, continuous shooting, panoramic shooting, and HDR imaging. It also has an exposure meter (-2 to +2); seven image sizes (ranging from 1,536x864p to 3,264x2,448p); five scene modes (normal, portrait, landscape, sports, and night); four ISO options (100, 200, 400, and auto); five white balances (auto, incandescent, sunny, fluorescent, and cloudy); and four color effects (none, mono, sepia, and negative). Lastly, there's a time machine mode, which takes pictures a few moments before you press the camera so you won't miss a shot.

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The LG Optimus 4X HD's 8-megapixel camera comes with a variety of features. Josh Miller/CNET

The front-facing camera offers the same exposure meter, white-balance options, color effects, timer, and geotagging feature, but only two scene modes (normal, and night) and three sizes (ranging from 640x480p to 1,280x960p). There's also a "mirror image" option that saves a vertically flipped version of your photo and a "beauty shot" meter that lets you adjust the brightness and blurriness of an image. This comes in handy when you're taking self-portraits and want to soften the photo.

Recording options consist of the same digital zoom, flash, exposure meter, geotagging, color effects, and white balances. In addition, there's audio muting and you can choose from six video sizes (ranging from full HD 1080p to QCIF). One of the two new interesting features (I've only seen these options in tablets until now) is the "silly faces" mode, which will distort your face while the video records. It can squeeze your face together, shrink your mouth, or make your eyes huge and Lady Gaga-like. Needless to say, I got a kick out of it. The other is a background module, where you can change your background to outer space, a sunset, a disco, or your own custom image.

Though the front-facing video option has fewer options, it still retains a good deal of features. There's still the same exposure meter, white balances, color effects, geotagging, and audio muting feature. The "silly faces" and background module are also retained, though there are only five video sizes (ranging from HD 720p to QCIF).

After you record video, most handsets let you watch it in a standard video player that doesn't do much. This phone, however, is loaded with Media Plex, which lets you preview any single frame in the video when you drag your finger across the scroller. You can also pinch-zoom within your video during playback, control the speed at which your video plays, and even play thumbnails of other recorded videos while watching a video. Despite the fact that the playback speed module is clunky and the thumbnail option causes sensory overload, I like that there are more options for viewing video.

I tested the LG Optimus 4X HD in San Francisco. Because it's unlocked, I used an AT&T SIM card in. I didn't have any problems with signal quality; no dropped calls, extraneous buzzing, or audio clipping in and out. Sound quality, however, was mediocre. Voices were audible but muffled. Though turning up the volume helped a bit, my friends still sounded like they were talking underneath a thin sheet. Likewise, I was told I sounded stifled too. Oddly, however, one of my friends told me I sounded clearer when talked over speakerphone than when I held the device to my ear.

The output speakerphone quality was also disappointing. Calls, as well as music, sounded incredibly harsh and severe, making it unpleasantly sharp to hear. You can also hear the sound bouncing off the back plate of the phone. Turning the volume down helped somewhat, and you can still hear what's being said, but it was disappointing regardless.

Listen now: LG Optimus 4X HD call quality sample

The 8-megapixel camera's photo quality was stellar. You can use the onscreen shutter button, or the physical volume buttons to take pictures. Images were in focus with distinct edges and sharp contrast. Colors were true to life and vivid. In both outdoor and indoor lighting, objects were well-defined. In addition, because the camera has a back-illuminated sensor, photos taken in low lighting looked perfectly adequate. Though there was some understandable graininess, photos looked noticeably better than those of other handsets in this class. The fewer amount of megapixels did give way to more blurriness and poorer focus, but you can still make out faces and objects easily.

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In this sunny outdoor shot, you can see the crisp outlines of the water ripples and grass. Lynn La/CNET
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In this low-lit indoor shot, the carpet's red hue is still true to form. Lynn La/CNET
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In our standard studio shot, you can see objects are well-defined. Josh Miller/CNET
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Photos taken with the front-facing camera were noticeably grainier. Lynn La/CNET

What was most notable about the camera was its speed. Not only is viewfinder feedback fast, but also the shutter speed is incredibly rapid. Only by its shutter sound can you tell a photo is taken because the interface doesn't stop for a second after you take a picture. In addition, you can hold the shutter down to take one picture after another. This isn't the same (or as fast) as continuous shooting (though again, there is an option for that), but it gives you an idea of how fast the 4X HD can operate.

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Though it's not the same as continuous shooting, the camera can quickly take one picture after another while the shutter is held down. Here, CNET's Brian Tong shows off his horrible dance moves. Josh Miller/CNET

Video recording also was impressive. Audio was picked up well and images were crisp. Colors were true to form and there was no lag time between the viewfinder and my moving of the camera. I've a word of warning about recording a lot of moving objects, however. Because the camera wants everything to be in focus, it refocuses itself constantly as objects move and as you move the device. This can be jarring to the viewer, but if you want to record sharp video, this camera has the speed capacity to do that.

Using AT&T's 3G network, the phone's data speeds were fast. It loaded both our full CNET page and the New York Times' Web page in an average of 10 seconds. The New York Times' mobile site took about 4 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 5 seconds, and its full site loaded in an average of 8 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app, which is 2.99MB, took 15 seconds to download, and showed me an average of 2.70Mbps down and 0.86Mbps up. The 24.25MB game of Temple Run downloaded in 57 seconds.

During our battery drain tests for talk time, the handset lasted 13.22 hours and, anecdotally, had solid battery life. LG reports that its 2,150mAh battery is the biggest among quad-core phones, and after spending a few hours playing games, watching videos, and chatting with my friends, the battery only drained by about half. With heavy use, especially when all cores are operating, you'll easily need a good charge or two during the day. But when just doing regular activities like making calls and texting, I got a good handful of hours in without much loss of battery charge. According to ICNIRP radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 0.62W/kg.

Unlike the LG Optimus 3D Max, which also isn't available in the United States, the LG Optimus 4X HD makes me want to jump on the next flight to Europe.

Even though it has some drawbacks, like its inelegant user interface and disappointing speaker quality, I'm still impressed by LG's first quad-core phone. In addition to being fast, its display and camera are top-notch, the NFC capabilities are convenient (and a cool party trick), and the newest Android OS rounds everything out nicely.

This is one of my favorite LG handsets so far, and the fact that you can't get it here just makes it that much more desirable.

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