LG Optimus 4X HD (unlocked) review: LG Optimus 4X HD (unlocked)

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MSRP: $899.99

The Good The LG Optimus 4X HD's quad-core processor makes it incredibly zippy, it runs on Android 4.0, and it has NFC capabilities and a stunning HD-IPS LCD display.

The Bad The 4X HD can be unwieldy for small hands, the quality of its output speaker is less than stellar, and its UI isn't as elegant as the original ICS.

The Bottom Line With its lightning-quick CPU, newest Android version, great touch screen, and NFC chip, the LG Optimus 4X HD is firing on all cylinders.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

Normally I'm not a jealous person. When my friend gets something on my wish list, you won't hear a peep from me. But after reviewing the LG Optimus 4X HD, I'm indeed "jelly" as kids say these days.

Though the 4X HD is already available in parts of Europe and is slated to be sold in Asia and Central and South America, no U.S. release is planned at this time. And that just isn't fair.

Why? Because aside from being LG's first quad-core phone, the handset has the largest battery in its class, it sports a fantastic screen and camera, and it's NFC-enabled. And what's the biggest cherry on top? It runs on Android 4.0.

That's not to say it's perfect, however. The new Optimus user interface, version 3.0, leaves some things to be desired (namely, I want that vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich skin back, please), and I've heard better call and audio quality. Its pros, however, vastly outweigh the cons, which makes this American one sad shmuck.

Though you can't get it with a U.S. carrier, the 4X HD is available from third-party retailers. Currently, the unlocked device is going for roughly between 450 euros, or about $566. If you're interested, you may have to wait on LG with bated breath, buy from an online vendor, or simply purchase one the next time you drop by Europe.

Though I love the LG Optimus 4X HD's simple, sleek design and lightweight build (considering its size -- it weighs only 5.12 ounces), it's a tall device. Measuring 5.19 inches long, 2.69 inches wide, and 0.38 inch thick, I had a hard time using it with just one hand. It's not impossibly large or bulky, but my petite paws did oftentimes have to scoot upward and downward while handling it. And you can forget about sticking it in your jean pocket. When I slipped it into either my back or front jean pockets, a good inch and a half would peek above the top seam.

On its left side is a volume rocker, up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a sleep/power button, and at the bottom lies a Micro-USB port.

I'm particularly fond of a couple of the phone's aesthetic traits. Along the left and right edges is a subtle but interesting diamond pattern you can feel. In addition, the plastic back is textured with a lined, almost woodlike design. Even though it feels a little flimsy, this plastic build keeps the handset light, and the craggy pattern is unique.

On the back's top left corner is an LED-flash-supported 8-megapixel camera. Below that are two small slits for the output speaker. Using a small indentation at the bottom, you can use your fingernail to pry the back off and gain access to the microSD slot, SIM card, and 2,150mAh battery. On the opposite side of the backing are two small gold antennas for the NFC capabilities.

On the other side of the back plate are two antennas for the 4X HD's NFC feature. Josh Miller/CNET

The phone sports a 4.7-inch True HD IPS display that has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution. After spending time playing games and watching videos, I can confirm that it's gorgeous. Images were crisp and vibrant, and colors were richly saturated. Color variation was broad, as blacks were truly black, and dark and light hues contrasted well. On maximum brightness, the display was even more terrific. The viewing angle is wide, even while outdoors in the sun.

Above the display in the left corner is a proximity sensor and to the right is a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. Below are three front keys (back, home, and menu) that light up when in use.

As previously mentioned, the LG Optimus 4X HD runs on an unprecedented Nvidia Tegra 3, 1.5GHz quad-core processor. The CPU speeds are impressively fast. Elementary tasks like pinch zooming, scrolling through apps, swiping through its seven home screen pages, and switching from landscape to portrait mode were a piece of cake.

What amazed me the most, however, was how well it could handle large apps. The device comes preloaded with three games: ShadowGun, Samurai II: Vengeance, and Dark Kingdom. All are graphics-intense and I didn't experience any hiccups or stalling during gameplay. These games launched without any problems, and the moment I pressed the home button the apps would close and I'd transition back in a snap.

In addition, the handset runs on the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, and comes with all the Google goodies you expect like Gmail, Search, Plus, Latitude, Play Store, Messenger, Maps with Navigation, Places, Talk, and YouTube.

Other preloaded content includes an app that backs up your content; a finance app for keeping track of your stocks; a news and weather app; the mobile office suite known as Polaris Office; RemoteCall, an app that lets LG support services remotely access your phone for troubleshooting; SmartShare, a content distribution app; LG SmartWorld, which lets you download LG apps and ringtones; an FM radio; and an app that enables you to receive cell broadcast messages.

Basic task-management features present are texting, e-mail, Bluetooth, a Web browser, a calendar, a clock with alarm settings, a memo pad, a calculator, and a voice recorder.

The Near-Field Communication chip, or NFC, enables the handset to wirelessly communicate with other NFC-enabled devices within a short distance. Using an included feature called Android Beam, you can wirelessly transfer browser pages and contacts between devices by simply touching the 4X HD's back with another device that has Beam too.

LG included three Tag+ stickers labeled Office, Sleep, and Car mode that let you use the NFC feature to activate certain settings on your phone that you customize. For example, every time you go to sleep, you may want to put your 4X HD on vibrate, dim your screen, and have your music turn off after 10 minutes of playing. Once you set up and save those settings using the LG Tag+ app, you can activate them whenever you tap your Sleep Mode Tag sticker.

The LG Optimus 4X HD comes with these NFC Tag+ stickers. Josh Miller/CNET

When I tried out this feature, it didn't work as consistently as it did on the LG Optimus 3D Max. Sometimes, I would get an error message. But after a few more trials, the tags worked reliably, and the LG Tag+ app made this feature easy to set up.

The device is also equipped with LG's newest user interface, the Optimus UI 3.0, which isn't as stylishly simplistic as the vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich skin. The icons are boxy, the widgets look clunky (especially the unattractive weather widget), and even though I like that it's sporting the Roboto font, the keypad itself still looks a little outdated. There are a few welcome changes, however, like the fact that you can access up to four apps of your choosing from the lock screen by simply swiping over its icon.

Another is QuickMemo, a feature you can access by either pulling down the notifications bar or holding down the volume rocker keys for a second. It lets you jot down, with your finger, quick notes or sketches directly over screen images, which you can then save and share. You can customize the color and style of your pen tip. Personally, I prefer Android's minimalistic interface, but it's refreshing to see LG actively changing and taking chances with its products' UIs.

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