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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.