LG Spectrum 2 (Verizon Wireless) review: Truly wireless at an excellent price

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MSRP: $499.99

The Good The LG Spectrum 2 has NFC and wireless charging capabilities, fast 4G LTE speeds, and a camera packed with features.

The Bad The Spectrum 2 comes preloaded with too much bloatware, and has a thick profile and a poor audio speaker.

The Bottom Line With its winning combination of a reasonable price tag, wireless features, and solid performance, the Spectrum 2 is an excellent Verizon handset in its price range.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

The wait for a decent LG phone on Verizon is finally over with the Spectrum 2.

Not only does it run the new(ish) Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, it also has a screen that doesn't require two hands and a stylus. In addition, it's priced right at the $100 mark, making it one of the more affordable Big Red handsets.

With its noticeably sectioned back plate and defined edges, the LG Spectrum 2's design looks more thought-out and deliberate than is usual for LG's latest run of devices, save for the high-end Nexus 4 and Optimus G.

It measures 5.31 inches tall and 2.69 inches wide. At 0.36 inch thick and 5.16 ounces, it's thicker and a bit heavier than most LG handsets I've run into, and it's a tight fit in a small jeans pocket, but it's comfortable when held in the hand or pinned between the cheek and shoulder.

On the left there are a Micro-USB port and two separate buttons for adjusting the volume. Up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a circular sleep/power button, the edges of which light up blue whenever it's pressed.

LG Spectrum 2 hot keys
The LG Spectrum 2's hot keys light up blue when in use. James Martin/CNET

The rear of the phone houses an 8-megapixel camera with an LED flash. Though plastic, the black plate is coated with a textured, rubberlike material that feels almost like leather. The cover has two small slits at the bottom for the audio speaker. Removing the plate gives access to the 2,150mAh battery, a microSD card slot, and Verizon's 4G LTE SIM card. Directly on the other side of the cover are the NFC antenna and wireless charging coil.

The 4.7-inch True HD IPS screen is bright and vivid, and texts and icons rendered crisply and clearly. It has the same screen as the unlocked LG Optimus 4X HD, with the same 1,280x720-pixel resolution. Overall, the display is vivid and bright, not to mention responsive to the touch. At the time of the 4X HD review, I was very impressed with the screen.

However, having now spent time with higher-tier LG devices such as the Nexus 4 and the Optimus G, I noticed that upon closer inspection, the Spectrum 2's display isn't as crystal-clear as the two others. Default wallpapers looked a tad noisy, and gradient patterns appeared streaky, but only by a small margin. Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel camera and below are four hot keys (back, home, recent apps, and menu) that illuminate in blue(!) when in use.

Software and OS
The LG Spectrum 2 ships with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and it comes with the slew of Google apps you'd expect: Gmail, Plus, Messenger, Latitude, Local, Maps with Navigation, Play Books, Movies, Music, and Store, Search, Talk, and YouTube.

Amazon preloaded its apps too, such as Amazon Kindle, Shop, and Music, as well as IMDb, Zappos, and the audiobook app Audible. Other goodies include a digital payment service, Amex Serve; NFL Mobile; the Polaris Office mobile office suite; a video editor; two games (Let's Golf 3 and Real Racing); and SmartShare, a content distribution app.

Included Verizon-centric apps are its Mobile Hotspot app, its app store, its soon-to-be-shuttered video portal, its ringtone store, My Verizon Mobile for customer account information, and its native navigation app, VZ Navigator.

Basic features present are text messaging, native e-mail and Web browser clients, Bluetooth 4.0, a finance app for stocks, a calendar, news and weather apps, a clock with alarm settings, a video player, a gallery, a memo pad, a calculator, and a voice recorder.

The Near-Field Communication (NFC) chip enables the handset to wirelessly communicate with other NFC-enabled devices within a short distance. LG included two Tag+ stickers labeled Office and Car mode that let you activate certain customizable settings on your phone. For example, every time you go into your car, you may want to launch Navigation and turn Bluetooth on. Once you set up and save those settings using the LG Tag+ app, you can activate them whenever you tap your Car Mode Tag sticker.

LG charging pad
You can juice up your LG Spectrum 2's battery wirelessly with a charging pad. James Martin/CNET

As previously mentioned, next to the NFC chip is the charging coil. Though the charger isn't sold with the phone, you can purchase it from LG for about $70. To use it, plug in the charger and lay the Spectrum 2 on top. You don't have to do anything else and charging will start almost immediately. I found that while it was easy to use and set up, it charged the battery more slowly than the old-fashioned, Micro-USB way.

The device is equipped with LG's user interface, Optimus UI 3.0. Though the widgets are boxy -- especially that unattractive weather widget -- I like that some icons are customizable, and you can choose from four different style themes. With the UI, you can access up to four apps of your choosing from the lock screen by simply swiping over each one's respective icon. There's also LG's signature note-taking app, QuickMemo. It lets you jot quick notes or sketches with your finger or stylus directly over screen images, which you can then save and share. You can also customize the color and style of your pen tip.

Camera and video
The 8-megapixel camera offers a variety of options: autofocus, touch focus, a flash, an 8x digital zoom, face tracking, geotagging, and a timer. It also has several different shooting modes including continuous, HDR, and panoramic, and Time Catch, which lets you choose and save the best shot before the shutter was pressed. Further, it has a voice command for the shutter (you say "cheese" and it'll take a picture), a brightness meter (-2 to +2), seven image sizes (ranging from 1,536x864 to 3,264x2,448), seven scene modes, four ISO options, five white balances, four shutter sounds, and four color effects.

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