There are several themes that came out of CES 2012, where Verizon first showed off the LG Spectrum, one of its latest 4G LTE superphones. LTE was one of these themes, of course, and the Spectrum delivers. HD, as in high-definition video, was another. Like the LG Nitro HD, the Spectrum has a terrific 4.5-inch HD display, a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, and an 8-megapixel camera with support for 1080p video recording. There's also a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera and the phone runs the Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS.
In addition to the HD screen and video recording, several applications on the phone are automatically optimized for HD playback, including Netflix and ESPN Sports Center. LG has taken some risks with its custom interface design, and not all the pieces fit together. I found call quality and camera performance were also variable. Overall, the Spectrum is a beautiful device that belongs in the same league as Verizon's heavy hitters, and the $199.99 price tag will help nudge fence-sitters in LG's direction.
As nice as the Nitro HD was, the Spectrum's clean, lean design, a successor to last year's LG Revolution, appeals to me more. That's a personal preference, and you might disagree. It's a large slab of a device at 5.3 inches tall and 2.7 inches wide, but thin (0.42 inch). At 5 ounces, the weight makes sense for the Spectrum's dimensions. The phone feels pretty solid, but it's not a rugged device that would be poised for battle against drops, kicks, and other smartphone abuse. That said, a Corning Gorilla Glass screen lends extra strength against scratches.
Looks matter, and the Spectrum is downright preppy, thanks to the black-and-gray checkered back cover. The face is glossy black and a dark-gray metallic coating rims the sides. It'll pick up for fingerprints for sure, so invest in a wipe cloth if you haven't already. Big as it is, slight rounding on the back and sides keeps it feeling slickly comfortable in the hand. I had no complaints with on-ear pressure either.
Like the Nitro HD, the Spectrum has a 4.5-inch HD screen with a 1,280x720-pixel resolution for the number jockeys. That translates into a very bright, crisp, colorful, and overall gorgeous display that supports 16 million colors.
Above the screen is the Spectrum's 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. Below it, LG's three navigation buttons look classy, especially the Home button, which looks like it's inlaid in a silvery accent. On the back is the 8-megapixel camera lens with flash. Peel away that cover to find the microSD card slot. A razor-thin volume rocker on the left spine could use some fattening up, but the power button up top poses no problems. It's camped out next to the 3.5mm headset jack and the Micro-USB charging port with its protective sliding door for keeping out dust and muck.
The Spectrum runs Android 2.3 for now. It'll be upgradable to Ice Cream Sandwich in theory, once LG designs its new skin and Verizon pushes it out, but there's no final word yet, and no guarantee.
LG paints its own interface on top of the Android operating system. There are the familiar static buttons for onscreen navigation, plus nearly ubiquitous access to system settings for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and so on. Plenty of widgets come preloaded onto the seven customizable home screens. I deleted a good portion of them off the bat, but really like the look and usability of the In Touch widget, an archipelago of multimedia widgets that give you easy access to videos, photos, albums, and playlists.
I wasn't as fond of the busy guide that pops up when you press and hold a home screen. It surfaces a grid, onscreen controls, and a scrolling list of widgets you can add. You can also deal with shortcuts, folders, and change wallpaper from there.
The Spectrum carries on the LG Revolution's app tray layout, which organizes apps thematically in sections that open and close when you tap them. However, you can't seem to reorganize the apps and you might spend some time hunting for the one you want. I see where the designers were going with this, but I personally find it confusing and forced.
The Spectrum gets everything that Android 2.3 brings in terms of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS radios, plus support for Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA (through the SmartShare app). All the communication tools are here, as well as an abundance of Google services. My favorites will always include maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation, Gmail, and YouTube. You can tether your phone over USB to share the data connection, and a Verizon app lets you use the Spectrum as a hot spot for up to 10 devices. The Swype virtual keyboard is installed, but not by default. To get it, you'll have to change the input method by pressing and holding on a text field. As with the Revolution, LG has omitted the default Android keyboard, a shame.
As always, LG does a great job with its extra gesture settings. You can customize things like flipping over the device to mute a call, stop an alarm, or pause a video; as well as tap and hold items to move or otherwise affect them. It's one of LG's best Android differentiators.
I also applaud how LG and Verizon highlight the HD theme with apps that make use of the screen. Netflix, ESPN Score Center, and Smart Movie HD are examples. Each of these apps will automatically surface HD content first, when it's available. That'll save you the step of having to cycle a video to HD mode if it's got both. You'll still be able to view content that isn't optimized for HD on the screen, of course.
Although Google is the Spectrum's default home page, search bar searches take place with Bing. It's sort of like a sneaky workaround for Bing-o-phobes.
If you enjoy having apps preloaded on your phone, you're in luck! Even beyond the Google services and crop of Verizon account management apps, there are plenty, starting with those three HD apps for ESPN, Netflix, and Smart Movie HD. Then on to the 16 Verizon apps that either support your account or that Verizon put there through third-party agreements, and which can't be uninstalled. Some highlights from that bunch are Amazon Kindle, Bitbop for music, Blockbuster, Rhapsody, and some game demos. You'll also find apps like the Polaris Office productivity suite and Richnote, a memo app.
Multimedia is one place where the Spectrum should soar, especially with that 8-megapixel camera capable of recording in 1080p HD video. Outdoor shots were largely excellent, with crisp edges, filled-in detail, and natural colors. Indoor shots, on the other hand, often looked as if they came from another camera entirely.
Flash often didn't engage indoors in lower-light situations, which made subjects look fuzzy. Other times, sufficient natural light helped the Spectrum reproduce scenes that typically trip up other camera phones, like the picture of toys in this gallery (who says cubicles are devoid of personality?) Check out that slideshow for a closer look at the Spectrum's camera chops--and missteps.
The Spectrum's video-recording capabilities were pretty good when tested in well-lit situations. While it won't replace your video camera for making movies you'll want to regularly watch on large-format screens like on your 50-inch HDTV, video played back very well on the phone's 4.5-inch screen and nicely on my desktop. Colors perhaps were a hair duller than in real life, but playback and capture were fairly smooth and detailed, with good audio capture in my tests when the subjects were at close range. It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway): the farther away from the mic they are, the harder they'll be to hear in the video.
The Spectrum hosts 4GB of internal storage and takes up to 32GB in external storage. It generously comes with a 16GB microSD card preinstalled.
I tested the LG Spectrum (CDMA 800, 1900; LTE 700) in San Francisco using Verizon's network. Call quality was bifurcated, with my call testers hearing clearer audio than I did. In all instances, callers said I sounded "very clear" with strong volume, natural timbre, and a smooth, blip-free connection. Results varied on my end. Sometimes the line also sounded clear, but voices lacked a little warmth or depth, and there were occasional digital interruptions. In other calls, the caller's voice reverberated and the call sounded echoey.
LG Spectrum call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone was loud enough to carry on a longer conversation in a noisier place, but to my ears, voices sounded tinny and a little shrill. My test caller reported back that volume was pretty good, but that voice quality was sort of echoey, resembling surround sound.
Response time and speed are also part and parcel of a smartphone's performance, and here the Spectrum for the most part excelled. There were no issues with the fast 1.5GHz dual-core processor. Apps opened quickly, and navigation was seamless.
Internet load times on Verizon's 4G LTE network were also good, and LTE coverage held pretty steady here in San Francisco. The mobile-optimized version of the New York Times loaded in just under 7 seconds, with the desktop site filling in its last ad in 14 seconds. CNET's mobile site appeared after a lengthier 25-second wait, but the desktop site popped up after 17 seconds.
Running the Speedtest.net diagnostic app by Ookla, I found download speeds for the Spectrum usually hovered in the 15Mbps-to-21Mbps range, but I occasionally got speeds of 5Mbps, which is still fast compared with some 3G networks.
The Spectrum's 1,830mAH lithium ion battery promises a rated talk time of 8.3 hours and standby time of 14.5 days and during our test, it lasted 8.55 hours. Anecdotally, the battery seemed pretty standard.
The Spectrum has a digital SAR of 0.86 watt per kilogram, according to FCC radiation tests.
LTE speeds, dual-core processing power, and the phone's terrific HD display add up to an excellent smartphone. And there are the LG Spectrum's other charms--the great design, the HD apps, and LG's customizable gesture support. Plus, that 8-megapixel camera takes some nice outdoor shots, and the $199.99 price tag means it's well-subsidized for a superphone. However, competition for Verizon customers is fierce, with a strong lineup that includes the country's first and, currently, only Android Ice Cream Sandwich phone and a handset with double the usual battery life. It'll be a tough fight for the Spectrum to win hearts and minds against such foes, especially when it exhibits somewhat questionable call quality and a riskier app interface, but LG fans will be very pleased with this upgrade.