Samsung and HTC may lead in Android sales, but LG is intent on catching up—even at the high-end. The LG Spectrum ($199.99) offers everything you’d expect on a top-notch Verizon Wireless cell phone, including 4G LTE data speeds, a true high-definition (720p) display, and a powerful camera and 1080p camcorder. Our tests revealed a few significant flaws that weren’t immediately apparent given the Spectrum’s high-end specs, but it’s still a solid choice nonetheless.
Design, LTE, and Call QualityAnother big phone, the LG Spectrum is not as big as its peers. It measures 5.3 by 2.7 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and weighs five ounces; that’s an ounce lighter than the HTC Rezound ($199.99, 4 stars), but just a tenth of an ounce lighter than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus ($299.99, 4 stars). The shiny plastic rear cover looks a little flimsy, but the phone is lightweight for an LTE device, so it’s a reasonable trade-off. The 4.5-inch Gorilla Glass display is one of the Spectrum’s star features. It offers an ultra-sharp 720-by-1280-pixel resolution, a dense 329 ppi display that even trumps the 326-ppi Retina display on the iPhone 4S ($199.99, 4 stars), and a higher quality IPS panel that’s one of the brightest I’ve ever seen. Web page fonts look fantastic. Typing on the on-screen keyboard is easy in both portrait and landscape modes, and dialing numbers is responsive using the on-screen display.
The LG Spectrum is a 4G LTE (700MHz) phone with dual-band EV-DO Rev. a (850/1900MHz) and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. It also works as a 4G mobile hotspot for up to 10 devices simultaneously. On a rainy day in NYC, (which can sometimes affect data performance), I saw download speeds averaging 5 to 9 Mbps down and 6 Mbps to 9 Mbps up over LTE; we’ve seen download speeds as high as 16Mbps with another LG Spectrum. Voice quality was mixed, with a crisp tone in the earpiece and plenty of gain, although it distorted at the top settings. Transmissions through the mic were clear, with minimal street noise outdoors, although the tone was on the warm (read: slightly muffled) side. Reception was fine, but the phone heated up a bit during longer calls and while charging.
Calls sounded fine through an Aliph Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset ($129, 4 stars). Voice dialing worked well over Bluetooth, but the speakerphone was weak, with a tinny voice timbre and considerable distortion at the top volume setting. The 1830mAh battery was good for a solid 8 hours and 41 minutes of talk time; given that result, expect about three and a half hours of solid 4G LTE data streaming. if that’s not enough, you can swap the pack out for an optional 3040mAh battery.
User Interface, Hardware, and AppsThe Spectrum runs Android 2.3.5 out of the box; Verizon claims users can expect an update to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) by June. LG customized the UI, with menu icons divided into categories, and some light overlays for the dialer and other stock apps. there are also seven home screens you can customize and swipe between. you can drag and drop entire folders of apps onto the home screens, which is helpful, although you can’t turn the folders off if you’d rather have regular Android-style icon menus.
The next-generation 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm S3 processor should have been a screamer, but our benchmark results were a bit disappointing. Reads and writes to the memory card were unusually slow, our benchmark software reported the CPU as 1.2GHz instead of 1.5GHz, and our frame rate tests jumped around wildly and averaged about 40 percent lower than what the Samsung Galaxy S II scored, and that phone has the same processor. In real life, that affects gaming performance, and the Spectrum sometimes felt sluggish running day-to-day apps. It’s possible that LG is throttling back the CPU to prolong battery life, but that’s speculation; LG didn’t respond to our request for comment.
The Android Market offers more than 300,000 third-party apps, most of which the Spectrum should have no problem running. LG adds its own SmartWorld store that highlights high-definition apps. There’s also Smart Movie HD, which is a basic video editing program that lets you add themes, photos, and music to your recordings, and LG preloads Netflix and ESPN ScoreCenter apps.
Multimedia, Camera, and ConclusionsOtherwise, the Spectrum is a fine mobile multimedia machine. There’s a standard-size 3.5mm headphone jack on top, plus a microSD card slot underneath the battery cover. LG throws in a 16GB card (my 32GB SanDisk card also worked), and there’s 1.54GB of free internal storage. Music tracks sounded fine through Samsung Modus HM6450 Bluetooth headphones ($99, 4 stars). The music player worked smoothly and displayed album art when available. Standalone video files played well in full screen mode and looked extra sharp, particularly with 720p and 1080p files; DivX and XviD files were also no problem. you also get an HDMI out via a clumsy MHL adapter which you must purchase separately.
The 8-megapixel auto-focus camera includes a single LED flash, and there’s also a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video chats. Test photos looked sharp, detailed, and well balanced overall, with good resolution, if a slight grayish cast. Shutter speeds were fast at just 0.3 seconds in my tests. The auto-focus had some trouble with outdoor shots on a rainy day, but otherwise this is a good camera. Recorded 1080p (1920-by-1080-pixel) and 720p (1280-by-720-pixel) videos played smoothly at 29 frames per second.
If you’ve been following the Android phone race on Verizon, it seems like there’s a new winner every few weeks—sometimes even more often than that. The Spectrum gives you plenty of value for its entry price, but other formerly more expensive phones now cost the same. The HTC Rezound keeps the high-resolution display and adds a great set of Beats Audio headphones, although it’s heavier than the Spectrum, and its camera and camcorder don’t perform as well. Our current Editors’ Choice is the Motorola Droid RAZR ($199.99, 4.5 stars), which has a smaller, lower-resolution screen, but it’s also thinner and lighter, still packs LTE data speeds, and works with Motorola’s increasingly vast array of Webtop-based hardware accessories. The new Droid RAZR MAXX ups the thickness by eight hundredths of an inch, but is rumored to triple battery life for an extra $100. (We were testing the RAZR MAXX as this review went to publication.) if you must have Ice Cream Sandwich now, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is your only real choice; it’s just as large as the Spectrum and has a smoother UI, although its processor and camera fall slightly short in comparison, and it’s $100 more expensive.
BenchmarksContinuous talk time: 8 hours 41 minutes