LG Spectrum $589.99
24th Feb 2012 | 02:09
It broadens Verizon's 4G LTE selection, but can it topple the competition?
Overview, design and feel
Offering Verizon Wireless subscribers yet another glossy-looking 4G LTE smartphone to choose from, the LG Spectrum is a variant of the LG Optimus LTE, also seen in a different form on AT&T as the LG Nitro HD.
The LG Spectrum packs in a dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor and 1GB of RAM, which results in generally snappy performance around the menus and while using apps. However, the phone still runs Gingerbread (Android 2.3.5), with an Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) upgrade expected at an undisclosed date.
What immediately grabs your attention is the crisp 4.5-inch display, which shines at 1280x720 resolution at 329 ppi, making it one of the sharpest screens on the market. It's protected by Gorilla Glass, which keeps the screen impressively free of scratches.
You'll have to look very closely to spot individual pixels, though in regular day-to-day use, the display impresses consistently whether viewing videos or browsing the web. It's a bit prone to fingerprints, but that's a small price to pay for a fantastic screen.
The LG Spectrum sports a slim and sleek build, at just 0.41-inches deep, with a front facing camera up top and three touch buttons at the bottom. The center Home button resembles a physical one due its silver sheen, but like the Menu and Back buttons around it, the phone must be powered on to use it.
On the back, you'll find a black-and-silver checkerboard pattern atop a very slick, shiny cover. Without any sort of tactile grip, it's sure to slide around in some users' hands, especially as the weather heats up, but it's an attractive and sturdy backing that can be pretty easily removed from a notch on the bottom of the phone.
Also on the back is the 8-megapixel camera lens, which is accompanied by a small light – the whole of which only slightly juts out from the rest of the cover. In addition to photos, the lens can also shoot HD video up to 1080p resolution.
The top of the phone includes the physical power button, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a mini-USB input, which is covered by an attached flap. The left side of the phone includes a lightly raised volume rocker, while the right side is completely free of buttons and inputs.
Included on the LG Spectrum is 4GB of internal storage, but unlike some phones, we weren't able to access this space by connecting the phone to a computer. Luckily, the phone also comes with a 16GB microSD card, and it can accommodate 32GB cards as well. The card is found behind the back cover above the 1830 mAh battery and adjacent to the SIM card.
The LG Spectrum is available on Verizon Wireless for $199.99 with a two-year contract, with the full retail price for the phone listed at $589.99.
The LG Spectrum launched more than a month after the Samsung Galaxy Nexus introduced Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) into the marketplace, yet is still stuck running Android 2.3.5. Despite the dated OS build, the Spectrum moves pretty fluidly across the LG-skinned menus and in and out of apps, putting its dual-core 1.5GHz processor to work.
Seven home screens are available on the LG Spectrum, with the center one initially dominated by a large and attractive digital clock widget that also includes the current weather for your location, along with a visual representation of the conditions.
Another page is set by default to contain a scrolling list of large icons that grant access to photos, videos, and music sorted by albums, artists, and playlists, which makes it easy to jump into media without digging through menus.
Left and right swipes get you around the menu screens, with a tap of the home button bringing you back to the center one. Pinching any home screen brings up an overview of all seven, which lets you drag and drop them to rearrange the order.
Rearranging app icons is curiously a hassle, though, as it's not possible to move them around an already-filled screen. Attempting to drag an icon into the gap next to or between others doesn't automatically create a space for it; instead, you'll have to move an app to another page to create a space to work with, or delete an icon to do the same.
Various widgets – including social networking, news, finance, and calendar options – can be added to any of the home screens, along with shortcuts and folders for storing multiple apps. LG's Friends+ widget lets you handpick pals from Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, and quickly view their latest status message or photo update. It's a handy tool, but no replacement for each full-service social networking app.
The Apps listing is a bit of a headache to deal with, as it offers access to apps in only one of two layouts: sorted by category, or listed in a very long and unnecessarily chunky list. We would have loved to just see a few pages of alphabetically sorted icons, but neither option here is particularly ideal.
Gingerbread's pull-down notifications tab is a little busy in this skinned iteration, but offers easy access to a few helpful settings, like orientation lock, Airplane mode, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on/off access, and the ability to control your music.
The touch buttons located below the screen make it easy to return to the main home screen, flip back a screen or option in any app, and access settings and options applicable to the current app or screen, respectively.
Contacts and calling
The LG Spectrum offers a pretty familiar take on Gingerbread's contacts system, letting you search for and join together contacts, which can be imported en masse from Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
Pairing together multiple accounts from your friends is as simple as finding one in your contacts, selecting "Edit Contact" from the Menu touch button after viewing it, and then pressing the Menu button again to find "Join." From there, it will suggest other listed accounts that might match it, or you can view the whole list.
Of course, if you prefer not to import in contacts, or simply want to add in someone not affiliated with your social networks of choice, you can easily add them locally and search for contacts from the box atop the Contacts page.
On the calling side, the LG Spectrum includes a clean-looking dialer, with rectangular touch buttons that collectively fill half the screen and an auto-complete box that'll suggest numbers from your Contacts as you dial. Each number press triggers a light haptic response from the phone, which is an appreciated touch.
Unfortunately, the call quality was consistently weak throughout our use of the handset. Calls to both mobile phone and landlines regularly resulted in a grainy sound quality that reminded us of 2G calls from years back. What we heard through the handset was often distorted for a brief moment once the other party started talking again after a pause, which made shorter exchanges difficult to decipher.
Switching to speakerphone expectedly did not yield clearer transmissions, with the voice on the other end frequently sounding distorted. Whether via the earpiece or speakerphone, the LG Spectrum consistently underwhelmed, which is surprising considering other Verizon handsets have worked much better in the same testing locations, even within moments of testing the Spectrum.
The standard Messaging app on the LG Spectrum supports SMS and MMS messages, as well as the ability to send e-mails from your number's Verizon e-mail account.
Instead of a Universal Inbox, the LG Spectrum leaves things like Facebook messages and Twitter direct messages to each respective third-party app, which you'll need to download from the Android Marketplace. Messaging is otherwise very similar to what we've seen on other recent Android handsets, with no real surprises.
Meanwhile, the stock e-mail app supports Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, Verizon.net, Exchange, and other accounts from the start. When used with Gmail, it allowed the ability to star e-mails, though e-mail conversations were not threaded.
Luckily, the included Gmail app more closely approximates the web experience, with stacked conversation threads that let you catch up on the entire discussion to date and touch buttons that let you navigate between separate conversations without digging back into the Inbox.
Using the standard LG Keyboard worked fine, as the virtual keys are adequately spaced on the large 4.5-inch screen and didn't offer any more or less errors on average than on other phones when held upright. Swapping to landscape orientation expectedly yielded better results due to larger keys.
But we quickly switched over to the included Swype keyboard option, which works very well on the LG Spectrum and lets you swipe your finger to create words with surprising accuracy. It'll be a matter of preference for most, but we had the most success using Swype in this instance.
Verizon's 4G LTE network puts up pretty good numbers on the LG Spectrum, with the Speedtest.net app clocking a download speed that typically hovered around 17Mbps, while the upload speed ranged from 6Mbps up to 12Mbps on occasion.
Neither stat is quite as high as what we witnessed testing the Motorola Droid Bionic recently, but it's plenty fast enough to quickly load pages and stream video content. And the My Verizon Data widget is worth keeping an eye on, as it quickly tells you how much of your data plan has been sucked dry by the LTE connection.
Full-sized web pages look great on the sharp 4.5-inch display in the LG Spectrum's standard browser, and double tapping zooms in and reflows the text for better readability.
It can take a couple seconds for a large page to reformat the text within the bounds of the display, but luckily also sizes images down to (nearly) fit the frame. Alternately, you can pinch or expand two fingers to manually adjust the focus, and the page expands and contracts quite fluidly without sluggishness.
Tapping the starred red banner next to the URL/search box brings up a list of bookmarks, none of which are thankfully locked in – even stock links to Google and ESPN can be deleted.
Atop the bookmarks page are tabs to access a list of Most Visited pages, as well as access to a Read it Later category, where you can save pages for future inspection. A History tab is also found here.
Flash worked respectably well in our testing, occasionally spitting out sluggish frame rates on videos but more often running fine both in the midst of websites and in full frame. The rest of the page would run a bit slower at times when Flash clips were running, but it's not a significant annoyance.
The back camera lens of the LG Spectrum – with an accompanying LED flash – is located dead center on the upper portion of the phone, and shoots up to 8-megapixel photos with a variety of available options and settings.
Shooting at full resolution (3264x2448), the LG Spectrum snaps sharp, detailed photos in good lighting, and includes several customization options. For starters, you can swap to a lower resolution, with widescreen 1MP, 3MP, and 6MP settings that fit the full frame of the phone, as well as 1MP, 3MP, and 5MP shots with standard dimensions.
The auto-focus works well and quickly, though you can double tap anywhere on the screen to manually direct the focus, plus a Face Tracking alternate option is included.
In lower light, the images are notably grainier, but still offer a decent amount of detail, depending on the conditions. In much darker scenarios, the flash offers a helpful boost thanks a bright LED light located next to the back lens. It doesn't make for remarkably clear photos, but at least objects in short range will be illuminated.
In addition to the default Normal scene mode, you can swap to Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Sunset, and Night options for settings that better enhance photos of each respective type, plus the LG Spectrum includes ISO and White Balance options for those who want to customize their shots.
Three different color effects are included, starting with Mono (black and white):
The Sepia setting adds a filter akin to classic photos:
And finally Negative offers a less practical filter option:
Additionally, you can activate a Timer setting for three seconds, five seconds, or 10 seconds, or trigger a string of six continuous shots, though only on the 1MP widescreen setting (1536x864). The phone also allows for easy panoramic shots, which are accomplished by highlighting the target that appears after each individual shot using the on-screen reticle, and the phone automatically compiles the complete full shot in the end.
The LG Spectrum does not feature a physical shutter button, only the virtual one that appears on the screen. The volume rocker is used to zoom in and out when in Camera mode.
Switching to the 1.3MP front camera is as simple as tapping the virtual button with the circular arrows. Since this camera is primarily used for video chat, it's a much grainier and lower-resolution shooter, though it does the trick for simple self-shot pictures. The same color effects, white balance, and timer settings are available for the front camera.
The video recording function of the LG Spectrum sports a similar interface to that of the camera, and it allows you to shoot 1080p footage to your MicroSD card.
Curiously, the video camera includes no option to either manually or automatically focus the image, leaving you with only the stock option, which does a good job at capturing wide shots and subjects at some distance.
That's fine in many scenarios, but if you're planning on capturing something up close or intend to move the camera while shooting, chances are you'll end up with blurry segments.
Moreover, the footage we shot – even with strong lighting – didn't always look quite as clear as hoped when viewed on a larger display than that of the phone. The clips are decently detailed in parts, but elsewhere appear grainy. It's just not as consistently sharp as we'd expect from 1080p footage.
In addition to Full HD (1920x1088), you can shoot in HD (1280x720), TV (720x480), VGA (640x480), QVGA (320x340), and QCIF (176x144) settings, the last two of which are designated for MMS messages.
The same white balance and color effect settings from the camera side are present here, as well, along with the option to mute audio recording while filming. Additionally, the LED back light can be toggled on and off to assist with low-light filming.
As expected from the bright, excellent display, the LG Spectrum is an ideal personal media player, especially when it comes to local or streaming video clips.
The LG Spectrum supports MPEG-4, WMV, H.263, and H.264 video formats, and locally stored high-resolution clips look outstanding on the screen, sporting crisp details and vibrant colors throughout.
Even Netflix streaming movies and TV episodes over the 4G LTE network looked great and ran at a steady clip, though they'll drain your battery in a hurry. Be sure to update the phone, though, as Netflix playback is broken out of the box but quickly addressed with an OTA update.
Located on the lower back next to Verizon's 4G LTE logo, the speaker grate delivers clear sound quality for video, but doesn't reach very high volumes during playback, making it an unlikely option to prop up to entertain multiple people without an external speaker.
The speaker gets a bit louder for music, but sounds slightly distorted on the highest setting. Luckily, the sound quality of music via headphones is stellar, with the built-in music player somewhat resembling that of the iPhone and iPod touch, thanks to a large cover image flanked by playback buttons.
The Spectrum's Gallery app offers easy access to your Camera photos and video clips, as well as images stored on the MicroSD card and images and profile picks pulled from any Blogger account associated with your Google profile. From the main Gallery screen, you can expand two fingers to view a few photos in each category stack, then tap to access the full set and view individual photos.
Battery life and connectivity
The LG Spectrum comes with an 1830 mAh Lithium Ion battery, which is just below the Samsung Galaxy Nexus; however, it's only rated for just over eight hours of usage, while the Galaxy Nexus promises up to 12 hours.
Expectedly, the battery life is pretty suspect, even among Verizon's 4G LTE offerings. With sparing usage throughout the day, the LG Spectrum might survive until the evening, but anything remotely taxing – like regular e-mail or Twitter usage, web browsing, and especially video streaming over 4G – will suck the power cell dry.
On multiple days, we were lucky to get about six hours of decent usage out of the phone. Heavy users simply won't be able to get through most afternoons without a mid-day charge, and though you can ease the strain by turning off the 4G LTE network and opting for 3G instead, that sort of move kills much of the LG Spectrum's appeal.
Only the Droid RAZR MAXX is likely to give you a full day's charge on LTE at present.
The LG Spectrum supports both a mobile hotspot feature for up to 10 wireless devices, as well as tethering to a single computer via USB. The hotspot feature comes via the Mobile Hotspot app, which creates the network when activated and gives you a password to use on other devices.
For USB tethering, you'll access the feature from the Wireless & Networks tab in the options menu and then attach the phone to your computer to share the 4G LTE connection.
Putting media on the phone is as simple as plugging it into a computer via the included USB cable and dragging and dropping things like music, movies, and photos onto the MicroSD card icon that appears. Additionally, the pre-installed SmartShare app lets you access and stream media from other wireless DLNA-compatible devices.
Maps and apps
Google Maps comes standard on the LG Spectrum and includes the full array of expected features, including directions and street view, plus the handset comes with the location-sharing Google Latitude app and the GPS-based Navigation app.
Powered by Google Maps, the Navigation app lets you speak or type in a destination and follow free turn-by-turn directions. Verizon also includes its own free alternative, VZ Navigator, which offers a similar experience with maps and turn-by-turn directions, but also details on nearby events and local gas station prices.
The LG Spectrum utilizes the standard Android Marketplace app (included out of the box) for app and game downloads, as well as access to movies, music, and books. As is typically the case, Verizon has included its own disparate marketplace apps titled Apps, V Cast Tones, and Verizon Video for access to additional media.
But that's not all. Using the category-based view on the Apps listing, you'll find no less than 16 total Verizon-supplied apps out of the box, including the Kindle, Blockbuster, Rhapsody, and VideoSurf media apps, as well as NFL Mobile and games like Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Let's Golf 2. Sadly, this bloatware is stuck on the phone, though it's more an irritant than a huge space-eater on the whole.
LG Spectrum also comes preloaded with ESPN ScoreCenter, but while it looks the same as the sports app available for other platforms, this version is the only one thus far that includes free streaming 720p video highlights and other clips.
Hands on gallery
Page 12 - LG Spectrum: Official gallery
LG Spectrum: Verdict
Right out of the box, the LG Spectrum looks like a stellar smartphone. The fantastic display is remarkably clear and colorful, making this an ideal media player, while the build quality impresses despite a slippery back cover. But little issues become lingering frustrations, such as mediocre call quality, weak battery life, and various UI annoyances.
The 4.5-inch display is truly a thing of beauty, running at 1280x720 for a ppi of 329. It's up there with the best available screens on the smartphone market today.
Verizon's 4G LTE network is put to pretty good use here, with speedy page loads and sharp streaming video quality. We didn't register our best speed tests on the LG Spectrum, but it's still quite effective.
With a dual-core 1.5GHz processor in tow, the menu screens open and close quickly and apps load with little delay, making it easy to breeze through numerous tasks.
Call quality was consistently below par for a 4G LTE phone. The voice on the other side frequently sounded grainy and distorted, and switching to speakerphone didn't help the situation.
Battery life is always a concern on 4G LTE handsets, and here it's a real problem. Casual users might get a full day out of a change, but anyone who uses the phone for work or fidgets with it semi-regularly may struggle to finish out the afternoon.
LG's skinned version of Gingerbread – not even Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest Android revision – is clunky in parts, with a cumbersome app listing menu screen and some frustrations organizing apps on busy home screens. And the bloatware is a bit excessive here.
Video recording quality is very hit or miss. Without the ability to manually focus on subjects, up-close shots lose clarity and we noticed graininess even in well lit and otherwise detailed clips.
While the LG Spectrum has some standout features, it's outclassed by other Verizon 4G LTE handsets when it comes to important details like call quality, battery life, OS usability, and included version of Android.
The little issues might be bearable at the right price, especially if Ice Cream Sandwich arrives sooner than later; but Verizon users hesitant to commit to the LG Spectrum for the next couple years should rightly follow their gut instincts and consider other options.