LG Optimus 2X review

The LG Optimus 2X sees the Korean company mount an assault on the high-end of Android mobile phones. It sits on Nvidia’s brand-spanking new Tegra 2 chipset, which is not only dual core, but promises mobile graphics handling not previously seen. The latest and greatest handset passes through the Pocket-lint.com reviews machine, but will it impress? 

A 4-inch capacitive touchscreen display offers up a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, entirely typical amongst high-end Android phones. It is a great quality display however, offering deep blacks and nice vibrant colours, with the brightness to cope outdoors without any problems. Comparing it to the Super AMOLED display of the Samsung Galaxy S, we found that the blacks weren't quite as deep, but the whites were much clearer, with better overall colour authenticity. We did find some speckles of dust under the surface which is probably a problem limited to this device, suggesting that at some point in its assembly it got contaminated. The design of the surface of the display is also nice, a slight downward curve at the edges meaning that swiping across the screen doesn’t leave your fingers brushing across a hard edge.

The phone is on the large side, partly dictated by the 4-inch display, but it also feels weighty enough without being heavy. A bronzy brown plastic back cover with a slightly rubberised feel to it is secure in the hand, but we’re not sold on the metal strip down the middle, etched “with Google”.

Having seen a number of devices recently around this size, we have to say that the LG isn’t the best looking phone. It lacks the simplicity of the Google Nexus S, the display doesn’t appear quite as striking as the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, and it doesn’t have the bodywork you’d expect from HTC. But it also doesn’t do much wrong, save for the slightly sharp top edge that you’ll feel on your ear when you make a long call.

Across the bottom of the display you’ll find your regular backlit Android controls, offering you menu, home, back and search. Around the side of the device you’ll find volume buttons and across the top the power/standby button, micro HDMI and 3.5mm sockets. On the bottom of the phone is the Micro-USB and two speakers, which sound excellent, especially with the optional “virtual surround” engaged.

On the back of the phone is the 8-megapixal camera, supported by a single LED flash, that offers another first: Full HD video capture. Under the cover you’ll find the 1500mAh battery and the SIM and microSD card slots, so you can expand the memory over the internal 8GB with up to 32GB accepted.

Power on the LG Optimus 2X and you are greeted with the happy smiling face of Android 2.2. LG have said from the outset that this will be an Android 2.3 device, but being amongst the first to get the handset here at Pocket-lint, we’re guessing that some early adopters will be getting 2.2 before any update rolls out. Some of the advantages of Android 2.3 are probably lost on the LG Optimus 2X anyway: the keyboard is LG’s own, there is no NFC, but future support of the front facing 1.3-megapixel camera might come in handy. We’d like to see the Manage Apps feature though, which we’re sure will roll through.

Otherwise, LG’s customisation of the Android interface does enough to make it distinctive, without going too far off the beaten track. You get the option of up to seven homepages which can all be modified in the usual way by adding widgets, shortcuts and so on. LG have actually brought some widgets to the table and we’re reasonably impressed. They aren’t page-eating mega-widges of the type that HTC will offer you, but deal with things like weather, calendar and contacts in a perfectly approachable manner.

Some of the widgets – like those aimed at keeping you in touch with your social buddies – may well be instantly dismissed. LG have supplied customised versions of the Facebook and Twitter apps which feed into these widgets. Unfortunately we found that LG’s take on these apps was less useful than the default, so we downloaded the regular apps, meaning we could no longer integrate with their supplied widgets. We also found that refreshing the regular Twitter for Android app would cause music playback to stutter, whereas the LG app doesn't, so it's something of a mixed bag.

Modifying the pull-down notification bar, the Optimus 2X offers direct access to several common features. Sound, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and screen rotation can all be toggled here. Note we say toggled – using these buttons they are turned on or off. One slight oddity is the Wi-Fi toggle, as when you turn it on it makes like it is about to ask you to select a network, but then completes the procedure itself in a few seconds, returning to your saved connections without issue. This has one advantage in that it will offer to search of connections if it doesn't recognise one (which not all phones do when you turn on Wi-Fi), but it would be cleaner if it just connected to saved networks without on-screen process.

Also in this area you’ll find a basic music controller, meaning you can start/stop/skip music without needing a widget or returning to the player itself. This music control also extends to the standby screen, where you’ll be able to pause or skip tracks without unlocking the screen – always a welcome touch. (We did find that this option was confused when we installed DoubleTwist, as pausing one player would start playing the other.) 

LG have customised the menus too. You have the option to customise how your app menu looks, adding sections or having horizontal rather than vertical scrolling, or just a straight list of apps. LG start you off with “System Applications” as a category which is basically everything you can’t delete. Then there is a “Downloads” category where all your additions appear, as well as some of LG’s bundled freebies (easily deleted if you don’t want them). You can add categories but you can’t arrange the category position, they just appear at the top of the list. So, if you want to reorder your menu, you need to think backwards, putting what you want first on the list last (confused?). Ultimately, you’ll probably just add your top apps to one of the home pages and be done with it, so the customisation options might be totally ignored.

As we’ve said we’re not sold on LG’s take on Facebook or Twitter. There are some other bundled apps that you can’t delete that you might not want. F-Secure provides security, LG App Advisor does a poor job of introducing new apps; Home Selector suggests you’ll be able to change the theme, but in our review device it only offered the default theme – we’re guessing that once networks get hold of the device you’d be able to turn off their tweaks in this area. Mirror offers a picture of yourself using the front facing camera, and finally “Preloaded Apps” is an empty folder you can’t delete. It all feels as though LG is trying too hard when they really don’t need to.

None of this really irks us, because LG have included SmartShare – an equivalent of Samsung’s All Share – which is basically a DLNA client. From this we were able to connect to our media server and stream movies to the LG Optimus 2X. There is plenty of power on offer to chew through HD content and and it gobbled up DivX HD at 1080p without so much as a hiccup.

Media support from the Tegra 2 chipset is good and we found it handled many common formats, although not all, the sheer variety out there will always mean that something falls through the cracks, notably MOV files from a Canon DSLR which caused the video player to lock up (the common H.264, MPEG2, MPEG4, DivX, XviD, WMV are all listed as supported). Not only will it play Full HD content on the device, but it will output it through the HDMI cable supplied in the box. Plugging in to your HDTV will mirror the phone display on the TV, so you can easily navigate and play back anything you like. 

The SmartShare streaming feature also works here, so you can easily stream HD content to your TV from your media server if you have no other way of connecting the two and outputting Full HD over the HDMI, we found the quality was excellent. Some sources, like BBC iPlayer will show their limitations, but it is also a good way to share video you’ve captured on the phone.

Likewise, music format support is good, with an easy to navigate interface. We like the fact that the controls are so easily accessible from the notification bar and the lock screen. The sound quality through the speakers is excellent, but through headphones it is only average. One irritation is that if you take a call when wearing normal headphones - which you then unplug - once you end the call, the music will resume playing through the speakers. 

Offering Full HD video capture for the first time in a mobile phone isn’t to be sniffed at. The quality of our test videos were very good, even on dull days. It suffers with movement and can’t cope with panning very well, but remember that this is a phone. Low light quality is reasonable, if a little noisy, the LED “flash” can be deployed to illuminate a video scene but the results aren’t great. The video autofocuses at the start of the video and is then fixed for the duration of filming, giving you a 3GPP file at the end of it, with varying frame rates.We averaged around 26fps in our tests.

You’ll be able to upload your video directly to YouTube and this includes the Full HD stuff which we sent up over a Wi-Fi network. As always, you’ll be able to easily share your photos to the likes of Facebook with a few clicks.

On the photo front the LG Optimus 2X picks up on some of the skills we’ve seen from LG before, with a range of tweaks on the normal Android camera interface offering complete onscreen control. You can either touch to focus and then press the “shutter” button to take the shot, or just press the button which will focus and take the shot when you remove your finger from the screen.

You get the option through the menu to make some immediate changes, like exposure compensation, flash and zoom, but the most exciting options are then within another Settings menu. Hiding in this menu you’ll find a range of options from focus mode to ISO controls. Hiding towards the bottom of the list is “Shot mode” which is where you’ll find some of the more interesting photo effects, like “Out-focusing shot” and “Art shot”. By the time you’ve delved this far it has all got a little convoluted, but the “Art shot” is well worth playing with as it gives you a nice vintage vignette effect. In reality you should be able to access these options much more readily.

The results are reasonable. Unfortunately the conditions weren’t on our side during a dull February week in London, but it did seem prone to blowing out highlights, with a general lack of punch to colours and plenty of fringing on edges in high contrast scenes. Perhaps glorious sunshine would rectify this a bit, but as it is, the stills photos don’t seem to live up to the quality of the video. It suffers indoors as all camera phones do and the LED “flash” will usually just blow out the detail or fail to reach the subject. At least the photo effects can add some interest to shots that otherwise might not look so good.

There is a front facing 1.3-megapixel camera and we’re hoping this finds some better applications – we’re guessing that video calling from Skype won’t be too far off  - until then it offers pictures and videos of yourself.

The touch response from the LG Optimus 2X is excellent. During the time we’ve been testing the phone there has been no sign of lag and the display has universally impressed all we’ve shown it to. General navigation is fast and diving from one app to another is really slick. A long press on the home button will let you access recent apps and diving from webpages to emails is a breeze.

LG’s keyboard looks surprisingly similar to Samsung’s, offering up predictive entry in some - but not all - text entry situations. The keys are single purpose, so if you want to use caps you have to press shift, if you want a special character you have to press a button (or two) to access the numbers or punctuation. We also found it would often ignore basics like capitalisation. The keyboard is responsive enough and in landscape we found it possible to crack out emails at quite a pace, but we have to say that after a couple of days we installed SwiftKey which is a much better offering overall.

One of the apps highlighted at the launch of the Optimus 2X was the TegraZone. This is a preinstalled app that we guess will appear on forthcoming Tegra 2 handsets too, purporting to offer access to various apps that will take advantage of the power on offer. In reality it is a showcase of some games, but clicking through to download them takes you to the regular Android Market. Most say they will be available some months in the future so at this point in time it is nothing to get excited about.

You get all the goodness of Google’s connected OS in the Optimus 2X. Sign into your accounts and you’ll find your Gmail, contacts and calendars fall into place. You get the latest version of Google Maps to enjoy, with fast GPS pickup, and the growing choice of apps in the Google Market, now joined by the website to make it simple to find and install apps. You also get hardware support for Flash video which is a first so you’ll be closer to that full internet experience on your device.

The browser experience is also excellent with fast loading pages and silky smooth multitouch zooming and pages quickly and accurately tracking your finger as you drag them around.

All this power does come at something of a price however and that is battery life. Like the HTC Desire HD, this is a hungry phone. Leave it alone and it will chug along happily for about a day, but when we stepped out of the office we found that the Optimus 2X didn’t make it through the day. Yes, we were drawing in data, we shot a little HD video (which does seem to take bites out of the battery) and we were playing with the phone a lot, but you’ll need to keep a charger handy. At least you could have a space battery to swap out if you need to.

One of the things that was reported to be eating the battery was Car Home. We didn’t open Car Home and we did force the app to close, but it still registered as using a lot of the battery. This is one of a few oddities we experienced. The browser seemed to be a little unstable – on several occasions we had to restart the phone just to get it to open and various other applications reported errors seemingly randomly, including MMS and several system processes that seemed of little consequence. We suspect this is because our sample is amongst the first to hit the UK and will hopefully be ironed out by updates fairly shortly.

Verdict

There is no doubt that the LG Optimus 2X is a hugely powerful device. It just keeps rolling on no matter what you throw at it. We were blown away with the Full HD performance streaming through the HDMI into a TV – at this point in time it’s the best performance in this role we’ve seen.

The screen is excellent and the build quality is ok, even if the design and materials aren’t quite as premium as we suspect others will try and offer. The response is fantastic and although LG has tinkered here and there, some of their changes we quite like. Others, like the keyboard is easily rectified. But that’s always the story with Android: very often, if you don’t like it, you can do something about it.

In terms of sheer power the LG Optimus 2X currently outclasses its rivals, but within weeks we expect that to change. Our experience has likely suffered because we are so early into the life of this device - a tweak here and there may smooth out the overall experience and leave you with a device that is not only stable, but hugely capable with it.