LG hasn't had the greatest successes when put alongside the likes of Samsung and HTC. With the LG Optimus 4X, the Korean company is, once again, packing the latest tech into a handset for another push in the Android market.
It's a strategy we saw with the LG Optimus 2X in 2011, which like many other devices stood in the shadow of the Samsung Galaxy S II. With the Optimus 4X, can LG put themselves alongside the Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One X?
LG's phone history has some great models in it. Think about the iconic design of the LG Chocolate, a phone that looked fantastic in a world of phones that was rather more mundane.
The 2012 range of LG Mobile devices continues some of this heritage, if you believe what LG is telling you. The Optimus 4X, however, we think might be a bit hit and miss for some.
There is only so much you can do with, what is, essentially a screen in a flat slab. But if you look at the rivals, the choice of materials, the angles and curves are really all you have to work with in creating a phone that's going to look, and ultimately feel, different.
We're not totally sold on the Optimus 4X HD. The textured white plastic back reminds us too much of a designer handbag, especially when trimmed with the double silver "piping" around the sides.
From the front there is little to complain about, it's a display, with the essentials in the top and bottom sections. Buttons are conventionally placed, with the power/standby on the top and the volume rocker on the left-hand side.
On the bottom is a Micro-USB. Gone are extra connections like HDMI, but the central placement of the USB connection means that the 4X will probably fit Android docks with no problem. The USB supports MHL, so you can still hook up to a large display with the right cable.
In the hand the phone feels nice enough, but this is no HTC One X. The edges, with that double band of detail, do offer plenty of grip, even if we're not sold on the overall effect.
The handset measures 132.4 x 68.1 x 8.9mm, so it's pretty average for a 4.7-inch device and it weighs 141g. The build quality feels good, there is no sign of creaks or flex as we manipulate the phone.
The back cover may be a little cheap feeling for some, although that hasn't stopped Samsung enjoying success with its models, and as we know, the exterior is only a small part of the smartphone puzzle.
Display and hardware
The 4.7-inches of the display put the 4X HD at the top of the Android smartphone pile. It's a flagship handset and the specs shout that from every angle. The display gives you 1280 x 720 pixels, that's 312ppi, is it's sharp and detailed and competitive with its rivals.
It is an IPS display, so viewing angles are good. There is plenty of vibrancy to colours, but it has that typical AMOLED look to it, where things are a little over-saturated. It's not really a huge deal, as long as you're not expecting the most authentic of colour reproduction.
Like some other AMOLED displays, it also looks a little grubby when it dims. Slide down the brightness and whites start to look grainy and dirty. This is a characteristic of the Galaxy Nexus too, and we feel that recent LCD displays are better, like that of the HTC One X.
There is plenty of brightness on offer, however, and along with auto-brightness, you can also place the slider along the auto scale if you have a preference for a brighter or dimmer display. Cranking the levels up to the top mean you'll still get a good view in bright sunshine, at the cost of battery life.
Sitting in the heart of the Optimus 4X HD is the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset clocked at 1.5GHz and 1GB of RAM. Again, this puts it on a par with rivals in terms of core hardware spec.
You'll find 16GB of internal memory as well as a microSD card slot under the back cover for expansion. You also have a removable 2150mAh battery, so top marks to LG for making this phone flexible: more memory and easy battery changing at your leisure.
Unfortunately the battery didn't seem to perform well during our tests. Although there is a power saving mode on offer, in normal use, we found the phone would only really see us through about 8 hours. That means by mid-afternoon the levels were looking worrying. It might get you through a working day, but a working night too? You'll need that spare battery.
LG has at least rolled the LG Optimus 4X HD out the door with Ice Cream Sandwich. Sure, Google has released Jelly Bean in the meantime, but we can't criticise LG for that. But this device is fairly well removed from the native Android experience and, like most other mainstream manufacturers, LG has applied its own touch to everything.
Across the bottom of the display are three touch controls, but LG has retained a menu button, rather than use the recent apps button. Recent apps, Android's approach to multitasking, is accessible with a long press of the home button; the third button is back, as you'd expect.
As such, the LG Optimus 4X HD reflects the control decision taken by Samsung and although we like the arrangement that Google pushed, we find it difficult to complain about the presence of menu button, when you spend so much time opening and closing menus on Android phones. It does mean that you don't get the three-dot menus in all apps, as you do in stock Android 4.
In many cases, LG's skinning of the 4X HD is purely visual, for example changing the look of the settings menu, which is of little real consequence. But there are some neat touches elsewhere.
The lock screen offers a range of customisations, including choosing the type of clock you have on display, to the unlock icons. The swipe unlock action is rather neat too, opening up a ring around your finger, a ring that grows as your digit moves.
You also get the swipe down notifications common to ICS, so you can access alerts directly. LG has customised this area also, so there are shortcuts to power controls, like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
It's customisable to a degree, so you can add or remove various functions, like flight mode, brightness or GPS. There are only four spaces, but at least you can pick your own. There is also a handy link through to the settings menu.
The home screens themselves offer the typical widgets, including a weather clock or music player and offer you up to seven screens to customise. Across the bottom is the customisable launcher, which can be arranged to your liking.
The apps menu button can be positioned where you want and the launcher will accept up to six shortcuts. Neatly, the icons resize size and adjust if you want less, so if you choose a minimalist single icon, or six of your best, it all looks neat and tidy. We like it and think this is a feature that should be more widely offered.
Dive into the apps menu and a few tweaks have been made, dividing up into apps, downloads and widgets. The download section is an easy place to quickly remove installed apps you don't want, but there are fair number of LG apps that come bundled in, like LG SmartWorld, which is worth little more than a nonchalant shrug.
You'll also find that LG have modified the browser, although nothing much has changed other than the appearance. The keyboard is reasonable, throwing up suggestions, but it doesn't seem to be able to deal with things like spacing around punctuation, so it's a little slower than we'd like. As is often the case, installing something like SwiftKey X results in a much smoother text entry experience.
The overall effect, in day-to-day use, is rather nice. Although LG addresses most areas, it feels like a lighter touch than HTC Sense, and with that comes the inevitable feeling that it's slightly less integrated, especially in some multimedia areas, where you don't have that instant link though to your media server, for example.
LG knows a thing or two about entertainment and in the Optimus 4X HD, both Dolby Mobile and Divx HD are on offer. The music player is reasonable enough, with Dolby looking to boost the audio performance. In reality it's a little hit and miss, but there is an equaliser in place if you'd rather change things yourself. Plug in a decent set of third-party headphones and you'll find the 4X HD a capable music player.
Video also looks stunning on the display, with options to change the aspect to fit the display or stick to the original format. There is also a neat scan function, so with the video playing, you can scan forward or backwards in a preview windows to find a different scene. It's pretty slick.
When it comes to sharing, it's a shame that LG's SmartShare is a separate app, rather than fully integrated into the gallery, music or video players. SmartShare will let you play content from your phone on a compatible TV or media player, or retrieve content from a networked media server.
The video and music players will let you share with SmartShare, but don't give you the option to retrieve content. It's a small point, but we'd like to have access to our network media from the music player directly, rather than having to jump back and forth. However, SmartShare will let you download content to your phone, so if you load up tracks before your travels, it's easy to do so.
There is an 8-megapixel camera on the rear of the LG Optimus 4X HD and a front-facing camera. The front-facing camera is in place for video conferencing or the inevitable self portrait. LG is obviously eyeing the latter use, with a beatify function, which will smooth your face so it looks like Plasticine.
The 8-megapixel camera on the rear is much more capable however. It offers a range of settings you can tweak, including the choice of straight autofocus or face focus.
Touch focusing is offered and works well, but straight focusing can be a little slow compared to something like the HTC One X and sometimes the autofocus doesn't settle exactly as it should on your subject, so a quick poke is needed to correct things.
You can use the volume controls as the shutter and pressing and holding will give you continuous capture. There are a few colour options you can apply, like black and white, but if you're after a range of effects, you will need to look to a separate app for your retro or funkadelic photos.
The results are good however, accepting the usual shortcomings of soft and noise low light images, highlight blowouts in bright condition and so on, but generally speaking the camera performs well.
Video capture comes in at Full HD, 1920 x 1080 pixels. The quality is average however the focusing lets the side down. It offers continuous autofocus, which we generally like, however it frequently pulses to check focus and in doing so, spoils the video you're recording.
We're sometimes accused of not putting enough emphasis on calling when reviewing the latest smartphone, but in the case of the LG Optimus 4X HD, we feel this deserves a little more attention.
We've struggled at times with the 4X. Call quality was generally good, but seemed to be hampered by connection problems. This doesn't only affect calls, it affects data across for phone and we found the we'd often lose our network connection. This lead to dropped calls, a cessation of data, failed downloads and so on.
Wi-Fi seemed a little temperamental also and during our review time with the Optimus 4X HD, we've spent more time turning the Wi-Fi on and off than we have done with any other handset. It's difficult to determine whether these connection issues are specific to this sample, or a wider problem with the phone – but it's worth researching.
The performance of the Optimus 4X HD is good. For everyday tasks, we've enjoyed the speed and power that comes with the hardware and up-to-date software that LG has in its flagship handset.
There are a few niggles, some more significant than others. The design isn't quite for us, but this is purely subjective. The software quirks aren't critical, there's nothing we dislike and can't fix, but we think there is space for LG to develop.
The connection problems are a bit more difficult to pin down. We've dropped some calls and occasionally been left in the dark, but it hasn't been critical to the point we've felt we had to leave the LG at home.
As such, and taking all things into consideration, we're relatively impressed with what LG has done with the Optimus 4X HD. That said, in a line-up with big name rivals, LG just doesn't quite have wow factor offered by Samsung or HTC.