The LG Spectrum is Verizon’s version of the LG Optimus LTE, LG’s latest high-end smartphone that’s done particularly well in other parts of the world. Verizon is the second US carrier to feature the Optimus LTE; AT&T began offering the Nitro HD in December.
Verizon has released a barrage of high-end smartphones over the past few months, and the LG Spectrum will be placed alongside a slew of other Android devices on Big Red’s network with the lofty goal of wooing customers away from the likes of the Droid RAZR, HTC Rezound and Galaxy Nexus superphones. But does the LG Spectrum differentiate itself enough to make it a must-have smartphone for Big Red?
1. Hardware and Performance
The innards of the device are where the Spectrum truly shines. The Spectrum features a 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 processor with the now-standard 1GB of RAM. This combination makes the device truly fly. Even when running multiple programs in the background, the Spectrum performed exceptionally well with nary a hiccup in performance. If you want a phone that’s blazing fast, the LG Spectrum holds its own with even the top-of-the-line devices out there.
Sadly, it does not have an NFC chip inside, which is frankly a baffling move for a device that will feature Android 4.0 (more on that later).
2. Build Quality and Aesthetics
I really wanted to like the build quality in the Spectrum. Though LG had some problems with software (and, perhaps, hardware) on the T-Mobile G2x, the device remains one of the best feeling Android devices out there. Though I haven’t personally had time with the AT&T variant of the Optimus LTE, several reviewers stated the device felt nice in the hand, thanks in large part to the textured backing on the Nitro HD.
When it comes to the LG Spectrum, the textured backing has been swapped out for a glossy checkerboard-patterned cover that, though it certainly looks good, makes the device feel cheap and plasticky. Further, the glossy finish is a fingerprint magnet, and it only feels clean after a fresh wipedown of the device. The Spectrum certainly doesn’t win in the build quality department, either, especially when it’ll be sitting next to the Galaxy Nexus and Droid RAZR line of smartphones.
720p displays are certainly becoming a norm in higher end devices, and nowhere is this more true than on Verizon’s network. Though practically all devices Big Red releases feature a 720p display, the Spectrum’s 4.5-inch True HD IPS display stands out as one of the more gorgeous displays we’ve seen in a smartphone. Colors really shine on the Spectrum, especially when you crank the brightness up to the highest setting.
Though we’re almost sick of continually repeating this section at this point, Verizon’s LTE network covers the most people of any true 4G network in the country, and the speeds provided by Verizon LTE are ridiculously fast by any standards. With LTE capability, the Spectrum can easily churn through high definition video streaming and upload photos and video with ease.
5. Android 2.3 with LG's UI Overlay
By now, you’re probably painfully aware of my distaste for the custom UI skins carriers/manufacturers are keen to put on devices. Though there are certainly some good ones out there (I’m quite enjoying Touchwiz on the Epic Touch 4G, for example), they generally detract from the user experience Google has mastered in Android 4.0, and I believe the time is nigh to do away with them.
Unfortunately, these skins seem to be here to stay. LG has some serious work to do if it’s going to attract people to its UI. The categorized app drawer is hideous, and the launcher looks like a boxier version of Touchwiz. Fortunately, this problem is quickly remedied by installing a launcher replacement from the Android market.
Still, if you’re going to put money into the development of a UI overlay, be sure to make it differentiate itself in some way. Or, at least make it look pretty. In my opinion, LG’s does neither.
LG has promised to deliver Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich shortly, and we’ll update this review once the update hits our device. Hopefully LG releases a skinned-down version of Google’s latest OS, if not pure Android 4.0 altogether. Though without an NFC chip, we won’t be seeing Android Beam or Google Wallet hitting this device.
6. Camera Quality
I was actually pleasantly surprised with the LG Spectrum’s 8 megapixel 1080p capable camera. Though performance in low lighting for any smartphone camera is average at best, the Spectrum performed beautifully in medium to well lit situations. Pictures came out crisp and captured detail remarkably well. Videos came out good as well, though the auto-focus struggled a bit while taking video samples.
All in all, the camera on the Spectrum is one of the better cameras we’ve seen in an Android phone, and I’d argue you’ll be totally fine leaving the point and shoot at home if you’re going to be snapping a few photos in a reasonably well lit environment. Photo and video samples from the Spectrum can be found below.
7. Battery Life
The LG Spectrum is not the Droid RAZR Maxx; you won’t be able to get 24 or even 10 hours out of the device with moderate use. As with almost all LTE devices currently available, you’ll only be able to get through the standard 8.5-9 hour workday if you barely touch your device. The Spectrum fares about as well as the rest of the LTE devices, and I found it generally lasted about 7 hours before I was scrambling to find a charger.
As with most LTE devices, you’ll probably want to drop some money on an extended battery if you’re going to pick up the Spectrum. Fortunately, since the Spectrum runs a full $100 less on-contract than the top of the line devices, you’ll have some extra cash in your pocket to drop on an extended battery.
8. Call and Sound Quality
When placing phone calls, folks on the other end of the line were able to hear me perfectly well, and the sound on my end was pretty good, too. Speakerphone quality was also surprisingly good on the Spectrum. As for the speakers in general, the Spectrum provides pretty good sound output; movies and music played loud enough to hear them without having to stand or sit too close to the device.
9. Included Applications
Carriers are keen on loading extra applications on their devices, and Verizon is certainly as guilty as the rest. The Spectrum comes preloaded with several Verizon-branded applications, only a few of which proved useful. Of note, Verizon Video gives users access to a ton of video content, including live sporting events. I watched a bit of the Marquette at Notre Dame basketball game in HD quality — pretty handy for when you’re away from your TV or computer. You’ll also find access to several TV shows and other content.
Netflix HD and ESPN ScoreCenter HD come preloaded on the device to show off the HD capabilities of the IPS 720p display. I only tested out Netflix, but was really impressed with the video quality on the Spectrum’s screen. Consumers of video may want to take a hard and fast look at the Spectrum as a media consumption device.
As you’d expect, there are several other applications out there, some of which are arguably little more than free space takers on your device. If you were hoping you’d be able to uninstall these applications, you’re out of luck. They appear to be locked down by Big Red. The lack of ability to uninstall useless applications gives the Spectrum a half-point ding in this category.
10. Differentiating Factor
Customers who walk into Verizon’s store will be pitting the LG Spectrum against dozens of other Android devices out there. Even with the $199 price point, the Spectrum’s immediate competition will be the recently discounted Droid RAZR and HTC Rezound smartphones. Customers willing to spend a bit more will even consider the Galaxy Nexus and Droid RAZR Maxx devices against the Spectrum.
For the Spectrum to succeed, it will need to immediately catch the eye of the customer. Frankly, it is our opinion that the LG Spectrum does not do enough to differentiate itself from the competition in a good way. Several other devices have a 720p screen, feel better in the hands, or have an arguably better user interface than the Spectrum.
Verizon customers have a nearly infinite level of choice when it comes to which device is going to find its way into their pockets. Going up against the similarly priced Droid RAZR and HTC Rezound, the Spectrum fails to differentiate itself as the better choice, even more so when you consider the RAZR Maxx and Galaxy Nexus devices.
As always, the choice of which smartphone will be your next device is yours and yours alone, and we encourage you to spend some hands-on time with the device for yourself before making that decision; the Spectrum may very well be your preferred device in Verizon’s lineup, you just won’t likely find it in any of our hands.
Sorry about the fingerprints in the gallery below. I wiped the phone multiple times during the photo shoot, but this thing shows prints like no tomorrow, front and back!