LG‘s Optimus 4X HD is the last one of the quad-core mobile phones, announced earlier this year, to arrive. This follows on from the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S 3. But does it have what it takes to make a splash in the market, or is it a little too late to the party?
The initial setup of the phone mirrors that of a very basic install of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. With the first step that establishes an Internet connection, which goes on to request Google account details for access to Gmail and apps. There really are only these two steps.
There are options for adding Facebook and Twitter logins, along with a Microsoft Exchange account, but those are a necessity. However, what is missing from the setup is an on-line LG account. The company’s competitors do offer this and it provides access to the likes of tracking a lost phone, along with remotely wiping it, among other features.
The LG Optimus 4X is available in two colours, black and white. The phone does have a premium look and design, with a leather-esque finish to the battery cover and a pyramid pattern, all around the edges.
It also has a silver trim that gives it an appearance similar to that of the Samsung Galaxy S II. This is along with the overall square shape, in line with the company’s L series.
It has the dimensions of 132.4 x 68.1 x 8.9mm (HxWxD) and weighs in at 133g.
Its near S3 doppelgänger is just over 7-mm shorter, with a width of 2-mm less, and it’s half a millimetre thinner: just to give an overall idea of its size. The 4X is also over 4mm shorter than its closest rival.
There is a minimal amount of physical buttons. The power/standby button is located on the top of the device, while an elongated volume button is on the left.
There is also the touch sensitive back, home and menu keys housed beneath the display. Above the screen is a proximity sensor, with a 1.3-megapixel camera that can capture HD 720p video and still images. All in all, the 4X has a very basic design, but one that does appeal, as it is simple but elegant.
The phone’s elongated form and light weight allows it to be comfortably operated with just one hand. However, it did need to be balanced on my little finger.Only then could I reach the four corners of the very responsive touch screen.
There is only a few millimetres of excess casing around the screen, where typing in portrait mode delivered a good experience.
However, the best way of text entry came from landscape mode. The keyboard here took up over half the display, giving one of the best on-screen typing experiences I have had in a long time.
The screen is a 4.7-inch 1,200 x 720 16:9 True HD IPS display, developed by LG with the company’s new AH-IPS (Advanced High Performance IPS) technology. This was initially seen in the 2011 Optimus LTE or Nitro, which came out in the USA and South Korea. That was the first commercially available phone with an HD 1,280 x 720 screen, beating the Samsung Galaxy Nexus to the shelves.
LG’s design philosophy around the display is threefold: clarity, colour and consumption. The first relates to the sharpness of the screen, which at 313 pixels per inch (PPI) is sharper than the 306 PPI display of Samsung Galaxy S III. It has natural colour reproduction too, which has no over or under saturation.
This is evident in pictures capture on the device, shown on the screen. As whatever is shot, the real-life colours are displayed and just as if you were there. I can testify to seeing this in action and the screen does come across well, with pictures displaying no unnecessary colours – they are just natural looking.
Consumption relates to the amount of power used by the screen. A large display could pull a lot of power, but AH-IPS delivers 20 per cent more battery life. This is compared to what LG has previously used, in the likes of the LG 3.0 by Prada. The 4X also has a high nit rating of 550, with a good level of clarity outdoors.
Powering the 4X HD is the quad-core 1.5GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset, with its four plus one architecture. It is supported by a 12-core GeForce graphics processing unit. The same setup is found in the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III; only the latter is clocked at 1.4GHz.
I benchmarked the LG Optimus 4X HD against these other two, using the Quadrant app which produced a score of 4094. The HTC One X came in at 4588, while the S3 saw a score of 5233.
Breaking it down, the LG phone had a CPU benchmark of 11435, the HTC mobile came in at 12479 and the S3 had 11897. It felt powerful, despite the score and compared to those devices. The OS ran well, as did launching and running applications, displaying web pages and playing media. I saw no issues, as I wouldn’t have expected to, with its high specifications.
The chipset is backed-up by 1GB of RAM, with 16GB of internal storage.
This is on par with those other top-tier handsets. It has been confirmed to us that it is capable of housing a 64GB card. This means the overall capacity could be expanded to 80GB. However, a promotional Dropbox or Box.net app doesn’t accompany the phone. HTC and Samsung both offering 25GB and 50GB of free online storage, respectively. This would have been a useful addition, especially when competing with those other companies.
Under the removable battery cover is a full-sized SIM card slot. The recent spate of handsets all have microSIM versions, even though some could cater for the larger size. We’re glad to see that LG hasn’t just jumped on that bandwagon here.
On the subject of connectivity, it supports HSPA+ and it has NFC on-board. The call quality we experience was good, without any issues heard, but I did expect to see dual-carrier HSPA. This is being rolled out to the networks and has started to arrive on new phones, while extending the 21Mbps download speeds to 42.
On the rear is an 8-megapixel backside illuminated sensor, with an LED flash. This is the same technology seen on the Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X and Apple iPhone 4S. It can take in more light when capturing an image, which means that a good photo can be taken in low or poor lighting conditions.
The camera has a good range of features, with the standard ones expected, such as HDR, panoramic modes, image sizes, ISO and colour effects. There some others that stand out, such as Time Capture Shot. This captures five images; four of them will be before the shutter button is pressed.
It allows you never to miss that shot that you wish you had taken, just because you weren’t fast enough to press the button. Video can be captured in 1080p at 30 frames, which can be live-zoomed. This is together with being able to capture digital stills with zero shutter lag, during recording.
LG’s Optimus 4X runs from Android Ice Cream Sandwich, with version 4.0.3 installed. It’s the same OS that has been seen elsewhere, with all the same features found on recent phones. Running on top of this is a light LG overlay called UI 3.0.
This has been designed for the company to deliver timely updates to the platform. It’s a heavily customised interface to Android, but in a good way as it can be personalised in ways that can’t be had with its competitors. For example, you can create folders on the home screen for the housing of apps, only it’s possible to increase the size and colour of them. This can’t be done elsewhere, even on Jelly Bean.
On that note, I was told by LG that Android 4.1 won’t be coming to the phone this year.
Another addition to the user interface that you can’t get on its competition is turning icons into widgets. In the same way as dragging the corners of a folder resizes it, dragging the corners of an app icon expands it into that app’s widget. This is all with the contents of a widget, as if it was deliberately added.
The feature is great for those who do not understand how to add these to the home screen, but can add apps.
Manipulating of the apps does not stop there. Holding down on an icon for a length of time produces a paint brush in the top right-hand corner. This signifies that you can change the icon’s image for another one, or create your own. You can even take a picture, to be used as an icon. There’s a whole range of them to choose from, from any of the four available themes (more on that later).
Folder resizing and colour changing can be performed inside the main app menu, too. This section can also be customised. Selecting the menu button below the screen gives an option to show more icons.
This can display five apps across, instead of the four and six down (there are usually only five). That allows for a total of 35 icons to be displayed, instead of the 20. This one of my bugbears of the larg screen phones, such as the Galaxy S3.
That has a similar screen size to the 4X. Only it had five fixed icons along the base of the screen, but the application menu could only house four across.
There are four themes available to the phone, which change the background and icon overlook. This is the basic one, Optimus, or Biz, Cozywall and Marshmallow.
There is a lot more customisation here, and one that particularly stands out is the way of moving from home screens to other home screens. There are seven possible transitions. This adds life to the basic swipe to the left or right, just to get to the following screen. The most interesting one is the carousel swipe effect that shows you to see a glimpse of the next screen, before you move on to it.
The phone’s default lock screen has a useful look and peek effect. Here, moving a finger on any part of the display opens a circle that shows the last application. This is useful for when you just want to take a quick glimpse of an email, or a website, but don’t want to fully unlock the device.
Another good feature of the lock screen is swiping a finger from any of the default icons unlocks it to that application. The default ones are phone, messaging, email and camera, but these can be customised.
Just showing how far the customisation can go is the drop-down notification bar, which can be edited to add more choices. By default, there is the QuickMemo app (more on that later), sound profile, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. These are the most commonly used settings, but another eight can be added. These range from the likes of NFC to Brightness.
Missing is the voice command feature. LG said that it was coming to this version of the UI. It was supposed to offer the ability to take a photograph, by just saying the word cheese. It has now been confirmed to Omio that cheese shutter will be coming to next year’s model, and not the current one after all.
There are some notable inclusion of applications, such as one for backing up all the phone’s content to a microSD card and QuickMemo.
The latter is similar to the Samsung S Note, only that’s a separate app that needs to be launched. LG’s version is always running in the background. That means that you can be on any screen, at any time, and grab screen-shots, crop them, annotate and share them. It can be launched from the drop-down notification bar. If the running app doesn’t allow access to that, pressing the volume up and down button launches QuickMemo.
LG has added an enriched video player to the 4X, called Media Plex. This takes advantage of the quad-core chipset and in many ways. It allows zooming in on running video and to a very high level, slowing down what’s playing by a half the speed and increase it by double that.
There is a fingertip-seek feature that allows to you see a moving thumbnail of upcoming scenes, by just scrolling across its timeline. This video snapshot has been extended to showing all the available video on the handset. A thumbnail preview can also be seen in a small window, even while the main video is still running. I have tried this with a handset full of 720p MKV video and it all works very well, thanks to the Nvidia chipset.
There will be a maintenance released in Q4 for the LG 4X HD, which will bring the Android version up to version 4.0.4. This will also have a battery saving Eco feature. That will throttle back on using the quad-cores, to just the one. Similar powered mobile phones do not have this feature, and I haven’t heard of it coming to any of them.
The LG Optimus 4X HD has one of the largest removable batteries out of the three quad-core phones, at 2150mAH. The S III has a 2100mAh one and the HTC One X comes with a 1800mAH version. But does this higher power equal a longer battery life?
I tested the handset in real-world use, by running the battery down over the course of a working day and calling another phone. Both phones were on the Three network, with the LG 4X HD on The One Plan. This is all while emails and social-networking updates come into the phone, mimicking how it would really be used by the average person.
I setup the mobile with all the default settings and two Gmail accounts: one personal and a corporate version, pulling in over 100 emails. This is while running both Facebook and Twitter in the background, with updates coming in from over 670 people and 1,630 followers, respectively.
In the first test, the phone managed to make 8-hours, 51-minutes and 1-second worth of calls. The second test saw 8-hours, 59-minutes and 20-seconds.
From my experience, the 4X HD would last more than a full working day on heavy use; perhaps a day and a half on mid-to-heavy use and two days plus, on infrequent use.
LG’s Optimus 4X HD is a powerful quad-core phone that has a natural-looking screen, which displays colours in a realistic way, rather than over saturating them.
What stands out isn’t the mighty chipset, but the way it can be customised beyond what Android can offer and can be done on other devices. This alone, adds value to the mobile, making it more of a personal mobile phone, than just like every other handset.
It will however, be pitched against the Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X. These have already been available for a number of months. They have cemented themselves in the market, as popular quad-core phones. Unfortunately, it could be a little too late for LG to find a good foothold in the market, with them around.
However, I was told that the 4X HD was going to be aggressively priced and it is available on £15.50 a month. The low-cost could be its most attractive proposition and should win it some favour, for those wanting a quad-core phone but don’t want to pay a great deal for it.
Pros: High quality screen; Quad-core; customisation
Cons: UI 3.0 missing some promised feature; perhaps a dated design; could be too late to market
Price: £15.50 a month