Last year, LG was the first company to enter the dual-core game but things are different this year as its flagship the Optimus 4X HD comes after stalwarts like the Galaxy S III and the HTC One X. The challenge for the Optimus 4X HD is not only to become a successful device, but also to make sure the company’s products are more well respected in this highly competitive market. While, it sure seems like the Optimus 4X HD has all the ingredients of a superphone, its success is definitely not guaranteed. Let’s see if the Optimus 4X HD can live up to the billing. Also Read - Nokia 5310 Review: A heavy bet on XpressMusic nostalgia
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The Optimus 4X HD is a large device which has a glorious facia punctuated with its 4.7-inch IPS display which has a resolution of 1280×720 pixels. It is also quite slender at 8.89mm and keeps up with the Galaxy S III and the HTC One X in the battle of the anorexic beasts. Purely, in terms of industrial design LG is not breaking any new ground here. The phone has a decidedly uninspired rectangular design that in some ways is quite reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S II. However, that’s not to say it is an ugly looking phone. It is quite the opposite. Frankly, we love the way it looks, in spite of the design being quite bland. Why? Because, unlike the Samsung Galaxy S III, the Optimus 4X HD looks and feels like a premium product. In other words, the build quality of the smartphone screams ‘FLAGSHIP’. Also Read - Microsoft Surface Pro Review: The future is here...almost
LG not only uses good quality, solid feeling plastics for the front, but also adds a rather suave touch on the back plate which is made up of a soft-touch leatherette like composite, giving the device an in-hand feel closer to some of the older BlackBerry Bold smartphones. The back also houses the 8-megapixel camera, a LED flash, a speaker module and a prominent LG branding signage.
The front panel is home to the ‘three’ Android capacitive keys below the display and it also houses the standard suite of sensors and a front facing 1.3-megapixel camera. All this is very neatly integrated and LG also nice highlights its branding on the front-end, giving the phone a very clean and minimalistic look, though one might argue a tad uninspired.
The sides of the device are also pretty clean in terms of the design. LG has added a typical South Korean flourish, a faux steel lining that wraps around the device. This design element is slightly different from phones like the Galaxy S III, because it only tappers around the bezel of the front and the back panel and in the center LG opts for a more standard plastic finish, giving the phone a very stylized look.
Apart from this, the top sector of the device is home to the power key and a 3.5mm audio port. The bottom end is home to the micro-USB/ charging port and the left hand side cleverly integrates the volume rockers. Interestingly, the volume rocker just pops out perfectly so that it feels like a cohesive design element while also servicing its primary function.
As with most flagship smartphones, the Optimus 4X HD has state of the art hardware. The whole nine yards, if you will. It is powered by a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor clocked at 1.5GHz and additionally has 1GB of RAM. LG provides us with 8-megapixel camera which can shoot video at 1080p resolutions and it also packs in a 4.7-inch IPS display that has a resolution of 1280×720 pixels. Specs wise, it matches its direct competition – the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III. Like most new phones on the market, even the Optimus 4X HD has built in NFC functionality. LG also ships a set of smart tags in the package.
While the Optimus 4X HD has an incredible display, the 720p resolution has become par for the course. To make matters worst, the IPS panel neither manages to reproduce the magical vividness of a Super AMOLED panel on the Galaxy S III, nor does it provide the superlative viewing angles and natural colors of the HTC One X. That said, it manages to land on sort of a middle ground between the Galaxy S III and the One X. It neither has the deficiencies of a Pentile sub-pixel layout of a Super AMOLED panel and at the same time it manages really natural looking colors, that just fall short of the HTC One X. In real world usage, pictures look very nice, videos look brilliant and text is really crisp.
Software is one area where Android OEMs have really started to branch out and provide differentiated experiences. LG again is no different, but in stark comparison to HTC and Samsung, LG has shown a great deal of restraint and has not really created an almost forked Android UI, though for the sake of the nomenclature, LG calls it the Optimus UI.
While Samsung and HTC really made a big deal of the software enhancements on the Galaxy S III and the One X, LG has been relatively controlled in its customization. In fact, we can argue that the Android skins on the One X and the Galaxy S III go beyond traditional Android skins, but in the Optimus 4X HD, we generally get a lightly skinned Android 4.0 UI, with the addition of some apps here and there.
LG is not making any grandiose statements. It is not trying to get in to the voice recognition game, like Samsung’s S-Voice. It has not even added any social sharing features or third party cloud storage like Samsung and HTC. It is just offering a well designed, skinned Android 4.0 user experience, which in our tests seemed to perform much smoother in regular usage.
The extra features in the Galaxy S III and the One X, did not really give end user an substantial added benefit. S-Voice was a poor man’s Siri, and now that Google has improved the core Voice Search functionality in Android with Jelly Bean, Samsung’s ‘dance with the devil’ becomes irrelevant. The extra cloud storage on the other hand is definitely helpful, but for the part these extra features really did not improve the core user experience in any of these phones. If anything, they sort of added an extra bulk to the detriment of the user experience. The Optimus 4X HD luckily does not suffer from any of these issues.
However, LG does customize the core Android UI in accordance with its design ethos and we must say they have some interesting ideas. For starters, LG does not only offer themes like Sony, it also allows the user to customize the launcher. So, the user can choose from a list of home-screen effects for transitions and can also choose to turn off animations. This behavior is more akin to a third party launcher like ‘Launcher Pro’ rather than a fixed OEM launcher that normally is not customizable. The standard Android pull-down notifications system remains more or less stock, but again LG has cleverly added short-cuts for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Sound, QuickMemo and it also allows the user to add more apps to the menu as shortcuts.
The lock-screen similarly can open a a number of apps like the HTC Sense lock-screen, but the Korean vendor has added its own unique funky solution, that for once looks pretty original. LG is making a big deal of a QuickMemo app, that basically allows the user to annotate docs or scribble on the screen. It’s not very dissimilar from the S-Note app on the Samsung Note, and can be accessed very easily from the pull-down menu. It has also customized some of the stock Android apps like Music and Gallery. The customizations are rather minor, though we prefer the ‘Holo’ design of stock Android rather than the cartoony funky UI design that is offered.
The camera UI on the Optimus 4X HD is slightly behind the competition and this was a big disappointment, because an important feature like flash was hidden behind a contextual menu. LG has added its custom keyboard which tries to build on top of the very good stock Android keyboard. But, unfortunately it only tries and it fails. Its auto-correct is miserably off the mark, but other than that it is pretty decent and much better than the keyboard HTC ships with its smartphones.
On the whole, the setup is quite spartan and minimalistic, though LG could not resist changing the iconography. Because of the themes, the user will get access to a couple of options. Some are downright gaudy, though some are decent enough for daily use.
Previously, we have said that the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III are the fastest Android smartphones we have ever used and today we will go out on a limb and say that the Optimus 4X HD joins the pantheon of performance gods. When one crams a 1.5GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 chip with 1GB of RAM, blinding fast performance is a given. LG helps its case even more by just adding a light garnishing in the name of Android customization. Its peers Samsung and HTC took a more heavy handed approach and the results showed up in spades in the form of rare UI lags.
The synthetic benchmarks however disagree with our theory as the Optimus 4X HD came third in most of the benchmarks. But again that’s not a blot on the Optimus 4X HD because the variance in scores was so minuscule. For instance, in the Quadrant Standard benchmark the LG Optimus 4X HD scored 4674. The One X which uses the same CPU was only a hair faster, though the Galaxy S III which uses Samsung’s own Exynos CPU handily crossed the 5,000 barrier. Again in the Vellamo benchmark, the Optimus 4X HD just stopped short of 1500 points while the One X marginally crossed the 1,500 mark. In comparison the Galaxy S III was touching the 1900 mark.
While the benchmarks clearly proved technically the Galaxy S III held the aces in front of its competition, TouchWiz was a barrier in lightning fast performance. In our tests, we felt that Optimus 4X HD proved for a slightly better real world user experience than the other quad-core phones on the market. We did not benchmark the LG web browser, because we feel with the advent of Android 4.0 (ICS) and Chrome for Android, everyone should just use Chrome unless of course, something better comes along. As of now, there is no better browser on Android and LG’s custom browser is no stranger to this reality.
The biggest disappointment with the Optimus 4X HD is its camera. Not that it is a bad one, but it is not the best one. It is not even close to being the best one. Heck, we will not even compare it to the Samsung Galaxy S II, leave alone the HTC One X, the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S III. The camera does not only have issues with manual focus as it tends to revert to autofocus almost instantaneously, the UI of the camera app is a tad thoughtless. Additionally, it neither takes photos as fast as the Samsung Galaxy S III or the One X, nor does it match them in clarity. In fact, the biggest problem arises in low light conditions where the deformities of the LG 8-megapixel sensor come to light. Things take a turn for the ugly, when one starts shooting HD video and the video in dim light is just not usable.
In terms of call quality and battery life, LG Optimus 4X HD is just about average. The battery life was a tad disappointing as technically it has a marginally larger 2,150 mAh battery. In our tests though, the battery life was not as fantastic, though it held up pretty well for a long period of time, it did fall short of the Galaxy S III by a good hour and a half.
LG scores a lot of marks in terms of UI design, hardware and user experience, but the stark fact remains that the Optimus 4X HD just is not a better phone than either the Samsung Galaxy S III or the HTC One X. In many ways, it comes close to being better, especially in terms of UI design, hardware and outright performance, but frustrating bits like a very underwhelming camera, and average battery life make for critical stumbling blocks. To add to its woes, the Optimus 4X HD just does not have a killer feature, while the Galaxy S III wins out because of the shear breadth of its features, the One X wins out purely on terms of industrial design and a beautiful screen. The Optimus 4X HD can boast of neither.
Having said that, at Rs 32,999 it makes for a very attractive purchase considering it is a good Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 cheaper than its competition. It is easily the third best Android phone in the Indian market after the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X and also the best phone ever made by LG.
Photo Credits: Rohit Sharma