LG used to be one of the great innovators. Remember the Chocolate, the Shine, the Crystal, the Arena? All phones pretty ahead of their time and five or six years ago, there wasn't much in it between Samsung and LG. Both South Korean and both with big ambitions to take on the world.
But in recent years, LG has gone a bit stagnant. Whilst Samsung has overtaken Nokia to become the biggest mobile phone manufacturer on the planet, LG has released a few mediocre Android offerings and watched on with envy. Could the Optimus 4X HD and its killer specs be the one release that redraws the battle lines?
Design and Build
There's no denying this - the Optimus 4X HD is one sexy bit of kit. Very similar in looks to last year's best-selling Samsung Galaxy S3 and available in a choice of white or black. We reviewed the white which looked and felt like a premium, solid piece of kit. Several people asked what it was.
The front of the phone is bare except for a camera/sensor and LG logo. There's no hard button - here, LG has gone for Google's take on Ice Cream Sandwich and opted for three soft keys instead. Yet, they don't form part of the screen and sit firmly below, illuminated when they can be of assistance. In fact, it's not dissimilar at all to the LG Prada 3 which we reviewed back in March. They certainly have the same hard plastic and patterned rear. And the Optimus is finished with a nice metal trim which not only looks great but gives the user something to grip onto.
At 132.4 x 68.1 x 8.9 mm, it's a comfortable size in the hand and at 133g, it's certainly not what we could describe as heavy. Considering the power it has inside, it's certainly manageable.
The Optimus 4X HD is fitted with a True HD-IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen and it can belt out some 16m colours.
Resolution wise, it's 720x1280 pixels, spread across a 4.7-inch display and offering a pixel density of 312ppi. It's clear and sharp.
But it lets itself down by having too big a gap between the actual display and the Corning Gorilla Glass which protects it.
Recent handsets like the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3 have spoiled us, so it's particularly noticeable on the Optimus 4X HD. Not that it's bad - but it could be better.
Interface and OS
Powering this baby is Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 and sitting atop it as LG's proprietary UI. It's a really fun, customisable skin and while it lacks the social elements of, say, HTC Sense, we'd say it's just as good - if not better - than Samsung's TouchWiz.
There are so many customisation offers - from shortcuts and widgets you can add to the lockscreen, to individual themes that change the feel of the device, to the option to fit more icons on screen in the app drawer and transitions when swiping between screens. These are things you tend to get from third party launchers so we're really glad to see LG include these out of the box.
Several widgets are included as standard - including weather and music - and the beauty of Android is that you can add or remove as many as you see fit.
This bit is where we feel slightly let down by the Optimus 4X HD. It's not bad - but it's not great either. We had issues with auto focusing and even things like turning the flash on require patience as you have to faff about going into the menu rather than just tapping an on screen shortcut. Plus, you can't turn the shutter sound off (even when the phone is on silent) and HDR mode which should give you better quality in the end actually left a lot to be desired.
Video isn't much better - LG has spent time including silly effects but not paid enough attention to the important stuff. For example, when shooting a video, it's in continuous focus mode with no way of disabling it. Which meant our videos looked awful because every few seconds, the Optimus 4X HD would blur itself and then recover for no reason. Not good.
Performance and Battery Life
There's no doubt this phone is snappy. Bear in mind it runs with a quad-core processor and it is impossible to slow down - even with several top apps running that you would expect to drain it of battery life.
And as for battery, we are really, really pleasantly surprised. LG has never made a phone that we can remember where the battery life could be described as anything more enthusiastic than 'mildly OK'. But here, it has really gone for it. The battery isn't physically that large but it does provide a whole 2150mAh for your pleasure - that's even bigger than the Samsung Galaxy S3. And while, in practice, it didn't last as long as the S3 during our tests, it wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. Heavy users will easily get 12 hours out of this and moderate users may bleed out a second day.
- Great looking device
- Top notch battery life
- Comes with 16GB memory which can be expanded
- Web speeds unnaturally quick
- LED flash lightens up even the darkest of rooms well
- Expensive considering LG's position in the marketplace
- Too big gap between the screen and glass protection
- Camera not brilliant
- No LED notification light
- Video camera pretty useless due to focus issue
Verdict: If the Optimus 4X HD had been released twelve months ago, it would have been, without doubt, the best phone out there. Its specs are truly amazing. But the sad truth is that it offers nothing new really compared to the two big Android handsets of the moment - the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S3. And it's almost the same price as both of them. Yet, whilst they've proved their mettle to consumers, LG doesn't have that reputation. Unfortunately, we can't see HTC or Samsung fans abandoning their favourites for LG - and for this reason, we don't think it'll be the big hitter LG really needs. Or probably deserves.
More info: LG Optimus 4X HD spec