With the smartphone revolution, companies like Motorola, HTC, and Samsung have seized new market share, but if you were to ask someone at LG, they’d probably tell you things were better when phones flipped open. LG was one of the top three mobile phone makers, but has been slow to adapt to the smartphone market. Its phones are rarely bad, but fail to stand out. The Optimus 4X HD likely won’t change anything for LG, but it marks a good step forward for the company, and makes a rock-solid competitor to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X.
There isn’t much to say about the design of the Optimus 4X, which might itself be a problem if you’re looking for a phone that makes a statement. The white color scheme option presents a nice break from the monotony of black that covers most phones. The phone has a plastic look and feel to it. It doesn’t pick up fingerprints thanks to a textured battery cover, but it doesn’t match the premium look and feel of its competitors.
Like said competitors, the Optimus 4X is a huge phone with a screen nearing 5 inches. For a lot of you, it will feel large — maybe too large. Though it’s roughly the same size as competing phones like the Galaxy Nexus, the boxy design and button placement made it a bit difficult for us to press the buttons we needed to press without playing the shuffling it awkwardly in our hands. It’s impossible to reach the nav buttons, volume rocker, power button, and all areas of the screen without manipulating the phone in your hand like a card magician. The Nokia Lumia 900 had a similar problem. Samsung solved the issue on its Galaxy phones by putting the power button on the right side of the phone, so you could reach it and the navigation buttons without feeling like David Bowie and his crystal orbs in Labrynth. It’s scary to feel like you might drop an expensive phone.
LG’s determination to use haptic (vibrating) Home, Back, and Menu buttons instead of the built-in onscreen navigation (which Google intended with Android 4.0) contributes to the distance of the buttons. Strangely, haptic feedback is also disabled by default, making it awkwardly unresponsive to press these buttons. Like the Galaxy S3, LG has also diminished the Recent Apps multitasking menu. You have to hold the Home button to access it. Menus are supposed to be onscreen now, but LG has taken upon itself to keep a button built in, intentionally disregarding Google and possibly creating confusion. Once you get used to it, the Menu button works fine – but why?
The Optimus 4X has a 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 pixel IPS LCD screen. If you don’t know what that all means, check out our screen guide. To put it bluntly, it’s a great LCD screen. Having said that, we can’t help but compare it to the HTC One X and EVO 4G LTE, which make the 4X’s screen look a tad washed out by comparison. The Optimus gets brighter than those screens, so you’ll have no problem reading your email on the beach, but it cannot compare side-by-side. LG also hasn’t included an auto brightness setting, so you have to manually adjust the brightness when you go from dark areas to sunlight, etc. It’s a drag, and will harm battery life or annoy you at times – either the screen will be too dim for your situation, or it may be brighter than you require, wasting precious energy that you’ll later need as you run for your charger at the end of the day.
As all new Android phones should, the Optimus 4X HD runs Google’s new Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system. LG has modified ICS to make its phone look different, yet somehow its interface looks more generic than Google’s. What’s the point in changing an interface if you have no real ideas on how to make it better?
The Optimus UI does have one great feature: customization. Unlike the Galaxy S3 and HTC One X, which reversed Android’s progress on homescreen customization, LG has it down. All you have to do is hold your finger down on the homescreen. Once you do, it will shrink down and a menu will pop up and let you add shortcuts to anything, customize the wallpaper, or add widgets. And when you’re adding things to a homescreen (you have 7 of them), icons and other widgets will move around – a feature that’s in Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), but LG has already implemented.
Other than homescreen customization, and a pretty unlock screen, there isn’t much going on with the Optimus 4X. LG hasn’t invested in breakout apps and functionality like Samsung and HTC. It’s adequate. No more, no less.
The Optimus 4X has a 1.5GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 1GB of RAM, 12.25GB of usable internal flash storage, a 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 pixel IPS LCD screen, an 8-megapixel rear camera, and a 1.3-megapixel front camera. It runs on Android 4.0 with LG’s Optimus UI overlaid on top. Common features include Bluetooth 4.0, Micro USB charging, NFC, DLNA, a headphone jack, digital compass, gyroscope, accelerometers, Wi-Fi, a removable battery, and a microSD slot.
In the Quadrant benchmark test, the Optimus 4X scored about 4,200, which is less than the American versions of the HTC One X and Galaxy S3, which both scored closer to 5,000 on their dual-core Snapdragon S4 processors, but good compared to almost any other device thanks to the Tegra 3 — a solid processor.
The camera on the 4X disappoints in some situations, but isn’t the worst we’ve used. Outside photographs are crisp and detailed, as are close ups in natural light, but once the lighting is off, the Optimus camera gets unpredictable. It cannot register low light well, often displaying pure black in areas that would merely be dim or grainy on cameras like the Galaxy Nexus. This problem seems to compound when recording video. The auto focus also poses a problem. It’s slow and gets slower as the lights dim – it can take a few seconds to auto focus in dim conditions and sometimes it won’t focus at all without a tap on the screen. You can snap photos before it has focused though, so if you don’t have a sharp eye on the screen, you can easily take a blurry photograph or video without realizing it.
Focusing remains an issue on phones with the best cameras. Our favorite devices with cameras are the One X, iPhone 4S, and Galaxy S3, in that order. All have issues sometimes snapping photos before focusing properly, but they make up for it with versatility and speed. The Optimus doesn’t have that. If you’re in a hurry to take a photo, this phone might disappoint you.
We’ve included a comparison shot from the Galaxy Nexus and 4X. Both the One X and Galaxy S3 took even better shots than the Galaxy Nexus.
Finally, we had a small issue with spotting: There was a large orange or blue spot in the middle of many of our photos. It’s only visible in low-light shots, but hurts photo quality more when you are in those conditions.
Like its companions, the 4X has a larger battery than older smartphones (2,150mAh), but due to its quad-core processor and large LCD screen, the extra juice is required to keep this phone running for a full day. LG claims it will get 9.36 hours of talk time and 30 days of standby, but in real-world use, you’re going to have to charge this phone every night. By the end of a day of light use, our battery had less than a quarter of its charge left. Try to download, stream, or do anything else fancy and you may need to have a spare battery. The only phone on the market with great battery life is the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx.
The LG Optimus 4X HD is a wonderful, powerful phone for an appropriate price (unlocked: about $600). It would be a great addition to any US wireless carrier’s docket and is a good choice for anyone in Europe, where it has officially launched. Its largest weakness is simply its forgetability. It mostly matches the standards set by competing devices by Samsung and HTC, but fails to excel ahead of them in any meaningful way. There is no reason to tell your friends to buy a 4X instead of a competing phone. So while we definitely don’t recommend you avoid the 4X HD, we can’t recommend it over devices like the One X or Galaxy S3. A poor camera hurts its status as well. If you can find a good price on the Optimus 4X, we don’t think you’ll dislike it, and in a vacuum, it’s an awesome smartphone. But the market is full of good choices right now, and while the LG Optimus 4X HD is one of them, it’s not the best of the bunch.
- Fast quad-core Tegra 3 processor
- Easy homescreen customization
- Runs Android 4.0
- Good overall S3 competitor
- Physical buttons hard to reach
- No auto brightness
- Poor autofocus, low-light camera performance
- No 4G LTE (currently 3G only)
- Bland user interface