Review: LG Optimus 4X HD

LG has been in the Indian markets for several years now, selling everything from washing machines, to air conditioners, televisions, microwaves, refrigerators to even vacuum cleaners. And Indians have been buying them too, because they are all good products.

| Updated on: Sep 11 2012, 19:28 IST

LG has been in the Indian markets for several years now, selling everything from washing machines, to air conditioners, televisions, microwaves, refrigerators to even vacuum cleaners. And Indians have been buying them too, because they are all good products.

But when it comes to mobile phones, the Indian buyer never quite trusted LG. This has more to do with the products themselves, which have often been lackluster and greatly overshadowed by the offerings of their Korean rival, among others.

But it seems things are about to change with the Optimus 4X HD. On paper at least it shows a lot of promise and although that has been true for a lot of LG devices in the past this time it seems it might deliver. But will it? Let's find out.

Unlike the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III, the Optimus 4X HD sticks to a much simpler and sober design that would please a few and offend no one. It's not something you fall in love with at first glance but having lived with the phone for close to a month I slowly started appreciating the simplicity of it.

The front of the Optimus 4X HD is almost entirely dominated by the display. This is about as close I've been to a phone with an entirely bezel-free display. Look closely, though, and you'll find three capacitive keys below the display, as well as an earpiece at the top. Both these elements have been pushed to the far edges so that the display takes up most of the space. The keys on the bottom are partially hidden, so they only show up when the backlight turns on, furthering the illusion of a bezel-free display.

Along the side you will find two thin strips of chrome, which adds some visual drama to the otherwise staid design. Sandwiched between these two strips is a series of pyramid shaped pattern the runs around the sides. You will find the volume rocker on the left as part of this design and because it's so similar to the rest of the sides it's hard to spot these buttons at first glance. Even after you spot them, they're not particularly easy to operate because they are almost flush with the side.

On the top of the phone lies the power button, headphone jack and a secondary microphone and on the bottom are the USB port and the primary microphone.

On the back you will find a simple diagonal line pattern that's not particularly tasteful but easy on the eyes nonetheless. Near the top you will find the camera lens with the LED flash and near the bottom likes the loudspeaker.

The entire back surface is actually the battery cover. Removing it reveals the battery, micro SIM card slot and the microSD slot. The Optimus 4X HD also has NFC built-in, so you can see the contacts inside the battery cover.

While handling the phone, I was surprised how it doesn't feel like a floor tile in your hand despite the large display. I have mentioned this repeatedly in previous reviews that the One X is quite a handful when it comes to handling the device on a daily basis. The Galaxy S III is significantly better in that department and the Optimus 4X HD goes a step ahead by being just a tiny bit easier to use, which makes all the difference when you are handling these gigantic phones.

I also had no issues reaching the power button on top of this phone, not something I can say about the One X. The diagonal positioning of the volume and power keys does make it a bit difficult to take screenshots, though. The Galaxy S III is still the best in this regard, as are all Samsung phones.

The tight packaging of the phone is impressive, whether it is its relatively narrow width or the fairly slim profile. The phone also feels quite light. Slip it in your pocket and you won't even know it's there. The overall feel is not particularly premium due to the all-plastic design but the phone still feels well built.

The Optimus 4X HD has a 4.7-inch, 1,280 x 720 IPS display. This is undoubtedly one of the finest displays I've seen on a smartphone till date. It really is very good, with perfectly natural colors, contrast, brightness and adequate black levels.

There are some minor niggles, however. For an IPS display, I noticed the viewing angles were less than stellar. There was a significant color shift while viewing certain images from certain angles. Some of this boils down to the display not being bonded to the glass on top, which leaves a bit of gap for the light to refract around. Also, the top glass is quite reflective, which results in huge amount of glare that diminishes the overall viewing angles.

Compared to the display on the One X and the Galaxy S III, I found the display on the Optimus 4X HD to be superior to the latter but lags behind the former. The display on the One X is still top dog and although it does have a tendency to oversaturate certain colors (such as green) at times, it still looks fantastic overall. The one on the Galaxy S III is good but can't match the two IPS displays in terms of color accuracy and is just less impressive overall.

Hardware and Software
The Optimus 4X HD runs on a NVIDIA Tegra 3 SoC, with a 1.5GHz quad-core CPU and a 12 core GeForce ULP GPU. This is one of the most popular processors around and actually has a whole bunch of games optimized for it.

In terms of memory, the Optimus 4X HD has 1GB of RAM and 16GB internal storage space along with a microSD card slot. Both the storage memories are mounted on the computer using Media Transfer Protocol (MTP).

The phone also supports quad-band GSM connectivity, HSPA, Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS and NFC. It's a shame that the phone does not support GLONASS as it significantly improves lock on times and also makes the connection more stable because you just have a lot more satellites to connect to at any given moment.

On the software side, the Optimus 4X HD is currently running on Android 4.0.3, Ice Cream Sandwich, with LG's Optimus UI 3.0. This has got to be the nicest variant of LG's customized UI so far. It's simple, well designed and has a fair amount of extra features not found in stock Android.

The Optimus UI on the Optimus 4X HD takes the middle route between the Sense UI on the One X and the Nature UX on the Galaxy S III. Sense places a lot of prominence on visual appeal but is a bit light on features whereas Nature UX is the exact opposite. Optimus UI doesn't look spectacularly great but is good enough and is perhaps the closest to stock Android 4.0 than either of its rivals. It also has some useful features, such as the customizable shortcuts in the notification tray and the QuickMemo feature that lets, once activated, lets you use the entire screen as a scribble pad regardless of which application you are in and then save the image in the gallery.
This can be useful if you want to quickly note something down. There is also a handy Quiet time mode, which lets you specify the time and days of the week during which the phone disables all notifications. You can use this feature, for example, to disable all the notification sounds at night when you sleep.

Other features include a power saving mode that comes with a comprehensive suite of settings that you can set to toggle such as Bluetooth, WI-Fi, display brightness, front key vibration, etc. when the phone's battery reaches a certain point. There are the usual gestures such as flipping the phone to mute calls, alarm and even pause video.

One of my favorite features, though, is the lockscreen that lets you take a peek at the screen underneath as you swipe your finger across the screen. Also, you can assign shortcut icons on the lockscreen and then swipe on them to unlock the phone and launch the corresponding app.

The software has been a bugbear of LG phones in the past but with the Optimus 4X HD the company has finally put forth a device where the software is not just functional but also good looking and at times even fun to use. Let's hope the company provides regular updates on time.

One of the things I noticed while using the Optimus 4X HD is just how smooth the UI felt. LG has tried to use this ultra-smooth 60fps framerate for scrolling on their devices in the past but they were hampered both by less than ideal hardware and software but thankfully the Optimus 4X HDhas no such issues. Due to this the UI feels silky smooth most of the times. I say 'most of the times' because at times there is a hint of stutter here and there but it's not a major issue. Overall, the UI feels smoother than on both the One X as well as the Galaxy S III and that's quite an achievement.

Now speaking of hardware performance, the Tegra 3 chip on the Optimus 4X HD is no slouch. In regular applications the phone breezes through just fine. Even in 3D games the phone holds its own. In fact, the Tegra 3 is in a unique position in the market where it is the only chipset that has games optimized for it. In fact there are several games that only work on devices running the Tegra 3 chipset. This gives the Optimus 4X HD a serious advantage over the Galaxy S III in terms of gaming, which is weird because in terms of hardware the GPU on the S III is significantly faster but due to the software optimizations, the Optimus 4X HD ends up offering the better overall experience.

The Optimus 4X HD also excels at playing HD videos. In terms of codec support it is the best phone I've used till date, with support for even DTS audio codec, among others, something you'd hard-pressed to find anywhere. The stock video player cannot play all the files flawlessly but you can always use third party clients such as DicePlayer or MX Player and since the phone has all the codecs built-in it makes the job of the third part players easier.

One advantage of watching videos on the stock video player, however, is the Dolby Mobile feature that works fantastically well to give one of the most satisfying surround sound out of just two speakers of your headphones. The feature works with any audio codec but if the video has a multi-channel AC3 audio codec then it works even better.

LG provides a pair of in-ear headset with the phone. The quality is above average with the typical bass-heavy sound. The loudspeaker wasn't exceptionally loud and was also quite easy to block with you hand due to its position but had decent sound.

The Optimus 4X HD has an 8 megapixel camera with LED flash. There is dedicated camera shutter button but you can assign the camera icon on the lock screen to quickly start the camera. After that you can use the volume control keys as camera shutter keys, albeit without the two step focusing mechanism.

The camera software is the standard fair with the usual range of options, including resolution, scene settings, color modes, white balance, etc. There were also an HDR mode, which worked very well and a panorama mode. Curiously, there was no dedicated macro mode, but the camera automatically adjusts to the subjects distance.

Image quality of the camera was generally very good. Photos taken in bright light turned out very well with good detail, colors and contrast. There was the usual highlight clipping in bright areas but that can be taken care of using the HDR mode, but you need to stay still for that. Things go downhill a bit in low light conditions and the images are usually quite soft and not as detailed. Still, unless you're viewing them at 100 percent zoom level they won't be an issue.

I had trouble with the focusing system on the Optimus 4X HD. The camera generally focuses continuously when you move it around or when you click the shutter button but you can also tap on the screen to lock the focus and exposure at a particular point. Problem is, the phone does not stay locked for long and unless you quickly take a shot after tapping on the screen the focus resets a few seconds later, forcing you to tap on the screen again. I don't understand why the focus could not stick even after manually selecting it. Hopefully this will be fixed in future software updates.

The Optimus 4X HD also takes 1080p videos at 30fps. The quality of the videos is mediocre. The videos are overly soft and not as detailed as the images. There was also a fair amount of camera shake that gets captured. The videos don't compare to those taken on the Galaxy S III. Heck, even the new iPad takes better videos than the Optimus 4X HD. Then again, the new iPad takes better videos than most phones out there. Not that you should, though, because you'd look silly.

Battery Life
The battery life is the weakest aspect of the Optimus 4X HD's performance. Even with a capacious 2,100mAh battery the phone struggled to last an entire day on a single charge. With moderate usage, the battery would run out in around eight hours. Heavy usage would see the battery go down even faster.

Even while playing videos the battery did not last long. Unlike most phones we test where they tend to last at least around five hours, the Optimus 4X HD ran out in under four while playing out 720p video in a loop with the display at 75 percent brightness and headphones connected.

LG should try and improve the battery life of their phone in future through software updates, otherwise all the features and performance would be of no use if the phone didn't last long enough for you to use them.

Comparison to the One X and the Galaxy S III
In our Galaxy S III review you'd remember we ended up recommending the One X due to the combination of its fantastic display, attractive design and a lower price tag. The arrival of the Optimus 4X HD doesn't change that. Although it is a great phone, there is nothing in particular that it does significantly better than either of its two rivals. Having said that, it does have the lowest price tag in the group. However, we'd recommend spending a bit more and getting the One X instead.

The LG Optimus 4X HD is priced at 32,999. This is undoubtedly the best phone LG has ever produced and by a wide margin. The Optimus 4X HD comes with simple yet elegant looks, great display, powerful processor, smooth and fairly well designed interface and a respectable camera.

Unfortunately, its rivals are capable of doing all those things and most of them even better. They also don't have the poor battery life that you get on the Optimus 4X HD. As such, even though the Optimus 4X HD is a bit cheaper than the One X and the Galaxy S III, it isn't necessarily better value and although it shows remarkable progress on LG's part, we'd like to see them to do better next time, or at least drop the price of the Optimus 4X HD to a point where it would become irresistible.

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First Published Date: 10 Sep, 16:16 IST