LG Spectrum Review : The Nitro for Verizon or something better?

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Verizon Wireless is setting the LTE landscape of fire by releasing one handset after another that supports the network, with the LG Spectrum being one of the latest entries. As you’d expect with any high-end LTE phone offered by the carrier, the Spectrum is dripping with a ridiculous amount of nice specs but is this the go-to Android phone for the carrier or simply a repackaged LG Nitro HD that we’ve already seen on AT&T?

In this review, we’ll tackle the good and the bad with the Spectrum, so read on to hear our take on Verizon’s latest LTE handset!

The Good
  • The True HD IPS display is one of the best displays we've ever had our eyes on.
  • The dual-core Snapdragon S3 is powerful and handles most tasks with ease
  • We were pretty impressed with the camera's quality.
The Bad
  • You'd probably pass over this phone because of it's boring design and never know the power it has under the hood.
  • LG's custom UI doesn't seem to utilize the powerful processor living inside, as it can become noticeably laggy.
  • No surprise here: This LTE phone has bad battery life.

Hardware

The Spectrum ships with just about every piece of technology you'd expect to see in a high-end Android phone these days, save for a few specs here and there, like a dedicated micro-HDMI port (we're not counting off for that). The handset is on the bigger side but we're glad to see that Verizon LTE phones are no longer as fat and thick as they used to be.

The Spectrum rocks a 4.5 inch True HD IPS display panel, making it one of the best HD displays we've ever seen on a smartphone before. Colors pop, maybe slightly less than Samsung's HD Super AMOLED but the clarity and contrast are pretty perfect and crisp through and through. With a screen this large, one shouldn't be too surprised that the Spectrum feels like a monster in your hands. This is something you'll get used to quickly, as you'll likely be lost in this screen.

Above the large display, you'll find Verizon's logo next to the 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera, ambient light, and proximity sensors. Below, there are three capacitive navigation buttons for menu, home, and back. LG has a tendency for leaving out the dedicated search key, which is something we hope the company will wise up to one day. Still, the lack of the search key allows the home button to be smack dab in the center, which some will appreciate.

The sides of the Spectrum are kept rather clean, with only the volume rocker on the left side and the 3.5mm headphone jack, charging port, and power/lock button found on the top. Again, like the lack of a search button, LG puts the charging port on the top of its phone, which we're definitely not fans of. The right side of the device is clean, and the bottom only has a tab to remove the battery cover. Speaking of which..

The back of the Spectrum is covered in a high-gloss plastic with a checkered pattern found throughout. The ending result is aesthetically pleasing but the use of such plastic attracts fingerprints on a large scale (about as bad as the HP TouchPad). Up top, you'll get the 8 megapixel camera with LED flash, with LG logo right in the center. Towards the bottom of the battery cover is where you'll find Verizon's 4G LTE logo and the speaker grill.

With the Spectrum being so similar to the Nitro HD, we wish LG would have just kept the textured grip backing for the Verizon's offering. Even if you don't mind fingerprints on the back of the handset since you'll be focused on the screen, the rear side of the device is slick enough of to slip out of your hand.

Design

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Spectrum's design is rather boring. LG seems to go for understated and simple, which come off as boring and bland to the consumer. In fact, the best looking LG phone we've seen in a while was designed by Prada from the inside out, so don't expect much on the design front for the Spectrum.

Complaints aside, while we're not in love with the design aesthetic of the Spectrum, in no means does it make it an ugly phone. Boring does not equal ugly and there will likely be plenty of people who don't mind or even like the design of the handset just fine. If design aesthetics were that important, we'd probably be waiting for ridiculous concept designs to emerge before we finally picked up a new phone.

Build Quality

While essentially made of all plastics, once you get the Spectrum in your hands you'll feel a sense of sturdiness to it. Sure, dropping it would result in blemishes and scuffs but it likely wouldn't break on you. That said, we haven't put those claims to the test.

While trying to get a feel for its strength, I pinched the screen and battery cover inwards and was surprised to see how much give it had. Then again, what else would one expect a plastic phone to do when put under pressure?

Overall, the Spectrum's build quality is pretty solid, even if it is made of plastic. The slick plastic backing makes the handset feel cheaper than it really is but that's pretty much the only complaint we have with the Spectrum's build quality.

Guts And Glory

Just like the Nitro HD, the Spectrum packs a punch in its internal guts. Rocking the 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 processor and 1GB of RAM, the Spectrum is a force to be reckoned with and can easily take on just about anything you throw at it. A 16GB micro SD card is preinstalled in the handset, which can be expanded to 32GB if you need more movies to watch on the crisp HD display.

You can expect to see the standard WiFi (2.4 GHz only), GPS, and Bluetooth 3.0 in the handset, all of which performed admirably in testing.

Software

Like most Android phones today, the LG Spectrum ships with a custom UI layer on top of Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread. LG's efforts to make an easy to use user interface for the phone succeeds but in ways that were already pretty easy to use in stock Android.

The custom user interface on LG phones is probably one of the least "in your face" layers we've seen on an Android phone, which is a good and a bad thing. It's good because it's easy enough to use with not much of a learning curve. It's bad because there's not much makes it stand out in the aesthetics or functionality department. Still, we're just glad to see that its not so heavily skinned that you might forget you're using and Android phone in the first place but that might be a good thing for some people.

Filled with custom widgets and a select few bloatware apps Verizon was so nice to preinstall, there's not much to say about the custom UI. The application drawer has been customized in a way that applications are broken up into a category view, which can make it look too busy. You can also change this view into a list but not the standard layout seen on most Android devices today.

A feature that LG has been implementing into its Android phones for some time now, native screenshots, remains intact and it's as easy as pressing Home and Power at the same time. While the feature is now native in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, LG has at least done something right in its software, even if it's as simple as this.

One of the better widgets on the handset is called In Touch. It's a full screen widget that gives you quick access to your movies, photos, music, and music playlists from the same place. Better yet, this scrollable widget works in a way that when you scroll down or up, the large icons look as if they are coming from the edge of the display. It's simple but it's a nice touch.

With such a processor that resides in the Spectrum, one could easily assume that the software would glide across the screen like butter. This is definitely not the case. Too many times has scrolling between the home screens shown considerable lag, with other software quirks found throughout the phone. It's unfortunate enough that LG spent enough time to make a custom software that doesn't look like anything special and it's worse when said software doesn't even perform well on a very powerful phone. Luckily, this will probably change in the future with updates.

 

 

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Web Browser

The web browser for the Spectrum is essentially a slightly themed version of the stock Android Gingerbread browser but LG has added a few more options.

If you're on a main page of a website, hitting menu and then the "more" option will allow you to add the webpage to your RSS feed reader automatically. These options change depending on the page you're on. If you're reading an article from a site, performing the same button selection of Menu>More will give you the option to read the page later. This feature has also been implemented into Android Ice Cream Sandwich but it's a good thing that some Gingerbread users don't have to wait for it.

Surfing the web on the Spectrum is an enjoyable experience and the HD screen can really produce some ooh and awe moments.

Multimedia

While the multimedia experience on Android isn't as cohesive as what you'll find for iOS, worry not, as there are still a ton of options available to you. If you want to get the most out of that 16GB microSD card that comes with the Spectrum, then you may want to sign up for Google Music, upload your tunes to the cloud, and free up a few GBs from the phone. Of course, there are many other music streaming applications like Slacker Radio and Pandora available to you as well.

The Spectrum also supports DLNA and comes with the SmartShare app to make things easy as can be. This application, like most of its kind allows you to easily watch content from a network media server. It works with the PS3 Media Server as well as TVersity (and more), and you can stream content to your phone from one of these servers or serve up your phone's pictures and videos onto other DLNA compatible devices.

 

 

Camera

The Spectrum's camera pretty impressive, even if we've been seeing 8 megapixel cameras around for a while now. For the most part, the camera performs admirably but we did see some white balance issues in certain pictures and video.

The camera software brings everything you'd expect for a smartphone these days, including face tracking, scene mode, ISO, white balance, color effects, timer, and touch to focus. The software lays out your options in an easy to use way but we still haven't seen camera software that has bested Samsung's with its customizable settings options. Either way, we've seen much worse camera software on smartphones before (basically anything from Motorola), so this shouldn't be much of an issue if you're rocking the Spectrum.

Pictures were taken on an overcast (normal) day in San Francisco, so that washed out look is to be expected to some extent.

Call Quality And Battery Life

Call quality on the Spectrum was solid through and through, which is something we've come to expect from Verizon's network. Calls came through clear on both ends, with no interference whatsoever.

Also something we've come to expect from Verizon's LTE phones? Yep, you guessed it, the Spectrum has pretty awful battery life. Like most LTE handsets from the carrier, the Spectrum will die on standby without having to touch the thing. 4G LTE is fast but I still can't say that it's worth this sort of hit the battery life on any phone. If you really want to keep this phone alive through the day, we'd suggest finding a way to turn of the LTE radio. That and have a spare battery in your pocket at all times.

The battery drain issue is hardly limited to the Spectrum, as most LTE devices yield the same crappy battery life. This is why you'll find extended batteries for almost every LTE device Verizon carries - because an extra battery is pretty much required.

The Final Take

The LG Spectrum has a lot going for it but at the end of the day it's just another Verizon Android phone that does little to stand out. This doesn't mean it's a bad phone in any way, shape, or form but it doesn't offer up anything that isn't already found on Verizon's existing portfolio. The HTC Rezound has better software all the way through, an impressive camera, as well as an HD display, where the Galaxy Nexus sports the latest version of the Android OS without any sort of OEM customizations (almost) and a much nicer design.

The one thing that the Spectrum has over the Rezound and the Galaxy Nexus is price point and this is what will matter to a majority of customers who want a LTE phone but aren't dead set on a particular brand. At $199 on a two-year contract, the Spectrum hits the sweet spot, and while you can grab the Rezound and the Galaxy Nexus outside of Verizon stores for much cheaper, the Spectrum may be all the phone one needs without paying the the premium or having to go somewhere that's not a Verizon Wireless store.

At the end of the day, the LG Spectrum is just a repackaged Nitro HD and while there's nothing wrong with that, you're not going to find either of these phones on a top phone list anytime soon. The Spectrum is "good enough" for the average consumer and that's what is really going to count at the end of the day. It's powerful, it's cheaper than your average bear LTE phone, and it's on Verizon. Need I say more?

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/FL6HR7VNZBQQUWK7J5ZMF3QV3I Simon

    HANDS DOWN THE BEST CAMERA I HAVE SEEN ON A PHONE
    GET AFFORDABLE WIRELESS PHONES AND ACCESSORIES @AFWIRELESS.NET

  • http://www.motoask.com/ Motorola Atrix forum

    Nice review. I totally agree with you. LG needs something to differentiate and maybe going to stock would be the best way to do it since they don’t seem to have the resources to develop something better.

  • Igfironhorse

    I love my Spectrum, save the battery… best phone I have had… returned my Moto Razr (sucks) and exchanged it for the LG.  Very glad I did.  Better picture quality, bigger screen, better UI in my opinion, and runs well.  Occasionally a touch laggy, but ICS and update will likely fix this issue.  Best 4g LTE phone available right now!

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