The LG Optimus 2X is one of the most exciting Android handsets of the year because it is the first smartphone rocking the dual-core Tegra 2 processor. But specs alone don’t always make for a great device, so, does the Optimus 2X stand out from the crowd? Read our full review to find out.
LG Optimus 2X (Star)
Specifications (Specs sheet)
Availability in the United States TBD
- 4-inch capacitive display (480X800)
- NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz processor
- 8 Megapixel Camera with LED flash
- Android 2.2 with LG UI
- 1080p HD video recording
- WiFi (B/G/N)
- GPS, 3G (HSDPA), Bluetooth, acceleromer
- Tegra 2 processor makes for a smooth overall experience
- It absolutely feels like a premium device
- 1080p HD video recording is awesome and the camera (UI, quality) is great
- Hot-swappable microSD card slot
- LG UI is inoffensive but doesn’t add much value
- Software keyboard could be smarter
- No Android 2.3 Gingerbread
The design of the Ally and the Optimus lineup never really appealed to me because these felt a bit safe and even a little cheap but the Optimus 2X shows that LG knows how to design a top-shelf smartphone that feels like a premium device. The look, feel and performance of the device are all high quality.
The big story about the LG Optimus 2X is that it’s the first smartphone to have the Tegra 2 dual-core processor and this gives the device a ton of horsepower to work with. Our benchmark test shows it destroys other devices in certain aspects. What does that extra power mean for you?
Well, you do get the ability to record in full 1080p HD (more on that in the camera segment) but most of the benefits are kind of subtle. You’re not immediately blown away by the Tegra 2 chip but once you’re able to quickly launch apps and switch between them with ease, you realize how much better Android is when it has the right hardware to run it. In about a week with the LG Optimus 2X, I didn’t have one force close of an app and while that’s also indicative of the way the software is written, you know the Tegra 2 has a lot to do with that.
The LG Optimus 2X has a 4-inch display with a 480×800 resolution and it’s responsive and bright. I’m starting to think that the 4-inch screen is the sweet spot – as brilliant as the Retina Display is, I pine for a little more real estate and the 4.3 or 4.5-inch screens might be a tad bit too large.
There’s also a slight curve to the screen which isn’t immediately noticeable but it definitely looks cool. This screen isn’t as nice as the Super AMOLED Plus screens but it definitely gets the job done.
On the face, you also have a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera above the screen, a notification light and the four standard Android buttons on the bottom in capacitive form. I had no problems getting the Menu, Home, Back or Search buttons to respond.
Along the top of the LG Optimus 2X, you have a standard headphone jack, the HDMI-out port and an unlock/power button. The HDMI port is covered by a plastic cover that snaps out but I would have preferred some sort of hard, sliding cover door like on the Galaxy S devices. I don’t know, the cover isn’t bad and it locks in nicely but I feel like it could snap off easily.
There’s a nice dark grey/blueish trim along the bezel and rounded corners which make it feel good in the hand. Along the right spine you have two separate button for volume (and zooming in and out with the camera) and these are easy to find by feel and are responsive. The left spine is completely empty and on the bottom you’ll find the microUSB port and some speakers.
The back cover of the LG Optimus 2X is very subdued and I dig it. Most of it is a soft plastic black finish and there’s a silver stripe in the center that sports the “with Google” logo. There’s a slight hump where the 8-megapixel camera module is but this thing gives your hands a wonderful feeling.
There’s nothing too bold or crazy about the design of the LG Optimus 2X, as it’s basically a full touch slate design that we’ve seen before, but it’s highly refined, done well and makes me feel like I’m holding a powerful and slick phone. So, I guess that means LG has done a great job.
Sadly, the LG Optimus 2X doesn’t come with Android 2.3 Gingerbread and it instead rocks Android 2.2.1 Froyo. We don’t when it will get the latest and greatest version but we hope it’s sooner rather than later.
I won’t spend too much time on Froyo, as you should have a good idea what that entails by now. Like most Android devices, the LG Optimus 2X makes it easy to get your e-mails, make calls, send text messages, install apps and browser the web. As I mentioned before, the Tegra 2 chip makes the OS run like a champ: app switching is quick and easy, things just work and gaming is an excellent experience.
I’ll focus more on the custom user interface that has been slapped on by LG, which I’ll call the LG UI. I don’t think this is bad at all but I’m wondering if it really adds much value for most users.
We’ll start at the unlock screen, which is kind of a cool semi-transparent window that you have to slide up to unlock. If you have, say, a missed call, you’ll be notified of it at this screen but you can’t dive directly into you missed call log directly. I dig this ambient information but think it could have been a deeper, richer experience like what we’ve seen the competition do.
The LG Optimus 2X offers you seven home screens to fill up with apps and like the Leap feature of HTC Sense, you can do pinch gesture to bring up all seven screens at once.
The LG UI also presents app icons in a more visually-pleasing way but the default mode separates apps between the preloaded ones and the apps you download from the Android Market. I did like the ability to customize that by adding new categories and renaming categories though.
The LG UI also tweaks the notification window by giving you access to things like the WiFi, GPS, auto-rotate and even small controls over the music player. While we still don’t have the ability to individually kill app notifications in line like with Honeycomb, I like what LG has done with this.
You also get the LG widgets and these are about what you expect: a digital clock, picture frames, social networking aggregate clients, customized apps for Facebook and Twitter and more. As a “with Google” device, this also comes preloaded with some of the search giant’s apps including Gmail, Maps and the Places app. Also, this version came with the F-Secure mobile security app, the TegraZone portal (more on that later) and some document-editing software. Please note: we’re reviewing an international version and the one that hits the United States may have carrier-specific apps loaded on it.
There’s also a neat “mirror mode” which lets you output the phone to a television or monitor – this isn’t just for music or videos either, as you can even get your web browser outputted.
I wasn’t in love with the standard virtual keyboard, even though it was incredibly responsive. It does do autocorrect but I didn’t find it intelligent enough to keep up with what I wanted. As an Android device though, a better keyboard is only a download away.
The LG Optimus 2X runs beautifully thanks to the Tegra 2 chip and the customized UI is inoffensive and looks pretty nice. The only issue I have is that I don’t think it really adds much functionality outside of the stellar camera software. We know that customized layers can delay future software updates, so is this really worth it?
With that said, this is still a very good smartphone experience and even if, god forbid, it remains on Froyo for the next six months, it would still be a rocking device.
Web Browsing, Camera and Multimedia/Gaming
The LG Optimus 2X is making a big deal about its camera functionality and for good reason: this thing rocks. I may be able to quibble about how the image quality for an 8-megapixel camera is still about on par with the 5-megapixel shooter on the iPhone 4 but that’s just a minor beef.
The camera UI on the LG Optimus 2X is pretty darn good, although I still miss a hard picture-taking button. While you can snap pictures in portrait mode, you’re encouraged to hold the device in landscape. In this mode, the software shutter button is on the right, along with a picture preview which will launch you into the gallery and the ability to toggle between the camera and the video recorder.
On the left side, the LG Optimus 2X gives you the ability to move to the front-facing camera, as well as a wealth of options that we went over in our hands-on preview. You can change the focus (face-tracking included), the image size, the ISO, the white balance, as well as add effects like sepia, black and white and more. Also, it includes image stabilization, geo-tagging, timers and nearly everything you could want in a camera.
The shot mode is my favorite category though, as the LG Optimus 2X has shooting modes that I didn’t even know I wanted. The continuous shot mode will snap off six quick pictures in about the same time it takes for a phone to take one. This has become my default shooting method, as it is great to have multiple shots of the same thing for redundancy (it will go through your memory quicker though).
There’s also a stitch mode which will let you take panorama shots and stitch them together. This isn’t an exclusive feature but it’s nice to have.
The image quality is pretty darn nice too, as images are crisp, sharp and vibrant. I don’t think the low-light photos come out that well and the flash might be a bit too bright for good shooting, but it’s still not bad.
Low light, flash
Good lighting, one of continuous mode shots
One of the major selling points about the LG Optimus 2X and the Tegra 2 chip is the ability to do full 1080p HD video recording. That’s a decent bump up from the 720p HD that most modern high-end devices can do.
A small but awesome feature is being able to record in full 1080p HD and still be able to use the volume buttons to zoom in and out. Some other devices don’t even let you zoom while recording videos!
As you can see from the video below, the 1080p HD clips look great. You also have multiple sharing and effects options and the HDMI-out port means you can show it off on the big screen without too much of a hassle.
Overall, I’m pretty impressed with the camera capabilities of the LG Optimus 2X.
Standard setting, good lighting
Good lighting, Sepia effect
Multimedia and gaming
It doesn’t look like LG did much to boost the multimedia functionality on the Optimus 2X, as it has a few tweaks but is essentially the same standard multimedia player you expect from Android. It’s good enough but not as good as what Apple is doing with its iPhone.
Gaming on the LG Optimus 2X is a different story though, as the NVIDIA chip means we can get some cool 3D games going. We had some early access to the Tegra Zone, which offers access to games that have been specifically optimized to take advantage of the extra horsepower this processor offers.
That means you’ll get console-like graphics on your phone and I found the graphics to be quite stunning. I’m not really a mobile gamer but I could appreciate it.
The cool thing about the Tegra Zone is that NVIDIA is working with developers to properly optimize their code – with some tweaking, existing games will be able to detect if a device has Tegra 2 and then it could have better graphics. Fruit Ninja, for example, gets even more textures for that fruit-smashing goodness. I’m excited to see what else game makers can cook up.
Call quality, Coverage and Battery Life
The LG Optimus 2X had excellent voice quality in the San Francisco Bay Area when I tested it out. Voices were clear and call recipients said I sound clear without any hissing or crackles you associate with bad cell phone calls. I would have preferred a louder speaker phone but it wasn’t a big deal.
Unfortunately, we only have a European model, so we couldn’t get 3G. I walked around on T-Mobile’s EDGE coverage and have been so spoiled by 3G and 4G that mobile data usage seemed excruciatingly slow. WiFi worked well and connected easily to multiple networks. We’ll be in Barcelona soon for the Mobile World Congress trade show, so we’ll update this section soon.
We’ve also heard rumors that this phone could land on T-Mobile as early as next month, so let’s hope it has HSPA+ support. I like the sound of “Optimus 4G.”
The battery life was surprisingly good for a smartphone but much of that may have to do with the lack of U.S. 3G. I was able to get a full day out of this thing on a single charge and that’s about all you can ask for with these modern, high-end devices.
The final take: The best of the best?
There are a lot of questions associated with the LG Optimus 2X: Does the Tegra 2 chip actually make a major difference? Can LG really make a high-end smartphone that competes at the highest levels?
I’m happy to say that the answer to both is an enthusiastic “yes.” The LG Optimus 2X is certainly the best Android phone on the market right now and, depending on your preferences, is better than Apple’s iPhone in many respects.
The only issue is that we don’t know when it will land in the United States and for how much. With high-end devices like the Droid Bionic with 4G LTE and the expected dual-core iPhone 5, LG’s phone is going to face some stiff competition in the next few months. With the powerful Tegra 2 chip, great camera and wealth of features, the Optimus 2X will be able to go toe-to-toe with whatever hits the market over the next few months.
Let’s just hope that it lands in the United States with 4G support (fingers crossed).