LG is probably a brand you have throughout your house; in your living room, your kitchen and your laundry, but it's unlikely, given its local market-share, that you carry an LG in your pocket or purse. The Korean jack of all trades has long produced phones with style and a focus on media, but mostly without guts. Well, not any more. In 2011, LG is hoping to turn the tide on its co-patriots Samsung and make a dash for smartphone supremacy with the latest Nvidia hardware.
Perhaps the most unremarkable part of the Optimus 2X is its physical design. As we continue on through this review we'll highlight tech firsts and class-leading features, but none of these pertain to the look and feel of the phone. At 10.9mm, the 2X is on the chunky side where many of the top dogs have produced phones slimmer than 9mm. It's heavier too, at 139g, adding 20 per cent to the weight of the Samsung Galaxy S II.
There are two standout features to take note of, however. Firstly is the HDMI-out port on the top of the handset, used to mirror the phone display on a large screen display, like a TV or computer monitor. This feature works well, with the output image capable of presenting up to 1080p resolution.
If you don't feel ready to plug your phone into the telly, or you can't be bothered forking out for a micro HDMI cable (LG doesn't include one in the box), you'll be left staring at the handset's 4-inch WVGA display, and what a beautiful display it is. LG employs its In-Plane Switching (IPS) LCD technology in this panel, similar to the screens the company reportedly sold to Apple for its iPhone Retina display, and the results are equally good here. The colours are rich and bright, the blacks are decent, the screen is sharp and clear. Even when you view the screen off-axis you still get a great image. LG also opts for Corning Gorilla Glass, so this stunning screen should be safe from the keys in your pocket.
LG powers the 2X with a suitably sized 1500mAh battery and includes a microSD card slot under the battery cover so that you can expand on its 8GB of internal storage with up to 32GB using a third-party microSD memory card..
Previous LG smartphones have been almost universally tainted by bad user experiences. Either LG bakes in a clunky, confusing custom UI, as it did in the past with phones like the LG Arena, or, as it's done with earlier Androids, it avoids contributing to the user experience altogether. The 2X is the first time we can remember enjoying our time using an LG smartphone. The Android system has been customised, but not to the detriment of usability or speed. The 2X is astonishingly fast, and the LG UI layer on top of Android is well thought out with some great short cuts hidden across the home screens and app drawer.
For example, when you pull down the notifications windows you'll find quick settings toggles for Wi-Fi, GPS, auto sync, screen brightness and a screen orientation lock. This is a simple addition, but it saves you cluttering up the home screens with similar tools and helps to remind you of the ways you can extend your battery life. LG has also incorporated a pinch preview for its seven home screens, allowing the user to reveal thumbnails of all active windows with a pinching gesture on any home screen. We also like the new options in the app draw, with three ways to lay out your various pages of apps, and the option to delete apps from within the app drawer using the "edit" option, rather than having you dig around in the system settings for the Manage Applications menu.
Given the slick, fast UI and the glorious screen, we were a bit disappointed when we discovered the performance of the 8-megapixel camera wouldn't match this pleasing trend. It's a passable shooter, with a flash, autofocus and the range of software tweaks we're used to seeing in a camera phone, but the pics it takes are nothing to write home about. The camera is reasonably fast, and the focus is good, but the sensor struggles with bright light sources, and colour reproduction tends to be pretty flat and dull.
Media and the web
With its Tegra processor, the Optimus 2X is extremely capable at both online activities and multimedia. Running on Android 2.2 means that this headset is Flash compatible and that it makes use of a very good mobile web browser. Accessing mobile sites like YouTube and Vimeo is both easy and fast, though we would recommend you switch Flash playback to on-demand for best performance in everyday browsers (browser settings > Enable Plug-ins > On demand).
The Optimus 2X is also a well-rounded media player, with 8GB of storage and file support for DivX, XviD, H.264, MP4 and WMV video, plus MP3, ACC, WAV and WMA audio. Video playback in particular is fantastic, with fast execution of files and seamless timeline skipping even on high-resolution files. This becomes important when you put the handset's HDMI-out port to the test. Once connected to a TV the 2X mirrors on the second screen what you see on your handset. Playing movies looks and works extremely well, the only thing to keep in mind is once you output a high-resolution image to the TV screen you will see a dip in the performance across the system. This is nothing to be too concerned about, we still found that processor-intensive tasks, like games, didn't suffer too much, if at all.
When you first connect the 2X to a PC you'll be prompted to install the latest version of LG PC Suite off of the phone's internal memory. With PC Suite you can sync and back-up contacts, messages and media created on the phone, but we were disappointed that the software doesn't transcode and optimise video on your computer before pushing it to the handset. The backup features are great, but if you only use PC Suite for media transfers it is simpler to just drag-and-drop files from your PC.
As we've mentioned several times already, the Optimus 2X is a fast smartphone. We did notice some minor animation stutter while the phone caches elements of the home screen and menus when you first power-up the phone, but after this, if your experience is like ours, it should be smooth sailing all the way. That said, we'll be very interested to see how the phone performs after LG pushes out the upcoming Android 2.3 Gingerbread update, with all the code tweaking and stability enhancements Gingerbread brings.
Speaking of firmware, we have read numerous reports of software instability with the 2X, with early adopters in Europe and South Korea complaining about their handsets randomly rebooting as often as once a day. Even our friends at Ausdroid had this experience with an imported handset. The good news is that these issues appear to have been ironed out in a recent firmware patch and that all new Australian stock should work as intended. We haven't experience a single reboot or crash during the weeks we have been testing the 2X and, fingers crossed, neither should you.
The battery life that we experienced using the 2X averaged out at about 16 hours between charges, which is not terribly exciting, but it is better than the battery life we've seen from other dual-core smartphones so far this year. We didn't have any difficulty getting through a busy day with the 2X, but we always put it on the wall charger before going to bed in the evening.
There is a lot to like about LG's first dual-core smartphone. The combination of its superb display and excellent performance should be enough to satisfy most people looking for a top-tier smartphone, but once you add its excellent media playback and HDMI output, we think you'll find a phone that represents excellent value, especially at LG's RRP of AU$649.
It's not quite perfect, of course. We wish the camera was better and we'd like to see more internal storage included, plus its physical design lacks the flair we had come to expect from LG's design team, but these are minor quibbles in regards to everything this phone does right. Plus, a quick scan of the XDA forums suggests this is an easy phone to root and tinker with, an important consideration if you're looking for a phone to modify with custom software.