Verizon Wireless customers now have an embarrassment of HD riches. The $199 LG Spectrum joins the HTC Rezound, Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the LG Nitro in that carrier's stable of smartphones with mammoth 4.5-inch 720p displays. The Spectrum hopes to stand out in that high-def crowd with an IPS screen that boasts a brightness of 500 nits and the type of color accuracy usually reserved for TVs. Plus, the Spectrum offers exclusive access to HD content in the ESPN ScoreCenter app, making this phone a tempting choice for sports fans. Read on to find out whether LG's latest superphone is worth cheering for.
Measuring 5.3 x 2.7 x 0.4 inches, the LG Spectrum is yet another megaphone; it's even about a quarter of an inch longer than the Nitro HD, and at 5 ounces, makes the 4.5-ounce Nitro seem light by comparison (The HTC Rezound is an even heavier 6 ounces). Unlike the Nitro HD and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, both of whose top and bottom edges are curved, the Spectrum has a more squared-off design, more akin to the HTC Rezound.
And yet, for its size, the Spectrum feels like another me-too device. The front is dominated by the touch screen, which picks up fingerprints easily, and is bordered by a dark metallic ring. Below the gigantic 4.5-inch Gorilla Glass screen is the LG logo and three touch sensitive buttons: Menu, Home and Back. Yes, like the Nitro HD, LG has once again omitted the Search button. Yes, an update to Ice Cream Sandwich software later will help, but we still prefer a dedicated search button.
In another design faux pas, the microUSB port on the top edge is covered by a small flap, which is more annoying than anything.
The back of the Spectrum has a dark checkerboard pattern with a glossy finish; it too picks up fingerprints, and is less comfortable than the textured back on the Galaxy Nexus.
Display and Audio
LG claims that Spectrum's 4.5-inch True HD IPS display, which has a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, is exceedingly sharp, with a screen density of 329 pixels per inch. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus' Super AMOLED display (4.65 inches, 1280x 720) has a density of 316 ppi, and the HTC Rezound (4.3 inches, 1280 x 720) has an even higher density of 342 ppi.
Overall, the Spectrum has a great display, but not the best we've seen on Verizon. With an average brightness of 340 lux, the Spectrum comes in higher than the smartphone average (311 lux), and is the same as the Galaxy Nexus (340 lux), but brighter than the LG Nitro HD (324 lux) and the Rezound (278 lux).
When viewing the trailer for "Red Tails," the Spectrum's display delivered bright oranges and colors on a par with the Rezound and the Nitro HD, but we could see much greater detail, such as the sun's glint on the airplanes, on the Galaxy Nexus, which has a Super AMOLED display. When we looked at The New York Times' homepage on both phones, the Spectrum had a slightly bluish cast, which wasn't necessarily a turnoff.
A small speaker on the bottom right back of the Spectrum pumped out barely adequate sound. While loud enough for speakerphone calls, songs and movies lacked punch. Bruce Springsteen's "Brilliant Disguise" was tinny, and we could barely make out the bass line.
Instead of the standard Android keyboard, the LG Spectrum comes with an LG keyboard and Swype. We found the former's keys to have nice large letters and gentle haptic feedback, while the latter was quick to interpret our gestures and convert them into words.
Software and User Interface
Like the Nitro HD, which is also made by LG, the Spectrum's Android 2.3.5 comes heavily skinned. We appreciate the effort, but think it could use some refinement. For one, the icons are kind of large and clunky. Some may like that the apps menu is divided into customizable areas such as Communication, HD, Verizon Wireless, Media, News & Search and Downloads, but it doesn't feel as elegant as skins on Motorola or HTC phones.
One thing we do like are the two active wallpapers (a cityscape and glass of water) that show at a glance how full the Spectrum's battery is.
We can only hope that when the Spectrum gets updated to Ice Cream Sandwich--expected in the first half of 2012--we'll see the same improvements as on the Galaxy Nexus. The screen is in HD, but the interface looks decidedly standard def.
The 1.5-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 3 processor inside the Spectrum scored 1,874 in the Quadrant benchmark, which is about 400 points below average (2,237) and about 100 points below the Galaxy Nexus, which has a 1.2-GHz dual-core TI OMAP4460 processor paired with 1GB of RAM.
On An3DBench, the Spectrum's score of 7,045 is about 200 points above average, but 300 below the Nitro HD (1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm APQ8060 processor; 7,353) and the Rezound (7,331), and 800 points below the Galaxy Nexus (7,802).
You're not going to be wanting for performance, though. When playing "Hot Pursuit," our car moved effortlessly around the road while we evaded cop cars and slow-moving trucks. When we flipped the phone from landscape to portrait mode, the full New York Times homepage was quick to resize and fill the screen. Still, we noticed a slight pause when opening the App menu.
The LG Spectrum is loaded with a horde of apps. In the Verizon folder alone, apps include NFL Mobile, V Cast Media, V Cast Tones, VZ Navigator, Verizon Video, Bitbop, TuneWiki, Hot Pursuit, Let's Golf 2, Amazon Kindle, Video Surf and Rhapsody.
Verizon says that the LG Spectrum has a special version of the ESPN ScoreCenter app. It has the same content as what you can find on any other smartphone, only videos are now in high-def. The video quality was impressive, though; we felt like we were watching TV when streaming a Super Bowl preview clip.
Other apps include Netflix, Smart Movie HD and SmartShare, the latter of which lets us stream media wirelessly across a network.
On the back of the Spectrum is an 8-MP camera that captured very detailed photos. We were able to make out individual veins and droplets of water on a shot of an ornamental cabbage, and was well-lit, even though it was an overcast day.
A 1080p video shot with the rear camera also picked up a high level of detail, but the aperture was slow to adjust as we panned upward from a New York street to the sky.
The front-facing 1.3-MP camera also did a fair job picking up skin tones, as well as the stubble on our chin. During a Skype call, a caller said that she could barely detect that we were on a phone.
4G speeds and Web Surfing
In Jersey City, we averaged download speeds of 30 Mbps, and upload speeds of 10.9 Mbps. That falls between the Galaxy Nexus (23.8 Mbps down and 9.2 Mbps up) and the Rezound, which posted an even-higher 31.9 Mbps down, though its upload rate of 6.1 Mbps was a bit lower.
Web page load times were just as quick. We were able to load Laptopmag.com in 10 seconds, ESPN Mobile in 5 seconds, and the mobile version of NYTimes in just 3 seconds. We downloaded Air Attack HD, a 25.5MB file, in just 22 seconds.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Those who still make phone calls will be happy to know that the Spectrum delivers clean, clear audio. When we called a friend on a landline, they said our voice came through loud and clear.
The power-hogging LTE once again rears its ugly head: The Spectrum lasted just 4 hours and 10 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via 4G). That's nearly an hour and a half less than the average, 50 minutes less than the Rezound and the Galaxy Nexus, which both came in at 5 hours even.
Yes, the $199 LG Spectrum has a high-quality 720p display, fast 4G LTE speeds, and a sharp camera. However, the industrial design doesn't impress as much as the ultra thin $199 Droid RAZR, and we prefer the Super AMOLED display and newer and sleeker Android 4.0 software on the Galaxy Nexus ($299 from Verizon, $99 on Amazon). The heavy-handed Android skin on the Spectrum and the lack of a Search button are other turnoffs. Overall, the LG Spectrum looks great when you're playing content--and streams it fast--but that's not quite enough.