Now that the Optimus G has picked up the mantle as LG's flagship Android phone, it makes sense that the Spectrum 2 for Verizon Wireless aims for the more affordable $99 sweet spot. What do you get for that price? More than you might think. We're talking a bright 4.7-inch HD IPS screen, a 1.5-GHz S4 Snapdragon processor and bundled NFC stickers for automatically switching settings with a tap. The Spectrum 2 also supports wireless charging, so you can just plop down an optional mat to get juice. Read on to find out if this sequel gets our juices flowing.
When we pulled the LG Spectrum 2 out of the box, we mistakenly believed that it was already wearing a case. That's a compliment and a complaint. On the one hand, we like the black soft-touch finish on the back of the handset, which has a rubberized feel. This phone just feels durable. However, the 5.2-ounce device has more heft to it than the 4.7-ounce Galaxy S III. Measuring 5.3 x 3.7 x 0.36 inches, the Spectrum 2 is shorter and narrower than Samsung's device (5.3 x 2.7 x 0.36 inches), but also thicker.
Otherwise, the Spectrum 2 is tall, dark and fairly handsome. Smoky gray chrome wraps around the sides and meet up with the sturdy Gorilla Glass display, and the top and bottom of the phone are matte black plastic. Bonus: you don't have to worry much about fingerprint smudges.
The front of the Spectrum 2 sports four capacitive buttons beneath the screen, all of which glow a cool, laserlike blue. From left to right is Back, Home, Recent Apps and Settings. The left side of the phone houses two volume buttons that are easy to press along with a microUSB port, while the right side is barren. A small power button sits on top of the device, which provided plenty of feedback, but is too small for our tastes. To the left of that is the headphone jack.
The back cover doesn't just protect the battery and other components; it houses the NFC chip and Qi wireless charging coil. Underneath, you'll find a microSD card slot above the battery, so you can add more storage without powering down the phone.
Given how many acronyms and other terms LG uses to describe the Spectrum 2's 4.7-inch screen, we had pretty high hopes. Technically, it's a True HD Advanced High Performance (AH) In-Plane-Switching (IPS) display. Translation? The True HD part refers to the 1280 x 720-pixel resolution, while the IPS tech ensures wide viewing angles.
The Spectrum 2's screen registered a very bright 483 lux on our light meter. That's better than the Motorola Droid RAZR M (449 lux) and more than double the Galaxy S III (213 lux).
When we watched the trailer for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the Shire was a lush green, and we saw an extraordinary amount of detail during a close-up on the old Bilbo, including the myriad wrinkles around his eyes. Horizontal viewing angles were fairly wide, but the RAZR M had better vertical viewing angles.
This display isn't perfect. Brighter images can appear washed-out, such as the default home screen, and black levels aren't as deep as on the RAZR M's AMOLED display, but overall, the Spectrum supplies a very good picture for the price.
The back-mounted speaker on the Spectrum 2 didn't blow us away in terms of volume. However, this phone delivered cleaner audio than the RAZR M when we streamed Fun's "Some Nights" from the Google Play Store. The vocals didn't get as tinny at the max setting. We could easily hear other callers from across a small office while conducting a conference call via the speakerphone.
Software and interface
The Spectrum 2 runs LG's Optimus 3 UI on top of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Sorry, no Google Now here or offline voice typing, both of which comes with the newer Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. LG's interface does have some nice perks, starting with four lock screen shortcuts you can customize. We dig the circle animation that enlarges as you swipe across the screen.
Once you arrive on the home screen, you'll find a weather clock powered by Yahoo and the Weather Channel, along with five shortcuts along the bottom of the display, including Phone, Contacts, Camera, Messaging and Apps. These options are also customizable. Swipe down from the top to reveal the notification drawer, which has several convenient quick settings buttons, from brightness and sound to Bluetooth and NFC. LG lets you rearrange these items as you see fit.
One of the more unique quick settings options is QuickMemo, which lets you write on top of screenshots with a finger and then share it via email, messaging or social networks. While convenient on paper, we missed the precision of pen input. There's also just not much room to write; we barely had room for the word "Wow." (Yes, in this case we're being sarcastic.)
The Spectrum 2 has five home screens, one of which is populated with a box full of shortcuts to Amazon services. A pure Android experience this is not. Aesthetically, we like how the Apps menu is slightly transparent, showing you the wallpaper on your home screen. The top of the screen in this menu has three tabs: Apps, Downloads and Widgets. You can create folders by dragging and dropping icons on top of one another.
Unlike the Optimus G, the Spectrum 2 doesn't support LG QSlide feature, which lets users play a video in the background while performing another task in the foreground. We didn't miss it.
Typing on the Spectrum 2 proved accurate with LG's keyboard, whose layout reminds us of the iPhone. There's plenty of space between the white keys, which are presented on a dark background. The suggestions right above the layout helped us type faster. You can also toggle on haptic feedback, which providing a fairly strong buzz without being distracting.
You can also turn on the Shape writer keyboard, whose Swype-like functionality lets you trace a line between letters to form words. We wouldn't use this option, however. The line was thicker than we'd like, obscuring some letters. Worse, in this mode the auto-correct function became overaggressive. We literally couldn't type Laptopmag.com in the browser address window; instead, the keyboard entered laptops.com
Here's a case where the benchmark results don't tell the whole story. Despite the fact that the Spectrum 2 sports a beefy 1.5-GHz Qualcomm S4 processor, the handset exhibited annoying lag at times. On a few occasions, just returning to the home screen from an app resulted in a significant delay, as we saw the icons repopulate the screen almost one at a time. At other times, the keyboard was slow to respond, and with multiple apps open, the Spectrum sometimes didn't respond to our first tap.
To be fair, the phone lets us flip through home screens quickly and switched apps smoothly. We also enjoyed the fluid animations in the demo version of "Let's Golf 3." The Spectrum 2 just doesn't feel as buttery smooth as the Droid RAZR M, which benefits from a lighter skin on top of Android and the fact that it's now running the latest Android 4.1 OS.
Should an upgrade to Jelly Bean arrive soon, the Spectrum 2 will be able to live up to the potential the handset showed in our benchmark testing. For instance, the device scored 5,422 in the Quadrant app, which measures CPU, I/O and graphics performance. That showing trounces the Android phone average (3,263) and outshines the Droid RAZR M (4,495) and the Galaxy S III (4,731). Only the quad-core powered Droid DNA (7,011) and Galaxy Note II (6,275) outperformed the Spectrum 2.
On An3DBench, which gauges graphics performance, the Spectrum 2 notched 7,308, which again beats the category average (7,161), as well as the Galaxy S III (6,994). However, the Droid RAZR M scored a bit higher (7,335), as did the DNA (7,337) and Note II (7,742).
The LG Spectrum comes with 16GB of memory, which you can expand via the microSD Card slot.
4G and Web Browsing
The Spectrum 2's 4G LTE speeds impressed, with the handset averaging 10.1 Mbps downloads in New Jersey and New York using the Speedtest.net app. The device averaged a swift 5.6 Mbps upload rate, which is slightly above Verizon's claimed 2 to 5 Mbps range.
Most websites loaded quickly. The full desktop versions of CNN.com, Yahoo.com and ESPN.com opened in 5.6, 8.8 and 12 seconds, respectively.
The browser itself mostly stays out of your way, with the exception of a tab along the bottom. Swiping this tab up reveals multiple options, including a zoom button that lets you zoom in by bringing the device closer to your face. However, this feature proved erratic, resulting in a screen that stuttered. You'll also find Back, Forward, New Tab and Bookmarks buttons in this menu. We prefer the cleaner Chrome browser.
Verizon loads the Spectrum 2 with a fair number of Amazon apps, including Amazon shopping, Amazon Kindle, Amazon MP3, Audible and IMDB. Shopping for shoes or clothing? There's also Zappos.com.
Verizon's branded apps include Guided Tours (for learning more about the device), Mobile Hotspot, My Verizon Mobile, V Cast Tones (do people still buy ringtones?), VZ Navigator (use Google Maps instead) and Verizon Video (which will be shutting down soon). Overall, you can delete most--if not all--of these apps and not miss a thing. The only real keeper is NFL Mobile, which is great for catchiing up on your favorite teams and players.
For its part, LG bundles the Spectrum 2 with its own Email app, which supports Exchange, but was sluggish. You'll also find Rich Note (which supports attachments and audio recordings) and Video Wiz for editing videos. It's a cinch to add styles and music to your recorded clips.
Third-party apps include Amex Serve, which you can use for paying back a friend, splitting the dinner bill or collecting money for a group event. Trial versions of games "Real Racing 2" and "Let's Golf 3" are also on board. Polaris Office lets you work with Office documents.
NFC and LG Tag
The LG Spectrum 2 ships with two LG Tag+ stickers that let you enter Car Mode or Office Mode just by tapping the phone to the sticker. For instance, the Car Mode tag instantly activated the device's navigation, while the Office Mode tag can automatically enable Wi-Fi and enter silent mode. You can also program the tags as you see fit using a limited set of options. A separate User Mode option, for instance, lets you have the stickers automatically open the app of your choosing.
Camera and Camcorder
The LG Spectrum 2's 8-MP camera has some pretty cool features. For starters, Time Catch shot mode captures images before you press the shutter, so you don't miss that precious moment. The phone then presents a bunch of thumbnails from which you can choose. A separate Continuous Shot mode snaps six photos in succession. More gimmicky is "Say Cheese" mode, which fires the shutter when you utter that phrase. Other options include face tracking, as well as multiple color effects and scene modes.
In our testing, the Spectrum's camera produced a sharp and rich image of a red motorcycle on the streets of New York City. We could even make out the dimples on the leather seat when we zoomed in. Indoors under fluorescent light, images exhibited good color accuracy but looked fuzzier.
The camcorder captured smooth 1080p footage of downtown traffic, with fairly loud audio to boot. While the phone had a bit of trouble adjusting to the bright sky as we panned up, overall, we would gladly use this as our everyday shooter.
The 1.3-MP (720p) front-facing camera on the Spectrum 2 captured warm and natural-looking skin tones when we recorded ourselves, making it all too easy to pick out flecks of gray hair.
Battery Life and Wireless Charging
The Spectrum 2 packs a 2150 mAh battery, which lasted an unspectacular 5 hours and 31 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test. This test involves continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE on 40 percent brightness. The average Android phone lasts 6:01. The Droid RAZR M (6:56) and Galaxy S III (6:55) also offered longer endurance.
The good news is that you can refuel the Spectrum 2 easily with an optional wireless charging pad. Using Qi technology, this phone sips juice when you place it down on the pad, and the phone lets you know that it's working by flashing a message. (We're awaiting a final price on the pad.)
Phone and Call Quality
We appreciate the large buttons on the Spectrum 2's 4.7-inch dialer screen, as well as how easy it is to tab over to your contacts. On test calls to landlines, other callers said they had no problem understanding us, but that we sounded a bit fuzzy and digital. We noticed similar audio quality on our end. The speakerphone got plenty loud when making conference calls, although the other caller said he could tell we were using the speaker and that we sounded somewhat distant.
For $99, the LG Spectrum 2 offers smartphone shoppers a big and bright HD screen, wireless charging capability and nifty NFC stickers for toggling settings with a tap. We also like the sharp camera and built-in video editing app. And while the design is somewhat hefty, this phone's soft-touch back feels reassuring. What makes the Spectrum 2 a good but not a great deal is the lag that sometimes creeps in when performing basic tasks, as well as the below-average battery life.
In this price range on Verizon Wireless, we prefer the Motorola Droid RAZR M. The same $99 gets you much swifter performance along with the latest Android Jelly Bean software. However, the Motorola has a smaller and lower-res screen. If you can afford to splurge -- or you can find it on sale -- the Samsung Galaxy S III offers a more polished interface and innovative sharing features in a slimmer and lighter body, albeit with a dimmer display. Overall, the Spectrum 2 is a very capable midrange Android phone, but you may want to wait for a Jelly Bean upgrade.