Getting a smartphone with fast 4G LTE speeds doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Case in point: LG's Lucid 2. This handset for Verizon Wireless --which is free with two-year contract -- offers users all-day battery life and a Starter mode that simplifies the smartphone experience, making it great for first-time smartphone users. Find out if this freebie is worth the commitment.
The LG Lucid 2 carries over much of the same design language of its predecessor, the Lucid, but offers enough of a twist to keep the handset from looking stale. The Lucid 2's entire front panel is covered in a glossy coating that gives the handset a premium look. Unfortunately, the coating also reflects a good deal of light and picks up fingerprint smudges. Located above the display is the Lucid 2's 1.3-MP front-facing camera and a set of Verizon and LG logos.
Below the display are four Android buttons: Settings, Recent Apps, Home and Back. The four-button style is a bit old school, as most handset makers have offered just three buttons since Google released Android Ice Cream Sandwich. We generally prefer three buttons, as four makes the lower half of the phone look too crowded.
The Lucid 2's right edge plays host to the phone's power button, while the left edge houses the volume rocker. Both edges are adorned with thin slivers of silver paint that give the Lucid 2 some needed flair. Up top, there's a single 3.5-mm audio jack, and down below, you'll find the phone's microUSB port.
LG wisely chose to do away with the slippery, glossy-coated rear panel found on the original Lucid and replaced it with a textured, removable black panel, which gives the Lucid 2 some needed grip. A 5-MP camera and LED flash, as well as a silver LG emblem and Verizon 4G LTE logo, sit on the back of the phone.
At 4.1 ounces and 0.39 inches thick, the 4-inch Lucid 2 feels extremely light. That said, it's slightly chunkier, though lighter, than the 4.3-inch Motorola Droid Razr M, which is 4.4 ounces and 0.32 inches thick.
With a 4-inch, 960 x 540 qHD AH-IPS display, the Lucid 2 offers a sharp enough image for the price. While watching a high-def trailer for "Iron Man 3," we could make out blemishes on Iron Man's armor and intricate patterns on the Mandarin's cloak. Such games as "Jetpack Joyride" looked especially crisp, as did the text on sites like Cracked.com, NYTimes.com and Laptopmag.com.
Our biggest criticism of the Lucid 2 is that the screen just isn't very bright. With the phone's brightness turned up to 100 percent, the handset registered only 281 lux on our light meter. In contrast, the Motorola Razr M provided a brightness rating of 449 lux, and the average smartphone's brightness hits 374 lux.
Take the Lucid 2 outside during an afternoon with heavy cloud cover, and you'll still have trouble viewing the display. What's disappointing here is that LG's first-generation Lucid offered an impressive brightness rating of 610 lux. What's more, the Lucid 2's viewing angles are rather shallow, as the screen quickly washes out at angles greater than 40 degrees.
The Lucid 2's brightness becomes even more of a problem during heavy usage. When the handset's overheating feature kicks in, it automatically reduces the screen's brightness, making it even dimmer.
LG positioned the Lucid 2's speaker along the back panel, so the audio becomes muffled when you place the phone on a flat surface with the screen facing upward. When you hold the Lucid 2, however, the audio is loud enough to fill a small office, and surprisingly clear for a budget smartphone. When we listened to Fiest's "The Bad in Each Other," guitar riffs and drum crashes were easily audible, though much of what we heard had a slightly tinny sound.
LG loaded the Lucid 2 with its own keyboard, complete with a Swype-like tracing function and handwriting recognition. The tracing function worked surprisingly well, accurately inputting last names and other proper nouns without our having to save them to the Lucid's dictionary. We were equally impressed by the handwriting feature, which was able to quickly translate our chicken scratch into coherent sentences.
Unlike many budget phones on the market, the Lucid 2 comes loaded with the latest version of Google's Android Jelly Bean OS, spiced up with LG's own Optimus 3.0 overlay. The lock screen has shortcuts to the Phone, Messaging, Browser and Camera apps. You also can edit these shortcuts to include any app on your smartphone.
LG does well to ensure that Optimus stays mostly out of the way, while still providing increased functionality over stock Android. Users get access to five initial home screens, with the option to add two more. The main home screen includes the Android Weather widget, as well as shortcuts to the phone's Voicemail, Email, Gallery and Chrome apps. Other home screens include a Favorite Contacts widget and an Amazon widget.
Swiping down from the top of the screen reveals the Notifications menu, which offers shortcuts to LG's QuickMemo app, as well as the controls for the handset's Bluetooth, vibrate and other functions. The bottom of the screen includes shortcuts to the Lucid 2's Dialer, Contacts, Camera, Messaging and Apps Drawer.
LG is marketing the Lucid 2 toward not only budget-minded shoppers, but also first-time smartphone buyers. To that end, the device features a Starter mode that simplifies the phone's setup and creates individual home screens for contacts, frequently used apps and system settings. Two additional home screens are left open for user customization. Other changes include a larger lock icon for the lock screen and an easy-to-read incoming-call interface that allows you to touch and hold an icon to answer or decline calls.
Overall, we found Starter mode to be helpful, though we preferred the Easy Experience mode found on AT&T's Pantech Discover. That phone made icons easier to read and tap.
Equipped with a 1.7-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus processor and 1GB of RAM, the Lucid 2 isn't the most powerful smartphone on the market, but it more than gets the job done. We played such games as "Jetpack Joyride" and "Super Monster Ate My Condo" without noticing a hint of slowdown. We also opened apps and swiped through home screens quickly.
On the Quadrant benchmark -- which tests a phone's CPU, graphics and I/O performance -- the Lucid 2 scored 5,884. That's better than both the category average of 3,049 and the Droid Razr M's (1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor and 1GB of RAM) score of 4,495. The Lucid 2 made an even better showing on the Benchmark CPU test, scoring 4,932; that tops the Razr M's score of 4,641 and the category average of 3,358.
The one place where the Lucid 2 stumbled a bit was in the graphics department. On the An3DBench graphics test, the handset scored 7,149. That's barely better than the category average of 7,127, and below the Razr M's score of 7,335.
You might want to think twice before scratching your gaming itch on this phone. The Lucid 2's bezel got disturbingly hot when we played a game for more than 15 minutes. During an extended playthrough of "Super Monsters Ate My Condo," the device reached a scorching 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The quad-core-powered HTC One, on the other hand, reached 105 degrees.
The Lucid 2 comes with 8GB of onboard storage, which can be augmented with an additional 64GB of space via the phone's microSD card slot.
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Camera and Camcorder
Images taken using the Lucid 2's 5-MP rear-facing camera were sharp and boasted vibrant colors. Radiant greens from a trio of freshly blossomed trees stood out starkly against the gray facade of a nearby office building as the bright yellows of taxis passed in and out of the frame. A 1080p video offered equally crisp visuals and colors that popped off the screen. Images taken using the 1.3-MP front-facing camera were slightly blurred, making it difficult to make out fine details.
LG offers users a host of camera functions with the Lucid 2. Beauty Shot, available when users shoot with the front-facing camera, makes facial complexions look brighter and smoother. Time Catch Shot shoots a series of images, both before and after you press the Shutter button to ensure you get exactly the shot you're looking for.
The Lucid 2's powerful Video Editor app was especially useful, giving us the ability to edit video clips, add transitions and sound effects, stitch scenes together and embed text.
LG and Verizon weighed down the Lucid 2 with an unfortunate amount of bloatware, including Audible, IMDb, Verizon Tones and Zappos. More useful options include Polaris Office 4 and My Verizon, which lets you monitor your account and data usage.
LG File Share gives users the ability to send and receive files from compatible devices via Wi-Fi Direct, while LG's QuickMemo lets you snap a screenshot of the last thing you were looking at and write on it using your finger. Unfortunately, we found the feature too difficult to use with our fingers due to the Lucid 2's relatively small 4-inch display.
4G LTE and Web Browsing
Powered by Verizon's 4G LTE network, the Lucid 2 provided lightning-fast upload and download speeds during our testing in central New Jersey. On the Speedtest.net benchmark, we saw average download speeds of 13.4 Mbps and average upload speeds of 10.8 Mbps. Web pages loaded just as quickly using the preloaded Chrome browser: NYTimes.com and ESPN.com each loaded in 4 seconds, and the image-heavy Laptopmag.com loaded in 6 seconds.
Battery Life and Call Quality
Packing a 2,460 mAh lithium-ion battery, the Lucid 2 can easily put in a full day's work. On the Laptop Battery Test -- which involves continuous Web surfing over LTE with the display set to 40 percent brightness -- the Lucid 2 lasted for an impressive 7 hours and 55 minutes. That's far better than the smartphone category average of 6 hours and about an hour longer than the Droid Razr M's time of 6 hours and 56 minutes. That said, the Lucid 2's relatively low screen brightness means that the phone's display is less taxing on its battery, leading to a longer battery life.
Call quality over Verizon's voice network was clear during test calls made to a landline. The caller barely noticed the background noise while we were standing on a busy street corner, and we had no problem hearing him.
Pricing and Value
Verizon is currently offering the LG Lucid 2 for free to customers who sign up for a two-year contract with the carrier. Verizon's recommended Share Everything Plan offers 2GB of 4G LTE data, as well as unlimited text and voice, for $100 per month.
If you're a first-time smartphone buyer and don't think you'll use the Lucid 2 to access the Web frequently, you can always move down to the 1GB plan, which costs $90 per month.
With its long battery life, solid performance and fast Web speeds, the Lucid 2 is a solid handset that shoppers on a budget should check out. Those dipping their toes into the smartphone market for the first time should also get some mileage out of the phone's Starter setting. The one major issue we had with the Lucid 2 was its dim display, which makes using the phone outdoors rather difficult. We were also put off by how hot the phone became when we played games. Still, for a smartphone that is being offered for free, the Lucid 2 is certainly worth your attention.