LG Revolution (Verizon Wireless) Review

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$249
Editors' rating:
The Pros

Big and bright display; Netflix built in; Fast 4G data speeds; Impressive Dolby Mobile sound; Fun image editor

The Cons

Search hijacked by Bing; Default keyboard's auto-correct feature creates typos; Annoying port covers; Below-average battery life

Verdict

The LG Revolution delivers great 4G speeds, built-in Netflix, and a brighter display than its Verizon competition.

Revolution is a pretty strong word, but the LG Revolution offers something the competition doesn't. This $249 device is the first Android phone with a pre-loaded Netflix app, allowing subscribers to watch movies and TV shows to their hearts' content on this device's big and bright 4.3-inch screen. And with built-in 4G LTE, you'll enjoy smooth streaming on Verizon's network without Wi-Fi. Built-in HDMI output is another nice perk. Still, some may be turned off by the fact that Bing is the default search service. But how does the Revolution stacks up to other Verizon 4G superphones such as the HTC Thunderbolt and the Samsung Droid Charge?

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Design

Solid and simple, the LG Revolution is a large black slab with chrome accents on the sides and a mirrored silver strip on the back decorated with three logos: LG, Verizon, and 4G LTE. Up front you'll find four capacitive menu buttons beneath the 4.3-inch display, with a strip of brushed metal underneath. The tapered edges and soft-touch back make the Revolution easy to grip, but the overall look is kind of plain next to the two-tone gray Thunderbolt (which has a nifty kickstand) and the more angular Droid Charge.

Weighing 6.1 ounces and measuring 5 x 2.6 x 0.52 inches, the LG Revolution is lighter and a bit thinner than the Thunderbolt (6.2 ounces, 0.56 inches thick), but it's a full ounce heavier than the sleeker Charge (5 ounces, 0.46 inches thick). The Revolution weighed down our pants pocket a bit as we walked around.

The right side and left side of the Revolution house the microUSB port and HDMI port respectively, and both ports are hidden behind flap covers. These give the phone cleaner lines, but they're annoying to open and close. Two cushy volume buttons also line the right side. A small but easy-to-find power button and headphone jack sit on top.


Display and Audio

Like all of Verizon's 4G phones thus far, the Revolution features a 4.3-inch display with a 800 x 480-pixel resolution. However, the LG Revolution is the brightest of the bunch. When we loaded the same websites on all three devices, the Revolution's 4.3-inch panel easily beat the Droid Charge's AMOLED screen and was slightly brighter than the Thunderbolt's display. The Revolution's LCD was also easiest to read in direct sunlight. Still, the Charge delivered better contrast and offered more vibrant colors when we streamed the trailer for X Men: First Class on YouTube in high quality.

Don't be deceived by the small speaker strip on the back on the LG Revolution. Thanks to Dolby Mobile technology, this smartphone produced loud and clear audio--without distortion. Although we had to set the volume to max to get the best results, Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta" and "Radioactive" by the Kings of Leon both had a rich and deep sound. Audio even sounded strong through cheap earbuds. You can toggle Dolby sound on and off with a tap when playing back videos; it provided a more surround sound-like effect when we played an Iron Man 2 clip.

Keyboard

The LG Revolution's keyboard is nice and large, which made for fast and mostly accurate typing. We say mostly because the keyboard has a mind of its own. The overactive auto-complete function turned words we meant to type into something else. For example, when we typed "gmail," the Revolution wanted to enter "claim." And we didn't type the wrong letters. Same thing happened when we pecked "yup." The Revolution's default choice was "hip." Yes, you can select the word you meant to type from a list above the keyboard, but you shouldn't have to. We suggest either switching to the pre-loaded Swype keyboard (which lets you trace lines between letters to speed up typing) or downloading an alternative keyboard such as Better Keyboard from the Android Market.

Software and Interface

The Revolution is the furthest thing from a pure Google Android experience. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. LG has made several tweaks to the standard Android interface. Swiping up on the lock screen unlocks the Revolution, but swiping down launches a unique What's New menu that displays notifications such as missed calls and messages, as well as calendar events. You'll also find notifications for Facebook and Twitter via LG's apps for these services. For example, when Revolution told us we had a friend request, we tapped it to launch the LG Facebook app and accept the request. Annoyingly, the What's New screen kept alerting us to an appointment even after it passed until we dismissed it.

The Revolution comes with seven home screens that you can customize, and it looks like LG has taken a shine to HTC Sense. Right up front is a large clock that also displays the weather. When you tap that the Revolution launches a full-screen weather app, though without the slick animations. We like the social-networking widget, which lets you toggle between Facebook and Twitter updates with tabs, as well as the media widget that lets you jump straight into your photo gallery or music.

LG has also modified the Apps screen so that apps are organized by category. Communication houses contacts, Gmail, and Google Talk; News & Search includes Bing, Browser, and News. Other categories include Downloads, Media, and Tools, and you can move apps from one category to another, as well as rename categories or create new ones. Strangely, Applications is a category, which is a little generic, and you can't delete it.

Bing Baked In

For web searching on this phone, you have to really like Bing, which is the default search engine and map service. You can always download Google Maps, but the search button on this phone belongs to Bing. The Bing app is nicely designed, with a search box and voice button up top and search category buttons below for Directions, Images, Local, Maps, Movies, and News. For the most part, this service returned satisfying results. Plus, Bing does a good job with universal search; when you press the search button, you can hunt for everything from apps and contacts to stuff on the web.

The bad news is that the Revolution doesn't offer out-of-the-box support for Google Voice Actions, which lets you press and hold the search button to send a text, navigate to an address, play a song, and more. Pressing the button and speaking only searches the web. You can download the Google Voice Search app separately to do all of the above things, but it won't map to the search button.

 

Netflix

One of the main selling points of the LG Revolution is that it's the first Android phone in the U.S. that comes with a pre-loaded Netflix app. This allows Netflix subscribers to stream movies and television shows for $7.99 per month. The content selection isn't very timely, but it's easy to find good stuff to watch. We enjoyed streaming the Disney movie Up, as well as episodes of Arrested Development and Parks and Recreation. After a few seconds of initial pixelation, the video looked smooth and detailed over Verizon's 4G network. You can even output Netflix to a nearby TV if you have a mini HDMI cable, though the quality suffered.



Performance

Thanks to its 1-GHz Snapdragon MSM8255 processor, the LG Revolution proved to be a snappy performer in everyday use. Most applications opened quickly, even when we had multiple programs running. We noticed a bit of lag at times when scrolling through the home screens--and we had to reset the device once--but overall we were pleased with the performance.

In terms of benchmarks scores, the Revolution stacks up fairly well to competing 4G Verizon phones. One the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the Revolution notched 2,211, which is a bit higher than the HTC Thunderbolt (2,103) and considerably higher than the Samsung Droid Charge (1,569). The dual-core Motorola Droid X2 (2,662) beat the Revolution, but that phone lacks 4G connectivity.

Graphics-wise, the Revolution more than holds its own. In fact, its An3DBench score of 7,650 beats the dual-core X2 (7,416), the Droid Charge (6,549), and the Thunderbolt (6,290). Although it took longer than we'd like for the Revolution to load the levels in Let's Golf 2, the gameplay was smooth.

4G Data and Web Browsing

All Verizon 4G LTE phones are rated to deliver 5 to 12 Mbps downloads and 2 to 5 Mbps uploads, which is fantastic. But how did the Revolution perform compared to its two 4G rivals? In side-by-side tests, the Revolution averaged 9.1 Mbps downloads and 3.5 Mbps uploads. These numbers are fantastic compared to 4G phones on other networks. But in the same location at the same time, the HTC Thunderbolt (14.1 Mbps/4.6 Mbps) and Droid Charge (11.4/Mbps/5 Mbps) both delivered faster results.

Still, the Revolution made quick work of downloading web pages, taking 4 to 7 seconds to load popular mobile sites such as ESPN.com and CNN.com. It took the Revolution only 9 seconds to download the full NYTimes.com site.

If you want to share that 4G love with your laptop and other gadgets, you can use the mobile hotspot app to connect up to eight Wi-Fi devices. This feature is free until June 5, 2011. After that, you'll pay $20 per month for 2GB.

Apps

In addition to its own Facebook and Twitter apps, LG bundles the Revolution with news and finance apps powered by Yahoo. You'll also find SmartShare, which you can use to stream media content wirelessly to compatible DLNA devices. As you might expect, Verizon throws in a bunch of its own apps as well, including the V CAST Apps store, V Cast media Manager, and VZ Navigator. Since VZ Navigator costs $9.99 per month, we say skip it and download both Google Maps and the Android text-to-speech app to get free spoken turn-by-turn directions.

The Revolution also comes with a bunch of entertainment apps, ranging from Blockbuster and Bitbop for downloading movies and TV shows to Amazon Kindle and trials of the Let's Golf 2 and Rock Band games. Music fans will appreciate that both Rhapsody and Slacker are on board, and you can always download the Amazon MP3 app or new Google Music beta to get your cloud fix. For productivity, the Revolution has Polaris Office on board for viewing and editing office docs and a Voice Recorder app.

When you get bored with the bundled options, you can download one of 200,000-plus apps in the Android Market.

Camera and Camcorder

The Revolution's 5-MP camera is certainly capable of taking sharp and colorful photos, as evidenced by the flower photo you see here. However, the autofocus takes a second or so to kick in, which means you might miss that shot or get a blurry image if you don't hold the phone steady long enough. Indoors in low light, the flash helped a little but the shots looked too grainy with washed-out colors.

LG includes an image editor that integrates with the photo app, allowing you to crop, rotate, and apply all sorts of filters. Options include vignetting, blur, mosaic, sketch, and more. This tool also lets you insert text and add fun stamps.

Our 720p video clip of New York City traffic looked smooth when we played it back on our laptop and a 32-inch TV. We could also make out fairly fine details, such as the license plate number of a car going past. Our only complaint is that the Revolution had a bit of trouble adjusting when we panned up to the sky; some buildings got lost as the camera adjusted to the change in lighting.

We'd like to tell you how the Revolution's front 1.3-MP camera handled video chat, but we were unable to get Qik or Oovoo to work with the device. The latter app force-closed when we tried to start a video call, and the latter said our device wasn't yet supported.

Call Quality and Battery Life

In our test calls in New York and New Jersey, the LG Revolution sounded clear on our end, but the earpiece has a narrow sweet spot. We had to make sure we were right on it to hear other callers. One caller complained about hearing background noise but overall everyone we dialed said they could easily make out our words.

The Revolution's 1500 mAh battery lasted 5 hours and 15 minutes over 4G when running our battery test (web surfing at 40-percent brightness). That runtime is about a half hour below the smartphone average (5:46) but much longer than the 3:56 the Thunderbolt turned in. However, the Samsung Droid Charge lasted 6:42 on our test, making it the battery life champ among Verizon 4G phones. Also keep in mind that using the hotspot feature chews through battery life like nobody's business; after an hour of use, the Revolution was down to about 50 percent.

Verdict

Verizon now offers three very strong 4G smartphone choices, and in some ways the LG Revolution is better than both the HTC Thunderbolt and the Samsung Droid Charge. It has a brighter display than both of those handsets, and it's the only one of the bunch with Netflix on board, which for some will be reason enough alone to buy this $249 device. Some of LG's Android software tweaks are also welcome, such as the What's New alert screen and the ability to better organize apps. We're just not keen on being forced to use Bing with the search button, though you're certainly not prevented from using Google's services.

Although it costs more than the Revolution and doesn't deliver quite as fast 4G speeds, we prefer the $299 Droid Charge because of its lighter design and longer battery life. And while the $249 Thunderbolt doesn't last long enough on a charge without splurging for the optional extended battery, it has a more elegant interface than the Revolution. But if you're a Netflix fan--or plan to become a subscriber anytime soon--you'll be very happy with the Revolution.

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Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier Verizon
Form Factor Candybar Touchscreen
Operating System Android 2.2
Networks CDMA (800, 1900 MHz, LTE (700 MHz)
Data EV-DO Rev. A
Data EV-DO Rev. 0
Data LTE
CPU 1-GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon
RAM
Internal Memory 16GB
Memory Expansion Type microSDHC
Display (main) 4.3 inches (800 x 480)
Display (secondary)
GPS Yes
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth 3.0
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Camera Resolution 5 MP
Talk / Standby Time 435 minutes/335 hours
Size 5 x 2.6 x 0.5 inches
Weight 6.1 ounces
SAR Rating (Head)
SAR Rating (Body)
Company Website http://www.verizonwireless.com