The LG Optimus 2X (aka LG-P990) is presented as the first and fastest dual-core smartphone on the market. And fast, it is: the LG Optimus 2X clearly won all the benchmarks we’ve thrown at it, and those tests aren’t even using all the latest features that its NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor can accelerate. The Optimus 2X is fast enough to record 1080p movies (a first) and shoot photos in burst mode like no other smartphone.
But what does this really mean for you? Should you expect a user experience that is “out of this world”? And what are the implications for the battery life? In this review, we will go over all those topics (and a lot more!) to tell you what the LG Optimus 2X is about – beyond the numbers, and beyond the hype.
Usage patterns are different for each of us: we all have our own and that’s why it is often impractical to write a dogmatic review that simply says “buy/don’t buy” (it’s so 1990). I found it much more useful to tell you what I do with these devices, and how they worked for me. From there, you can figure out how things will turn out for yourself.
I typically check my email often with Exchange, and I reply moderately because with the virtual keyboard typing long emails is a chore. I browse the web several times a day to check news sites, but I rarely watch movies or play music. I run apps: mainly social networks and a tiny bit of games. I don’t call much: maybe 10mn a day, if at all. This usage pattern will affect the battery life and my (and yours) perception of which features are important or not.
4” LCD IPS Display (800×480)
Android 2.2.1 (FroYo)
1GHz Tegra 2 chip
1080p video recording, 8 Megapixel photos
Fast photos processing enables Burst Mode, fast Panorama Photos and more
8GB of storage, extensible to 32GB (via Micro SD)
The design of the LG Optimus 2X is nice: the front is clean, and the glass on the left+rigth sides is slightly tapered off on the edge which gives the screen a smoother look & feel. Most of the surface in the back is plastic with that “leathery” texture that is so common to smartphones. LG has also added a metal band that goes from the bottom to the camera module. The metal is very thin and flexible so I’m guessing that it is there only for aesthetic purposes because it doesn’t seem to add any rigidity to the back panel. Finally, LG has added a metallic structure all around the phone chassis. It not only makes the phone look very rigid, it also feels great when you hold it. There’s definitely not that “plastic” feel that you have when holding a Nexus S for example.
Under the cover, there’s a 1500mAh battery, and a micro-SD slot in case you want to supplement the 8GB of on-board storage. You don’t have to remove the battery to insert the MicroSD card, which is always nice.
At the top of the phone, you will find the Power button, which is a little bit recessed, but fortunately it works well enough. There’s a standard 3.5mm audio jack too. Note that the Nexus S has the audio connector at the bottom of the phone, which makes it more pocket-friendly when something is connected. Next to the audio port, LG has found room for an mini-HDMI port in case you want to connect your computer to a TV. When doing so, you won’t get the “Desktop Experience” with a real browser like the Motorola Atrix would, but you can watch 1080p movies and share whatever your screen is displaying.
At the bottom, there’s a micro-USB port (I love those because I’ve got micro-USB cables and chargers *everywhere*). LG has chosen to place the speakers at the bottom of the Optimus 2X (iPhone 4 style), and we’ll get back to that a bit later.
I’ll let you look at the photo gallery to form your own opinion, but I can tell you that the build quality is quite high, and that’s the sense that you get when holding this phone. We typically don’t do “crash-tests”, but if anyone drops their Optimus 2X – do send a report :)
I like the Android buttons at the bottom of the phone: they are very discrete, yet visible when the back light is OFF. I noticed that each handset maker has their own button layout. I have a few Android phones on my desk, and they all have different positions for the 4 buttons. It’s nuts: Google should really clamp down on this. It wouldn’t make a dent in the phone design, and it would be much more consistent for users.
Display (very good)
Despite making the high-resolution (960×640) LCD IPS display used in the iPhone 4, LG “only” uses a 800×480 IPS display for its own Optimus 2X smartphone. The display is very good: infact it looks very much like the iPhone 4 display (color, tones, brightness, contrast…), except for the resolution. It is better than displays used in most recent Android smartphones that we’ve played with recently. Just like on the iPhone 4, the display behaves relatively well in bright environments too.
As always, we’re going to check that a smartphone is always a good (dumb)phone. Believe it or not, the killer app for all these handsets is… voice.
Dialing: it’s easy. With the phone app icon right on the home page, you’re one tap away from a virtual dial-pad, your call log, the whole contact list, or your favorites. If you don’t have a lot of contacts (less than… 40?), things can’t get much simpler. You can scroll or search by typing a few letters. I personally like to use the favorites, or to drop a “dial shortcut” directly on the home screen – you can’t beat that one. In the Optimus 2X, a search box is immediately available in the Contact list – that’s not always the case in other phones, and that saves you a second or two each time.
Wireless (3G, WiFi-N): There’s (unfortunately) no support for 4G , but it does support the best networks that 3G has to offer (HSDPA, HSUPA). For home networks, there’s support for the fastest WiFi-N, and for accessories, you can use Bluetooth 2.1. There’s nothing out of the ordinary, but the bases are covered.
Call audio quality: the call audio quality (tested on T-Mobile’s network) is very good. I’m not sure that it is as good as the Nexus S, but honestly, it’s close enough that I didn’t care calling with both phones for 5mn. The Optimus 2X is among the best smartphones when it comes to audio quality in calls. Note that a different carrier/location might yield different results, but if the network is up for it, the phone can do it.
Virtual Keyboard: LG has included its own virtual keyboard, which is slightly different form the stock Android one. It actually looks like the iPhone keyboard – which I like very much. When compared to the Nexus S keyboard, the LG one does offer some extras, like making the keyboard go away to see what’s behind it, change language anytime, but most importantly: slightly bigger keys. The Nexus S keyboard is quite good, and the extra size (the Nexus S has the new, smaller keys from Android 2.3) hasn’t been an issue in terms of typo rate, but bigger keys with a higher contrast are better, visually (in my opinion) .
Copy/Paste (little to none): Unfortunately, the support for copy/paste in the LG Optimus 2X is practically non-existant. Like many other (older) Android phones, you can copy from edit fields, but copying from the web browser or from the email app isn’t an option. For practical purposes, copy/paste does not exist – that’s my take on it. It is very unfortunate if you can’t live without it. For my part, I’ve cut down on text communications since I’ve been using a touch-phone, but still, I’d like to copy a 128bit WEP key instead of typing it.
Web Browsing (very good)
Browsing: Web browsing is very good, and that’s no surprise given that the operating system is provided by one of the largest web companies in the world. Pages display properly, and it’s easy to zoom in and out: just use a double-tap to quickly auto-zoom to an area of text that you would like to read. Double-tap again to zoom out. If you need to look at a small icon, use the pinch and zoom gesture to get closer as double-tap has been designed for text blocks. Even pages with Adobe Flash content work well.
That said, once the page is loaded, the iPhone 4 tends to be more responsive to zoom and scrolling. This is something that Google definitely needs to improve upon.
Adobe Flash support: talking about Flash support, the Optimus 2X provides a very good support for Adobe Flash. You can now go on sites that rely heavily on Flash. Although companies try to accommodate mobile phones, the reality is that all the cool stuff is on the desktop version on their website, and the simplest way to address this is to have the ability to display the desktop site on your phone. I’m not saying that mobile sites aren’t better or better suited – I’m merely describing today’s reality. Overall, it’s definitely possible to do without having Flash support as most popular services will cater to a mobile audience. But it’s nice to have Flash working when you need it. That’s simply the way it should be.
Google Docs: Since Android 2.2 (aka FroYo), it is possible to edit Google Docs in the web browser, so just open a document and click on “Edit” in the upper-right of the screen. Google has made every effort to make editing on a small screen easy, especially on the spreadsheets, but you are still on a relatively small display so, it won’t be anything that I can call “comfortable”. That said, it is great to have the option of doing so, when you’re in a pinch.
Email / Accounts Sync
Exchange: Android comes with a decent support for Exchange. that’s great because I use Exchange for my main email (work). The email app in the LG Optimus 2X exchange is not as good as in Windows Phone 7, but it is good enough and I don’t have any complaints about it – I just wished that I could flag, categorize and sort emails. The setup is easy If you have all the information on hand. If you don’t, ask for your IT person, or read the support page of your Exchange provider. I hope that Exchange auto-discovery will be added shortly as it will cut down the setup time from 5mn to 30 seconds. With Exchange auto-discovery, all you need is your email address and password.
Other email services: Yahoo, Hotmail and others are very well supported. Entering your account information (email+password) is all you need to do. If you use an old email service that is only based on POP (an email protocol), the support might be more shaky, but it should work. Just make sure that you leave emails on the server so that your desktop machine can download them too. The last thing that you do is to have emails stored randomly between your smartphone and your computer.
The GMail app is much better than the Yahoo Mail app (Y! it’s very slow), and GMail is the one email app in which you can “tag” and “star” emails. As I said earlier, Exchange could theoretically do some of this, but not with the current email app. Maybe Microsoft should create one… but I’m not holding my breath on it – for now.
Email Sync over USB: “Can I sync my emails with outlook over USB?” is one of the most popular questions. The answer is: no. At least, out of the box, you cannot sync with your email over USB. Unlike HTC phones that come with a utility to sync your contacts and calendar items, most Android phones don’t have any means to synchronize Email without external help. I’ve seen apps like Sync Android with Outlook, but I have never tested any, so I can’t provide an opinion on that. If you have tried it, drop a comment to tell us if it works.
Accounts sync: Out of the box, the Optimus 2X comes with Exchange, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and (of course) Google accounts support. There are a ton of options available. In general, just find and install the application of your favorite service, and you will see yet another account type in there.
Computer Connectivity (files/content/Internet sharing)
Via USB: Upon connecting to your USB port, the Optimus 2X will appear as a USB drive. Note that by default, the “Settings>SD Card & Phone storage” USB Mass Storage option was OFF, and I had to turn it on or I would get a “Driver not installed” message in Windows. After enabling it, the phone does indeed appear as a drive.
Managing files over USB can be good or bad, depending on your situation. If you are familiar with copying files around etc, this can make life very simple, and put you in control of your content.
But if you are not comfortable with the many file types and file drives/locations/folders, or if you have a humongous media collection – managing the files “by hand” instead of having a utility like iTunes can be daunting. I personally have very few files to synchronize, so I’m absolutely fine with the idea of doing all this “by hand”. There are also Android apps like WinAmp that can help you with this task but you’ll have to install WinAmp on your computer too.
3G USB Tethering: At this moment, I can’t test the USB tethering because I don’t have the proper driver yet. Although I expect it to work without any issues, I’ll confirm that later on when I’ll have the driver installed.
WiFi Hotspot: Creating a hotspot is relatively easy. Head to Settings>Wireless&Networks>Tethering and Portable Hotspot and check “Portable WiFi Hotspot”. It worked with my laptop, and this is a common feature on Android, so I don’t expect any particular issues.
Photo and Video Capture (good)
Photo capture: The LG Optimus 2X has a very decent camera, and we’re going to compare it with what is perceived as the best solution out there: the iPhone 4. In that respect, the LG Optimus is positioned very similarly to the Nexus S against the iPhone 4. The Optimus does shoot very good photos, even in challenging situations with dim lighting (they all perform well in broad daylight). If you download images to a computer and look at them in their full high-resolution glory, chances are that the iPhone 4 photos will look very (very!) noisy next to those shot with the LG Optimus 2X. But the extra-noise in the iPhone 4 is the price to pay for brighter photos and higher light sensitivity in general.
If you reduce the iPhone 4 photos-size to something that is web-friendly (less than 1024×768), the noise level becomes very tolerable. Go to 720×530 (the typical Facebook size) and the noise is mostly gone, leaving a nice, bright photo to look at. Apple has made a very interesting compromise: on the iPhone display and on the web, their photos look better – even if the original high-resolution photo doesn’t.
If there’s one thing that is painful with Android, it’s the auto-focus time. When you tap to snap a photo, the Android camera app always takes time to focus before it snaps a shot. This is annoying – that’s what continuous auto-focus is for! The iPhone 4 does much better, and shooting appears to be instantaneous most of the time.
Bottom-line: if you spend you time uploading your latest meal to Facebook, the iPhone 4 will most likely be better. If you want to use your phone as a small camera and look at your photos on a big screen, the Optimus 2X will be better. Again, the differences show up in challenging conditions. On a sunny day, they both get the job done.
Beyond photo 101: With Tegra 2, LG can propose shooting modes that go beyond the simple shots, like continuous shooting and variants of that mode like “stitching” mode and panorama (view full-size panorama on Flickr). Arguably, panoramas and stitching don’t always require speed (although speed *is* very nice), but continuous shooting will be challenging -or outright impossible- for most smartphones. This can be very cool if you intend to shoot some fast action, but I’d recommend doing so on a sunny day, when the shutter speed can be as fast as possible.
Video capture: in terms of optics, capturing videos is not very different from shooting photos, and we are in the same situation again: Optimus 2X shoots darker movies than the iPhone, but the iPhone has a noise in the image. While it’s not very different, I would argue that in dim lighting, the iPhone always wins. Why? because on a still photo, it’s always possible to slow the shutter speed and use digital image stabilization techniques to compensate for it. However, on a 30fps movie, that stuff is out of the window. The result is that a video will often be darker than if you took a picture at the same location, with the same lighting. Dim lighting videos samples on Flickr: iPhone versus Optimus 2X
The LG Optimus 2X is a milestone in terms of mobile performance because it is the first modern dual-core handset to hit the market. The phone uses NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 chip that was launched last year. It took all that time (and a lot of work) for the market to rally around NVIDIA’s new offering. The chip uses two Cortex A9 central processing cores (CPUs), and an array of co-processors that include a graphics processor (GPU) and dedicated hardware for video encode+decode. Here are the raw numbers:
Purpose: Everyone will benefit from the faster web browsing performance. There’s no question that there is a huge opportunity to make the user experience better with snappy web pages that have a good support for Adobe Flash 10.1. The whole industry has been improving on it, but the arrival of dual core, and soon, quad-core chips will help tremendously.
Multi-core: “More cores” is better for the battery life. I know, it can be counter-intuitive, but the idea is that phones are very much optimized to do what they do most of the time: sleep. By using multiple cores to get the job done, the handset maker allows a sudden burst of power consumption, that will be offset by a quicker return to a sleep/waiting mode. It’s actually worse to wake up a bunch of components, just have them waiting on a slow process before they can all return to sleep.
Gaming: games that we usually test like Raging Thunder look great on the Optimus 2X. The GeForce ultra low power (ULP) does a good job of displaying thing at the highest frame-rates possible today – but the best is yet to come. Right now, there are very few games in existence that use OpenGL ES 2.0 features, and even less that actually push Tegra 2’s GPU to the limit. It will take some time before we see a game like InfinyBlade on Android, but it will come, and NVIDIA is pushing hard to make it happen sooner rather than later.
Tegra Zone: this is a mobile app created by NVIDIA to feature the games that push the envelope in terms of 3D graphics. Expect to see the most visually impressive there, although I have not seen any direct download links – that’d be nice. NVIDIA has every interest to promote beautiful computer graphics as long as its GeForce chip is faster than the competition. The company has invested a lot of energy in promoting great content, and it has worked beautifully in the past. Update Feb 7: Apparently this is a development of Tegra Zone that was not supposed to be on my phone. That explains why functionalities were missing. The final version should be different, so stay tuned.
Photo gallery: The photo gallery is fast, and can display photos grouped by folders and sub-folders. Once in a folder, you can also arrange them by day. This is pretty convenient if you tend to keep all the photos that you’ve shot since… you had the phone, which is what most people do. Overall, I’m very satisfied with the photo gallery, including the sharing options that include a bunch of options. It’s unbelievable that the iPhone still cannot share to Facebook or any other non Apple app directly from the gallery.
Video Playback (MP4): If you have high-resolution videos (up to 1080p 24fps), the phone does an excellent job of decoding and displaying them. The demo videos included with the Optimus 2X look fabulous, and the hardest part as a user is to actually find quality video content that: 1/is compatible with the phone 2/doesn’t have an unsupported DRM. It’s actually harder than you might think. I’ve browsed the web, tried to compress my own videos etc… but I’ve had a very hard time to come up with videos that would work, and I’m sure that other users will bump into this. Link: Android built-in formats
HDMI output: The LG Optimus 2X can play 1080p movies on a TV via HDMI. There are a few demo files that are pretty impressive and if you have such content, it could be fun to use the phone to watch a movie at a friend’s place for something. I also tried to play HD content from YouTube, but unfortunately I can’t get anything remotely HD. Photo galleries aren’t displayed at 1080p resolution either (although photos are shot and stored in HD). In the end, there is some work required in the apps before you can use the HDMI output for something else than local video playback.
Online Videos: If you network allows (or if you simply use WiFi), it’s possible to watch video online with a very high quality setting. Youtube movie trailers look very good and although you can see some compression artifacts when things move a bit too fast, that’s pretty much the best that you’ll get online. It’s right up there with the Nexus S — except that color hues look more natural, and less overblown. The contrast is however better on the Nexus S because it uses OLED. In the end, both are very good with different trade offs. The iPhone 4 has a smaller screen and a higher resolution so things might look a little sharper, but size does matter here and the LG Optimus 2X would be my phone of choice to watch video.
Speaker Quality (very good): Because LG has chosen to place the speaker on the side, rather than in the back, the sound is more powerful than it is on the Nexus S and the EVO Shift 4G. The Optimus 2X external speaker is second only to the HTC Surround (which is a phone-speaker) and the iPhone 4, which also has great audio in my opinion.
eBooks: The relatively large screen of the Optimus 2X would make it a good handset to read on. You have plenty of choices when it comes to eBook applications. I tend to use Kindle, but B&N is very good too, so that’s really up to you. There are free alternatives as well if you dig a little.
Heat: we’re often asked if a Tegra 2 phone would heat up. I’ve noticed that the phone tends to warm up a little more than the Nexus S, especially around that camera module in the back. However, it’s been only a little warm, even when I left it running 3D stuff like that “ShaderToy” android app or Neocore. I’ve definitely seen iPhone 3GS phones get much warmer than that if you leave a lot of windows open in Safari. If the phone gets hot, something is up and you should reboot it, and check that you haven’t left too many things (including windows/tabs) open.
Battery Life (average)
If I use the Optimus 2X normally, I can easily go trough a day, but I don’t think that I can make it to the end of the second day. This is in the “normal range” for most smartphones. The bottom-line is that if you use it like I do, I recommend charging it every night.
If you are a power user who play games or watches videos often, you should know that while the Optimus 2X offers better gaming performance than any other Android phone that I’ve seen, it also consumes more power. It makes sense: if games run at a higher framerate, the phone does effectively more work and renders more frame than a competing phone, so the extra game smoothness has to be paid, in power. I wonder if you could throttle the framerate to save energy…
For things like web browsing, the faster page load *should* make the phone consume less power, although I don’t have a good test for that right now. I’ve compiled some battery depletion numbers that I found interesting.
|LG Optimus 2X||Google Nexus S|
|30mn YouTube HD (wifi)||9% battery||7% battery|
|30mn Neocore* (3D graphics)||12% battery @ 74FPS||9% battery @ 54FPS|
|8hrs of stand-by**||2% battery||3% battery|
I have a few comments about the above results. First of all, the measurements are done on fairly short time span, so there’s a little room for margin, but no-one watches video for 5hrs on a smartphone. I want to you know what the “cost” is for things that you might do in the real world.
*As I was eluding to above, the 3D graphics test with Neocore is interesting because if you were to cap the Optimus 2X framerate to 54FPS, it would be as energy efficient (or a bit more) than the Nexus S. I expect some games to have a cap at 60FPS in the future.
** By stand by, I mean: with emails still coming in etc. Note that the Nexus S did not have 3G ON (my SIM was in the Optimus 2X), so I could have consumed more power. For reference, my iPad with WiFi-only uses only 1% of battery overnight. Not a huge deal at this point, though.
Replaceable battery: in my opinion, replaceable batteries are less and less important to most people, but some of you still really like them. The Optimus 2X has a removable 1500mAh battery inside. I personally favor USB batteries because they can be used with other devices. USB batteries can also come in all shapes and sizes and having such a battery makes sure that your device stays charged during a long international flight, without having to ration your entertainment.
Tips to Improve your Android battery life: We’ve put together a “how to improve your Android battery life” page that contains easy steps that everyone can follow to improve their power usage. Check it out.
Things that could be better
4G: The LG Optimus 2X might be the first dual-core phone to come out, but with 4G phones being presented at CES, there’s no question that 4G support would have been very nice. LG has chosen to get into the market now, knowing that more opportunities will arise later.
High-resolution IPS display: I’m not sure if Android actually supports it, but it would be really nice to get the same resolution than the iPhone 4.
Android 2.3: Hopefully, LG will roll out updates quickly.
Conclusion (very good+)
The LG Optimus 2X is a great phone and it is noticeably faster: whether it is at web browsing, video encoding/decoding, Flash or video games – the important thing is that the extra horsepower can actually be felt by the end user during ordinary usage.
I think that LG has built a very nice device, but there is more work to be done on the design side. The device looks and feels solid, but this might not be enough to win the “good looks” contest against the iPhone 4 and the Nexus S. It is true that the LG Optimus 2X surpasses both phones on technical merits, but this is not a “PC”. People also choose phones based on good looks.
Does the LG Optimus LG 2X provide an “out of this world” experience? Not really, but it does provide a great experience, one of the best on Android in fact – but we’re still mostly on an “evolutionary” path, and you won’t be “floored” by the improved speed. This makes your life a little better, and things are nicer to use. If anything, this is probably an inflexion point at which things will evolve faster than they used to.
LG has done a bold move by jumping on the Tegra 2 wagon, and this is paying off: LG did not have such a leading device for a long time. We all know that glory doesn’t last long on planet Android, but today LG can enjoy it – they just made history with the first real dual-core smartphone.
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