Review: LG Spectrum 2 for Verizon Wireless
The LG Spectrum 2 fills the mid-range smartphone category for Verizon Wireless. What the hardware lacks in style, the Android operating system from Google and user interface customizations from LG make up for in raw functionality.
Is It Your Type?
The Spectrum 2 is a mid-range Android smartphone from LG for Verizon Wireless. Feature-for-feature and spec-for-spec, it is almost identical to last year's model. The few changes made by LG are welcome, but there's little about the Spectrum 2 that's competitive.
LG has delivered some of its best-ever smartphone hardware during 2012. The LG Spectrum 2 is not one of those devices. In fact, the hardware is a step backward in terms of design and usability. I'd sooner hit my hand with a hammer than carry around this disastrous piece of plastic.
The Spectrum 2 is a mish-mash of materials, surfaces, and textures. The mix feels chaotic against the skin. The transition from smooth-to-rough isn't just grating to the hand, though. The Spectrum 2 looks like a super slim phone that has a horrid spare battery attached to it. The battery cover, such as it is, looks like an afterthought added at the last second by designers who couldn't think of anything else. Maybe I'm being oversensitive to the design, but it is one confused phone.
The Spectrum 2 has a rectangular face that is framed by a raised lip. Rather than offer a smooth transition from the display glass to the side edges, the Spectrum 2 has a sharp corner that's uncomfortable when the Spectrum 2 is gripped tightly. The lip serves a practical purpose in that it protects the screen when the Spectrum 2 is placed face down, but at the expense of comfort. It's hard to believe the Spectrum 2 is smaller than the original Spectrum, but it is. Each dimension has shrunk by about 1mm.
Add the odd shaped bottom and top surfaces, which are flat enough that the Spectrum 2 can stand up on its own, and you have a phone that's not all that comfortable to put in your pocket. One thing the Spectrum 2 has going for it? It's nice and light, and the materials feel strong.
LG did a great job with the buttons. There are four capacitive buttons below the screen (back, home, multitask, and menu) for controlling the Android user interface. They react well, are easy to see thanks to cool blue illumination, and provide pleasing haptic feedback. Rather than use a toggle to control the volume, LG opted for two separate buttons on the S2. They’re on the left edge. I found them easy to locate and they offer great travel and feedback. The same goes for the screen lock button, which is a round circle placed on the top edge. The micro-USB port is on the left edge, and the headphone jack is on top.
The battery cover is easy to remove. It's worth pointing out that the Spectrum 2 supports magnetic inductive (wireless) charging. It can be placed on a special charging pad and charged without actually plugging the phone in. The battery cover also houses a near-field communication (NFC) radio. With the cover removed, you can swap the microSD card with no trouble. You have to pull the battery out to access the SIM card.
The Spectrum 2's display increases in size compared to the original - from 4.5 inches to 4.7 inches - but keeps the same 1280 x 720 pixel resolution. LG's high-def LCD smartphone screens have always impressed me, and the Spectrum 2 is no exception. It's a very sharp display that is bright, clear, and colorful. The brightness does need to be cranked all the way up if you want to use it outdoors, though.
The Spectrum 2 does fairly well on Verizon's 3G and 4G networks. In my travels around the Garden State and Big Apple, the Spectrum 2 always remained connected to one of the two networks. It never dropped down to 1X, nor did it ever drop the signal entirely. When testing voice calls, the Spectrum 2 did not drop any calls, but it took me several tries to connect some of the calls I made. Data sessions were acceptable even under the worst network conditions. Speeds on Verizon's LTE network under the best conditions reached 6 Mbps, which is in the range that Verizon advertises for its 4G network.
Wow. The Spectrum 2 is an excellent voice phone. Not only are calls crystal clear, but the earpiece is loud enough to replace the speakerphone. The Spectrum 2 has one of the loudest earpiece speakers I've ever heard. The fact that there's no interference or disruptions to call are an added bonus. The speakerphone itself is also jarringly loud. The quality and volume together mean it can easily be used as a makeshift conference call device in the office or for the entire family to gather around for that holiday call to Uncle Fred. Ringers and alert tones are plenty loud, and the vibrate alert is very strong.
The Spectrum 2's battery does what I need it to; it lasts through one full day. It doesn't do much more than that. If you unplug it at 7AM on a Monday, it'll still be going at bedtime. But if it’s left unplugged for the night it might be dead when you wake up Tuesday morning. I was able to get about 36 hours out of it once, but that was with absolute minimal use. Regular use (checking email, firing off Tweets, browsing through Facebook, and updating apps) means you need to plug it in every night.
The Spectrum 2 ships with Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with the same user interface overlay that's been used on other LG devices this year.
The lock screen includes both customizable shortcuts and customizable clocks.
There are five home screen panels and up to five apps accessible from the permanent tray that sits at the bottom of the display. The drop-down notification shade lets users toggle on/off most of the radios, as well as access the full settings menu and dismiss notifications en masse.
The main app menu is a grid of icons that can be arranged alphabetically or in your own order. Icons can be set to large or small sizes so you see more or fewer apps per page. The settings tools are close to stock Android and let you control the accounts associated with the device, as well as fine-tune the behavior of both the software and the hardware.
The Spectrum 2 has a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor under the hood. It was able to run the Android operating system, LG user interface, and all the device's applications with no problem at all. Screen transitions were quick, apps were swift to open, and multitasking between running services didn't tax the Spectrum 2 at all.
Calls and Contacts
The phone and contact applications are good tools for managing communications. The phone software is easy to use and lets Spectrum 2 owners easily add lines, mute their call, or send messages from the call log. LG has installed the same set of contact widgets for use on the home screen. I like LG's widgets here and find them useful for keeping tabs on my favorite bunch of people from the home screen.
If you're looking for more than the stock Android messaging tools on the Spectrum 2, you'll be disappointed to learn there aren't any. The Gmail, email, SMS, Google Talk, Google+, and Google+ Messenger apps are all fine at what they do. The individual Twitter and Facebook applications are not pre-installed, but basic support for those networks is included within the operating system. This means that even if you don't download the apps, you'll be able to share photos to Twitter or Facebook from the photo gallery.
There are several extra apps on board the Spectrum 2, in addition to the stock Google Play media services. The stock tools work well, just as they do on every other Android smartphone.
The extras include the Amazon MP3 store and player for purchasing and listening to music; Audible for listening to books; IMBd for looking up movie, tv show, and actor data; Verizon's NFL mobile app for watching live football games; V CAST Ringtones for those who still buy ringtones; and Verizon Video, which is being discontinued December 15. Verizon's Viewdini app is oddly missing (though it can be downloaded separately). I used all of these applications and found that they do on the Spectrum 2 exactly what they do on Verizon's other smartphones.
The Spectrum 2 does not have a physical camera button and includes only on-screen controls. This isn't that much of a big deal, though, since the camera can be launched from the lock screen thanks to a trusty shortcut.
The Spectrum 2's camera focuses in an instant and captures images in an instant-and-a-half. If there's something in particular you want the camera to focus on, you can touch that subject in the viewfinder, which automatically focuses and takes the shot.
An on-screen toolbar offers advanced controls, including panorama, HDR, continuous shot, "Cheese shutter" (predetermined voice commands make the shutter fire), and a Time Catch shot mode for timed bursts starting before you press the button.
The Spectrum 2 has an 8-megapixel camera. I was mostly pleased with the results. I was able to get good focus no matter how poor the lighting, and exposure and white balance were correct more often than not. As with the LG Mach, grain was the biggest issue with poorly-lit subjects. The resulting images were speckled with noise. Otherwise the images looked pretty good. Outdoor shots snagged on a bright day look pretty darned good.
The 1080p HD video I captured with the Spectrum 2 was decent. Video looked too sharp and jittery at times, and panning the device quickly will result in headache-inducing motion in the video. I thought exposure and white balance was good, though, and the clarity of video taken when standing still was quite laudable.
The Spectrum 2 uses the stock Android 4.0 gallery app. It merges together all the online images you share with your various Google accounts (Google+, Picasa, etc.) with the on-board camera roll. You cannot create new albums on the device itself, but you can move photos between albums that are listed.
The gallery lets you rotate and crop images, as well as adjust color, reduce red-eye, and apply a handful of different filters. The editing features are nice to have. There is also a simple video editing tool that lets you stitch together separate video clips into a longer clip. I thought it was easy to figure out.
Verizon has loaded plenty of its own app and services onto the Spectrum 2. Most of the Verizon-branded stuff cannot be removed, but there is plenty of room on board the Spectrum 2 for the user's own applications and content. The Verizon App Store is on board, even though Verizon is shutting that down in the coming weeks. The Google Play Store is of course also on board.
The Spectrum 2's Bluetooth 4.0 radio worked without issue. It paired easily with other devices and worked like a charm when it come to routing phone calls to headsets and hands-free systems. Call quality was quite good through mono headsets, as was the quality of music played back through stereo Bluetooth speakers.
The Spectrum 2 ships with the older Android browser and not Google's newer Chrome browser. I found that the browser performed well on both Verizon's 3G and 4G LTE networks. In fact, it was quite zippy when LTE was available.
The Spectrum 2 has a handful of different lockscreen clock options, including a large digital one that's really easy to read. Other choices include a clock with a calendar, an analog clock, and a smaller digital clock. The flexibility of the lockscreen clock is a welcome change from what other manufacturers offer.
Google Maps and VZ Navigator are both on board. Both do a good job at routing directions as well as allowing for exploring the local neighborhood. Verizon's software, which costs $10 per month to use, is better at handling real-world hiccups (getting lost), but Google Maps does well enough for a free service.
As far as the GPS radio is concerned, I found it to be fairly accurate and reasonably quick. It often found me within about 30 seconds and was as close as about 50 feet to my actual position.
Were it not for the questionable hardware design choices made by LG, I'd call the Spectrum 2 an excellent effort. As it is, I don't like the feel of the hardware in my hand, nor do I like how it looks. That said, the hardware does in fact function well. The buttons and controls all do what they are supposed to do and don't get in the way of usability.
The software tells a better story. LG has tuned its own user interface elements well to the base features of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Banking in the power of the native apps was a smart move on LG's part, as they all work well.
The behavior of the Spectrum 2's phone and signal functions, which are among the best I've tested on Verizon's network in recent memory, go a long way to making the Spectrum 2 worth recommending. About the only real cautionary note I can offer pertains to the battery. It lasts a day, but barely. I fear that power-users might be left stranded before they call it a night.