The Android smartphone sector is awash with handsets vying to be better, faster, more feature-packed than the rest. One way to stand out is to run a dual-core processor, and LG is first to achieve that with its Optimus 2X. Our review sample, from Clove Technology, proves that dual-core processors really do have a speed advantage. But the hare doesn't always win the race: does the LG Optimus 2X have what it takes to go the distance?
Obviously the Optimus 2X's key feature is its dual-core processor, but performance is wasted unless it's combined with good design and ergonomics. You can't enjoy a smartphone that's ugly or difficult to use, however fast it runs.
LG's Android 2.2-based Optimus 2X stands out thanks to its dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and 4in. screen
Fortunately, the ergonomics are fine. The Optimus 2X is a relatively big smartphone measuring 122.4mm tall by 64.2mm wide by 9.9mm thick, largely to accommodate its 4in. screen. The display resolution of 480 by 800 pixels is par for high-end standard smartphone course, and the image is impressively sharp and bright. To make the handset look at little smaller than it is, LG has given the long edges a downwards curve. This doesn't quite work as an optical illusion, but causes no practical problems.
Although LG doesn't quote the Optimus 2X's weight, Clove's spec sheet has it at 135g. This is on the heavy side, but not enough to be a problem.
Beneath the screen, four touch buttons access the Home, Call, Back and Menu functions. These are barely visible when the phone is off, and brightly backlit when it's on. A metal strip running down the centre of the backplate is branded 'with Google', lest we forget.
A pair of speakers reside on the bottom edge. These deliver a fair volume, but you'll want to turn 'virtual surround' on in the music player to remove the more tinny tones.
The bottom of the device also houses a Micro-USB connector, while the top has a covered HDMI port for which LG provides a cable. Alongside the HDMI connector is a 3.5mm audio jack and the power switch. The long edges are clear apart from a pair of volume buttons on the right.
There is a camera above the screen on the front of the chassis, and another of the high end multimedia features, an 8 megapixel main camera with flash, sits on the back. The main camera supports full HD video capture.
The Optimus 2X ships with an AC adapter, a PC connector cable, an HDMI cable, a stereo headset and a printed user guide.
The Optimus 2X uses an Nvidia Tegra 2, which combines a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU with an ultra-low-power GeForce GPU and a 1080p Video Playback Processor. The latter makes LG's dual-core handset the first smartphone to support full-HD video playback and recording.
There is 8GB of internal storage, although out of the box our review device reported just 5.07GB free. You can augment this with microSD cards — the slot is under the backplate.
The quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE Optimus 2X has HSPA mobile broadband at up to 7.2Mbps download and 5.76Mbps upload. That's not quite up to the 14.4/5.76Mbps of the HTC Desire S, but it's perfectly respectable. GPS is present, along with Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth (2.1+EDR). The Android version is 2.2 (Froyo) rather than 2.3 (Gingerbread), but we've only so far seen the latter in the HTC Desire S Google's Nexus S. An update to Android 2.3 would provide access to SIP-based video calling, but there's no support in the Optimus 2X for Near Field Communications (NFC) which Android 2.3 also supports.
LG has used its own skin to personalise Android. There are seven home screens, which can be filled with widgets — including an extensive range designed by LG, many of which are interesting and useful. The weather widget, for example, offers a 'real feel' temperature, which we assume takes account of wind-chill. Meanwhile, the calendar widget has enough space to list a couple of upcoming events and indicate whether more are pending for the day.
In many respects, LG's UI is a pleasure to use. For example, the notifications area can be pulled down to reveal not only message alerts but also a control panel for music playback and quick settings for volume, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and screen rotation lockout. The music player offers a scrolling carousel of tunes that's easy to move through with a finger sweep. You can also implement gesture controls such as flipping the handset on its face to mute calls and alarms.
A Car Home interface mimics HTCs Car Panel, offering six large tappable icons in place of the usual complex home-screen arrangement. Unlike HTC, LG is happy for one of these to link you into Google Maps (HTC defaults to its own paid-for navigation software); there's also a voice-search tool that lets you control the smartphone hands-free.
This is all great, but LG goes over the top in places. LG App Advisor, for example, supplements the Android Market, with the aim of narrowing down the vast range of apps in the Android Market to present you with a more manageable subset. However, most people are likely to ignore it and use the real Android Market app.
We approve of preloading an Android smartphone with a good range of applications, but LG has gone a step further by including what initially looks like an app in the main menu called Preloaded Apps. In fact, when you choose this it offers a selection of applications waiting to be installed from the Optimus 2X itself. This includes a number of games, the Layar augmented reality browser, Kindle ereader and a compass. There's nothing here you can't get from Android Market itself, and we wonder if the providers have paid for the privilege of being on this list. This app bundle is partly why the 8GB of internal storage is reduced to just over 5GB of available capacity.
Performance & battery life
The dual-core processor can only do so much to make the LG Optimus 2X faster than its rivals. Text entry can only be processed as quickly as you can hit the on-screen keys, so you're not likely to see a massive speed boost on email composition.
But activities like screen flipping, transitions between home screens, responsiveness to finger sweeps and pans, and scrolling through image galleries and music libraries are all much smoother and faster than we've seen before. All this gives a really slick feel to general usage.
Some applications get particular benefit from the dual-core processor. Web page rendering is noticeably quick; pinch-to-zoom response in the web browser is almost instant, while video playback — whether on the handset itself or streamed from a source like YouTube — is fast, with none of the pixellation or stuttering we sometimes see in less powerful handsets.
Overall, the dual-core processor makes the Optimus 2X a more rewarding handset to use, although you're unlikely to significantly reduce the total time you spend using the device.
The 1,500mAh battery is capacious for a smartphone, but it does have a lot of work to do managing the 4in. screen and dual-core processor. Indoors, with a Wi-Fi connection, the Optimus 2X kept going for about 24 hours between charges. But as soon as we started making it work hard, streaming video, using GPS and 3G data, it struggled. Those who want to take full advantage of what's on offer here will almost certainly need to administer a power boost during an average 24-hour period.
The LG Optimus 2X's dual-core processor makes the UI feel responsive and enhances many activities, while the 4in. screen is great for multimedia, web browsing and email. However, LG has crammed the Optimus 2X with apps, and we'd have liked to see Android 2.3 on board and longer battery life.