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LG Spectrum 2 review:

The good: The LG Spectrum 2 has NFC and wireless charging capabilities, fast 4G LTE speeds, and a camera packed with features.

The bad: The Spectrum 2 comes preloaded with too much bloatware, has a thick profile, and a poor audio speaker.

The bottom line: With its winning combination of a reasonable price tag, wireless features, and solid performance, the Spectrum 2 is an excellent Verizon handset in its price range.

The wait for a decent LG phone on Verizon is finally over with the Spectrum 2.

Not only does it run the new(ish) Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, it also has a screen that doesn’t require two hands and a stylus. In addition, it’s priced right at the $100 mark, making it one of the more affordable Big Red handsets.

Design
With its noticeably sectioned back plate and defined edges, the LG Spectrum 2’s design looks more thought-out and deliberate than LG’s usual slew of devices, save for the high-end Nexus 4 and Optimus G.

It measures 5.31 inches tall and 2.69 inches wide. At 0.36 inch thick and weighing in at 5.16 ounces, it’s thicker and a bit heavier than most LG handsets I’ve run into, and it’s a tight fit in a small jean pockets, but it’s comfortable when held in the hand or pinned between the cheek and shoulder.

On the left there are a Micro-USB port and two separate buttons for adjusting the volume. Up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a circular sleep/power button the edges of which light up blue whenever it’s pressed.

LG Spectrum 2 hot keysThe LG Spectrum 2’s hot keys light up blue when in use.

The rear of the phone houses an 8-megapixel camera with an LED flash. Though plastic, the black plate is coated with a textured, rubber-like material that feels almost like leather. The cover has two small slits at the bottom for the audio speaker. Removing the plate gives access to the 2,150mAh battery, a microSD card slot, and Verizon’s 4G LTE SIM card. Directly on the other side of the cover are the NFC antenna and wireless charging coil.

The 4.7-inch True HD IPS screen is bright and vivid, and texts and icons rendered crisply and clearly. It has the same screen as the unlocked LG Optimus 4X HD, with the same 1,280×720-pixel resolution. Overall, the display is vivid and bright, not to mention responsive to the touch. At the time of the 4X HD review, I was very impressed with the screen.

However, having now spent time with higher-tier LG devices such as the Nexus 4 and the Optimus G, I noticed that upon closer inspection, the Spectrum 2’s display isn’t as crystal clear as the two others. Default wallpapers look a tad noisy, and gradient patterns appeared streaky, but only by a small margin. Above it is a 1.3-megapixel camera and below are four hot keys (back, home, recent apps, and menu) that illuminate in blue(!) when in use.

Looking across the LG Spectrum 2 (pictures)

Software and OS
The LG Spectrum 2 ships with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and it comes with the slew of Google apps you’d expect, such as Gmail, Plus, Messenger, Latitude, Local, Maps with Navigation, Play Books, Movies, Music, and Store, Search, Talk, and YouTube.

Amazon preloaded its apps too, such as Amazon Kindle, Shop, and Music, as well as IMDb, Zappos, and the audiobook app, Audible. Other goodies include a digital payment service, Amex Serve; NFL Mobile; the mobile office suite known as Polaris Office; a video editor; two games (Let’s Golf 3 and Real Racing); and SmartShare, a content distribution app.

Included Verizon-centric apps are its Mobile Hotspot app; My Verizon Mobile for customer account information; its app store; its soon-to-be-shuttered video portal; its ringtone store, and its native navigation app, VZ Navigator.

Basic features present are text messaging, native e-mail and Web browser clients, Bluetooth 4.0, a finance app for stocks, a calendar, news and weather apps, a clock with alarm settings, a video player, a gallery, a memo pad, a calculator, and a voice recorder.

The Near-Field Communication (NFC) chip enables the handset to wirelessly communicate with other NFC-enabled devices within a short distance. LG included two Tag+ stickers labeled Office and Car mode that let you activate certain customizable settings on your phone. For example, every time you go into your car, you may want to launch Navigation and turn Bluetooth on. Once you set up and save those settings using the LG Tag+ app, you can activate them whenever you tap your Car Mode Tag sticker.

LG charging padYou can juice up your LG Spectrum 2’s battery wirelessly with a charging pad.

As previously mentioned, next to the NFC chip is the charging coil. Though the charger isn’t sold with the phone, you can purchase it from LG for about $70. To use it, plug in the charger and lay the Spectrum 2 on top. You don’t have to do anything else and charging will start almost immediately. I found that while it was easy to use and set up, it charged the battery more slowly than the old-fashion, Micro-USB, way.

The device is equipped with LG’s user interface, Optimus UI 3.0. Though the widgets are boxy — especially that unattractive weather widget — I like that some icons are customizable, and you can choose from four different style themes. With the UI, you can access up to four apps of your choosing from the lock screen by simply swiping over its respective icon. There’s also LG’s signature note-taking app, QuickMemo. It lets you jot quick notes or sketches with your finger or stylus directly over screen images, which you can then save and share. You can also customize the color and style of your pen tip.

Camera and video
The 8-megapixel camera offers a variety of options: autofocus, touch focus, a flash, an 8x digital zoom, face tracking, geotagging, and a timer. It also has several different shooting modes including continuous, HDR, and panoramic, and Time Catch, which lets you choose and save the best shot before the shutter was pressed. Further, it has a voice command for the shutter (you say “cheese” and it’ll take a picture), a brightness meter (-2 to +2), seven image sizes (ranging from 1,536×864 to 3,264×2,448), seven scene modes, four ISO options, five white balances, four shutter sounds, and four color effects.

Recording options consist of the same digital zoom, flash, exposure meter, geotagging, color effects, and white balances. In addition, there’s audio muting, six video sizes (ranging from full HD 1080p to QCIF), a silly faces mode that will distort your face (i.e.: bulge out your eyes, squeeze your mouth inward) while the video records, and a background module where you can change your background to outer space, a sunset, a disco, or your own custom image. You can also take pictures while recording.

The front-facing camera offers the same brightness meter, white-balance options, color effects, shutter sounds, timer, “cheese” shutter, and geotagging feature, but only two scene modes (normal, and night) and three sizes (from 640×480 or 1,280×960). There’s also a “mirror image” option that saves a vertically flipped version of your photo, and a “beauty shot” meter that lets you adjust the brightness and blurriness of an image.

Though the front camera has fewer options, it still retains a nice array of features; you get the same exposure meter, white balances, color effects, geotagging, silly faces and background modes, and audio muting, but there are only five video sizes (ranging from QCIF to 720p HD).

Photo quality was adequate, but we’ve seen better results from 8-megapixel cameras on AT&T’s Optimus G and the Nexus 4. The camera is fast, and there was little lag time after I clicked the shutter. With ample outdoor lighting, objects were in focus and shades of white were also accurate. However, in dimmer shots, the white balance wasn’t as true-to-life and dark hues were hard to distinguish. Also, its focus could be off at times, and a few objects came out blurry. The front-facing camera understandably fared worse and photos included more graininess, digital noise, and muted colors.

LG Spectrum 2 outdoorIn this overcast outdoor shot, the white hues in the flower petals are accurately captured.

LG Spectrum 2 indoorIn this amply lit indoor photo, dark hues blend together and objects are a tad blurry.

LG Spectrum 2 SSIIn our standard studio shot, the wonky white balance paints the background a warm yellow.

Video recording was great, especially when shooting in 1080p True HD. Moving images were in focus, nearby audio picked up well, colors were true to form, and there was no lag time between the viewfinder and my moving of the camera. Playing the recorded audio through a headset, however, sounded far better than through the speaker (which I will expand on later). With the output speaker, sounds came off as extremely sharp. But with the handset, especially with Dolby Mobile sound activated, audio played richer and with more depth.

Performance
I tested the LG Spectrum 2 in San Francisco, and call quality was solid. There were no extraneous buzzing or humming, no calls were dropped, volume was excellent, and my friends sounded clear and loud. I was told, though, that my friends come sometimes hear a low and continuous static noise, but I didn’t hear that from my end. Similar to other LG devices, speaker quality was poor. Voices, especially on max volume, sounded tinny and harsh. Audio from music and movies sounded similarly sharp as well.

Listen now: LG Spectrum 2 call quality sample

 

The handset is powered by swift a 1.5GHz dual-core CPU. Basic tasks like unlocking the screen, scrolling through the app drawer, and transitioning back to the five home screen pages was a breeze. Opening the camera app, which on average took 2.08 seconds, was also zippy. Graphics-intensive games like Real Racing 2 performed well. The app didn’t stutter or freeze, images were bright with high refresh rates, and loading up the game took only a few seconds. On average, it took 33 seconds for the phone to reboot.

The handset runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE network, and data speeds were impressive. On average, the phone loaded , the New York Times, and ESPN’s mobile sites in 5 seconds each. The full desktop versions for each site loaded in 9.5, 7.5, and 8.5 seconds, respectively. Ookla’s Speedtest app showed me an average of 4.91Mbps down and 6.17Mbps up. And, on average, it took 54 seconds to download the 23.32MB game Temple Run.

LG Spectrum 2: Performance testing
Average 4G LTE download speed 4.91Mpbs
Average 4G LTE upload speed 6.17Mbps
App download (Temple Run) 22MB in 54 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5 seconds
CNET desktop site load 9.5 seconds
Power off and restart time 33 seconds
Camera boot time 2.08 seconds

The phone has a reported usage time of 10.4 hours. Although I haven’t conducted battery drain test yet, anecdotally, the phone has an impressive battery life. With medium to low usage, it can last throughout the workday without a charge. Be wary though, when I cranked up the screen’s brightness to its max level, the battery reserves drained much faster. According to FCC radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 0.85W/kg.

Conclusion
For $100, the LG Spectrum 2 is an absolute deal. The only other devices Verizon offers at the same price are the dated Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the Motorola Droid Razr. I say dated not because they’re bad handsets, but because their successors, the LG Nexus 4 and the Motorola Droid Razr HD have already been released.

By comparison, the Spectrum 2 isn’t just “newer,” its specs are also on par with — and in some regards better than — these flagship phones of yesteryear. And, funnily enough, the $130Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II, which is the next phone up in terms of price, is more of a step back with its mere 5-megapixel camera, 4-inch 800×400-pixel screen, and 1,800mAh battery. If you’re looking for an updated device but don’t want to drop more than a bill, the Spectrum 2 is your best bet.

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