There are several themes that came out of CES 2012, where Verizon first showed off the LG Spectrum, one of its latest 4G LTE superphones. LTE was one of these themes, of course, and the Spectrum delivers. HD, as in high-definition video, was another. Like the LG Nitro HD, the Spectrum has a terrific 4.5-inch HD display, a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, and an 8-megapixel camera with support for 1080p video recording. There's also a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera and the phone runs the Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS.
In addition to the HD screen and video recording, several applications on the phone are automatically optimized for HD playback, including Netflix and ESPN Sports Center. LG has taken some risks with its custom interface design, and not all the pieces fit together. I found call quality and camera performance were also variable. Overall, the Spectrum is a beautiful device that belongs in the same league as Verizon's heavy hitters, and the $199.99 price tag will help nudge fence-sitters in LG's direction.
As nice as the Nitro HD was, the Spectrum's clean, lean design, a successor to last year's LG Revolution, appeals to me more. That's a personal preference, and you might disagree. It's a large slab of a device at 5.3 inches tall and 2.7 inches wide, but thin (0.42 inch). At 5 ounces, the weight makes sense for the Spectrum's dimensions. The phone feels pretty solid, but it's not a rugged device that would be poised for battle against drops, kicks, and other smartphone abuse. That said, a Corning Gorilla Glass screen lends extra strength against scratches.
Looks matter, and the Spectrum is downright preppy, thanks to the black-and-gray checkered back cover. The face is glossy black and a dark-gray metallic coating rims the sides. It'll pick up for fingerprints for sure, so invest in a wipe cloth if you haven't already. Big as it is, slight rounding on the back and sides keeps it feeling slickly comfortable in the hand. I had no complaints with on-ear pressure either.
Like the Nitro HD, the Spectrum has a 4.5-inch HD screen with a 1,280x720-pixel resolution for the number jockeys. That translates into a very bright, crisp, colorful, and overall gorgeous display that supports 16 million colors.
Above the screen is the Spectrum's 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. Below it, LG's three navigation buttons look classy, especially the Home button, which looks like it's inlaid in a silvery accent. On the back is the 8-megapixel camera lens with flash. Peel away that cover to find the microSD card slot. A razor-thin volume rocker on the left spine could use some fattening up, but the power button up top poses no problems. It's camped out next to the 3.5mm headset jack and the Micro-USB charging port with its protective sliding door for keeping out dust and muck.
The Spectrum runs Android 2.3 for now. It'll be upgradable to Ice Cream Sandwich in theory, once LG designs its new skin and Verizon pushes it out, but there's no final word yet, and no guarantee.
LG paints its own interface on top of the Android operating system. There are the familiar static buttons for onscreen navigation, plus nearly ubiquitous access to system settings for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and so on. Plenty of widgets come preloaded onto the seven customizable home screens. I deleted a good portion of them off the bat, but really like the look and usability of the In Touch widget, an archipelago of multimedia widgets that give you easy access to videos, photos, albums, and playlists.
I wasn't as fond of the busy guide that pops up when you press and hold a home screen. It surfaces a grid, onscreen controls, and a scrolling list of widgets you can add. You can also deal with shortcuts, folders, and change wallpaper from there.
The Spectrum carries on the LG Revolution's app tray layout, which organizes apps thematically in sections that open and close when you tap them. However, you can't seem to reorganize the apps and you might spend some time hunting for the one you want. I see where the designers were going with this, but I personally find it confusing and forced.
The Spectrum gets everything that Android 2.3 brings in terms of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS radios, plus support for Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA (through the SmartShare app). All the communication tools are here, as well as an abundance of Google services. My favorites will always include maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation, Gmail, and YouTube. You can tether your phone over USB to share the data connection, and a Verizon app lets you use the Spectrum as a hot spot for up to 10 devices. The Swype virtual keyboard is installed, but not by default. To get it, you'll have to change the input method by pressing and holding on a text field. As with the Revolution, LG has omitted the default Android keyboard, a shame.
As always, LG does a great job with its extra gesture settings. You can customize things like flipping over the device to mute a call, stop an alarm, or pause a video; as well as tap and hold items to move or otherwise affect them. It's one of LG's best Android differentiators.
I also applaud how LG and Verizon highlight the HD theme with apps that make use of the screen. Netflix, ESPN Score Center, and Smart Movie HD are examples. Each of these apps will automatically surface HD content first, when it's available. That'll save you the step of having to cycle a video to HD mode if it's got both. You'll still be able to view content that isn't optimized for HD on the screen, of course.
Although Google is the Spectrum's default home page, search bar searches take place with Bing. It's sort of like a sneaky workaround for Bing-o-phobes.