Similar to Deb Shinder's reviews, I've noticed that every flagship smartphone available right now seems to have an Achilles' heel. Many of these devices are awesome except for one little deal breaker that's virtually impossible to overlook. I've been holding off on my contract upgrade for about a month now, trying to decide which phone is going to replace my aging Droid 2. So far, the Razr, Galaxy Nexus, and Bionic have failed to win me over.
The LG Spectrum manages to take a different road than other smartphones on the market. Much like the HTC Trophy, the LG Spectrum isn't a super-performing star that blows you away. Perhaps because of that, the LG doesn't disappoint so greatly in the places where it falters. Holding a stellar phone in your hand and then finding out that the camera optics are worse than a 2MP feature phone is really frustrating. However, when the LG Spectrum fails to deliver the quality of video capture that you can get from a Droid 1, it just isn't as much of a shock or a letdown.
At around $100 less than the top-tier of Android phones currently offered by Verizon, the LG Spectrum does a respectable job at matching them feature-for-feature in most ways that matter and offering a more generally balanced platform overall. There's nothing spectacular about the LG Spectrum, but there's nothing horrible about it either. No features go above and beyond or are puzzlingly absent.
- Network: Verizon 4G LTE
- CPU: Dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon
- Screen: 720x1280, 4.5" LCD
- RAM: 1GB
- Storage: 4GB internal, plus 16GB removable MicroSD
- OS: Android Gingerbread (2.3)
- See the entire list of specs
What I liked
The LG Spectrum has received a lot of bad press for cheap construction and poor ergonomics, but I don't get it. It has a good design that feels more balanced in my hand than the Motorola Razr, which is rather top heavy. It doesn't scream luxury-build quality, but I think it matches or exceeds the quality of the Galaxy Nexus. This device has a nice big screen, fits perfectly in my pocket, and doesn't have weird bulges, edges, or angles. It's simple and uninteresting, and that works well for me in daily use.
Even without hands-on experience, the LG Spectrum includes everything a modern smartphone buyer should expect in a device. It meets the base specs, plus it has a removable back plate and battery that gives access to the SIM card and removable MicroSD card. Those seem to be the big features that different manufacturers are experimenting with on their flagship phones, opting for inaccessible batteries and/or skipping the MicroSD slot.
As for actual phone usage, the signal is as strong as any of the other devices I've used, and the audio quality is clear and crisp.
What I didn't like
I don't think manufacturer skins make a big difference, as long as they don't cause crashes or slow down the device. The custom skin that rides on the LG Spectrum is pretty heavily modified. LG has also completely removed the hardware "search" button from the Spectrum. The most annoying result of all this is that the app list is sorted by "drawers" of related apps. I couldn't discover how to get it to sort in the generic A-to-Z list that I'm most comfortable with.
Also, across the bottom of the desktop screen are icons for Phone, Contacts, Messaging, and Apps. These cannot be modified, and they take up a significant portion of the desktop. If the LG skin offered a lot in return for the limitations it imposes on user customization, I might feel better about it -- but it doesn't offer anything special, and it frequently gets in the way. Frankly, it illustrates why lightly-skinned or no-skin-at-all is the best bet with Android handsets.
Finally, the quality of video shots are grainy, choppy, and full of artifacts. Normally, this would be a deal breaker for me -- but even with these liabilities, I think the video and camera are superior than what I experienced with both the Razr and the Nexus. Sure, I'm a bit disappointed, but compared to the competition, the LG seems to be delivering among the highest quality camera optics and performance.
Along with the features mentioned above, the LG Spectrum integrated well into my corporate network. On other handsets (most surprisingly, the plain vanilla ICS on the Nexus), I've noticed increased device instability after applying required corporate security policies. The LG showed no indication of those kind of issues.
Like I said, the LG Spectrum isn't anything exciting -- yet somehow, if I had to choose between it, the Razr, and the Nexus, I'd pick the LG Spectrum. It doesn't exceed expectations in any significant way, but it doesn't offend in any serious way, either. At the end of the day, that is what I want from a phone that I depend on for day-to-day business.
Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.