Sure it’s a little late to the party but don’t be put off by the hefty SIM only price, this new Optimus is a right smartie. The 4X HD offers up a HD screen, quad core power and plenty of tricks for a considerable chunk less a month (on contract) than the big players from Samsung, Apple and HTC.
It's been a while since we had a new LG smartphone in our midst – the last one was the LG Prada Phone 3.0 back in March – so we put the 4X HD through its paces to see if it belongs in our pantheon of jaw-dropping 2012 handsets.
Meet the wafer-phone
Looking like a tasty black and silver wafer, the Optimus 4X HD shares the Prada Phone 3.0’s leather-like textured back and understated (but slightly boring) design. Though it’s skinny at 8.9mm thick, the wide 4.7in screen takes it into awkward Samsung Galaxy Note territory for making phone calls, especially for the smaller gadgeteer using one hand. The reassuring weight does make it feel expensive though.
We liked the prism effect down the sides a lot but the 4X HD’s volume rocker does get slightly lost amongst the metal details. That said, it does offer a helpful grip to rest your thumbs on when watching movies and while it doesn’t have the wow factor of the HTC One X, for example, it has the size and the heft to save face against the superphones. It's pretty minimalist all round with just a microUSB slot on the bottom edge for charging, a headphone jack on the top left and a removable back cover hiding the microSD and SIM card slots.
The Optimus 4X HD's big and bright 1280 x 720 IPS display is really what sets it apart from the rest of the mid-range pack. Whites look clean, text looks sharp and the 16:9 ratio plus good viewing angles will stop film buffs from chucking their popcorn out of the pram. And yes, that's the same ratio Apple's just chosen for the iPhone 5 but if you need some ammunition, it's worth mentioning that the 4X HD's screen is 0.7in bigger with a similar pixel density at 313 ppi versus 326 ppi. The only downside is that the 4X HD's screen is more smudgetastic than most but once you've wiped away your thumb prints, colour reproduction is excellent.
Quad core Tegra 3 performance
LG is making a big noise about the battery saver core of the 1.5GHz quad-core chip running the 4X HD show but all you need to know is that for calls, web browsing and messaging, the 4X HD won't even have to break into a sweat. While a touch slower than the Galaxy S3, we also threw some Tegra 3-optimised games at the 4X HD and it coped admirably without a single hitch.
Our favourite was the beautifully executed Horn, which although a little pricey at £5.07, has a fantastic storyline (about people turning into monsters), impressive-looking graphics and fun swipe and tap fighting. Forgive the occasional crash and you'll wonder why anyone ever bought a PlayStation Vita.
Battery life was only so-so by comparison: official LG figures say you'll get up to five hours talktime on 3G and up to four hours of 3G browsing. In our testing, the 4X HD stretched to seven hours of fairly continuous use – so it's a good job you can swap in a battery if you need to.
Optimus UI 3.0
It might not have the tech bells and whistles of Popup Play and Smart Stay on the Galaxy S3 but LG has made some tweaks of it's own to Ice Cream Sandwich and they're pretty user friendly. Peeking through to the main homescreen from the lockscreen gets addictive quickly, even if it is just to check the weather.
And blowing up icons into widgets (like changing the Internet icon into a grid of bookmarks or adding a larger Calendar view) is refreshing, especially if iOS has locked up your homescreens and thrown away the key. Replacing third-party app icons with photos from our gallery felt like a step too far but customisation options are there for everything including transitions.
If you watch a lot of homegrown vids, the Direct list view in LG's MediaPlex video player is useful: tap the arrow on the left hand side of the screen and you can view all your vids as playable thumbnails which can be dragged and dropped into the main screen. You can also zoom and pan around the footage in real time, alter the speed and get video-in-video with Fingertip Seek.
With fairly speedy touch to focus, natural looking colours and a bright f/2.4 lens, the 8MP snapper bringing up the Optimus 4X HD's rear has everything the casual shutterbug will need in a smartphone cam. LG has also thrown in HDR, a panorama mode, burst mode and the nifty Time Catch function which takes four shots before your finger has hit the on screen shutter button.
The 4X HD can also handle 1080p at 30fps very smoothly with the ability to zoom while recording (with no pesky noises of course) and take snaps at the same time a la the HTC One X. There's two mics, one on the top and one on the bottom, to help pick up sound too.
UK price and release date
The Optimus 4X HD is out now at all respectable smartphone emporiums – you can nab one SIM free for £400 with a £10 top-up at Carphone Warehouse and contracts start from a measly £15.50 a month with T-Mobile, though for a decent package of minutes, texts and data you're looking at £20 a month or more with a free handset. All in all a pretty affordable 2012 handset then.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update
LG told us to expect a Jelly Bean update in early 2013 for the Optimus 4X HD. Hold your whining though, there’ll be a maintenance update in October to keep you entertained till then – and it’s set to include a voice shutter feature for the camera (amongst other goodies) that will let you take photos by saying ‘Cheese’.
Versus Samsung Galaxy S3
As the Optimus 4X HD is available for around £10 less a month than the Galaxy S3 on similar contracts, LG could end up with some serious sales to Android fans whose budgets don't stretch to the most expensive smartphones. The S3's plastic body makes it look cheaper than it is, particularly the white version, and while you might not get picture-in-picture multi-tasking on the 4X HD, for everyday use you won't notice any considerable lag in perfomance by comparison.
Ask us which Android phone we'd buy though and we'd still plump for the S3 everytime – an incredible battery life, supreme performance and innovative features keep it at the top spot of our Android phones for now. When you remember it also has the same NFC skills (writeable tags come in the box) and media file sharing for when you're back at the ranch, the LG Optimus 4X HD is a more than worthy alternative.
UPDATE: Star rating changed to reflect new rivals.