It's only been a few weeks since the Optimus 2X crossed the desk of our European review bureau as the first known dual-core smartphone in the universe. Now LG's wunderkind has made its way across the pond and landed on US soil to be reborn as the G2x on T-Mobile. While the hardware remains the same elegant Tegra 2-infused slab of glass, metal and plastic, the software has been liberated from the shackles of LG's UI customizations into a serving of vanilla Froyo -- the exact same approach T-Mobile took when it introduced the Desire Z as the G2 without HTC's custom Sense skin last fall. Unlike previous G-series phones, the G2x ditches the physical keyboard for a 4-inch WVGA display with HDMI output and an 8 megapixel camera with 1080p video capture. Beyond the transition from messaging-centric device to multimedia powerhouse, what else is different about the hardware? Is plain Android a vast improvement over the lackluster software that shipped on the Optimus 2X? How does the G2x fare against T-Mobile's current flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S 4G? Find out in our full review after the break.

T-Mobile G2x review

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Hardware

There aren't any major differences in hardware between the Optimus 2X and the G2x, other than the T-Mobile logo replacing the LG branding below the earpiece. Our G2x review unit came with a brown / bronze-colored battery cover instead of a matte black one like its European sibling -- that's about it. What we're looking at then, is the same elegant (if not understated) design and superb build quality as the Optimus 2X. It's clear that LG put some effort into making this a premium smartphone by focusing on the details. A glass panel with beautifully beveled sides covers the entire front of the phone, and conceals a 4-inch WVGA capacitive touchscreen, a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera, a cutout for the earpiece, the proximity and light sensors, plus the four standard Android keys (menu, home, back, and search). Strangely, these capacitive buttons take up a huge amount of real-estate below the display (almost an inch), making the G2x as tall as the HTC Thunderbolt.

The handset feels great in the hand thanks to the matte soft-touch finish and curved edges of the battery door, which takes up the entire back. It's hefty enough to be substantial without being heavy, all while maintaining a svelte 10mm profile. A tasteful strip of brushed aluminum displaying a machined "with Google" logo runs down the length of the back, inline with the camera pod which hosts an 8 megapixel sensor and a large autofocus lens behind a glass window, along with a single LED flash. Sandwiched between the front glass and battery cover, you'll find a silver / faux-gunmetal rim that traces the entire perimeter of the device. The top edge contains the power / lock key, micro-HDMI connector (behind a flap), and standard 3.5mm headphone jack. On the bottom, the G2x takes a cue from the iPhone 4 with two small meshed openings on each side of the micro-USB connector, one hiding the mono speaker (which is adequately loud) and the other protecting the microphone. There's a simple volume rocker on the right edge, and nothing on the left. As expected, the SIM and microSD card slots are located behind the battery door, along with a standard issue 1500mAh battery. No microSD card is supplied since the G2x provides 8GB of internal mass storage.

While most of the hardware in the G2x hits the spot, we're a little underwhelmed with the display. The 4-inch WVGA (800 x 480) IPS panel looks good on paper but misses the mark when compared to the competition. Sure, the colors are rich and the viewing angles are wide, but the LCD washes out more than expected in direct sunlight and suffers from a significant amount of backlight leaking out from the edges of the screen, resulting in visible "stains" on solid, dark-colored content. We're also somewhat perplexed as to why LG decided against outfitting this dual-core smartphone with a qHD (960 x 540) display, à la Motorola Atrix 4G. Obviously, we're being highly critical here -- most people will be satisfied with the G2x's display, at least until they come across one of Samsung's Super AMOLED-equipped devices. Another item that requires improvement is the screen's capacitive touch layer, which is slightly less sensitive than on most other phones. Light touches don't always register, and while this is easily remedied by applying more pressure, it's rather disconcerting -- especially for a handset that's otherwise well designed.

Under the hood, NVIDIA's 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 SoC is the life of the party, together with 512MB or RAM and the aforementioned 8GB of built-in flash storage. It's difficult to quantify the performance improvements the dual-core silicon brings to the table -- mostly because the results also partially depend on the software -- but the G2x certainly feels snappy, especially when running tasks in the background. It also handles 1080p video recording and playback like a champ, something even low-end PCs often still struggle with. Moving beyond the Tegra 2, you'll find the usual smorgasbord of radios, including 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, quadband EDGE, and quadband HSPA+ (with future-proof support for 2100, 1900, 1700 / AWS, and 850MHz), alongside a generous sprinkling of sensors (light, proximity, accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope).

Update: We've unlocked our G2x review unit and it refuses to connect to AT&T's 3G network (1900 / 850MHz). As this time we believe this is not a hardware limitation, but rather a restriction imposed by the baseband software. We're confident that, like every T-Mobile Android phone before it, the G2x supports 2100MHz 3G for Europe and Asia. We're investigating this further, and we'll keep you posted.

Update 2: T-Mobile has confirmed that the G2x is not a quadband HSPA+ device as originally advertised, and that the hardware only supports 3G bands I and IV (2100 and 1700MHz).

The G2x passed our call and reception tests with flying colors, and HSPA+ performance is on par with other T-Mobile devices like the Galaxy S 4G. Sound quality is excellent, but the audio output is quieter at maximum volume than most other handsets when paired with some headphones (such as our Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro). Battery life is pretty much what you'd expect from a high-end Android phone, providing about a day's worth of moderate use -- typically a half-hour spent on calls, a few text messages, lots of data being pushed from three email accounts and a Twitter account, plus some web browsing, picture taking, and music listening, all with WiFi / GPS enabled and Bluetooth disabled. While there's still room for improvement, we're pleased to report that the Tegra 2 SoC appears to have little (if any) negative impact on battery life. In fact, the G2x fares better in terms of power management than some single core smartphones we're recently reviewed -- yes, we're looking at you, Mr. Thunderbolt.

Camera

The camera in the G2x is a gem in the rough. As you can see in our sample shots, it takes gorgeous pictures, but we can't help but feel that the sensor and optics are being held back by the software, both in terms of image processing and user experience. The first cue that G2x might be equipped with a decent camera is the large lens opening, which allows more light to be gathered. Behind that autofocus lens you'll find an 8 megapixel sensor which, based on the impressive low-light performance we observed, is likely backside illuminated. The camera also features a bright single LED flash for those inevitable (regrettable?) nightclub moments, but sadly there's no dedicated two-stage camera button. Exposure is generally spot on, and pictures always contain a huge amount of detail even in low light, with noise rarely being an issue. Still, colors are somewhat under-saturated, and it often looks as if some of the information gathered by the camera is being unnecessarily lost during image processing -- but we're being picky here.

T-Mobile G2x sample shots

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While most other handsets barely manage to record video at 720p (and often poorly at that), the G2x captures smooth 1080p video at 24fps without breaking a sweat. Sure, there's no autofocus or stereo audio during video recording, but you'll quickly gloss over this once you see the beautiful results. Despite running stock Android, the G2x ditches the default camera app for a custom app by LG, which adds a slew of useful controls such as touch-to-focus, scene modes, smile recognition and panorama mode (see sample here). While this custom interface is reasonably intuitive, the overall camera user experience is somewhat marred by a few shortcomings: the autofocus is slow, the display washes out in direct sunlight, and the less sensitive touch panel sometimes interferes with the clever on-screen shutter key (hold to focus, then release to take the shot). Still, the G2x packs a great camera that leaves the door wide open for future improvements.



Software

The good news is that unlike the Optimus 2X, the G2x runs vanilla Froyo without any unwanted (and potentially rotten) toppings. While T-Mobile added its own flavor in the form of some pre-loaded apps, there are no skin or UI customizations beyond the aforementioned camera interface. The bad news is that these are Gingerbread times, yet the G2x is stuck with Android 2.2.2 for the foreseeable future. Regardless, plain Android is such a breath of fresh air that we're almost willing to forgive LG and T-Mobile for this anachronistic faux pas. Basically, you'll enjoy the same clean and uncluttered user experience as on Google's Nexus phones or the excellent G2, and you'll soon forget about Android contamination and such aberrations as MotoBLUR -- at least until you try to uninstall the bundled apps or start longing for that elusive next Android update. Speaking of pre-installed apps, the G2x ships with EA's NSF Shift, Gameloft's Nova demo, Polaris Office, T-Mobile TV (which dishes out carrier-billed live and on-demand TV programming), Tegra Zone (NVIDIA's game hub), TeleNav, Qik Video Chat, and Zinio Reader. T-Mobile also includes the Swype keyboard, WiFi calling (aka UMA) and SmartShare (LG's DLNA software), along with its My Account / My Device and rather useless AppPack / Highlight / T-Mobile Mail apps. Overall there are no major surprises here, and clutter is kept to a minimum.

Of course, the big question on everyone's mind is how the G2x performs given its Tegra 2 pedigree. As we've already mentioned, in everyday use the G2x feels snappy without any significant impact on battery life. For most tasks, you'd be hard-pressed to detect any major difference in performance compared to a known entity like Samsung's Gingerbread-equipped Nexus S without putting both devices side-by-side -- if anything, power management is better on the G2x. Basically, there is little indication that you're using a dual-core processor until you start launching multiple apps, playing games, or running benchmarks. App startup is noticeably faster on the G2x, especially when other processes are already running in the background.

While most of the games we tested were Tegra 2 optimized and designed to showcase the handset's CPU and GPU prowess, it's clear that gaming is the platform's strong suit. Ultimately we were most impressed with the Quadrant scores returned by the G2x -- typically 2200 to 2600, a full 1000 points more than the Nexus S, and inline in what we observed on the Atrix 4G. That being said, it's still possible to bring the phone to crawl by watching an embedded Flash video in the web browser while playing music in the background. We also noticed that audio playback stops when activating the camera, which is unexpected behavior for a high-end smartphone. From our perspective, it looks like Froyo and most of the Android apps out there are just scratching the surface of what Tegra 2 can achieve in terms of performance, and we're curious to see what Gingerbread brings to the table in terms of dual-core support.

Wrap-up

We were downright bedazzled by T-Mobile's G2x after our recent hands-on at CTIA, and we're even more impressed with LG's Tegra 2 handset now that we've lived with it for a few days. The Galaxy S 4G might have a better display, but there's no doubt that the G2x is T-Mobile's new flagship -- at least until the HTC Sensation becomes available. Not counting Google's Nexus phones, the G2x is the best Android handset that's graced our pockets. It strikes an impressive balance between powerful, quality hardware, and stock, undiluted software. It also speaks volumes of T-Mobile's commitment to plain Android. Sure, we'd have preferred a slightly nicer, higher resolution screen along with a more sensitive touch panel; throwing in Gingerbread from the start -- together with an easy mechanism to remove the bundled apps -- would've also been appreciated. Finally, a more polished camera user experience (one that doesn't stop our thumping house beats each time we fire it up) would be just lovely. Regardless of these quirks, we're left with a solid device today and room for future growth, something that can't be said about too many smartphones these days. Let's just hope LG delivers updates in a timely manner to unleash the G2x's full potential.
T-Mobile (LG)

G2x

Pros

  • Solid and elegant hardware
  • Snappy dual-core performance
  • Stock Android FTW

Cons

  • Display could be higher quality
  • Touchscreen could be more sensitive
  • Froyo instead of Gingerbread
Conclusion

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