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LG Lucid review (1024px)
LG Lucid review (1024px)

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LG Lucid review

Can a mid-range LTE phone keep up with Verizon's best?

LTE connectivity was previously reserved for carriers' high-end phones, but as the network becomes more mainstream — Verizon now has LTE in 200 US markets — it's becoming a standard feature even on lower-tier devices. Take LG's latest smartphone, the Lucid: it’s a decidedly mid-range device, or at least is marketed like one. It costs $79.99 on contract, a price once reserved for flip phones and “messaging phones,” whatever that means.

It may be priced below Verizon’s flagship handsets, but its specs are still solid: it connects to Verizon’s awesome LTE network, and features a 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, a 4-inch display, and an eye-catching design. Is the Lucid a steal at $79.99, or is its quality as middle-of-the-pack as its cost? Read on to find out.


Hardware / design

Hardware / design

A unique design — and mostly a good one

I've knocked LG in the past for clearly aping other manufacturers' handset designs — the Nitro HD is basically a knockoff Galaxy S II — so here I'll give credit where it's due: the Lucid is a much more original design, and is by and large a successful one. The Lucid's 11.4mm thickness isn't exactly slender, but there's a shiny silver stripe around the edges that makes the phone look much sleeker and thinner than it is. The stripe is wide at the top of the phone and thin around the bottom and sides (like the Sony Tablet S, or the Samsung Series 9), and adds some nice design flair in a sea of all-black handsets. Design-induced placebo or otherwise, the phone also feels thin when you hold it, and is pretty comfortable to hold and use. Its glossy, red and black-striped back scuffs easily and is extremely prone to fingerprints — it also feels vaguely slippery a la LG's other recent Verizon smartphone, the Spectrum, but it's not nearly as bad on the Lucid.

The Lucid’s power button lies at the top of the silver stripe, on the phone’s right side. There’s another knob on the left side in the same spot, which I hoped was a camera shutter or some cool function button, but no such luck — it’s purely an accoutrement and doesn’t even depress, which is odd to say the least. A single-button volume rocker is nestled next to the silver stripe, set on the tapered edge so that your fingers can find the control but your eyes never see it.

Otherwise, there’s not much to see here. Below the 4-inch display are the standard four capacitive Android buttons, which is a small improvement for LG; the Nitro HD and Spectrum both awkwardly combined the Menu and Search buttons, and I’m glad to see them split here, but the icons still retain LG’s odd (and occasionally inscrutable) redesign. Attention was clearly paid to keeping the Lucid as minimalist as possible, and LG was mostly successful — ports are set unnoticeably into the tapered edges, and the only eye-catching design flaw is that the company obviously couldn’t resist slapping large LG logos onto the front and back of the device, accompanying a Verizon logo on the front and a 4G LTE logo on the back.

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Display

Display

This was a good display — two years ago
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When I bought a Samsung Fascinate a couple of years ago, the 4-inch display felt positively enormous. Funny how things change. Now the Lucid feels downright small, the adorable little brother of the Spectrum, the Galaxy Nexus, or the Droid RAZR. I still think four inches is close to the perfect display size, though — it’s large enough to see a lot at once, but small enough that my medium-sized hands can wrap around the phone and my fingers can reach any spot on the screen. It won’t double as your living room TV, but the Lucid’s display is plenty large for my tastes.

I may yearn for the Fascinate’s size, but you know what I don’t miss? Its resolution. Unfortunately, LG missed that distinction, and bestowed upon the Lucid an 800 x 480 IPS LCD. 800 x 480 just doesn’t leave you with enough screen real estate, and on a 4-inch display it makes icons enormous and adds enough jaggies to text that you’re not going to want to read on this phone for more than a couple of minutes. It’s hard to get over, especially when there are so many phones with 720p displays available from Verizon, from the Galaxy Nexus to the HTC Rezound; the Rezound can also be purchased for $49.99 at the moment, which makes the Lucid a really hard sell.

The display is bright and has excellent viewing angles, but despite the Nova branding it has some real problems — blacks aren’t nearly as black as I’d like, and all colors feel a little washed out. You can readily make out individual pixels, too. Like the Spectrum, the actual display also appears to be far below the protective Gorilla Glass coating, so it feels like you’re not actually touching the screen when you’re using the phone.

Cameras

Cameras

The Lucid’s equipped with the standard set of phone cameras: a 5-megapixel rear shooter and a VGA front-facing lens.


The rear lens is only average, but not for the reasons I’m accustomed to. It actually takes reasonably sharp photos, but most of the time I didn’t get the shot I was hoping for. The phone claims to have autofocus, but it’s really more like auto-pretend-to-focus. The square indicating the focus point bounces to let you know it’s found focus — it turns green if you use the tap-to-focus feature, but both actions indicate the shot is in focus. Except it isn’t: almost every time, I ended up with slightly blurry, out of focus photos even when shooting something still that the phone claimed was in focus. Shooting far-away subjects worked okay, and photos look fine, but for anything within arm’s reach the Lucid’s hit or miss (and mostly miss). The dreaded pink-circle effect is here, too, ever so slightly discoloring any white-background shot you take.

Not bad, but not great either

The rear camera also shoots 1080p video, but resolution certainly doesn’t denote quality. Video is soft and suffers from the same vaguely unfocused effect as still images, plus there’s no image stabilization to be found so just about anything you shoot will be shaky.

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The front-facing camera’s VGA resolution means it shoots images at a 640 x 480 resolution. If you’re counting, that’s a lot less than one megapixel, and even the tiny photos you get will be noisy and soft. But, as you’d expect, it does fine for video chat or making sure there’s nothing in your teeth.

The camera app is a bright spot — it’s actually one of the few things manufacturers consistently improve over stock Android. LG’s app puts lots of settings in a menu on the left side of the display, so you can quickly add a filter or tweak some basic settings. The app boots quickly, too, and swaps easily between video and still recording. Of course, you can tweak to your heart’s content and the Lucid’s photos will never be great, but you can certainly improve them a bit.

Performance

Performance, battery life, reception, and audio

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There’s a 1.2GHz, dual-core processor inside the Lucid (LG won’t specify which one), and while it’s a spec class below the 1.5GHz Snapdragon chip inside the Spectrum, in practice the difference is almost non-existent, likely thanks to the 1GB of RAM in the device. The Lucid is quite snappy, doing almost everything without any lag or delay — or at least not any more than Gingerbread itself brings into the fray, like the occasional lag when launching or closing an app. Even LG’s bizarre live wallpapers (when your phone is charging, it’s a jar of fireflies) don’t seem to hinder the device’s performance. Grand Theft Auto III is my go-to game for testing a device’s graphics and processing capabilities, and the game played without any skips or stutters, though single pixels would occasionally black out for a second, which was odd.

The Lucid’s call quality was okay, but it gets highest marks for something you won’t yourself notice — the microphone is good enough, especially on speakerphone, to the point where you can be heard even if the phone is several feet away. The speaker and loudspeaker, on the other hand, both compress sound to the point where it sounds like the other person has the phone in their mouth while they talk. It’s not a dealbreaker or a particularly huge dropoff from other phones, but call quality isn’t a highlight of the Lucid. Reception was solid, though, and I never dropped a call in my time with the Lucid.

Verizon’s LTE network is excellent, and thus so is the Lucid’s data connectivity — though it’s not as fast as some other Verizon devices. I tested the Lucid next to a Droid RAZR, and while download speeds were about the same, ranging from 11Mbps to 13Mbps, the Lucid’s upload speeds capped at about 6Mbps while the RAZR consistently went as high as 17Mbps. 11Mbps down and 6Mbps up is awesomely fast, but it’s odd that the RAZR’s upload speeds were consistently so much higher.

LTE’s a big battery drain, though, and best I can tell there’s only one actual solution: cram a gigantic battery into the phone, a la the Droid RAZR Maxx. The Lucid’s 1700mAh battery is a decent size, but it’s more like the RAZR than the Maxx, and so is the Lucid’s battery life. I could eke out a full day of moderate use without charging (that’s where the lower-res screen is a big advantage), but barely. The phone also drains like crazy on standby, losing 40-60 percent of its battery while sitting on my bedside table overnight if it was connected to LTE. The moral of the story? Wi-Fi is your friend.

Last year's specs, this year's performance
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Software

Software

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Another day, another phone running Gingerbread that ought to run Android 4.0. That the Lucid runs Android 2.3.6 is slightly more understandable given its status as a mid-range smartphone, but there’s still no excuse for any manufacturer to ship a phone with such an outdated and inferior operating system. LG has promised to upgrade the phone to Ice Cream Sandwich in the future, but there’s no telling just how long that really is.

Dsc_2316-555pxMaking matters worse, you’re not just getting plain Gingerbread. You’re getting Gingerbread plus LG’s skin, which I dislike every bit as much as when I saw it on the Nitro HD or the Spectrum. The overwrought skin changes nearly everything about Android, and doesn’t do it well — from the unsightly redesigned icons to the blue-on-blue-on-blue color scheme, the skin generally swings between "pointless change" and "eyesore." LG also customizes most of the apps, and even the app drawer itself; for some reason the company decided the drawer was too confusing as a grid of icons, and instead sorted it into odd, arbitrary categories that make everything very hard to find. There’s also a list view, but it’s only one icon per line and will take you forever to scroll through. It’s hard to find a part of Android LG left untouched, and even harder to find a part it changed for the better. There are but three legitimate improvements, as far as I can tell. The lock screen lets you swipe up to unlock the phone, or swipe down on one of four icons to launch straight into an app; the camera app is much more useful; and there are some power and wireless controls in the notification pulldown.

Underneath the ugly layer of UI chrome is a surprisingly meager portion of preloaded bloatware. There’s the usual Verizon-supplied My Verizon Mobile, V Cast Tones, and inexplicably three apps beginning with Video and three with Voice, but lack of naming ingenuity aside it’s not so bad. A few third-party apps come preinstalled as well, like Netflix and Polaris Office — though it’s seemingly impossible to buy a carrier-subsidized phone that doesn’t come with those two apps. The Spectrum and Nitro HD both came with a huge load of bloatware, and I expect a lot of it from a $79.99 smartphone anyway, so the relative lack thereof is a nice surprise.

The LG Lucid is among Verizon’s cheapest LTE phones, and for a lot of users that’s a really important advantage. If you buy this phone, by and large you should be happy with it — I don’t like its UI skin or its display, but its performance is solid, it’s a relatively good-looking device, and its LTE performance is good if not bar-setting. But given that you’ll likely be using your phone for the next two years, it becomes a dangerous proposition: the Lucid reeks of a phone that will be quickly forgotten by both carrier and manufacturer, and having your phone abandoned is a frustrating place to be. The price difference also becomes less meaningful over time, and Verizon has a number of phones that are far better options. For $99, you can get the iPhone 4, and at $199 or $299 you’ll open up everything from the long-lasting RAZR Maxx to the Galaxy Nexus and the iPhone 4S. The HTC Rezound is also currently $30 less than the Lucid, and adds a 720p display to the equation as well — you should absolutely buy it instead of the Lucid. The Lucid’s a fine phone, but nothing about it screams “buy me!” And on the Verizon store shelves, lots of other phones do.

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