The LG Optimus 2X puts the 'hard-core' in 'dual-core', with a speedy processor that makes it stunningly fast. Its chrome racing stripe doesn't tickle our fancy, and its user interface could be slicker too. But the phone's impressive speed means we can forgive its slightly clunky appearance.
The 2X is available for free on a £30-per-month contract, or SIM-free and unlocked for around £400.
The 2X is leading the charge of dual-core phones that are about to overrun our shops. Based on this phone's performance, we welcome our new multi-core overlords. This bad boy is fast, whether blowing most of its single-core competitors out of the water in CPU benchmark tests, or simply showing off its incredibly whizzy menus.
The processor makes the user interface noticeably quick and smooth when, for example, you're switching from portrait to landscape view while looking at a Web page or photo. The Web browser itself doesn't download pages much more quickly than that of the single-core Samsung Galaxy S, although both browsers are very speedy, and about as quick as the iPhone 4's. But the process of re-rendering the page when you flip the phone is much faster on the 2X than the Galaxy S.
One of the things we love about the iPhone is its buttery-smooth user interface. For example, zooming into a Web page with a pinch of your fingers, or swiping through a long menu, feels like running your digits through a bowl of custard -- in a good way. The 2X comes closer to this smoothness than any Android phone we've tried so far.
There's still the occasional judder when you're whizzing around a Web page at top speed, for example. But, compared to other Android phones running the same 2.2 Froyo version of the OS, the 2X feels fantastic. If you value speed over smoothness, you may like the 2X even more than the iPhone, because its transitions tend to just happen, without the bouncy animations used on the iPhone.
Doff of the app
Android on the 2X is as fun and feature-filled as ever, and includes a brand new version of Google Maps to keep you from getting lost. Maps now lets you swipe with three fingers to put the map at an angle, so you can look over the renderings of buildings like a god.
Maps is just the tip of the app iceberg. The Android Market is stuffed full of games and programs that are easy to install, once you wade through the dross to find the ones you want. Check out our guide to the best Android apps to get started.
LG has also put its own stamp on the phone's software in the form of App Advisor. It's an app that contains just a subset of the massive selection of apps from the main Android Market. It's pretty pointless if you know what you want but, if you're an app beginner, it's worth a look.
There are also loads of apps that have been put on the phone as place-holders, requiring you to download data before you can start playing with them. These include games like Guitar Hero and the augmented-reality app Layar.
You can get at these same place-holder apps through another app, called 'Pre-loaded Apps'. We think there's a good selection of apps in there, but we find the app-within-an-app concept confusing, and they're really not preloaded, since they all require further downloads. At least it's easy to ignore the whole shebang. Still, we hate to see bloatware on a phone.
Android supports live wallpapers, which are animated and can respond to your touch. We like LG's additions to the selection, including the cityscape with animated fireworks that explode when you tap the screen. We also like the added ability to sort the icons in the app menu into groups.
We found some of the LG widgets useful too, although they're not quite as good-looking as the ones that HTC includes on its phones. The weather widget, which also features a clock, is particularly good -- it even shows how cold it will feel outside taking into account the wind-chill factor. We wish LG's graphics were more consistent, though, so that a home screen packed with the company's widgets looked neater and more co-ordinated.
Some of the widgets are as flaky as filo pastry too. For example, a widget that shows two tabs -- one for your Facebook and one for your Twitter updates -- sounds handy. But when we lost connectivity -- which happens frequently in our semi-subterranean London lives -- the list of updates went blank. We're fine with the widget not updating when we're offline, but we at least want to see what has been downloaded already.
Widgets were the least of our worries. We also had an odd problem with one of our SIM cards. Our Vodafone SIM worked perfectly, but our T-Mobile SIM wouldn't make calls or send texts, despite the 3G data connection working without any problems.
This is probably just an issue with our hot-off-the-press sample, however, and we doubt any operator would let a problem like that through the net when the phone comes out on contract. Still, it's something to look out for if you're buying the phone unlocked and SIM-free.
In some ways, the 2X reminds us of a Samsung phone, such as the Galaxy S -- the changes sprinkled over the default Android user interface are reminiscent of those implemented by the other big Korean phone maestro. For example, there are shortcuts along the top of the notification bar to turn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other features on and off.
In theory, we like having such handy shortcuts. But, like Samsung's, LG's tweaks to Android aren't always welcome. The playful, coloured icons in the shortcut bar along the bottom of the home screen are on the childish side for our taste, although you can always replace them with a launcher downloaded from the Android Market.
The angry phone
The 2X's cravebility suffers slightly from having widgets and icons that aren't beautifully designed. The phone itself, with its chrome stripe down the back, isn't the most gorgeous piece of kit either. But we still had plenty of fun using the handset. Angry Birds, for example, runs so quickly and smoothly on the 2X that it seems like the phone was specifically built to play that game.
The 8-megapixel camera also comes in handy, although its LED flash is typically harsh and blinding. Without it on, photos are decent even in poor light, and videos are also good quality. Plus, your shots are easy to share by email or via Facebook and Twitter, thanks to Android's built-in sharing features.
You can also output your oeuvre to the big screen via the HDMI port, and LG has kindly included a cable in the box. Even the small screen isn't that small on the 2X, offering 4 inches of display space for watching videos and the like. Since the browser supports Flash, you can easily catch up with videos on the Web without worrying whether they'll play properly.
Even Flash games on websites are there to entertain you -- the 2X is the first phone to have GPU-accelerated Flash, which makes it run more smoothly than on other Flash-enabled phones. We still prefer installed games to online ones, since you don't have to navigate around a website before getting into the good times. But it's pleasing to know that, when we need them, a thousand Bejeweled clones will always be waiting online for us.
All this sounds like a battery's worst nightmare, and it is. But we did get a whole day of use out of the 2X, even with plenty of live widgets updating over Wi-Fi, Web surfing and GPS usage.
The LG Optimus 2X definitely has the power to please, thanks to its dual-core processor, which really revs up apps and user-interface transitions. We don't lust after it, though, because of its '80s appearance and haphazard widget and icon designs. That's a matter of taste, though, and, if a touch of chrome floats your boat, then you won't be disappointed by this speedy workhorse.
Edited by Charles Kloet
Update, 21 April 2011: LG has refreshed the Optimus 2X with new software, so we've reviewed the phone again. In our first test, we complained that the software was unreliable, and the Wi-Fi connection was patchy. We haven't seen the same problems since the software update, which features on all versions of the phone currently available for purchase. We also criticised the excessive amount of apps pre-loaded onto the phone. These have been sorted into one place in the new software, so they're easier to ignore.
A previous version of this review also contained criticism of the Nvidia Tegra Zone app, which we have removed. LG has let us know it wasn't a final version and won't be pre-installed on the phone when it arrives in shops.
Finally, we've updated the score from three stars to three and a half.