Budget smartphones are a lot like those miniature cans of Coca-Cola you'll find on supermarket shelves - cheaper by the half-dozen than their higher-volume counterparts, but with the obvious catch that you're getting less sweet, delicious corn-juice for your dollar. It doesn't take more than 30 seconds to stop, think about this, and realize that even if you won't finish the big 12oz can during your lunch (or don't want to drink that much soda), you're still basically paying more for choosing to buy less.
This is how budget Android smartphones often work, except they're more like buying a six-pack of those Coke minis with one can missing, and a couple more that have pretty obviously been dropped at some point. They really can be that bad.
Enter the LG Lucid. First things first - no, it isn't that bad. In fact, it's pretty good. A year ago, it would definitely have been the choice LTE device on Verizon (given the lackluster selection between the ThunderBolt, Charge, and Revolution). A brilliant screen, smooth performance, and the promise of an Android 4.0 upgrade make it a real contender for the "best mid-range handset" crown. However, subpar battery life, a mediocre camera, and one of the worst custom UIs in existence don't do it any favors.
Still, the Lucid makes a strong case for the argument that budget phones don't have to feel like budget phones, so long as you know where to cut the right corners.
Specifications: LG Lucid on Verizon Wireless
- Price: $80 on 2-year agreement (after $50 mail-in rebate), currently free on Amazon Wireless.
- Processor: 1.2GHz Qualcomm MSM8660* dual-core S3 Scorpion [*unconfirmed]
- GPU: Adreno 220
- Operating System: Android 2.3.6 (Android 4.0 upgrade promised - ETA unknown)
- Display: 4" IPS LCD (WVGA 480x800, 233DPI)
- Memory: 1GB RAM / 8GB internal (4GB usable)
- Cameras: 5MP rear / 1.3MP front
- Battery: 1700mAh, removable, 8 hours estimated talk time
- Network: Verizon CDMA 3G, 4G LTE
- Ports/Expandable Storage: microSD slot, microUSB port
- Thickness: 11.4mm / .45"
- Weight: 142g / 5oz
- Solid performance from the dual-core Qualcomm chip - smooth UI, quick task-switching, moderately future-proof.
- The display is bright, has vivid colors, and truly excellent viewing angles.
- An Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade is on the way. Just don't ask when.
- It really doesn't feel like a budget phone, as it's actually pretty well put-together.
The Not So Good
- It runs Android 2.3. I don't think much else needs to be said about that.
- LG's UI overlay is just awful to look at. It has a few useful tweaks, but beyond that, somebody needs to put a paper bag on this thing.
- The rear camera is pretty terrible.
- Battery life is poor - think 1st-generation Verizon LTE devices.
Design And Build Quality
While the Lucid isn't what you'd call fashion-forward, it's not ugly. I generally consider high-gloss plastic rear covers to be little more than glorified scratch and fingerprint magnets, but the Lucid does pull it off without looking terribly cheap.
The seemingly superfluous metallic stud near the top of the left-hand side of the Lucid, shown in the first shot, is an interesting flourish, present for the sake of symmetry with the power button on the other side. The metal banding which it sits in wraps around most of the device, and when viewed in profile, gives off a sort of "slimming" effect. It also just looks kind of cool.
Make no bones about it, though, the Lucid isn't winning any thinness crowns. While it isn't what I'd call thick at a decidedly mid-range 11.4mm, it does feel a little chunky in-hand thanks to its otherwise small dimensions and substantial mass. In regard to the latter, the Lucid weighs nearly as much as a DROID RAZR MAXX (a few grams less, to be precise), giving it a fair amount of heft for a phone with a comparatively small 4" display. Some people may enjoy this added weight. For me, it really made no difference.
As to build quality, let's say you know you're buying a phone with an MSRP a couple hundred dollars lower than the "top of the line." The first day I had the Lucid, I was surprised by its sturdiness. Now, after removing the rear cover several times and having it stuffed in my pocket for the better part of a week, I'm definitely getting that signature plastic creak. That isn't to say the Lucid is badly built, but that it's like an entry-level hatchback - you don't go in expecting wood veneer or laser-cut brushed aluminum trim.
The power button and volume rocker both have sufficient press action, and really feel quite solid. On the issue of the power button, it is oddly placed for an Android phone (on the upper right hand side along the edge), but I've grown used to it, even to like it, during my stint with the Lucid.
Hardware And Performance
The Lucid's main selling point is, without a doubt, the impressive spec sheet it boasts for an entry-level handset. You get a dual-core Qualcomm S3 processor - the same one you'll find in the HTC Rezound - 4G LTE, a 4" IPS display, and 1GB of RAM. We know that in the past, LG has sometimes failed to provide the real-world performance the hardware in its phones was clearly capable of, and the blame for that was often placed on LG's customizations to the Android OS.
Not so with the Lucid. It hums along briskly through Android, even with LG's overlay in full-effect, swiping through homescreens easily. Even more processing-intensive tasks like rendering 3D buildings in Google Maps are dealt with handily by the Lucid. The Adreno 220 GPU onboard ensures you'll also be able to handle most any game you can throw at it, and the 1GB of RAM means multi-tasking is dealt with properly, as well.
In Quadrant, pitted against my DROID BIONIC, the Lucid scored an impressive 2759, compared to my BIONIC's 1782. In GLBenchmark 2.1.4, the Lucid continued to do very well. Compared to the EVO 3D, with which it shares the MSM8660 Qualcomm chipset, the Lucid performed admirably, and even bested the DROID RAZR in some regards. Remember - the Lucid has a WVGA resolution, while the RAZR and EVO 3D are qHD, and these are essentially GPU tests. The 720p offscreen test is the only resolution-agnostic benchmark of the three.
OpenGL Egypt 2.1 Standard/high/720p offscreen results (in frames rendered - higher is better)
LG Lucid: 4561 / 2872 / 2914
EVO 3D: 3954 / 1872 / 3781
DROID RAZR: 3372 / 2925 / 3349
While the Lucid did place last in the 720p offscreen test, it definitely wasn't too far off the RAZR - very impressive for a device being marketed on the mid to low-end.
One area where the Lucid is a bit lacking is internal storage. While 8GB is advertised, only 4GB of that is usable. You can, however, expand the Lucid's storage capacity using a microSD card, the slot for which is under the battery cover.
Signal strength on the Lucid was surprisingly good, hovering around the same level as my primary phone (a Motorola, which are well-known for their strong reception) at -75dBm indoors. Call quality was a bit below average, and while no one had trouble hearing me, I found myself reaching for the volume rocker during conversation when it was already at the maximum level. This may be a concern if LG is trying to reach out to an older audience with the Lucid, for obvious reasons.
I'm not going to beat around the bush - LG's UI overlay is not pretty. It's like someone took Samsung's TouchWiz 3.5 and beat it with an ugly stick. I'm getting that out of the way now so I don't have to belabor the point.
In the more substantive sense, LG's additions to the OS do offer a few things even a very seasoned Android user like myself can appreciate. For example, you can multi-select apps to add to a homescreen all at once. The unlock screen has four alternative launch options - dialer, SMS, voicemail, and camera (though you can't edit them, sadly). The notification bar has a power control menu that you can edit with useful options like mobile data and orientation toggles.
LG has also taken to making Android "easier" for the less tech-savvy folks out there, and in some respects, I think they've succeeded. LG seems to have made data conservation a focal point in its software (see: giant Wi-Fi button in notification bar), and for experienced users, the way they do this is extremely annoying. When a Wi-Fi network is saved in the device's memory, every time you launch an app you've used with Wi-Fi previously, this wonderful little prompt will pop up:
As you can see, there is no "Never annoy me with this again, please" option. Delve into the settings, and there is still no way to disable it. Your only choice, then, is to select "Always auto connect," which allows the device to actually override your Wi-Fi settings and turn Wi-Fi back on whenever you launch an app you've used with Wi-Fi before in order to scan for any remembered networks. In a way, this makes sense - it prevents bill shock and minimizes your data usage, and if you're on 3G, probably maximizes your speeds.
If you have no idea what the difference between Wi-Fi and mobile data is (eg, you're in this phone's target audience), it probably won't annoy you. You may even like it. If you're someone who demands dictatorial control over your device's connectivity settings, you'll want to throw it against a wall. I can think of various situations where mobile data can be preferable to Wi-Fi (public Wi-Fi, weak signal, 4G is available), and so I find the phone's insistence that I use Wi-Fi whenever humanly possible to be extremely intrusive. I've taken to just not saving any Wi-Fi networks on the Lucid at all to avoid the problem in the first place.
Other beginner-friendly features include collapsible categories in the app drawer (fully customizable), though annoyingly there is no standard tile grid option. If you're Android-savvy, you'll know the way around this is to use a custom launcher, so no big deal there. The battery saver tool is also pretty handy, though I doubt many first-time smartphone users will ever delve into the settings menu for anything but their semi-annual ringtone change.
Then, there's the issue of the version of Android. 2.3.6. Gingerbread generally elicits a guttural groan from the Android-faithful, and for good reason - Ice Cream Sandwich has been out now for a full 5 months. LG says an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade is in the pipeline, but given Verizon's less-than-speedy approach to software updates, who knows how many months it'll take before you'll actually see it. Still, it's coming, so you needn't worry about if, so much as when.
Display and Battery Life
Let's start with the display. It's gorgeous. It may only be 4 inches across, and it may be using WVGA resolution (480x800), but it's definitely the best display I've seen on a budget device. It also gets stupid bright (not quite Motorola PenTile LCD bright, but a lot better looking), and, well, you can look at the photos.
It does well in sunlight, too. While the whites and grays do appear a bit yellowed, it's not as pronounced as what you'll see on most AMOLED displays, and the reds aren't nearly as oversaturated as the pictures would you lead to believe. Viewing angles, like you'll find on most any IPS display, are outstanding. There is almost no color distortion, and except at the most extreme angles, the display is crisp, bright, and sharp. This is a common problem among "cheap" phones, as displays are the single most expensive component on smartphones, but the Lucid delivers a visual experience that numerous devices well-above its MSRP ($450 at Verizon) would struggle to match.
Battery life is one area where I can't award such superlatives to the Lucid. It's bad. Like, previous generation Verizon LTE device bad. Using it as a replacement for my daily driver entailed the following:
3 push-synced Gmail accounts (50-100 messages per day, total)
1 Facebook account (sync default)
1 Twitter account (push sync)
Mobile data in CDMA/LTE mode (very little network switching, if any)
I would call my use "moderate-heavy" - I'm not playing games or listening to music, but I do check my email and Twitter quite regularly, and use my phone for casual web browsing and texting. With this sort of usage behavior, the LG Lucid will not last you through a whole day. I'd say going from 9AM to 5PM would be a stretch. It was definitely dead (or below 5%) by 6PM any day I was using it as my primary device.
For lighter users (eg, the people this is marketed to), the battery life may be sufficient. But that depends on how you use it - I imagine an hour-long session of Angry Birds and texting would eat through the battery on the Lucid pretty quickly, so the 1700mAh pack is not what I'd call adequate. The previous generation Qualcomm S3 processor, coupled with an older LTE modem, probably are to blame here. I wouldn't say it's ThunderBolt-bad, but after 6 months of cycle fatigue, I'll just say that I doubt anyone will be happy with the battery life.
As I indicated, the rear 5MP shooter on the Lucid isn't very good, but that's one of the first components that gets sacrificed on a budget phone. Shots were washed out, focusing was difficult, and low-light performance was very poor. I'll just let the test shots do the rest of the talking.
There's little doubt in my mind that, for the people the Lucid is marketed to, it offers the best entry-level experience of any Android smartphone on any carrier in the US today. You get all the buzzwords - dual-core, 4G, apps, video chat, voice controls, and a beautiful display. Not only that, the Lucid isn't bad in the real world, either. It isn't perfect (battery life, that god-awful UI overlay, and the rear camera all come to mind), but its feature set definitely makes it the low-price king of the hill for now.
But, unlike a six-pack of Coke, you're stuck with a smartphone (typically) for two long, expensive years here in the US. On average, most people are going to pay over $2000 over the course of those two years for a single line of smartphone service - a small fraction of what you pay up front for your subsidized phone. So, really, that extra $150-250 or so for the "top of the line" smartphone pales in comparison to the couple grand you'll be dropping on your phone bill no matter which device is in your pocket.
People will buy this phone regardless of that information. So, who is the Lucid's target audience? Your parents. Their parents. That one crazy uncle of yours who lives in the middle of nowhere and has 3 rusting cars on cinderblocks in his front yard. The people who type "Facebook.com" into a Google search, and who are absolutely convinced that their computer rather selectively "eats" some of their very important emails on a regular basis. I'm not making fun of them - I'm just pointing out that the market for this device very clearly exists.
With all that in mind, if you're reading this review, you're probably not the sort of consumer this phone is going after. But if you are, or know someone who is, you could definitely do a lot worse than the LG Lucid in the generally perilous "entry-level" smartphone category. The Lucid is a good phone. It does what it's built to do, and more importantly, it does it better than any other device I can think of in its class.