LG X Screen review

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OUR VERDICT

This reasonably-priced Android smartphone feels great in the hand and performs well, but its unusual secondary screen and front-facing camera aren’t the killer features they’re cracked up to be.

FOR

  • Solid build quality
  • Slick performance
  • Second screen makes it stand out

AGAINST

  • Second screen bit of a gimmick
  • Poor front camera
  • Fake-metal is unnecessary

With a name like LG X Screen, you might expect LG’s latest to have a huge or super-sharp display. It has neither. In fact, it’s a lot more interesting than that.

This is a mid-range, modestly sized Android smartphone with a decidedly outlandish component: a secondary ‘ticker’ screen positioned immediately above the main one. If that sounds familiar, you’d be right, as this setup first debuted in the US on the LG V10.

Otherwise, it’s a quietly accomplished phone that will give you a polished Android experience for a reasonable price of around £200, US$360 (roughly AU$485).

Of course, the brand new Moto G4 is better spec’d for even less money, so LG’s stand-out features will need to make a telling contribution.

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The LG X Screen arrives at a time when mid-range Android phones are starting to boast singular high-end components on their spec sheets. Sony has launched a whole range dedicated to this concept in the Sony Xperia X family.

LG has followed suit, with the LG X Screen accompanied by the LG X Cam, which specializes in – you guessed it – the rear camera department.

However, the LG X Screen’s headline component is far from the best thing about this phone, which is a bit of a concern.

Design

It looks rather like LG has taken a few design pointers from its great local rival, Samsung, in the look of the LG X Screen. The rear of the handset, in particular, looks quite a lot like the Samsung Galaxy S7 – or rather, given the timing of the X Screen’s announcement, the Samsung Galaxy S6.

It’s in the phone’s all-glass back, which lends a familiar sense of precarious class, and in the shape and positioning of its rear camera.

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Flicking the phone over to its side, you’ll notice that it’s quite thin – just 7.1mm to be precise. But you’ll also notice the telltale sign that this is not a premium device in the dreaded faux-metal plastic edging.

The LG X Screen’s rounded edges are a curious blend of ugly brushed aluminum-effect plastic sandwiched between two thinner sections of plain black plastic, though it’s actually all a single piece.

I wish LG had just made it all black, as it would at least have had a stealthy, unassuming look to it.

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Still, this is a largely pleasant phone to hold, thanks to those glass surfaces and rounded edges. It’s also quite light at 120g.

Another reason the phone sits so nicely in the hand is because it’s a rare sub–5-incher. LG has eschewed the modern trend for larger 5.X-inch screens in favour of a more modest 4.93-inch example.

Single-handed usage is far from an impossibility with the LG X Screen, especially if you have relatively large mitts.

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This smaller size also means that the display’s 720p resolution doesn’t make the negative impression you might have expected. Yes, a 1080p display would have been preferable, but everything looks just about crisp enough at this size.

When you consider that most high-end compact phones, such as the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact and the iPhone 6S, go with a similar resolution, there really isn’t anything to criticize here.

The picture from this IPS LCD is well balanced and clear, though the colors do appear slightly washed out. I must say that it’s not particularly bright even when cranked right up to max, either.

Easily the stand-out feature for the LG X Screen is its titular second display.

Prior to this, LG has reserved its quirky ticker display for the high-end LG V10, which launched in late 2015. Now it’s brought the technology to this much smaller mid-range offering.

Sure enough, the secondary display is more compact and less sharp on the LG X Screen. It sits directly on top of the main display, and measures 1.76-inches with a 520 x 80 resolution.

It’s always on, perpetually giving you the time, date, battery level, and any relevant notification icons from your apps. This secondary display remains quite dim when the phone is in sleep mode, which can make it difficult to read – I often had to pick it up to get a good look, which defeats some of the point.

You do notice it in bed at night, though, where it gives off a slightly eerie, dull glow. I found that I had to flip the phone over onto its front, but then I’m the kind of freak who needs total darkness in order to nod off.

To be honest, while it’s a neat novelty, I found the secondary display to be largely superfluous. You can swipe across it to access quick settings and launch a selection of apps, but this is somewhat unnecessary when you’re actually using the phone.

The home screen is right there below, and the settings are generally easier to access through the swipe-down notification menu, given the secondary display’s awkward positioning and small size.

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It’s more useful to be able to access those settings toggles when the phone is in sleep mode, particularly when you want to, say, quickly mute the phone.

About the only genuine advantage to this second screen during active use, I found, was when watching videos or playing games. On such occasions, native app notifications will crop up there instead of getting in the way of what you’re doing.

But even then, you’ll probably be watching/playing in landscape, so you’ll have to twist your head to the side to see them. Third party apps such as WhatsApp don’t make the same use of the secondary screen in such situations, either.

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Another key feature here, which you might not expect to find on a £200, US$360 smartphone, is an 8MP selfie camera. That’s higher than usual in a phone at this level. LG clearly knows that this phone will be competing in the competitive tween and teen smartphone market, so it’s understandable that LG has boosted the megapixel count beyond the norm.

I have to say, though, that I didn’t notice a jump in quality for the pictures I took with the front camera. Even once I’d pushed the freaky beauty slider right down – a feature that initially made me look anything but beautiful – my selfies still tended to look slightly blurry and out-of-focus – particularly indoors.

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Taking the phone outside in good natural lighting and using it to take a ‘normal’ picture confirmed that this isn’t the hot camera its spec sheet seems to suggest, with lots of noise and a lack of dynamic range.

It’s a slight shame also that there’s no front-facing flash like you get with theMoto X Style, or even LG’s own budget K7 and K10 range.

One of the main areas in which an affordable phone with ideas above its station like the LG X Screen is often found out is performance. You can apply all the metal-effect plastic and eye-catching features you like, but if there’s a hint of jerkiness in the UI and apps, the illusion will be rudely broken.

Fortunately, this isn’t an area in which the LG X Screen suffers. I found the experience of using the phone to be smooth throughout, whether I was skimming through its home screens, browsing the Google Play Store, or playing anything but the most demanding games.

Perennial test favorite Dead Trigger 2 stuttered a little on ‘High’ graphics settings, but that’s not surprising. Sonic Dash 2 and Horizon Chase – two fast-paced 3D games – ran well (though all showed up how poor the phone’s single bottom-mounted speaker is).

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The phone runs on Qualcomm’s 64-bit Snapdragon 410 CPU, which is a trusty low-to-mid-range runner. It’s the same processor that powers the Moto G (2015)and the Wileyfox Swift – two more classy-but-affordable phones of recent times.

Backed by 2GB RAM, it provides ample power for general and even fairly advanced tasks – something that’s aided by a relatively undemanding display resolution.

Sure enough, the Geekbench 3 benchmark results were expectedly decent, and in keeping with other similarly spec’d phones. The average multi-core score was 1474 which places it in the same region as the aforementioned Wileyfox Swift (1330) and Moto G 2015 (1590).

I should also note that the LG X Screen is supported by 16GB of internal storage, which is pretty normal for a phone of this spec and price. You can bolster this yourself by way of a microSD slot.

Of course, hardware is only half the story when it comes to a phone’s performance – particularly one that runs Android. Another major factor is the version of Google’s OS that it’s running and, more importantly, the degree of meddling the manufacturer has done with it.

The LG X Screen scores well on both counts. It runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which is the latest version at the time of writing. That places this humble phone in an elite minority. On top of that, you get LG’s own UX interface.

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It’s still not the lightest of Android skins, and nor is it one of my favorites. It feels a little garish, with cheap touches like a screen-stretching animation when you reach the edge of the scrolling home screen layout. Much of LG’s work here feels crude, like it belongs to a much older version of Android.

But in fairness to LG, the UX never gets bogged down, and while I could happily lose all the superfluous LG apps that appear on the second home screen, they don’t get in the way. They won’t constantly nag you with advice and update requests either like, say, Sony’s tend to do.

Nowadays LG omits the app drawer by default, lending the OS something of an iOS feel (if you really squint). I can’t say I missed it, but those who do can restore it through the settings menu.

Battery life

The LG X Screen’s 2300mAh battery may sound fairly modest by modern standards. It’s certainly smaller than both the Moto G (2015)’s 2470mAh unit and the Wileyfox Swift’s 2500mAh one.

But that doesn’t seem to have affected its stamina too much. After well over 24 hours of moderate to heavy usage, which included the phone being placed on airplane mode overnight (as is my wont), I would find that the LG X Screen still had around 30 percent of its battery life left. The battery menu estimated that this translated to 11 hours of life.

Sure, some modern low-to-mid-range phones will carry you through two full days on a single charge, but the LG X Screen’s stamina remains perfectly adequate.

There’s a battery saver mode, as you’d expect, which can be toggled to kick in when there’s only 15 or even 5 percent remaining. But if you’re in the habit of charging every night, you won’t need it.

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This decent stamina is borne out in the standard techradar battery test, which involves playing a 90 minute looping 720p video with the screen brightness cranked up to maximum.

The LG X Screen used up just 16 percent of its battery on average. By way of a comparison, the Moto G (2015) lost 19 percent with its bigger battery.

There’s a good chance that the move to Android 6.0 Marshmallow has had a big say in this strong battery performance, but that just means that LG is deserving of praise for not sticking its affordable phone with an out-of-date OS.

To be honest, the LG X Screen’s battery could have been better if it wasn’t for that secondary screen. LG says that this headline component uses just 0.8 percent of the phone’s battery capacity every hour, but when you tot that up over a full day, it’s quite a chunk.

I’ve already discussed the LG X Screen’s (claimed) selfie prowess, but it’s reasonably well equipped when it comes to the rear camera too.

It’s a 13MP unit with an f/2.2 aperture lens that’s capable of taking reasonable, if not great, shots.

The pictures I grabbed during my time with the handset tended to be fairly balanced on the color front and filled with decent detail. However, they also suffered from that classic cheap camera issue – dynamic range.

There’s no HDR mode here, and it shows. A simple shot of some white flowers on a sunny day resulted in an unnaturally radiant effect, whilst I found skies to be either completely overblown or – on a particularly muggy-but-bright day – unnaturally dim.

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LG has also utilized the X Screen’s second screen in the camera UI, but it’s not particularly useful. Rather, it offers a simple choice between the two base modes of Auto and Simple. These could easily have been featured on the main display without any real disruption.

All in all, the camera package on the LG X Screen is just okay. It can’t be said that it punches above its weight, but it’s capable of capturing some well-balanced shots if the conditions are right.

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LG has created a well-balanced, affordable smartphone in the LG X Screen, but one where the supposedly standout features don’t wholly convince.

We liked

The LG X Screen is a well-made mid-range phone that can be comfortably used single-handed, which is a rarity in the world of Android.

It’s also a strong performer despite its modest specs, with a fluid (if occasionally ugly) UI and admirable battery life.

All of this, and it’ll only set you back around £200/US$360/AU$485 at launch, which is a good – if not unique – price.

We disliked

It’s a shame that the LG X Screen’s headline feature – its second screen – is somewhat superfluous. It’s not bad, as such, just faintly inconsequential.

Another of the phone’s box-ticking specs is its 8MP front-facing camera, but this too is disappointingly ineffectual.

Finally, while the phone feels good in the hand, it’s about time LG dropped the faux-metal plastic edge for good. Seriously. It’s not a good look.

Verdict

If you’re looking for an affordable Android phone with a solid design, strong performance, sterling battery life, and a competent camera, the LG X Screen is a reasonable choice.

However, the headline-grabbing second screen is a bit of a gimmick, and its 8MP selfie camera isn’t as sharp as you might be hoping.

With the latest Moto G giving you more for less, the LG X Screen may find itself in a somewhat precarious position at this competitive end of the market.

(techradar.com, http://goo.gl/E8bjrK)

 

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