LG G2 $699
9th Dec 2013 | 09:23
Is this the start of LG's comeback?
Introduction, hardware and design
The LG G2 is the beastly smartphone that is LG's answer to the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One. It's a massive, yet not entirely unwieldy, smartphone brimming with specs that would make the most discerning geeks drool.
So far, LG has been a distant cry from where Samsung and HTC find themselves in terms of popularity and smartphone ownership. And between the latter two, Samsung is really dominating the space.
With the G2, it seems like LG took a lot of cues from its Korean counterpart and built what many called a Galaxy S4 clone. It's large, made of lots of plastic, shaped similarly and is jam-packed with more features than a single person can handle.
During its New York City presentation, we were a little baffled at what LG decided to highlight as the G2's key features. The first and most evident is the placement of the power button and volume control keys.
LG went to great lengths to explain how it was listening to customers and observing their usage patterns. Somehow it all led to the awkward placement of those buttons, along with a few other things the phone can do.
In terms of price, the LG G2 is lording it over rivals as some outlets are offering it for £399 on PAYG, and £349 SIM free - that's only £100 or £50 more than the Google Nexus 5, which is modelled partly on this device. Given Google's model is subsidised pretty heavily, that's an excellent price for a phone which outdoes the more expensive Samsung Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5S in the power stakes.
Contract pricing is pretty standard compared to the rivals (which makes that PAYG price all the more perplexing) but the G2, with more power than you can shake an S Pen at, is actually cheaper than the S4 on contract in a few places.
LG isn't going to outsell the Galaxy S4 and HTC One, even with the insane 'Everything's Possible' massive marketing campaign, but let's take a look at how the phone itself fares against its Android competitors.
Diving right into what powers the LG G2 and makes it purr, you'll first notice a 5.2-inch 1920 x 1080 display, which gives us a 424 PPI density. The chipset inside is a Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800, with a 2.26GHz quad-core Krait 400. In terms of processing power, it seems that the G2 is in no short supply.
It comes in 16GB and 32GB variants, with 2GB RAM. Connectivity includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, Infrared port and 4G LTE.
The camera on back is a 13MP shooter with a small LED flash. Like other high-end Android smartphones, it has a few tricks up its sleeves, too, but we'll get into that in our camera section.
LG also made a big deal out of the battery in this thing, which is a 3,000mAh Li-Po (Lithium Polymer) battery. It's shaped in such a way that it takes up as much space as it can in the phone.
To make more sense of it, curved backs tend to create more unused space for flat batteries. If you allow the battery to take advantage of the curvature of the phone, you effectively get a slightly bigger battery.
Despite being a 5.2-inch display device, the LG G2 is very manageable in the hand. It still takes a reach to get your thumb diagonally across the screen, but it's not so huge that it becomes cumbersome.
To undiscerning eyes, it can be quite hard to tell the difference - at least on the face of it - between the G2 and the Samsung Galaxy S4. One can argue that there is only so much you can do with the modern-day smartphone form factor, but then again HTC and Motorola have very distinct designs.
The edges of the device are clean, free of volume controls and a power button. The bottom edge of the phone has a 3.5mm headset jack, micro-USB port and a speaker and microphone.
The G2's backside is the business end of the phone. LG decided to put the volume buttons and power button just underneath the camera module.
LG says its the reason the volume and power keys were placed on the back is because that's where your finger naturally wants to rest when you're talking on your phone, which we generally found to be true.
It can become awkward feeling around for the buttons, as In order to get enough pressure onto the power button, you have to hold the G2 a little awkwardly and make sure you get the correct leverage.
But the South Korean brand has made a huge effort to mitigate this, with elements like double knocking on the screen to open it up (which removes the need to press the power button) and most apps have an onscreen volume control to play with.
Plus over time we noticed ourselves becoming increasingly OK with the placement of the keys - to the point when we switched phones and found that we were pressing the camera button to turn the phone on.
Aside from the power/volume buttons and the camera module, the backside is emblazoned with carrier logos and LG's branding. But otherwise, there isn't a whole lot more going on back there.
Up front you won't find any physical buttons at all. The back, home and menu buttons are all soft keys on the display, and will respond with haptic feedback unless you disable it.
Overall, the design of the LG G2 is nice, with the exception of the placement of the power and volume buttons. And although we're not particularly fond of an all-plastic body, it's not so bad here in this case.
Interface, performance and battery life
Custom interfaces for Android can be hit or miss, but they're getting better over time. HTC One's Sense 5 is excellent, and Motorola's new UI - a far cry from the horrible Blur or Motoblur - is unobtrusive and Samsung is getting there. Sort of.
LG's UI for the G2 is attractive enough, and it has its conveniences. Buttons and options come up where you'd like them to be, and customization options are plenty.
When you power on the device, you'll find that there are five home screens to customize. Android 4.2.2 widgets are available, but LG has thrown in a small handful of its own widgets in there, too.
Let's take one step back and chat about the lock screen. Like many Android devices, there are a number of shortcuts easily accessible from the lock screen, like the phone, messages, camera and more. You can customize this, of course, but it's pretty convenient when you want to get to certain apps the second you power on the G2.
If you're already familiar with Android, navigating the LG UX will be intuitive enough for you. And like other custom Android interfaces, the LG G2 has some tricks up its sleeve, too.
One feature that LG users will be familiar with is QSlide, which is a multitasking feature exclusive to LG handsets. It allows you to run two apps simultaneously, and while that sounds to be a bit much for smartphones, it can come in handy when you're reading or watching videos on your phone.
QSlide allows an active app to shrink down and become transparent - you can control its transparency with a slider - while you work in another app or browse through the home screen or apps page.
It's a nice feature to have, but like the dual-window multitasking feature on the Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets, we didn't find ourselves using it much.
To quickly access the QSlide feature, you simply pull down the notification tray from the top bar. Doing so will also reveal your notifications and system shortcuts. From here, you can quickly access Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and adjust brightness, too. There are a number of shortcuts here, and you can edit a few of them if you'd like.
Accessing apps is as easy as tapping the apps button on the home screen. If you want to download more apps, simply sign into the device with your Google account - it's easiest to do this by setting up your Gmail account - and you can start downloading apps, videos, games, books and more from the Google Play store.
The apps screen is easy to navigate and swipes left to right like most other Android devices except some HTC devices.
From the apps screen, you'll also have quick access to the phone's widgets. Simply tap on the Widgets tab up top and you can choose the ones you want to add to your home screens.
Interestingly, tapping on the gear button in the apps screen doesn't take you into the phone's settings as you might expect. Instead, it gives you the option to customize the apps screen, whether that means rearranging them or creating folders.
From there, you'll also be able to delete apps. Simply hit the gear button in the app screen, then tap the red "X" that shows up next to the app (kind of like the iPhone). From there, you'll be prompted to uninstall the app. It's much easier than going into Settings, Apps and then trying to find the app you want to uninstall.
Whether you're familiar with Android or not, the LG G2 has a little something for everyone. The UI or UX is easy enough for novice and expert smartphone users alike, and in just a few days you'll be poking around the device with ease.
Because the LG G2 is equipped with such a powerful chipset and plenty of RAM, performance is excellent. In normal, everyday use, there is never any lag and it certainly doesn't ever crash. Apps open quickly, and transitioning between apps is a breeze.
If you're multitasking with QSlide, the phone still runs beautifully. We sometimes think that something like the 2.26GHz quad-core Krait CPU is a little overkill for the average user's needs, but with more demanding apps, it's certainly nice to have it.
We really tried to push the G2 by running videos and fiddling around with other apps at the same time, and the smartphone still worked like a charm. We're very pleased with the overall performance of the device and give LG props on that.
After several days of testing and constant pushing, the device never crashed. When we find ourselves using a device, and later coming to the realization that the experience was quite boring, it also means that it was smooth.
Generally, what sticks out to us most during a phone's review period is when it crashes or misbehaves in any observable way. We didn't run into that issue at all with the LG G2, so it seems that all that power under the hood has been put to good use.
Battery life on the LG G2 is excellent. Although it doesn't have the same capacity as battery monsters like the Motorola DROID MAXX, it holds its own.
LG made a big deal out of taking up more internal space by staggering its battery shape within the device. As the back curves, the battery staggers or pyramids a little in shape to take advantage of what would otherwise be empty space.
With relatively heavy use (e-mail, social network, phone calls, messaging and some gaming) and all push notifications turned on, along with GPS and Wi-Fi on most of the day, the LG G2 showed no signs of being anywhere near death by the time the work day was over.
We unplugged the device from its charger at around 8AM on average, and found that we'd still have about 25-30% battery life by the time we went to bed, which was around midnight. That's impressive.
We subjected it to our proper and in-depth battery test, placing the phone on Wi-Fi and brightness correcting the display to 305 lumens, and then running a 90 minute Full HD video. The LG G2 took the prize as the longest-lasting phone on test - even besting several tablets too.
The camera on the LG G2 is excellent. We're very picky when it comes to how a device's camera performs, and we were very satisfied with the LG G2's camera.
It seems that manufacturers are really putting a strong emphasis on imaging these days. HTC, Nokia and Apple have stressed the strengths of their imaging systems - whether it's bigger pixels, larger sensors, better optics and image stabilization, the competition is a win-win for the consumer.
The 13MP shooter you'll find on the G2 will more than suffice for anything you could ever want to shoot with a smartphone. Whether you're shooting your lunch to post on Instagram, or a bathroom selfie for Facebook, the G2's camera won't disappoint.
It performs well in low light, optical image stabilization, or OIS, helps with both stills and video and detail and color are excellent.
By default, when you power on the camera, everything is set to auto. Focus is clustered in the middle with a number of focus points, but you can also tap to focus if you like.
There are a number of scenes to choose from, like Normal, HDR, Burst shot, Panorama and more, and another scene section that includes Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night and others.
The camera's settings offer a number of customization options. You can adjust exposure compensation, focus modes, ISO, white balance and more.
You'll also have the option for using the volume buttons to activate the shutter, but we would recommend against this due to its awkward placement and proximity to the lens. We don't know why LG would've included this option.
LG G2 image quality
Photos look sharp and clear. Colors are excellent, especially when you shoot in good light, and details are incredible. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the processing, sharpening and everything else the G2 does with the 13MP images.
HDR looks natural, but as with HDR photos that look more natural, you can still lose a lot of details in highlights and shadows if the scene's dynamic range is dramatic.
In terms of what we've come to expect from a smartphone camera, there really isn't anything to complain about with the LG G2. It doesn't have the same issues with metering that the Moto X and DROID Ultra, and it keeps more details than the HTC One thanks to its huge megapixel count. Perhaps it's only trumped by the iPhone for image quality, and the Lumia 1020 for image quality and low-light performance. That's not so bad.
We're also happy to see that the tap-to-focus will meter for the selected area. Some other Android devices will only focus, and you have to manually change exposure, which can become annoying.
Overall, still images are excellent. That leaves video. Video quality from the LG G2 camera is great. Optical image stabilization helps quite a bit, though you still have to keep a steady hand. It isn't as good as the Lumia 1020's stabilization system, but it works well enough and beats the iPhone in terms of steadiness and smoothness.
Colors and video quality look good, although sound could be better. Sound quality is always something that needs a lot of work on a smartphone, but there's only so much that can be done with the physical constraints. A microphone placed on the body of a camera, situated several feet away from an audio source, will never sound as good as having dedicated microphones. However, for what you might be shooting with a smartphone, it works just fine.
That's one thing to keep in mind when you're being bombarded with these great camera claims from smartphone manufacturers. In the end, these are still just smartphone cameras. If you're looking for real, solid image quality, you'd go for a compact system camera or DSLR. And if you want to shoot great video, a DSLR or dedicated video camera will be your best bet.
As we saw in the shootout between the Lumia 1020, iPhone 5 and Olympus E-PL5, a real camera system still blows smartphone cameras out of the water.
The above was a very bright street scene, and yet the camera managed to keep the color and exposure of the sky looking nice.
This arcade photo above was taken in our office, and the photo doesn't really do reality justice. It was much darker than how it appears in that photo, and with little noise, we can say the LG G2 does OK in low light.
The above is an HDR photo. As you can see, this is a very extreme case with very dark shadows and incredibly bright highlights. Still, the image looks good compared to the actual scene.
We love that the LG G2 seems to retain color in the sky, whereas other smartphones tend to blow them out and turn them whiter.
We really like the LG G2. It's one of the better Android smartphones you can buy right now. The screen is large and gorgeous, and because the display almost reaches out to the very edges of the device, it doesn't feel any wider than it has to.
The display and camera are really killer, and performance is incredible. It ate up every benchmark for breakfast, turned out great photos and dazzled us with its high-resolution display. Oh, and on top of that, battery life was a charm.
Using the smartphone doesn't come with the headaches, hiccups and hangups that we get with other device, thanks mostly to the gorgeous display and powerful chipset.
So, is it all butterflies and roses for the LG G2?
Well, no. The button placement drove us insane for the first few days, and it wasn't pretty. It's incredibly frustrating and takes some time to get used to.
Adjusting volume when on a call was relatively easy if you spent enough time feeling around for the volume keys, but adjusting volume for watching videos is a total pain in the rear.
There are a lot of on screen menus, but it will take a least a month to get used to the change in button placement.
We can take or leave the completely plastic build, too. LG typically makes smartphones with premium feel, and although nothing feels cheap about the G2, we wish that it had a soft touch or textured backside or body.
The phone gets smudged with fingerprints very easily, which is only a minor complaint and definitely not a deal breaker.
The UI is just awful at times though. Why is most of the notifications bar taken up with things that aren't notifications? Surely LG must realise that it's packing too much into the space if you can't see a message when it arrives.
As far as Android smartphones go, you can do no wrong with the LG G2. If you can live with the button placement - which we have done, and even begun to enjoy - you'll come to love this phone.
The G2 has everything you could ask for in a smartphone: solid camera, great performance, excellent battery life and a design we can live with.
We even came to love the placement of the buttons because we were so enamoured with the phone - that's high praise indeed when something you dislike fades into the background on balance.
What matters is your daily experience with the phone, and while we'll admit it wasn't the best with the button placement, this thing is slick once you get over that.
The real question is if there is any reason to buy the LG G2 over something like the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 or the Moto G. It's been some time since we've been able to say this, but there is good reason to buy the LG G2 over its competitors: display and performance.
The only thing that would make this phone amazing is if it had a UI closer to stock Android (although not too close) or something more innovative like that seen on the HTC One. If that got fixed, we'd be seeing our second five star phone of the year.