LG G2 Mini
2nd Jul 2014 | 15:06
The LG G2's little sibling
There has never been a better time to be shopping in the middle or low end of the smartphone market. Whereas a few years ago any device at this level would be very slow, have a tiny screen, a very poor camera and weak battery life, LG is once again proving with the G2 Mini that times have changed.
None of this is to say that the G2 Mini is an especially cheap smartphone, although at just over the £200 mark off contract it is hardly expensive. Motorola is doing amazing things with its Moto G and Nokia has the Lumia 630 both of which undercut the G2 Mini by a fair chunk.
Given LG's standing as potentially the most innovative and improved manufacturer of 2013, the G2 Mini deserves a fair look despite its relatively high price compared to its peers.
LG has carried over the most unusual and unique aspects of the G2 into its lower end offering, most notably the buttons on the back. It is an unusual placement but does make sense given that they sit just where your fingers often are when holding the phone normally.
It takes a little time to get used to the buttons being on the back, but after a few days I found it quite natural to use them. I don't particularly find they offer an improved experience over well-placed buttons on the side of a phone, but they are not a hindrance either.
The main benefit of this unusual button layout is that the bezels to the sides of the screen can be extremely small. LG showed everyone just how small bezels can be on the G2 and has largely carried off the same trick with the G2 Mini.
It is not quite as impressive this time, but it makes the phone noticeably smaller than others with similar screen sizes.
Other than the buttons, the design of the G2 Mini is fairly standard with its headphone jack up top and the microUSB charging port at the bottom flanked by two speaker grilles although there is only one speaker actually in the device.
While the bezels around the screen are small, the display itself is a very comfortable 4.7 inches in size and is an IPS display meaning that viewing angles are largely superb.
LG has skimped on the resolution though. While phones like the Moto G have a 720p display sporting 1280 x 720 pixels, the G2 Mini only has a qHD resolution, which is 960 x 540 pixels.
The low resolution is not quite as bad as it may sound on paper, but it is noticeable and fine text can be tough to read. The screen quality is good it just needs more pixels.
Unlike some devices at a similar price, LG has kept the G2 Mini's waistline in check and it is just 9.8mm thick.
Another attribute of the G2 that LG has carried over to the G2 Mini is the unusually large battery for size of device with a 2440mAh power cell sitting behind that removable back cover.
Inside, LG has fitted the G2 Mini with everything you would expect at this price point. It has a quad-core Snapdragon 400 SoC and 1GB of RAM. 8GB of internal storage is supplied and there is a microSD card slot too.
There is one major omission from the specs, which I find very irritating. The G2 Mini has no light sensor, there is just a front facing camera above the screen, and therefore no auto-brightness control for the screen.
Unlike most handsets at this end of the smartphone market, the G2 Mini has a decent camera on board. It is an 8MP sensor with an LED flash to help in dark conditions that is able to produce some very nice photos. A 1.3MP front facing camera is there for those all-important selfies too.
The icing on the cake is that the G2 Mini supports LTE as well delivering the usual high speed internet that any experienced user of 4G would recognise.
On paper then the G2 Mini stacks up well, but given that Motorola has got the LTE model of its superb Moto G on sale at £159 off contract, the LG does look a little expensive, despite some extra capabilities on the imaging side.
The LG G2 Mini is not being sold as an out and out cheap phone but rather a cheaper yet fully featured version of LG's flagship G2. As such, the G2 Mini has many of the same key features and attributes as the G2.
Putting the buttons on the back, slimming down the bezels and supplying an unusually large battery are all key parts of what LG is offering on its G range of phones and the G2 Mini is no different.
These choices do inform the experience of using the phone, especially the position of the buttons, which takes some time to get used to.
LG has recognised that it is asking people to use its phone differently from others and provide a couple of important software features to help.
The G2 included 'KnockOn', which allows you to double tap the screen to wake. This is also present on the G2 Mini along with the enhanced version that LG calls 'KnockCode'.
KnockCode is an extremely innovative way of providing some level of security whilst also making it easier to switch your phone on in the first place. You register a code as a series of screen taps in four quadrants, which you can then replicate on the screen of the G2 Mini in any position on the screen to wake the phone and unlock it.
For example, you might tap twice in the top left, once in the bottom right and once in the top right quadrants. Tapping that sequence (with your taps properly positioned relative to each other on the screen) will unlock the phone.
The spacing between the touch points is also unimportant. This combination of a precise code that can be entered in a relatively imprecise manner makes the G2 Mini very easy to unlock and is in my view the best unlock mechanisms this side of an iPhone 5S and its fingerprint sensor.
The only downside to Knock Code is that the performance of the G2 Mini, with its mid-range hardware, means there is a small delay while the phone recognises your code and lights up the screen.
In terms of accuracy of recognition, I have never had a false positive where the phone will unlock despite an incorrect code being tapped out, and I have had around a 95% success rate when the G2 Mini has recognised the correct code entry.
As well as tapping the screen to switch the G2 Mini on, you can also double-tap any empty area on the home screen or the status bar to switch the screen off. In theory you never need use the power button on the back of the phone.
LG has been successful in making the G2 Mini have a similar experience to the G2 in other ways as well. All the expected connectivity is on-board including NFC and the G2 Mini also supports Q Pair, which allows you to receive phone calls and manage text messages from an LG tablet such as the G Pad 8.3.
Battery life has been a key aspect of LG's offering with the G2 and the G2 Mini again does not disappoint. Its 2440mAh battery is large for the size of the phone and it has superb endurance. The removable back and swappable battery just add to the convenience factor here.
LG's Optimus UI is fully featured on the G2 Mini and while it is a fairly heavy skin on top of stock Android, it does have some very useful features.
When you plug headphone in, a little overlay appears containing apps that play music and video. This list is also customisable. LG calls this Plug and Pop.
Just like its big brother, the G2 Mini even has an IR port and associated QuickRemote app for controlling your TV and other entertainment devices. It is fairly easy to setup and use and is just another useful enhancement from LG.
The notification drawer is a mix of good and bad with quick access to the screen brightness control – essential given the lack of auto brightness – and a volume slider. The quick toggles at the top are a scrolling and customisable list.
Less positive here is that nearly half the space is given over to permanent controls that may not be useful to you. Even more irritatingly is the presence of two settings buttons, which look almost identical, but do totally different things.
Easily the least palatable part of the Optimus UI though is the front touch buttons. While they are configurable, it is impossible to remove the menu key and with Google trying to make the menu button obsolete and most apps having adopted this strategy, the use of the menu key is frustrating.
Offering largely the same experience as its flagship but on a cheaper device is definitely a good strategy for LG and I have to applaud how well optimised its software is as it manages to still run smoothly despite the relative lack of processing power on the G2 Mini.
Interface and Performance
The LG G2 Mini runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat out of the box, which is commendable although to be expected. It is skinned with LG's Optimus UI, which adds an LG flavour to most elements. The skin is not unpleasant and is less overbearing than Samsung's TouchWiz but it is still fairly intrusive.
The home screen is fairly typical for an Android device with multiple pages that you can add and remove up to a maximum of seven. These can be filled with the usual widgets and app icons.
Folders are created by dragging one application shortcut onto another and as a measure of how deep the Optimus UI goes, folders look slightly different and can have one of up to ten different colours.
LG has managed to avoid the temptation to bring every feature across from its flagship G2 and the G2 Mini is all the better for it. What is there works well.
The number of duplicate apps – that is to say an app that both Google and LG provide and is pre-installed on the device – is kept in check.
There are two web browsers installed, the LG skinned Android browser and Chrome as well as two music apps, but it is a largely clean set of applications which should be welcomed.
There are lots of customisation opportunities with the G2 Mini and you can even change the effect that is shown when the screen is switched off. I never found these to be intrusive and the defaults LG provides seem sensible.
In the Geekbench 3 test, it scored an average of 1160 after three consecutive runs. This is exactly the sort of number I would expect the G2 Mini to come out of this test with and merely shows that there is nothing exceptional about what LG is doing with the hardware available.
In day-to-day use, there are almost no slowdowns with apps running reasonably well. Animations seemed fluid and in general there is little to give away the modest internals.
Look a little closer and a few issues do crop up. Showing the keyboard for the first time is slow and multi-tasking can be sluggish to respond. Rendering complex web pages can be an exercise in patience.
None of the performance problems are different to the G2 Mini's competition, but the simpler software Motorola provide on the Moto G help to give it more of a cutting edge.
Overall, it ran everything I wanted it to run and did not especially frustrate or disappoint. Obviously the G2 Mini cannot compare to the latest flagship devices but it is perfectly acceptable to use and miles ahead of similarly priced phones from previous years.
Battery life and the essentials
Inside the G2 Mini there is a surprisingly large 2440mAh power cell that does a simply stunning job.
The one major caveat here is that without automatic screen brightness, it is necessary to adjust the screen to a sensible level in order to achieve good battery life. Leaving it stuck at very high brightness will have a significant impact on the ultimate battery life.
In my testing, I found that for my general usage including listening to music, a fair bit of web browsing, social media use and some light gaming, leaving the screen brightness at 100% would reduce ultimate battery life by a quarter compared to if I managed the screen brightness properly.
I used a 4G network most of the time I was testing the G2 Mini and this seemed to have no impact on battery life, if anything the faster internet speeds helped improve the overall endurance slightly. It appears LG has done a great job with the overall efficiency of this phone.
I ran the standard TechRadar battery test, which involves looping a video for 90 minutes at standard screen brightness (in this case 300 lux).
Out of interest, that level of brightness was achieved with the screen brightness slider set to 76%. After 90 minutes, the battery had only drained to 85%.
I conducted the test whilst connected to a very strong Wi-Fi signal and with my usual array of email accounts and other notifications fully active. The result is super for the G2 Mini and just highlights how good a job LG has done here.
Normally a larger battery will take longer to charge and that is the case with the G2 Mini as well.
The strangely low output charger LG supplies in the box exacerbates this and charge times were tediously slow. Using a higher output charger I had resulted in much improved charge times.
Using the G2 Mini as a phone – making phone calls and sending texts – is a gratifying experience. It operates flawlessly with great call quality on both ends.
The LG customised phone dialler is very good and responsive and the contacts app works well. The messaging app LG provides is not the easiest to get along with being a little slow at times and generally not that intuitive but it is easy to use an alternative should you so wish.
LG has managed to optimise the aerials in the phone such that it always seems to have better than expected cellular reception especially on 4G.
Wi-Fi performance is not as impressive, as the G2 Mini seems to drop the signal earlier than any other phone I have tried recently. Though once connected speeds are fine.
Over 3G and 4G networks, the G2 Mini performs exactly as you would expect, loading web pages quickly.
The Google Play store is of course installed and gives you access to the millions of apps, songs and films as well as books and TV shows that Google offers. Everything works perfectly well.
The LG Music app is fairly basic but does allow you to browse your music by songs, album and artists as well playlists and just a raw folder view. Music playback is of good quality through headphones and there is a simple but effective graphic equaliser available too.
Watching videos on the device is a little frustrating as the screen is too low resolution to natively play back HD content. The external speaker, while loud enough, is not particularly good either.
The G2 Mini can handle most casual games you would throw at it, but anything demanding high-end performance with high quality 3D graphics is beyond it.
With a relatively compact body housing a good size screen, the G2 Mini is very easy to use and very nice to hold. It is light enough to hold for long periods, for instance when watching a film or TV episode.
Unusually for a smartphone in the mid-range, LG has equipped the G2 Mini with a decent rear facing camera. It is an 8MP camera with a decently fast F/2.4 lens that can generate a very nice bokeh effects.
Despite this, the camera is still not going to challenge those found on more expensive devices. In good light it is capable of capturing lots of detail but it can struggle with dynamic range ending up with slightly over saturated images.
The camera app offers some measure of manual control with the ability to change the ISO and white balance of your images as well as being able to apply a few basic filters such as a sepia effect.
LG has included one fairly cheesy addition. You can set the camera to take a picture when one of the people in the shot says the word 'cheese'. Like most of LG's software, this does work but I do have to question why you would want this feature.
The camera has various modes including a fairly weak HDR mode that seems to do almost nothing to improve the end results. The panorama mode is quick and easy to use but the results are not much to look at.
There is a basic burst mode for taking six shots at a time and a beauty shot mode that lightens skin tones whilst making faces look unnaturally smooth. Generally though, normal mode is all you will ever need.
The reasonably weak LED flash can help to brighten some scenes but the G2 Mini is far too quick to use the flash when in auto flash mode.
One of the consequences of the relatively meagre hardware in the G2 Mini is that the camera is not the fastest to capture. It never seems ready to go when you are and shot to shot times are only average. In low light, it is slow to respond which can be very frustrating.
The LG G2 Mini is a fine example of a mid or low-end smartphone and shows just how far we have come in the last year. All manufacturers have benefited from having much better components available to them this year but LG has done a fine job packaging them up into the G2 Mini.
The size and shape of the phone, along with LG's generally helpful software enhancements make the G2 Mini a genuinely pleasant phone to use. Only the lack of auto brightness really detracts from the experience.
Superb battery life and a usable camera are welcome additions as is the excellent build quality, but the price you pay for these is a relatively higher purchase cost than some competitors.
Amazing battery life gives the G2 Mini unusually long endurance and allows you to go for two days fairly easily between charges.
The camera is surprisingly usable for a phone at this price point and in reasonable lighting conditions it won't let you down.
The performance of the G2 Mini in day-to-day usage is excellent. This is a smartphone that won't disappoint someone coming from a last year's high-end devices.
The screen resolution is not high enough and that low pixel density becomes a problem too often.
Some of the software enhancements seem to add very little other than to bloat the device. The design of LG's Optimus UI is not as good as stock Android. The lack of auto brightness for the screen is an annoying omission, which seems like a mistake from LG.
LG has priced the G2 Mini a little higher than some competitors and too close to the G2, making the value proposition tough to swallow.
Ultimately it is hard to recommend the G2 Mini over something like the Motorola Moto G, which has a superior screen, similar performance and very good battery life. Only the camera on the LG device is clearly better.
This doesn't tell the whole story though, as the G2 Mini is a very nice device to use and has a compelling overall proposition. It just lacks a few key refinements and could do with either packing a higher resolution screen or a lower price to really be a standout device.
First reviewed: June 2014