LG gets back to superphones with G2

The Korean phone maker launches its latest flagship smartphone with hopes that the gadget's impressive specs can stand up to the best from Apple and Samsung.

The G2 unveiling in New York today. CNET

NEW YORK -- LG on Wednesday unveiled its new G2 smartphone to take on Apple, Samsung, and other Android phone makers.

The hardware specs are top-of-the-line, with the G2 sporting a 5.2-inch full HD display and running on a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. The G2 is the first global device to include Qualcomm's highest-end chip. The device also is LTE-Advanced capable, allowing for faster wireless speeds in places like Korea. The U.S. doesn't yet have the faster network.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference from other devices is the location of the volume and power buttons. The three buttons were placed on the back of the phone rather than their typical location on the side of the device. LG noted that its rear key design came from studies that showed that the larger the phone became, the more difficult it was to properly access the side buttons.

"The most innovative aspect of the G2 is the design, with the rear key being the feature everyone has been talking about since the news became public," Jong-seok Park, CEO of LG Electronics Mobile Communications, said during the company's launch event. "It is certainly different. However, the sole purpose of this design shift was not just to be different. It was born from one of our key findings in human research."

The LG G2. LG

Holding the volume-down button for a period of time activates the camera, while holding the volume-up opens a note-taking program called "QuickMemo." Users also can turn on the display without pushing the rear power button; "KnockOn" allows users to power on the device simply by tapping twice on the display.

LG officially unveiled the G2 during a launch event Wednesday in New York's Jazz at Lincoln Center venue. A member of the Vienna Boys Choir performed at the end of the event. The G2 features ringtones and other sounds recorded by the choir.

The South Korean company, which has struggled to compete with bigger rivals such as Samsung, has started to gain some traction in the market. It shipped a record 12 million smartphones in the second quarter, and data released Wednesday by International Data Corp. shows it was the second-biggest Android vendor in the second quarter, albeit with only 6.5 percent share compared with Samsung's 39 percent share.

Despite recent gains by LG, the G2 launch comes as the company continues to face worries about tough competition and slowing growth in the high end of the smartphone market. Apple is expected to launch a new smartphone later this year, and Motorola also recently unveiled a new device. Samsung, LG's crosstown rival, also remains a significant threat. LG will be putting all its might behind marketing the G2, its new flagship device.

Much like Samsung with the Galaxy S4, LG took pains to emphasize the features it believes will help consumers in their daily lives. "Answer Me" automatically answers a call when the phone is raised to a person's ear, and "Text Link" allows information embedded in text messages, such as addresses, to be easily selected, saved, and searched on a map or the Internet. "Guest Mode" protects a user's privacy by displaying only certain apps when someone besides the phone's owner unlocks the device.

"There have been a lot of innovations in the spec battle...however, that doesn't make our life better," Ramchan Woo, LG's head of LTE product planning, said during a small meeting with reporters. "The fundamental quality is the most important [feature] for the smartphone."

In terms of other hardware specs, however, LG packed the phone with Hi-Fi audio and a 3,000 mAh battery specially designed for the device by sister company LG Chem. The company estimates the battery should allow the device to last 1.2 days on a single charge.

To help with battery life and improve performance, the G2 includes dedicated RAM for graphics, known as GRAM. The memory reduces the display's energy use by up to 26 percent on a still frame and increases overall usage time on the device by approximately 10 percent. There's no battery life improvement when doing tasks like watching movies.

The device also includes a 13-megapixel camera with eight-times zoom and antishake capabilities. Shooting modes include a dual-camera feature and tracking zoom, among others. And the phone comes loaded with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.

The G2 will be available globally at more than 130 carriers within the next eight weeks, starting with South Korea. The four biggest carriers in the U.S. -- Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile -- all will carry the device.

Korea will have its own specialized version of the G2 with a removable back, which is because LG's Korean user base prefers the ability to replace the battery, LG spokesman Ken Hong said.

Users can buy "Quick Window Cases" that have a window cut out to show time, date, weather, and other details, as well as QuadBeat Earphones that take advantage of the Hi-Fi audio. The cases will come in seven different colors, but pricing hasn't yet been set. The earphones likely will cost $20 to $30, the company said.

Update, 8:45 a.m. PT: Adds details.
 

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