LG G2 review:

Blazing-fast performance is an Android standout

For more photos from the LG G2, check out our slideshow below.

LG G2 (outdoor)
In addition to dressing sharp, these people at Madison Square Park also look sharp in the photo. Lynn La/CNET

LG G2 (Night Mode)
Using the night mode scene setting, I was able to capture more light in this dimly lit restaurant. Lynn La/CNET

In our standard studio shot, objects are sharp and in focus. Lynn La/CNET

Both the rear-camera and the 2-megapixel front camera have plenty of photo options. These include auto and touch focus; a voice shutter function that lets you operate the shutter by saying certain words including "cheese, "smile," or "whiskey;"a brightness meter; five white-balance settings; four color effects; a timer; geotagging; and the option to select whether you want to volume key to either zoom or take a photo.

Understandably, the 13-megapixel camera has more options, such as four image sizes that range from 1,280x960 to 4,160x3,120 pixels (the 2-megapixel camera can only save up to 1,920x1080 pixels). The rear shooter also has flash, face-tracking and macro focus, 12 scene modes (the front-facing camera has only three), and ISO options. However, there is an extra function in the 2-megapixel camera where you can save an image as flipped.

LG G2 (Zoom Track)
The G2's Zoom Track camera feature lets you record video while zooming in on a particular object. Lynn La/CNET

The camera recorded 1080p full HD video very well, with both moving and still objects looking finely sharp. Audio picked up well, colors were true-to-life, and there was no lag between my moving of the camera and the feedback I saw on the viewfinder.

Like we've seen previously, you can record with both cameras simultaneously, and pause video while recording. However, a new feature is audio zooming, which let's you emphasize certain sound sources while recording. Another function, tracking zoom, lets you zoom in on a particular object or person while recording background video. This works easily and smoothly, though I wish the zoomed footage was a bit larger and sharper in the end.

I tested the G2 from our New York offices using AT&T's network (850/900/1800/1900). Call quality was great. None of my calls dropped, there was no extraneous buzzing or noise, and audio didn't clip in and out. Voices sounded crisp and clear, and during times of absolute silence, I didn't hear any background noises . I was also told that I sounded fine as well, though when I transferred over to speakerphone, my friend commented that I sounded noticeably "far away."

While we're on the subject of the speakerphone, one of the major improvements with the device was its audio speaker quality. In the past, LG handsets tended to have small, narrow speakers that made audio come off pinched and harsh. This phone has two speakers located at the bottom edge, and voices sounded much better: I didn't hear much tinniness, voices had a bit more depth, and as for media, music and video was finely tuned and robust.

LG G2 (audio speakers)
The smartphone features dual speakers along its bottom edge. Josh Miller/CNET

I also tested Verizon and T-Mobile models in San Francisco. Call quality was on par with the previous unit, as calls stayed connected, audio was consistent, and I didn't pick up any outside static. And while voices sounded clear between both carriers, I did, however, feel that the phone conversation I had on the Verizon model sounded a bit better. With the T-Mobile version, my friend's voice came off a a little tinnier and hollower.

LG G2 (AT&T) call quality sample

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LG G2 (Verizon) call quality sample

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LG G2 (T-Mobile) call quality sample

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Data tests on AT&T's 4G LTE network in New York showed fast speeds. At times these speeds were inconsistent though; a site that would normally load in 5 seconds would sometimes load in a minute for no reason. On average, however, the CNET mobile and desktop sites loaded in 4 seconds and 14 seconds, respectively. The New York Times mobile site loaded in 3 seconds, and its desktop loaded in 11. ESPN's mobile site loaded in 5 seconds with its desktop site clocking in at 8. Ookla's speedtest app showed an average 20.24Mbps down and 3.73Mbps up. The 35.01MB game Temple Run 2 downloaded and installed in an impressive 38 seconds.

When I tested a Verizon model in San Francisco, the G2 oddly clocked in slower speeds 4G LTE times than usual. For instance, its average download and upload speed in Ookla was 2.28Mbps and 1.25MBps, respectively. Downloading Temple Run 2 took a little more than 4 minutes and loading the desktop sites for CNET, The New York Times, and ESPN, hovered around 25, 30 seconds. In general, T-Mobile showed faster speeds in San Francisco. Our model on the carrier loaded the CNET mobile site in 12 seconds and our desktop site in 13 seconds. The New York Times mobile and desktop sites took 8 and 10 seconds, respectively. For ESPN, the mobile site took 6 seconds while its full site took 8 seconds. Ookla's speedtest app showed an average 1.99Mbps down and 4.18Mbps up. Unfortunately, downloading and installing Temple Run 2 took the longest on T-Mobile. It took a whopping 26 minutes and 46 seconds on average.

AT&T Verizon T-Mobile
Average 4G LTE download speed (Mpbs) 20.24 2.28 1.99
Average 4G LTE upload speed (Mpbs) 3.73 1.25 4.18
Downloading Temple Run 2 38 secs. 4 mins. and 11 secs. 26 mins. and 46 secs.
CNET mobile site load (seconds) 4 9 12
CNET desktop site load (seconds) 14 33 13
Restart time (seconds) 20 22 22
Camera boot time (seconds) 1.83 1.67 1.75

The phone is powered by a superfast 2.26GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor that's backed up by a dedicated allotment of memory specifically meant for handling graphics chores (called GRAM). I can attest that it certainly handles like a speed demon. Menus flew by with almost blinding swiftness, while apps and home screens opened and closed in the blink of an eye.

Of course we can say the same about other handsets, like the Motorola Moto X, which relies on a less souped-up X8 processing system composed of the Snapdragon S4 processor and two digital signal processors. However, the G2 executed a bevvy of tasks quickly and smoothly. While playing the graphics-intensive game Riptide GP, the app didn't stall or quit, and frame rates looked impressively high to the naked eye. Quadrant results clocked in at an impressive 19,050 (as a comparison, LG's last flagship, the Optimus G Pro, scored 10,548, and the Galaxy S4 and HTC One scored 11,381 and 12,194, respectively). Speed tests showed that the device can power off and restart in 20 seconds and launch the camera in under 1.83 seconds.

LG G2 (Quadrant AT&T model)
Quadrant result on the smartphone clocked in at high 19,050. Lynn La/CNET

Juicing the handset is a 3,000mAh nonremovable battery that has a reported talk time of 18 hours and a standby time of 29 days. During our drain test with the AT&T unit, it lasted 23.47 hours of continuous talk-time. On paper, that's a sizable power source. Especially since the long-lasting Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD used a 3,300mAh battery and the Droid Maxx's is 3,500mAh.

Anecdotally, the handset has a decent battery life if you're conservative with your use; that includes dimming the screen and limiting your time on 4G LTE. During a day handling the device, I cranked the brightness all the way up, surfed on LTE, and made several phone calls. Needless to say, by the middle of the workday, it needed a charge. According to FCC radiation standards, AT&T's G2 has a SAR rating of 0.68W/kg. For Verizon it is 0.81W/kg, and for T-Mobiel's G2, the SAR rating is 0.51W/kg.

LG G2 (Riptide GP)
Playing a graphics-intensive game like Riptide GP proved no problem for the G2's processor. Sarah Tew/CNET

The LG G2 may not change the smartphone game, but it came to play hard. Its top-of-the-line processor makes it an absolute speed demon, and its bigger screen is fantastic for playing games and watching videos. In addition, its minor issues (like the rear buttons and embedded battery) are a matter of preference rather than worrisome design flaws.

All that said, it certainly isn't the only worthy phone around in the $199.99 premium on-contract category. If you want expandable memory and a removable battery, go for the GS4. If you want a phone that's stylish both inside and out, the HTC One is equipped with an all-metal design and refreshing Sense 4 UI. And if you want the best camera phone that money can buy, the Lumia 1020 packs a 41-megapixel camera and a top-notch lens.

Still, as LG's most ambitious handset to date, the G2 is a fantastic performer and an impressive display of what LG can do.

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