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LG G2 Mini review: A watered-down flagship phone that's too expensive for its specs

The LG G2 Mini may bear the same name as its top-end brother, but its low-end specs are anything but flagship.

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Andrew Lanxon
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Andrew Lanxon

Lead Editor, CNET Advice, Europe; Lead Photographer, Europe

Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

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The LG G2 seriously impressed the whole CNET team with its brilliant screen, its lightning fast processor and its great camera. As nearly all of its rivals have done, LG has paired its flagship with a smaller version, for those not willing to shove a 5.2-inch phone into their jeans.

LG G2 Mini
5.7

LG G2 Mini

The Good

The LG G2 Mini is more affordable than its flagship namesake, it has good battery life and a decent camera.

The Bad

It has a lower resolution screen than the Motorola Moto G (which costs less than half the price) and its processor doesn't provide much power.

The Bottom Line

Although it bears the same "G2" name as its big brother, the LG G2 Mini is watered down in every respect. Its screen has a disappointingly low resolution, its processor doesn't put up much of a fight and it has an 8- rather than 13-megapixel camera. Unless you crave 4G, the Motorola Moto G is a much better buy as it offers a better screen, the same processor and costs half the price. If however you're after the best mobile tech but in a more pocketable size, Sony's superb Xperia Z1 Compact is where your money should go.

The G2 Mini, as it's known, has a 4.7-inch display, with a 960x540-pixel resolution, a 1.2GHz quad-core processor and an 8-megapixel camera. The eagle-eyed may have noticed that that's a big step down in every respect from what the standard G2 has to offer. Just as Samsung did with its Galaxy S4 Mini , LG has taken the name from its flagship phone and simply applied it to a far more basic piece of kit.

Mercifully, it is quite a bit cheaper than the G2. If you're in the UK you can pick the Mini up now for £235 ($400, AU$425) SIM-free from retailer unlocked-mobiles.com, who provided our review sample. It's expected to go on sale in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, but US and Australian launches have not yet been confirmed.

With specs comparable to the superb Motorola Moto G but at more than double the cost, does the addition of 4G and a higher resolution camera justify the extra expense?

Design and build quality

It's a ridiculous world when a 4.7-inch phone can pull off the "Mini" moniker, but I suppose it is at least marginally smaller than the normal G2, which has a 5.2-inch screen. The slight reduction in size does make the phone a little easier to hold and type on with one hand. It measures 66mm wide and 130mm long -- almost identical dimensions to the Moto G, even though the Moto G has a smaller 4.5-inch display.

lg-g2-mini-product-2014.jpg
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The G2 Mini squeezes in a larger display by keeping the bezel narrow. This has the secondary effect of making the phone look slightly more luxurious, as budget phones often have enormous plastic bezels around their screens. It does need the image boost a little, as around the back things aren't quite as slick.

The back panel is entirely plastic, immediately making it feel much less premium than the glass-backed Sony Xperia Z1 Compact (although to be fair, the Z1 Compact is more expensive). It's not helped by the scratchy texture, which is similar to designs I've seen on various low-end budget phones. I certainly prefer the matte, rubberised feel of the Moto G.

On the plus side, the removable panel means you can swap out the battery and there's a slot for a microSD card too. You'll need to use an external card -- you'll blow through the 8GB of built-in storage pretty quickly once you start downloading big apps and saving your music locally.

Like its big brother, the G2 Mini has its power and volume keys on the back of the phone beneath the camera lens, rather than on the side. It sounds daft, but LG's reasoning is sound enough -- the buttons sit exactly where your index finger naturally falls when you're holding the phone. That's the theory anyway, but in practice, I'm not sold. I found it took a lot of getting used to and even after a few days with the phone, I kept naturally looking to the sides for the power button. I imagine that after weeks of using it you may eventually get used to it and appreciate the location, but I feel LG is attempting to fix a problem that really doesn't exist to begin with.

Display

The G2 Mini's 4.7-inch display boasts a 960x540-pixel resolution, which results in a disappointingly low pixel density of 234 pixels per inch. I'm baffled as to why LG hasn't whacked in a higher-resolution panel, particularly when you consider that the Moto G's physically smaller, 1,280x720-pixel display has a 326pppi resolution and costs less than half the price.

Full HD is probably a bit of a stretch for a mid-range phone -- the 4.7-inch HTC One had a Full HD screen, but came with a very high price tag -- I'd expect at least a 720p screen for the money though.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The low resolution results in a display that lacks the pin-sharp clarity of its larger sibling or indeed the Moto G. It's far from blurry -- it's perfectly adequate for Tweeting, prowling Facebook or Googling your own name -- but it doesn't have the crispness around icon edges or in text that you'd get from a higher resolution display.

It is at least quite bright, which makes it fairly easy to read under harsh office lights and, in my experience, an unusually sunny London sky. Colours are vivid too, which helps make Netflix shows and YouTube clips look decent, despite the unimpressive resolution.

Android software

The G2 Mini arrives with the latest version of Android on board, known as 4.4.2 KitKat. It's good to see the latest software available at launch, particularly given the regular G2 is still running the older Jelly Bean. With KitKat, you can take advantage of features such as full-screen media and games (with no navigation buttons taking up screen space) and the ability to search for local businesses from your contacts list.

LG has heavily skinned the Android interface, as it did with the G2. Although the core structure of multiple homescreens for apps and widgets and an app tray for other apps remains, LG has its own fonts, colour schemes and even app icons. You can also change the order of the navigation buttons if you're used to having them in a different order from other manufacturer's phones.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

LG has also thrown in a feature to quickly take a screenshot and then write notes over the top by tapping an icon in the pull-down notification bar. It's hardly ground-breaking, but it's handy for scrawling notes on a Google Maps screen to send to someone trying to find your flat. Finally, as with the G2, you can wake the phone up on standby mode by double-tapping the screen -- which you'll need to do when it's lying flat, covering the power button.

Processor and power

Like the display, the processor at the heart of the phone has been seriously watered down as well. Instead of the 2.2GHz quad-core chip in the regular G2, the Mini offers a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, along with 1GB of RAM. That's the same as you'll find inside the Motorola Moto G, which is pretty laughable given how much more money LG demands for its phone.

Unsurprisingly then, it didn't exactly impress with its speed. It achieved 1,286 on the Geekbench 2 benchmark test, which is a little under what the Moto G achieved. In my own use of the phone, I found it tackled the basics perfectly well.

Navigating around the interface was fairly swift, with no noticeable delay when pulling down the notifications panel, opening menus or switching between open apps using the multitasking wheel. Tweeting pictures of your food or bombarding Facebook with anecdotes about your pets is well within its means, but more demanding tasks aren't handled as well.

While Riptide GP2 was playable, the frame rate dropped a lot in more intense moments, making it look very stuttery and I found the same in Asphalt 8. More basic games like Cut The Rope will play fine, but it's not a phone for the 3D gaming lovers among you.

Camera

The back of the phone is home to an 8-megapixel camera, which again is less than the 13-megapixels of the regular G2. On the upside though, it's a decent step up from the 5-megapixel camera you'll get from the Moto G.

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LG G2 Mini camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I found its results to be pretty decent. My first shot, looking out over London's Grand Union Canal is bright, with natural colours and plenty of detail.

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LG G2 Mini camera test with HDR Andrew Hoyle/CNET

With HDR mode enabled, a lot more detail in the shadowy areas is revealed and the bright sky is under control, making the scene look great overall.

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LG G2 Mini camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This shot of a delicious muffin came out quite well too. The paper wrapping has a crisp edge to it when you zoom in and it's generally well lit.

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LG G2 Mini camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Heading over to St Paul's Cathedral, the G2 Mini captured plenty of detail in the brickwork, with a rich blue sky overhead.

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LG G2 Mini camera test with HDR Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The HDR mode has been a little heavy-handed here however, by darkening the clouds and reducing the contrast on the building's brickwork. Between the two images, I think the one without HDR mode has the most impact.

The Mini's camera puts in a good performance though and it has extra features on board like panorama mode, a burst mode and various image effects too. It doesn't seem to be challenging the standard G2's camera, but I'd say it has the edge of the Moto G's.

Battery

The G2 Mini packs a 2,440mAh battery, which put up a good fight in our battery drain test. From a full charge and at half brightness, it kept going for 12 hours and 56 minutes. By comparison, the Google Play edition of the Moto G achieved 9 hours 14 minutes, while the brand new HTC One M8 achieved just under 10 hours. In my own use, I found the phone would easily make it through a day with moderate use.

Unlike both of those phones however, the Mini's battery is removable, meaning you can always carry a spare or two in your bag if you're heading off into the wilderness away from plugs and electricity of any kind. If you want to get the best battery life, keep the screen brightness down, turn off GPS and Wi-Fi and avoid demanding tasks like gaming or video streaming.

Conclusion

Although it bears the G2 name and keeps certain design features like the rear-mounted volume and power buttons and narrow bezel, the LG G2 Mini is in every respect a heavily watered down version of its pricier sibling. The display has a disappointingly low resolution, its processor doesn't put up much of a fight and it has an 8- rather than 13-megapixel camera.

It has acceptable mid-range specs, but the Motorola Moto G has the same power and a better screen and can be snapped up for only £110, making it a much better choice if you don't care about pricey 4G contracts. If you're after a "mini" phone with the same potent specs as the top-end phones, go for the superb Sony Xperia Z1 Compact.

LG G2 Mini
5.7

LG G2 Mini

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 4