LG has yet to usurp either Samsung or Apple as leading mobile giant in the US, but that hasn't stopped the company from outdoing itself with its new flagship device, the G2.
Dropping the "Optimus" moniker to shake off a humdrum mass-market image, LG hopes to elevate the handset to a more premium plane somewhere beyond its predecessor. The company may have stumbled a bit while hyping up its new marquee phone, but when it comes to the G2 itself, it's a definite heavyweight contender.
The G2, for example, was the first globally available device to boast Qualcomm's lightning-quick Snapdragon 800 processor. It's also equipped with an expansive 1080p display and 13-megapixel camera. LG's strange placement of the G2's power and volume buttons on its backside takes some getting used to, but doesn't ruin the experience. Indeed, with its beastly specs and ultrafast processor, LG is definitely putting its gloves on for this smartphone battle.
AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint currently offer the LG G2 for $199.99 with agreement. The handset will also be available from T-Mobile, which will sell it for $603.99 off contract.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on September 20, 2013, to include analysis for the LG G2 on Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile.
So...what's up with the buttons?
When the phone debuted in New York, many wondered if moving the volume rocker and sleep/power buttons from the edges of the device to the back was really that necessary. Was it a crazy move (similar to the Motorla Atrix 4G's power button placement), or did everyone else have it wrong the whole time?
After spending some meaningful time with the G2, the location change doesn't really feel like either of those sentiments. The keys sit below the main camera and LED flash, and while LG touts their convenience for adjusting audio midcall, I found them small and tricky to locate without looking.
Long-pressing the volume-down button on the back will launch the camera, and holding the volume-up key opens LG's note-taking app, QuickMemo. To take a screenshot, hold both the power and volume-down key. All these actions worked when I could find the buttons, but the three keys are small and hard to locate blindly. It also felt odd to press the back of the device to activate the camera. The twisting motion on Motorola's Moto X, or even tapping a button on the side, felt a bit more natural.
In the grand scheme of things, it isn't that jarring. Give it a few weeks and anyone should naturally get used to it, and personally, there were times when it felt more convenient to have my finger just stop midway at the rear, rather than having to stretch all the way to the opposite edge. However, the advantage seemed negligible, and it does take a while for your hands and fingers to unlearn years of muscle memory. In addition, with the power key so close to the camera, there was always a risk of me smudging the lens with my natural finger oils, and it's not like the prospects got any better when there was food around.
It is important to note here that the back buttons in the Verizon model look slightly different than the ones featured in the unlocked, AT&T, or T-Mobile versions. The buttons are smaller, and physically more difficult to discern with the finger. However, with their brushed chrome look (compared to the black plastic design see in the other carriers), the buttons on the Verizon model look more stylish and chic.
Glossy, smooth, and thin, the device measures 5.45 inches tall, 2.79 inches wide, and 0.35 inch thick. Now, I have a small grip, so if you can relate, you'll probably run into the same problems I had: my thumb didn't reach across the display; I had to constantly readjust my grip in order to tap certain regions on the screen; and since I also wear slim jeans, it wasn't the most comfortable thing to bury in my front pockets. This isn't anything new of course, since these are the same issues I have with the GS4 and the HTC One (the G2 is a hair wider than both of those phones).
Another drawback of the phone's design is how easily it accumulates fingerprints and smudges. There were plenty of times I had to wipe down its screen and back plate to eradicate streaks.
I must stress that my preferences may be different from yours. If you don't care about fingerprints and always handled big-screen handsets comfortably, you won't have the same gripes as I do. Plus, I like how pleasantly skinny the phone is, and how its lean profile doesn't make it feel too fragile. In addition, I dig the iridescent highlights hidden under the back skin, and this Nexus 4-esque styling adds flair to the otherwise common black aesthetic.
As an aside, LG sells colorful Quick Window Cases for the G2, similar to the G Pro's case and Samsung's S View cover. Like the latter, the Quick Case will have a window so you can see the date and time from your screen. Unlike the G Pro, the G2 doesn't have a removable battery door. This means that its Quick Case merely snaps on top of its rear, instead of replacing it altogether, thus adding a bit more heftiness. LG will also sell QuadBeat earphones to take advantage of the device's hi-fi (24-bit, 192KHz) audio.
The massive 5.2-inch IPS LCD display has a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution and 423 ppi density. Responsive and glove friendly, it runs edge-to-edge against the bezel, thanks to a dual-routing touch-screen sensor technology that reduces the size of the bezel to just 0.1 inch thick.
Images are incredibly crisp and on maximum brightness level, colors are vibrant. When compared side by side, it's a tad brighter than the HTC One, but notably brighter than on the G4 -- especially when displaying a blank white swatch. It has a wide viewing angle, and looking at the display in sunlight was easy. However, I could only see it clearly after I had thoroughly wiped the screen. When it comes to viewing it outdoors, I was surprised how easily the screen could be obscured by fingerprints.
Software and features
The device currently ships with Android 4.2.2 and you'll get numerous Google apps including Chrome, Gmail, Search, Plus, Hangouts, Maps with Navigation and Local, Photos, the Play store and its related apps, and YouTube. And, as with practically all smartphones these days, you'll get basic management apps like a calculator, a calendar, a native e-mail client, etc.
AT&T provided a number of apps for its users: a code scanner; a drive-mode app that silences notifications and sends autoreplies to messages when it senses the device is traveling at more than 25 mph; and an app to geolocate family members via their AT&T phones. The carrier also loaded its own navigator; apps to set up your handset, optimize your Wi-Fi, and set up mobile hot spotting; myAT&T, which lets users check their minutes and data plan; and a media portal called Mobile TV. Others goodies in this model include the Amazon Kindle app, Facebook, a video editor, the Yellow Pages app, and the mobile office suite, Polaris Office 5.
The standards from LG
Before we get into all the new software features LG included with the G2, it's important to cover the basic, but unique, functions that were already seen in previous LG handsets like the Optimus G and the G Pro.
Quick Remote, for instance, uses an IR blaster at the top of the G2 to turn itself into a universal remote for things like TVs, DVD players, and projectors. Interestingly, you can program in multiple gadgets and merge them into one virtual universal remote. If you've got a wacky AV device not in LG's database of home theater gear, the Quick Remote app also lets you train the G2 to control any gadget. Just make sure you have its associated remote in reach.
There's LG's staple note-taking feature, QuickMemo, which lets you jot down notes and doodles either directly onto whatever your screen is displaying at the moment, or on a virtual memo pad. With the G2, you can now access QuickMemo by sliding your finger up from the bottom edge of the screen.
QSlide, LG's multitasking function, allows you to overlay apps like the video, calculator, and browser while you browse through your device and access other apps. You can resize your QSlide window, too, and change its transparency.
Lastly, the handset includes 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage (but no expandable memory), and NFC.
What's new from LG
As previously mentioned, LG introduced the G2 as its flagship, and comes with a slew of new UI and gesture control features.
One such feature is Slide Aside, which lets you pull up and access three apps of your choosing. On the surface this sounds like a great feature, but I found swiping three fingers across the display to engage the function very awkward and unintuitive. Though it's nice to customize which three apps you can bring up, it feels more natural to hold down the home button and bring up the recent apps menu.
Another tool called Clip Tray can save chunks of text to use at a later time. In the opposite of our experience with Slide Aside, I was skeptical of this trick at the outset but have to admit it grew on me. When I saw how easy it was to dump detailed data such as address and contact information into e-mails and texts, I quickly grasped Clip Tray's appeal.
To wake up the handset from sleep mode, simply double-tap its touch screen (this is called KnockOn). To lock it and put it back to sleep, tap the display again. Though it takes some time to remember that the phone can even do this, it's convenient and operated well. I also acknowledge that KnockOn helps address the fact that when the G2 is resting on a table, you can't reach its power button on back (unless you pick it up, of course). KnockOn also works while a Quick Case is attached, so you can tap the small area of the screen to catch the date and time.
The device's Answer Me function automatically lowers the ringer volume of an incoming call if it senses the handset is being picked up, and it'll also answer the call when you hold the phone against your face. The G2 executed this ability well when I tried it, and it even provides a short haptic burst of vibration when the line becomes active.
Guest Mode is a privacy protection setting that launches when a guest unlocks your home screen by drawing a different pattern than your own. With it you'll be able to lock down sensitive apps and other areas of the device so you won't fear software damage when handing the G2 over to energetic toddlers. However, it appears you cannot change the wallpaper of Guest Mode, which means you're unfortunately stuck with an image of a family of ducks trailing behind a big red balloon.
Lastly, LG's version of Samsung's S-Voice or Apple's Siri is Voice Mate, which is featured in this smartphone. Powered by Maluuba, you can launch this function by either tapping on the Voice Mate app, swiping from the bottom edge of the screen, or by saying "LG Mobile" or "Hello Genie" (yeah, I don't know who thought of that one).
I couldn't get voice activation to work for me, so I manually opened the feature itself. Voice Mate is slow, couldn't register my speech accurately (despite many trials), and I once received an error message saying the server was not responding. All in all, not only is it rough around the edges and needs more development, but also I can't imagine people using this regularly given that Google Now's speech function is also built-in.
Though all these software features sound nifty (especially Guest Mode), as I said before, some of these controls aren't initially intuitive to access or find, and took a few moments to get used to. LG includes little tutorials with these new functions, which is helpful, but can be overwhelming. If you want to become an expert with your G2, you'll have to be willing to put in some time and effort.
Camera and video
LG's first mature 13-megapixel camera debuted with Sprint's Optimus G. Though that camera's photo quality didn't blow anyone away (in fact, its 8-megapixel, AT&T counterpart ended up being pretty comparable to it), the Optimus G's pictures ended up being large, sharp, and colorful.
The same can be said with this handset, which also proved itself as an extremely fast, respectable camera. In general, photo quality was good. Hues tended to run a bit colder, but on the whole, colors were accurate. Pictures taken both indoor and outdoor were sharp and crisp, and were full of focused detail when zoomed in.
One of my favorite new features is the camera's optical image stabilization, which worked well. Used in conjunction with the phone's fast processor, I was easily able to capture sharp images while hurriedly walking down the street. Even though my hand was unstable, photos showed little to no motion blur at all.
For more photos from the LG G2, check out our slideshow below.
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.
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.
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
LG G2 (Verizon) call quality sample
LG G2 (T-Mobile) call quality sample
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.
|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.
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.
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.