LG is one of those companies that you know very well. They make great products, but when it comes to smartphones, they take a backseat to many of the other Android manufacturers. The good news is that most of the Android manufacturers are all in the same boat, not doing all that great and looking up to Samsung. But LG is a little different. If anyone can put a dent into Samsung’s armor, it seems as though LG would have the best chance. Just like Samsung, they are a large company with deep pockets. LG has been quietly lurking around, but you get the feeling they are ready to make their move with the LG G2. It offers a lot in terms of specs and features, but is it good enough to sway Samsung loyalists? Hit the break to get started.
In terms of quality of materials, the LG G2 is nothing to brag about. To me, it feels like a Samsung phone, which means plastic across the board. I guess that can be a good thing since Samsung is their biggest competition, so why not do what is already successful? Now some might argue that the G2 sports a little better quality plastic than the Galaxy S 4, but it’s still has that glossy plasticy feel.
However, LG isn’t just a copycat because they offer a little innovation of their own. They opted to move the power button and volume rocker to the back of the phone just below the camera lens. It seems like a gimmick, but LG’s belief is that this is a more natural place for these buttons. Think about when you hold a phone. Many times your index finger will rest at the upper back middle of the device. Now you can quickly wake your phone or change the volume (among a few other things) without using your other hand for those same functions. I think LG is onto something here, but it does take a little getting used to, especially if you play with a lot of different phones like myself. Since most people generally have one phone in their pocket, it won’t take long to get used to. I will say that for me, the placement would have been better if it were a little higher, as in where the camera lens is. They could move the lens to the left corner just like the upcoming Nexus 5 and it would be perfect, at least for me.
The other highlight with the design is the bezel, or shall I say lack of bezel. This is a true edge-to-edge display. The G2 is about the same size as my DROID DNA, which sports a 5-inch display, but the G2 has a 5.2-inch display within the same amount of space. Lastly, LG opted for on-screen buttons, which is refreshing since companies like Samsung refuse to do it.
As far as buttons and ports go, you will find the nano-SIM slot to the upper left and at the bottom is the microUSB and microphone jack along with two speakers. The top includes the IR blaster, and the right side has no buttons or ports. The back has the 13MP camera lens at the middle top along with the LED flash a little to the right. Just below the lens is the volume rocker with the power button in the middle. The power button also sports a notification light.
I think LG can use a little improvement in quality of materials, but the fact that they can pack a 5.2-inch display in a body that isn’t any bigger than a Galaxy S 4 is truly amazing and makes up for the lack of quality.
The LG G2 has a 5.2-inch (1920 x 1080) IPS LCD display (423 ppi), a 2.26GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974), Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB of RAM, 16 or 32GB of internal storage, 13MP rear camera with OSI, 2.1MP front-facing camera, 3,000mAh battery, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, LTE (700/850/900/1800/2100/2600), HSPA+ 42 Mbps (850/900/1900/2100), GSM (850/900/1800/1900), and CDMA/EVDO (800/1900)
The G2 has the latest and greatest from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 800. It’s pretty smooth, but I have to honestly say there isn’t much of a difference when comparing it to the Snapdragon 600. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means that the processors are so damn fast, that most people can’t tell the difference from one to another. Let’s put it this way, the Moto X sports a dual-core CPU, and it feels just as fast as the G2. It all comes down to the software and hardware and how it’s tuned. What matters most is how it responds in 6 months, or even a year from now. As one would expect, the G2 kicks butt in benchmarks. Benchmarks aren’t my thing, but I always run the AnTuTu just to give you a perspective. It came in at 31,945, which is well above other smartphones sporting the Qualcomm 600 such as the Galaxy S 4 and HTC One. I still say that in a real world experience, I don’t think most people will be able to see the difference.
HTC has lead the way in the display department over the last couple of years, but LG is becoming a serious contender for the top spot. The 5.2-inch IPS 1080p display is stunning with fantastic colors and viewing angles. You will have a hard time picking a better display than this one.
LG gave us two speakers, but unfortunately they aren’t front-facing nor are they separated all that much. They sit at the bottom, one to the left of the microUSB port, and one to the right.The sound quality is pretty good, but not earth shattering. Where LG really shines is the ability to play 24-bit / 192kHz music on either FLAC or WAV files. That’s better than CD quality, but the majority of people won’t have these types of files in their library. Still, it’s nice to have just in case your music collection includes them.
The G2 packs a 3,000mAh battery, which isn’t the largest, but we will take it. On top of a large battery, the Snapdragon 800 promises to be more efficient and LG has incorporated what they are calling Graphic RAM (GRAM), which deals with the Panel Refresh Rate (PSR). The GPU refreshes 60 times per second, which is necessary for fast moving video. However, it’s wasteful when the video is static. GRAM is a frame buffer that enables the GPU to run at a lower power state during those static times. Depending on how often your display is static, there could be a noticeable improvement in battery life. There is no way for me to tell how much, but the G2’s battery life is excellent. I am able to get a solid 20+ hours out of it with normal to heavy useage. The only real issue is that the battery isn’t removable, but with life this good, most people shouldn’t have an issue. Unfortunately I didn’t run my usual battery rundown test since I like to do that when connected to LTE. My review unit is T-Mobile, and unfortunately my area has very limited T-Mobile coverage. Based on what I am seeing, I estimate that you could get about 10 hours of continuous video while connected to LTE.
LG’s UI is very similar to what we saw last year with the Optimus G and this year’s Optimus G Pro. It’s not Samsung’s TouchWiz, but it sure seems like it was inspired by it. LG has tried to give you every opportunity to customize the device the way you want, but it’s going to be confusing for most consumers. Many of the things that were incorporated last year are back again. For starters, creating folders is much like stock Android, but it has a manilla folder look to it. You can change the color and expand them so they are widget-like. You can even change the image of app icons and resize them. As far as homescreens, you can have up to seven, and you can choose from up to 7 transitions (when you swipe screens). The keyboard is dreadful, but thankfully with Android, you can swap that keyboard out to anything you want. The notification panel is one of the most important areas on Android phones, and LG mucks it up with a slew of stuff. The editable Quick Settings are nice, but below that, you get another group of Q Slide apps (more on that later), followed by a line for display brightness then volume. It’s just too much. Note: You can remove the QSlide apps if you tap on QSlide in the Quick Settings.
As mentioned earlier, LG offers on screen buttons, although not the standard stock Android layout. LG opted for the menu key instead of the task key. A nice plus is that LG lets you customize them. They offer 6 preset options, including four button configurations. Unfortunately, the menu key is included in all the options so you cannot choose the stock Android experience, nor do they offer a task button. LG’s lock screen is simply stated and you can to choose up to five apps for fast access. As with stock Android, you can also add widgets to the lock screen.
Just like Samsung’s Smart Stay, LG offers and option to keep the display awake when you’re looking at it called Smart Screen. It uses the front-facing camera to tell if you’re looking at the display. They also offer an option to pause video when you look away called Smart Video, which is very similar to Samsung’s Smart Pause
Here is a walkthrough video I put together showing you the user interface.
What separates one phone from another is the software features and Samsung is the king of the ring in this category. Generally these software features are useless, but they are marketable, which translates into more phones sold. LG does copy Samsung a bit here, but does offer some unique features. I still question if any of them are useful. First up is Memo, which we have seen on past LG phones. It’s basically a note taking app, but without a stylus, what’s the point? Quick Memo might actually be more useful in that you can quickly write a note on a screenshot and make the background transparent. An example would be that you could jot down a phone number or account number to use later. Open the particular Quick Note and you can make it transparent allowing you to freely move to other apps. You can open the dialer or another app that would require the number you wrote down previously. Since the note is transparent and sitting on top of the dialer, you can see the number so you can re-type it. As convenient as this is, it probably isn’t the best way to do this. You can simply type a phone number in any todo app and copy/paste the information. With Quick Memo’s method, you need to write it out then later type it. It makes no sense. You can also open Quick Memo quickly by long pressing on the up volume key while your G2’s display is turned off. You can get an idea of how Memo and Quick Memo works in my video above.
KnockOn is another feature that is supposed to simplify waking your phone. However, the only reason LG implemented this feature is because the power button is at the back of the display. Your phone might be on a desk or in a car dock, which means you can’t access the power button easily. You simply tap the screen two times and the display will turn on. KnockOn makes perfect sense for these situations, and is very convenient, but it’s not anything that you will find useful for turning on your phone on a regular basis. Let’s put it this way, if you own a phone with the power button at the top or side, you won’t be wishing for KnockOn because it isn’t any easier than tapping your power button.
Slide Aside is another feature that one would think is useful, but is useless. With Slide Aside you can add three apps that you want to access quickly and easily. When you have one of these apps opened, you swipe from right to left using three fingers, adding it to Slide Aside. You can do this with three different apps, and if you want to access them later, just swipe three fingers from left to right on any screen, or you can open them from the notification panel. All three apps will show in an accordion-like fashion and you simply tap on the one you want to open. Unfortunately, Slide Aside falls short on a few things. The first is that when you open one of the apps from the Slide Aside accordion, it leaves the Slide Aside group unless you re-slide it back with three fingers. So you have to remember to slide it back instead of hitting the home key when you’re done. The second is that it doesn’t save the apps you have entered into Slide Aside if you reboot your phone. The reason for this is because the apps need to be running, so obviously during a reboot, these apps will have shutdown. I am trying to figure out why I would need Slide Aside when I can just hold the home button down and see (an open) all my apps I have opened recently. For a quick overview on how Slide Aside works, check out the video below.
Text link is an interesting feature. When someone sends you a text message trying to set up a meeting, the G2 recognizes it as something that you might want to add to your calendar and provides a clickable link. Just tap on it, and you will have the option to add it right to your calendar so you don’t have to copy/paste or set the day and time. The same thing will happen for addresses. Just tap on the link and you can go right to Maps. You will also have the option to add the info to a Memo, search your contacts, go to the dialer, or search the particular text via the Web. Check out the video below showing you how it works.
Guest Mode is one feature that can be useful when giving your phone to your child. It’s LG’s take on multi user accounts, but there is only one option: Guest Mode. It allows you to set a predefined pattern for unlocking the device when you let someone else use your phone. You can configure it the way you want including what apps show up. I am not sure it makes sense for a friend because I never worry about handing my phone to a friend so they can check it out. But, if your children tend to use your phone a lot for games, it’s very useful. The only downfall is there is no support if you want to use a PIN for securing your phone. In order to enable Guest Mode, you need to check it in the Settings/General and you need to enable Pattern Lock Screen in Settings/Display/Select Screen Lock. Here is a quick overview on how to setup and use Guest Mode.
Quick Remote allows you to configure all the components in your home theater system and control them via the IR blaster at the top of the phone. This including your TV, cable/satellite box, AV receiver, DVD player, and more. You won’t find guide information like Samsung’s WatchON or HTC TV, but it’s a handy way to control your devices. They don’t offer widgets, which would make the most sense, but the remote will show up in your notification panel and lock screen for quick access. This makes you notification panel even busier, but LG allows you to set your home WiFi so that the Quick Remote only shows up in both the notification panel and lock screen only when you are connected to your home WiFi. This makes a lot of sense since you will never need to access the remote control when you are away from home.
One last feature is QSlide, which was first offered on the Optimus G. If you’re a hardcore multitasker and you own an LG G2, you will want to check out Q Slide apps. You can choose from 10 different apps that can be floated over your screen. You can change the size and transparency so you can continue to work on whatever else is open. You can even view multiple QSlide apps on the screen at the same time. Apps are limited to the Video Player, Browser, Phone, Messaging, Calendar, Email, Memo, Voice Mate, File Manager, and Calculator. I put together a quick video showing you how they work.
The G2 sports a 13MP lens along with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) so I was excited to give it a go. First lets talk about the software. It takes some cues from Samsung in that the “Mode” menu is a similar scrolling wheel, but you can also opt for an icon view, which is easier to navigate. However, if you opt for the scrolling wheel, you can see what the description is for each mode. LG offers Normal, Shot & Clear (remove objects), HDR, Panorama, VR Panorama (360-degree similar to Photo Sphere), Burst Shot, Portrait (similar to Samsung’s Beauty Shot), Dual Camera (Similar to Samsung’s option), Time Catch Shot (grabs images before you tap the shutter), Intelligent Auto, Sports, and Night. You also have the opportunity to tweak various settings such as brightness, focus, image size, ISO, white balance, color effect, the timer, and geotags. You can even set the volume key to act as the shutter or to zoom. The zoom feature will only work on the rear camera so it makes no sense since the volume rocker is on the back of the device. The shutter option will work with either the rear or front-facing camera, but it makes the most sense when grabbing a selfie with the front lens.
The quality of pictures is pretty good, but overall I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be. I found it to be adequate for most shots, but I didn’t like the results when motion was involved. I also found that when lighting is poor, it takes a long time to capture a photo under the “Normal” mode. When setting it to the “Night” mode, it was faster and didn’t use flash. The results were also better most of the time. As far as the Optical Image Stabilization goes, it works, but I feel the Moto X does a better job when “shake” is involved. Below are some example shots
Normal Mode (with flash) Night Mode (no flash)
Extreme Low Light
Normal Mode (with flash) Night Mode (no flash)
The LG is a solid phone, but I just can’t convince myself to recommend it. On one hand, the 5.2-inch display is gorgeous, but on the other hand, the software is lacking. LG is hoping to “steal” fans of Samsung phones, but I can’t see a compelling enough reason to switch. LG has a horrible track record in supporting their devices with updates, and there really isn’t anything the G2 can do better than the Galaxy S 4, other than slightly better battery life and OIS. A lot of people laugh at the specs of the Moto X, but the Moto X performs as well and offers features that are actually useful. Now that the camera has been fixed on the Moto X, I am trying to figure out why someone would want to buy the G2 over it other than wanting a little larger screen. In terms of pure specs, there aren’t too many phones available that can match the G2, but this is Android folks. Nobody stays on top in the specs department for long. I wouldn’t fault anyone for buying the G2. It offers a lot for $199, but LG needs to clean up their software and show they will support their devices before I buy one of their phones.