In the last year, LG has grown from an also-ran into a respectable player in the smartphone game. Its phones still aren’t selling as well as anything from Samsung, but its not because they’re any worse. If you’ve been lucky enough to own an Optimus G, Google Nexus 4, or Optimus G Pro, you’d likely agree. The Nexus 4 is currently the best deal out there at just $200 (without a contract) and the Optimus G is often half the price of a Galaxy S3, but beats it on most levels. Bottom line: LG phones have been rocking lately, and the G2 rocks, too.
One of the most comfortable phones to hold
The first time you set eyes on the LG G2, you’re impressed. It looks like “the” smartphone we’ve been working toward for a few years now. The screen is nearly edge-to-edge, the device is dead thin at 8.9mm, and there isn’t a button in sight. From the front, there are no buttons on the G2. The navigation buttons – Back, Home, Menu – are onscreen and the power and volume controls are … not there. But you don’t really need them most of the time. A quick double tap on the screen will wake the G2 up from its slumber.
You’re far less likely to drop an LG G2 than a Galaxy S4 because the buttons are precisely where your fingers lay naturally.
Flip the G2 over, and you will finally see a few buttons. Aligned vertically, the volume up, power, and volume down buttons sit in the direct center of the phone, right under the camera lens. The near universal reaction to this new button placement is “weird,” but after trying it out, the benefits become clear. The G2 is one of the first smartphones that you can operate inside your pocket. Because they are placed in the center, and not opposing sides of the phone, you always know exactly which button you’re pressing. You’ll never accidentally turn the volume up instead of down or turn on your phone screen in your pocket. It’s a small convenience, but a great idea. Hopefully more phones use this design in the future.
Not all LG G2s are made equal, though. AT&T subscribers, your LG G2 pretty much looks as LG intended it, but the Verizon G2 has a few odd changes. The glossy plastic shell (polycarbonate) is a complete fingerprint magnet, and the volume and power buttons are about half the size of the regular version. They’ve been shrunk so much that they’re sometimes uncomfortable to use, and it’s more difficult to know which button your pressing. The changes don’t change our recommendation for this phone, but they’re silly, much like Verizon’s insistence to put its logo on both sides of every phone, whether there’s a good place for it or not.
Overall, the LG G2 has a large 5-inch screen, but thanks to its button placement, thin profile, and tappable screen, it shouldn’t be too big for most of you. If you’ve used a Samsung Galaxy S4 (or seen one), this phone has almost the same exact dimensions. But holding the G2 is a much more pleasant experience than holding a Galaxy S4. Instead of forcing your thumbs and fingers to stretch and contort to its desires, LG has put your hand first.
You’re far less likely to drop an LG G2 than most other big phones solely because the buttons are precisely where your fingers lay naturally, and you can tap any part of the screen to unlock it.
Beautiful, fast Android interface
LG’s interface continues to look better and better. There isn’t anything that stands out about it, which could be seen as a negative, but it gets the job done and doesn’t get in your way. The unlock screen has a very cool fizzing animation and the G2’s apps, home screens, and menus are fast and fluid. Like Samsung, LG has decided to keep the Menu button as one of the three major buttons, but if you want to access your Recent Apps, you can get to them by holding down the Home button.
There are a few secret surprises in LG’s interface. If there are a few apps that you want to save (freeze in place) for long periods of time, just swipe from the right side of the screen with three fingers. You can save up to 3 apps this way. To access them, swipe three fingers from the left.
There are a few other nuggets. If you’re getting a call, you can lift the phone up and it will answer automatically, for example. The pull-down Notifications menu has a lot of functions built into it, including what LG calls “Qslide” apps, or little apps that sit above your regular screen, allowing you to do stuff like use a calculator while in an app or on the Web.
But also a very cluttered interface
The problem with LG – like Samsung, Sony, and other phone makers – is that its phones are getting so full of little features and apps that they’re insanely cluttered. The G2 comes with 62 apps pre-installed on it. 62! None of them can be deleted. If you dig into the Settings, you can “disable” them, but that isn’t the same as deleting something. So what are you being forced to deal with? Well, it depends on your carrier. AT&T is the worst offender, shoving 11 “AT&T” apps on the G2, and a few fake apps, too. Verizon installs 5 of its own apps. The Verizon version also has about 5 Amazon apps (MP3, Kindle, Shopping, etc) on it. Other apps like YellowPages, Slacker, NFL Mobile, IMDB, Caller Name ID (horrible app), and WildTangent games are also included, and not removable.
It’s not all LG’s fault. Most of the apps that come from it at least appear to be somewhat useful, or serve a purpose. But even if you buy the phone unlocked, it will have 53 apps installed in it.
Apps aren’t the biggest issue. Thanks to the ever-increasing number of features included, LG’s Notification tray is so crowded that there is hardly any room for notifications. They’re stuck way down at the bottom. Above them are volume controls, display brightness, a list of Qslide apps, and On/Off buttons for features like GPS and Wi-Fi. LG may want to consider separating these functions from the notification menu, like Apple has with its new iPhone Control Center. Or it could do what Google recommends and have a second notification menu that you can access by pulling down with two fingers instead of one.
Again, this is a problem on most high-end phones these days and it’s not a deal breaker, but it’s a growing frustration. The Galaxy S4 is no better, nor is almost any other phone. But I had to spend a half hour helping a friend clean up the interface of an LG Optimus G phone so her dad could use it the other day. When a phone comes with 3 apps that all say “Messaging,” you know there’s a problem.
The most powerful Android phone out there
The LG G2 appears to be the fastest, most powerful Android phone out there right now. In our benchmarking tests, it handily defeats the Galaxy S4 and HTC One. In Quadrant, for example, the Verizon G2 scored 17,700, which is far higher than the 12,000 or so that the GS4 and other top devices can manage. We haven’t benchmarked the Galaxy Note 3 yet, but its possible that the G2 will outpace that as well. If you want the fastest, most powerful phone, it’s currently the G2.
If you want the fastest, most powerful phone, it’s currently the G2.
Specs: The G2 runs Android 4.2, has a 1920 x 1080 pixel 5.2-inch IPS LCD screen, a 2.26GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 MSM8974 processor, 32GB of internal file storage (24GB accessible), 2GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel rear camera, 2.4-megapixel webcam, Wi-Fi, LTE, and all the other fun little stuff you’d expect.
Do you need a phone this powerful? Probably not. We’re finding it hard to find ways to push the G2 to its limits. But you won’t find us complaining about a fast phone.
LG is at the disadvantage of releasing its phone after the Lumia 1020. Nokia’s 41-megapixel camera is several steps ahead of anything else we’re going to see on a smartphone for some time. The G2 has a great 13-megapixel shooter that’s about on par with Samsung and Apple’s offerings. We experienced a little slowdown and lagginess while inside the camera app, but that’s likely due to LG’s star feature: 9-point auto-focus. The G2’s camera attempts to locate points of interest within a 3 x 3 grid and focus on all of them. This hasn’t had a noticeable positive effect on our test shots so far, but it hasn’t ruined any either. Mostly, you’re getting a very fast camera and thanks to good image stabilization, most of our shots came out remarkably clear.
On default settings, we got great results outdoors and indoors. Macro shots looked crisp and color was accurate in most situations. Low light and dark rooms posed a problem for the G2, as they usually do, but it did perform a little better than Samsung’s devices in areas of darkness.
Do people still talk?
If people do still talk to each other on the phone, they won’t have a problem doing it on the G2. Though voice sounds horrible on almost all phones, we didn’t have any trouble hearing or being heard any more than normal on the G2. Data speeds on AT&T and Verizon’s LTE networks were competitive and standard.
Battery Life is standard, solid
The G2 packs a fairly impressive 3,000mAh battery. Competitors like the Galaxy S4 only have 2,600mAh, giving LG a small edge in battery life. The company claims you’ll get about 1.2 days of juice out of a G2. What that really means is that if you heavily use your phone one day, you are less likely to freak out at night when you’re trying to get driving directions and your phone is barely hanging on with 3 percent battery. The G2 got us through a full day without trouble. For that, we commend it.
The LG G2 is one of the best phones we’ve ever used, and has virtually no downsides. It’s comfortable to hold, has the fastest hardware on the market, has a battery big enough to last more than a day, it packs twice as much memory as competitors (though doesn’t have MicroSD), and its camera is at least as good as the competition. It doesn’t have a crazy fingerprint reader or a single “standout” feature, but the G2 is a near-perfect Android phone. Aside from some annoyance with the sheer amount of software on the phone, we have no real complaints.
If LG had found a way to make this thing water- and shock-proof, we might have had to give out our first 10 for a phone.
The LG G2 is available at AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon right now, and will come to Sprint soon. It costs $200 with a two-year contract and about $575 to $604 if you buy it out of contract. These prices are competitive.