In a lot of ways, talking about the design of a smartphone has become less interesting. In most cases, devices are built with certain design conventions that are pretty similar across product lines. We (partly) jest, of course, but it's simply difficult to break completely out of a mold that requires phone makers to stick to many predetermined guidelines. We're just now starting to see Android manufacturers approach the issue of form factor differently with curved displays, for example from both Samsung and LG. However, the G2 is fairly straight-forward in a lot of regards.
It's boasting a 5.2", 1080p touch panel, which places is at the large end of the smartphone arena, but not quite into phablet territory. Make no mistake, this device is going toe-to-toe with the Galaxy S4, not the Galaxy Note series. The front is a glossy black, with the screen running just about the entire width of the face. There are no hardware buttons on the front; just a small LG logo at the bottom, an earpiece up top, a 2.4MP front-facing camera, and a small LED light used for notifications.
The rear is also fairly pedestrian. It's a plastic shell with a thatched sort of finish, but there's no texture here -- it's just smooth, regular plastic to the touch, which is becoming quite uninspiring. What's curious, however, is the arrangement of hardware buttons just beneath the 13MP rear-facing camera + flash tandem. There's a volume rocker, with a silver power button between the "up" and "down" toggles. It's a first of its kind, and LG asserts that a user's index finger will naturally land right in this general area when using the phone. Hence, it's simpler to turn the screen off and on and toggle volume while you're on a call. In theory, it makes perfect sense. Most Android phones have their volume rockers on an edge, and the power button up top, requiring an awkward reach-around motion for control access.
In use, it works as advertised. It truly is a more ergonomic and sensible way to reach these commonly used switches, but here's the rub: we've grown used to having volume rockers on the side and power buttons up top. It takes a bit of getting used to, and there's definitely a learning curve here. You'll need to un-learn old reaching habits, but if you do, you'll be well-rewarded with a superior button layout. Now, going back to other Android phones just feels odd. It's tough to say if other OEMs will follow LG's lead here, but we think they're onto something good with the new button placement.
The only break in uniformity around the edges is the microSIM slot, and there's a useful SIM removal tool included in the T-Mobile box we received. There's also a microUSB port at the bottom for charging and syncing. Speaking of which, there's a subtle T-Mobile logo along the bottom of the phone's rear, but given that this handset is available on all of the major U.S. carriers, you'll find that swapped depending on who you buy from. If you want to grab one sans logo, there's an unlocked global edition available as well. We will say that the plastic shell on the rear doesn't quite exude a premium feel. The interior specs of the phone are world-class, but the outside is just another plastic Android phone. We'd love for companies to put a bit more effort into how the phone feels; plastic has had its day, but with phones such as the Lumia 1020
and iPhone 5s proving that a handset can feel just as good as it performs, the bar has definitely been raised.
One other interesting hardware choice is the sealed 3,000mAh battery; most Android phones allow users to replace and swap out the battery, but not the G2. Honestly, we're fine with this decision. The battery capacity is spacious (only slightly smaller than the 3,100mAh cell in the Galaxy Note II), and it keeps the overall design a bit more cohesive. However, this also means that you won't find space for a microSD card. Some users will be irked by this notion of non-expandable storage, but considering just how many corrupted microSD cards we've seen in our time using Android, we're okay with it. We only wish it were easier to find 64GB phones -- the cloud is great, but there's still a very real need for offline data and maps for those who travel in rural areas and international locales.
We found the size and weight to be ideal for most hands; despite having a 5.2" display, it's not much larger than many phones with 4.7" displays. LG's G2 has next to no bezel, which helps it to make the most of the space. If you still feel that phablets are too unwieldy, but you love screen real estate, the G2 strikes an outstanding balance.
The 1080p touch panel is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It's sharp, colorful, has excellent viewing angles, and responds instantly to all touch points and gestures. This has become more the norm of late, but it's still worth applauding. This is one of the finest mobile displays we've ever seen on a handset.