|Introduction and Specifications|
|In the ever-intensifying smartphone war, clear lines are being drawn. The only two mobile phone manufacturers making any notable profits at present are Apple (with iOS) and Samsung (with Android). Despite the fact that Android as a whole is dominating from a global market share perspective, players such as LG, HTC, Pantech, and Sony are scrapping for market share. The point? Competing with the heralded Galaxy line of phones and phablets is difficult. Crosstown rival LG has historically had something of a quiet battle going with Samsung, and recent moves by the company's mobile division demonstrate that it's not content with playing second fiddle.
The LG G2 is the follow-up to the Optimus G Pro -- which was an excellent phone in its own right. The G2 is part brawn and part brain, and it's actually a nice balance of the two. Qualcomm's 2.26GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 is the star of the show, offering more raw horsepower than most other Android phones on the market right now. On paper, it's clear that LG cut virtually no corners in getting the absolute best components within the G2. But they didn't stop there. LG also thought outside of the proverbial box a bit, rethinking where the commonplace volume rocker and power button should be located, considering the ergonomics in a different way than any other phone maker.
Let's take a look at what makes the G2 tick:
On paper, it's obvious that the G2 is a monster. This phone is markedly faster than some desktops were just few years ago. Just let that factoid simmer a bit. But the reality is that the G2 is entering an incredibly crowded and diverse market. Is a re-thought exterior and a top-tier component spec sheet enough to place the G2 atop the current Android pile? Read on in our full review to find out.
|Design and Build Quality|
|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.
|Software and User Experience|
|At the heart of the G2 is Google's Android operating system, with our review unit shipping with Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) onboard. LG's typical skin is here, making it look almost exactly like the Optimus G Pro's software that we reviewed back in June. That said, all of the typical Google trimmings are here, including Google Play access and integrated Google Now.
Without question, Google Now is still the strongest selling point of Android over iOS, considering personal assistant features. If you're an avid user of Google services, and are willing to let Now pry into your digital life a bit, the suggestions, news, and information that it can offer up without you even asking is impressive and genuinely helpful. We've praised Google Now's ability to offer up flight information, directions for the best route home from work, scores from our favorite teams, and great eatery suggestions, and Now works splendidly on the G2. It's also wildly fast on the device, which in turn makes it even more functional.
For the most part, we aren't huge fans of LG's Android skin. The fonts look more stoic than the Roboto font used on Nexus products, and there just seems to be a general lack of polish in how icons are designed. It's possible that there's some subtle design preferences lost in translation between South Korea and North America, but it's just not as beautiful as vanilla Android. That said, those willing to take a slight performance hit can load up their own ROMs, launchers, skins, etc. One beauty of Android is that it's almost infinitely customizable.
All of that being said, there's no denying the speed here. Flipping between home panes is super quick. We found ourselves swiping between them just for fun, as watching the transitions take place is a (nerdy) sight to behold. This device runs Android like a champion. Lag is absolutely not a part of the equation on any level. If you must have instant gratification when using a smartphone OS, the G2 delivers.
We also want to point out one software tweak that's unique to the G2, but should absolutely, unequivocally be a part of every smartphone OS on the planet. There's a new double-tap feature which allows users to awaken their phone's display by just tapping twice on the screen. No reaching for the power button; just tap twice, and unlock your phone. Better still, another double-tap locks it. It sounds like a minor inclusion, and if you're looking at it purely from a coding perspective, it's probably quite small indeed. But in practice, it makes using the phone so much easier. Unlocking and locking the phone is so much more natural, and LG's engineers deserve a lot of credit for developing a simple, intuitive solution to this problem.
We also love the G2's pull-down notification window. Novice users may find themselves overwhelmed with options, but power users will appreciate what's here. You'll find quick toggles for nearly every major setting on the phone (and it's customizable, too), as well as a list of QSlide apps (apps that can run atop other apps in multi-tasking view), a brightness slider, a volume slider, your typical app notifications, and a trigger than launches the full Settings menu.
One final niggle: after using iOS for some time and growing used to our screen lighting up to showcase a notification, the G2's use of a nondescript blinking LED was quite underwhelming. There's no native way to make Android flash specific notifications on your locked, darkened screen. The apps available to do it are janky at best, leaving the experience less than desirable. iOS' drop-down notification center is pretty barren, but at least it can showcase notifications even when your screen is flipped off. We're hoping that Android adds something similar to what the Moto X offers, once Kit Kat races onto the scene in the coming months.
|Battery Life Testing and Camera Samples|
|Battery life is an important part of any smartphone review; earlier phones would chew through batteries in rapid fashion, but the 3,000mAh cell sealed up in the G2 is formidable. In daily use, tapping into the Web, social, e-mail, calls, etc., we were easily able to use the G2 for a full day. From an early rise to an early curtain call, we squeezed 18 hours of solid use while still having 20% of the battery remaining. It's safe to say that this phone will last you an entire work day off of the charger unless you're tethering for hours on end or using the display as a movie screen all day long.
Under the pressures of the AnTuTu Battery Benchmark, the G2 managed to display a fairly stout score compared to its closest (albeit less powerful) rivals. This test attempts to max out the processor, and essentially run the phone full-tilt until it's exhausted. There's so much horsepower to be tapped in the G2, however, that "full-tilt" led to a slightly lower-than-average score. Still, this test shows an "extreme" use metric; real-world testing proved that the battery life is indeed better than most Android phones on the market.
The 13MP rear-facing camera is worthy of praise. We've generally found Android cameras to be inferior to whatever the latest iPhone camera offers. Apple's tight vertical integration enables it to squeeze maximum performance out of its camera sensor and camera software, and no matter how hard they try, most Android OEMs have a hard time matching noise levels, and overall fidelity in resulting images. That's changing gradually though, and the G2 is living proof.
Just look at our test shots from our iPhone 5s review, and compare them to the shots below from the G2. The iPhone 5s has a world-class camera that emits truly impressive results for a phone camera. But, the G2 holds its own. Colors are vibrant for the most part, though occasionally over-exposed at default settings. However, noise is almost nonexistent in late-evening captures, and the camera is able to snap these with next to no shutter lag. All of the samples here are unedited, and delivered straight out of the camera.
|Benchmarks: CPU & Web Browsing|
|Benchmarks: Graphics & Gaming|
An3DBench XL is a benchmarking tool based on an Android port of the jPCT 3D engine. The app runs 7 tests in total that look at graphics processor fill rate and complex rendering workloads and scenes.
Basemark X is yet another graphically-intense benchmark, and while the G2 held its own compared to other Android products, it did fall short of the numbers put forth by Apple's iPhone 5s.
|Summary and Conclusion|
We said it from the start, and we'll repeat it for good measure: the LG G2 is as powerful an Android phone as you'll find right now. Its quad-core Snapdragon 800 paired with 2GB of RAM leads to record-breaking performance numbers, and we've honestly never seen Android 4.2 run so smoothly. Whether it's gaming or just general snappiness you're after, the G2 delivers. Opening apps, using the QSlide multi-tasking tool, and whisking between home panes is effortless. There's just oodles of power here, and if you're interested in future-proof hardware, we suspect this device will have plenty left over to run Android Kit Kat with poise and grace.