Design & Build Quality
With the simple but far-reaching decision to move the hardware buttons to the rear of the device, LG has created a real "buzz." Long before its premiere in New York last month, the G2 dominated the headlines and comment columns, with skeptics and proponents of the decision fairly evenly balanced. Now it's here in the office, I can only congratulate LG on this decision: the operation works better than expected and requires surprisingly little getting used to.
Even ignoring this design decision, LG has kept the design of the G2 pretty naked. Despite the large 5.2-inch display, the housing is very compact, for example, the Xperia Z is virtually the same size despite having a smaller display and the Xperia Z1 (with the same display as the Xperia Z: 5-inches) is even longer and wider. This is due to the extremely narrow border around the display: the G2 has probably the best ratio of display to total area that I've yet seen in an Android smartphone – it's 75.9% display on the front, but it feels more like 90%.
The front of the G2 lies somewhere between the S4 and Galaxy Nexus 4, the screen is slightly raised, so sharp edges are avoided at the edges, but this does expose the Gorilla Glass 3 panel to more scratch potential. The plastic back is provided with a subtle texture, the hardware buttons are mounted centrally below the camera, the power button is slightly raised and comprises of a LED ring that flashes when the phone calls or an alarm sounds. The front LED to the right of the front camera also informs you of missed calls and other events.
The manufacturing of the G2 is flawless: looking for loose parts or build gaps is in vain. Thanks to the rounded back, it feels really good in the hand, the weight and dimensions are just right for my taste and make it feel of high quality, but do not affect it at all in terms of clunkiness.
The display is also a masterpiece: at 5.2-inches, LG brings a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (423 ppi), which is quasi-standard in current top smartphones. The Full HD resolution is therefore not in itself a unique feature, but all other aspects of a good display are fully met by the G2. The LCD IPS panel is very bright and contrasty, without going overboard with saturation and color representation, as was emphasized in the presentation - a little jab at the AMOLED displays from Samsung. The readability is very good even in direct sunlight, the viewing angle stability also. In direct comparison with the Xperia Z1 and the HTC One there is no visible difference in terms of brightness.
The LG G2 runs on Android 4.2.2 , and as always LG has its own user interface. There are a number of new features, but visually not much has changed, the user interface is still unnecessarily playful and cheap looking. LG hasn't succeeded this time in including a uniform, attractive and stylish interface that properly reflects the high quality design and top hardware.
While that's a matter of taste, the new software features of the G2 are quite useful and provide a real added value. Besides the already known QSlide Mini Apps, of which a maximum of two can be placed on the active window, the G2 also has the multitasking feature "Slide Aside." By sliding three fingers to the left you can keep up to three apps open at the same time and just slide them to the side when they're not in use. A three-finger swipe to the right opens a tab view of the active apps, just like we know from the desktop PC.
Another handy feature: the on-screen buttons at the bottom of the display, the front touch keys, can be configured depending on your preference with six options to choose from. To unlock the screen, LG has come up with a clever solution also: to compensate for the missing power button on the side you just have to double-tap the screen to turn it on ("Knock On"). You can turn it off by double tapping anywhere in an empty area or on the status bar in the home screen. This worked in my test mostly, but sometimes it took two or three attempts.
There is also a guest mode in the G2. This is activated by a specific unlock pattern and is useful, for example, if one gives his phone to others and would only like to give them limited access to his phone. What apps are available in guest mode can be set by the owner, the limit is 30 apps.
Some options for gesture control are also included in the G2, similar things to what we have already seen with the Galaxy S4. So you can receive calls, for example, simply by raising the phone to your ear. The so-called smart features also ensure that the screen remains switched on only as long as you are looking at the screen and the video pauses when you look away. While I was watching a video though it kept pausing even when I was definitely still watching, so I turned it off.
The G2 is equipped with a powerful quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset, which is one of the best currently available for smartphones. Accordingly, the operation is fluid and smooth. The responsiveness of the G2 to input was without hesitation in my test: when scrolling through the menus it never got stuck anywhere, browsing the internet was effortless and really fast, while apps launched quickly and without delay.
The performance of the chipset is also confirmed by the AnTuTu benchmark test, in which the G2 obtained 30,000+ points. Even if benchmarks do not necessarily reflect the reality of a device for the user, they are a decent indicator of the performance that is possible in practice.
For a smartphone camera, the G2 provides a really good service. The lens takes pictures with 13 megapixels and has an optical image stabilizer to ensure sharp images, especially in low light conditions or when you have unsteady hands. In fact, the photos from the G2 come out amazingly well, even in dimly light environments they are of sufficient quality. In my camera comparison with the Z1 and the Cyber-shot QX10 it is clear however that the automatic post-processing fails quite badly. The images are fairly strongly de-noised and over-sharpened, leading to loss of details and naturalness and the introduction of annoying artifacts. This is bad if you want to manually edit the still images, but for the average smartphone user who is just looking at his photos on the phone display or a PC monitor anyway, the G2 makes really good photos.
The operation of the camera is also good and offers configurable hardware buttons and the usual photographic modes along with one other item of value: the LG G2 has also received a manual focus, where the sharpness level can be set manually with a slider. By the way: when the display is off, the camera can be activated directly with the volume down button.
This is one of those things that we are pleased with from LG. In addition to the excellent display technology the G2 also includes great battery life. In fact, LG smartphones are generally blessed in direct comparison with other equivalent smartphones with slightly more battery power. The G2 has a battery with a capacity of 3,000 mAh, which, together with the energy-efficient Snapdragon 800, provides it with a good life span. An intensive test day with the G2 still had the device running until the next morning before it needed an electrical outlet. For definitive statements about the battery's performance it is a bit early, but the raw numbers suggest already that the G2 is probably going to be longer lasting than its direct competitors.
There is virtually nothing in the G2 which is not top tier. The CPU and GPU are cutting edge, the display is top notch and the camera and battery are fully competitive in terms of performance. This is, of course, also reflected in the price: the version with 32 gigabytes of internal memory is available on Amazon for 885USD, outright via T-Mobile for 629USD. LG is therefore right in the vicinity of the hefty prices of Samsung. BestBuy are currently offering the 32 GB Galaxy S4 for 800USD.
With the G2, LG has managed for the first time to really inspire me with an LG smartphone. Their choice to place the hardware buttons on the back I was sympathetic to from the beginning, and in practice the operation works amazingly well. The display is brilliant, the camera takes great pictures, the hardware is top in all areas. Moreover, despite the 5.2-inch screen it has a convenient, compact size and the rounded back is also very handy and comfortable to use. For my taste, there are only two dampeners: the playful look of the user interface does not match the high quality design and top hardware, and I would also have to say, as a self-confessed fan of the HTC One, that instead of glossy plastic, I'd prefer a housing made of aluminum or at least of rubberized plastic. Nevertheless: the G2 is an excellent smartphone.