LG G2 review
If LG is going to make a success of its premier G2 smartphone, complete with 5.2-inch screen, it's going to need to battle it out hard with Samsung, Apple and Sony while trying not to make the same mistakes as HTC - like not spending enough on good quality marketing from the very beginning. That might sound sort of easy, but LG has yet to win people over with its smartphones despite many of them being solid and well thought-out phones.
What does the LG G2 offer that might get people to be excited about it, enough to be more excited about it than its nearest Samsung Galaxy S4, iPhone 5S and Sony Z1 competitors? Well, for one, the G2 is a phone that offers just as much power, if not more thanks to its Qualcomm Snapdragon S800 chip. It's got a design that's different enough to set it apart from the crowd, while keeping power and features at the forefront.
So it should be a five star product then? Well, let's see about that shall we. We've swapped out our SIM with the G2 and have been plugging away with it as our handset this week to see what we made of it.
Don't turn your back
There are buttons on the back - that was enough to make the tech press roar when LG announced the phone. That will never work, and it's just a gimmick was the initial thought, ours included. But it works: it's not a gimmick, and it really is a handy place for keys. But LG has also understood that you can't just remove buttons from a device without thinking through how people use phones.
So the controls on the rear of the phone allow you to adjust the volume, turn the handset on or wake it from sleep. In addition some extra shortcuts mean you can opt to switch the phone straight into camera mode or into LG's Memo app while it's asleep.
That's all good so far, but it's the simple stuff that works out best. The fact you can adjust call volume with these controls makes a lot of sense. Your fingers naturally rest in this area while you're using the phone, and when you need to tweak the volume it feels natural to use these rear-positioned controls.
But how do you turn the phone on if, say, it's on your desk and you don't want to pick it up? LG has thought of this too, and has a feature that allows you to double tap the screen to wake it, and double tap it again to send the phone back to sleep. Simple ingenuity - we think this works really well.
However you look at it, moving the buttons to the back is a small part of a larger picture, but for all the claims of silliness it provoked, we think it's smart and well executed.
We really like the thought that has gone in to using the LG G2. Gesture-based controls are great, such as the three finger swipe to multitask with three apps which works as a better solution than Android's multi-tasking.
We also like the more movement-based interactions. For example, picking the phone up when it's ringing will quieten it, which is a very logical idea. Moving it up to your ear then automatically answers the call, with a little confirmation vibration to let you know what's happening. It's a really nice idea. Also present is the ability to pause a playing video by turning the phone over, and that phone flipping manoeuvre also silences calls and alarms, if you chose to enable the feature.
Slightly confused interface
LG has done the dance to the tune of user interface (UI) tweaks - as all big phone manufacturers do - and, for the most part, has taken a light touch to create something that looks decent and works well.
We do have some reservations about the phone's notification area though, because we think the company has tried to do too much in too small a space. The big concern is that there are too many icons. You can turn on things like NFC, wireless storage, LED notifications, Miracast and Wi-Fi hotspot from the top bar, but you'll need a deftness of touch as there are just too many icons there.
You can even add more stuff in, just to add to be business, including things like the remote control app, quick shortcuts for QSlide, regular notifications, plus email and text message notifications. It gets beyond busy. There's also one too many "settings" buttons - we don't need two, one is enough - and that can be confusing.
Other than that, the UI is decent. The texting (SMS) app is a little ugly by default, but you can tweak that if you need to. We have a fair amount of hatred for the default keyboard too - it's just to much for a screen of this size, so we'd suggest changing the keyboard to the Google version.
We expected the screen on the G2 to be something pretty special, and sure enough, it is. LG is proud of it because it has a very, very thin bezel to the left and right of the screen. This means you get a larger LCD panel in a smaller handset for a more space efficient phone experience.
From a design perspective it does look great, as too does the slightly rounded edges on the screen. LG has been doing this for a while now, and we think it makes the whole thing look pretty but it also gives your thumb a nice smooth roll-off when you're using the phone, and it makes moving fingers back on to the touchscreen rather pleasant too, as there's nothing to catch a nail on. It's really very well designed indeed.
LG has gone for an LCD screen with LED backlight. It's an IPS panel too, so you get solid viewing angles, natural colours and really impressive detail. The 423ppi density is a result of a 1920 x 1080 resolution that's been crammed into the 5.2-inch panel.
Text on the G2 looks incredibly sharp, and it makes for a really great viewing experience. Of course, video playback is pretty spectacular too, with some clips having a level of detail that takes your breath away.
LCD screens don't have the brightness or the vivid colours of OLED screens, but in our opinion these things are not entirely necessary. As picture quality enthusiasts we'd rather have natural colour reproduction any day - not the over-blown, over-saturated reds and greens of OLED. Make no mistake, this is one of the best screens we've seen on a phone.
Sound and music
LG supports high bitrate audio at 24-bit/192KHz and you can play FLAC and other lossless music files on the device too. To hear the true benefit of this you have to plug in headphones as you can only hear high bitrate audio through the headphone jack, not via USB or Bluetooth. Still, audio fiends will love the idea of this. And true to form we thought it sounded very, very good indeed.
It's nice to be able to play lossless audio out of the box, despite the obvious negative impact to internal storage space. But there's a lot more here than just lossless, because 24-bit/192KHz is a grade above CD quality. LG includes a demo track of its "theme song" on board and it really is breathtaking to hear through decent headphones. Sadly, most of us can't access much music in this format - it's hard to come by. However you look at it though, LG is one of only a few firms to take music seriously on smartphoes, and we have to say, we're really impressed.
Of course, as we mentioned, try storing much audio on the phone - especially on the 16GB model - and you're going to come unstuck. There is no microSD slot for expansion - so if you're serious about your music you'll want to opt for the 32GB unit for sure. That's as big as the G2 comes.
We also note that the LG can power decent headphones at a good volume too, something which can be a problem for Android handsets and audiophile headphones. So more thumbs up here too.
However, the G2's built-in speakers are less than impressive though. They don't produce much volume, and they're not that great in quality terms either. Not a huge problem really as the speaker will be fine for phone calls, although we do still think it's a bit quiet.
Put the phone to your ear and making calls is a plesant exeprience, far more so than on a physically larger phone, or even on other phones this size. We found it felt natural against our ear, the rear volume controls were helpful and call quality to be really clear too. As a phone then - result!
We found the camera on the LG G2 to be quite a pleasant snapper. Its biggest problems seem to be that it's not got quite as much manual control as we would have liked, and its resulting images aren't always as sharp as we would like. Zoomed in to 100 per cent, and you can see quite a bit of smudging and blurring on the edges of things. It's not as bad as it is on some cheaper phones, but nor is it up to the same standard as we have seen on the SGS4 and iPhone 5. Shame.
That's not to say we don't like the images that the G2 produces. We do. They're colour-accurate and the camera app seems to do a pretty good job of setting everything up for you. The HDR (high dynamic range) feature seems reasonable, but we didn't think it made a big difference when we really wanted it to - such as when shooting people in a strongly backlit scene to get the most detail out of their faces.
There are lots of other photo options too, including things like panorama and the multi-photo 360 degree mode that LG first introduced with the Nexus 4. These are all fine, and work reasonably well, but they left us wanting more creative control over the camera instead; smarter image processing to get pictures that were of more practical use. Look at the iPhone 5S and the Nokia Lumia 1020. These phones both have cameras that can produce results that can rival standalone compact cameras, and that's more use to us than filters and special effects.
You can get some control in the G2 by holding the shutter button down, which locks the camera in its focus and exposure mode. When you then release it will take the snap. This is handy, and - even though it's not operationally controlled the same way - it's the way most DSLR photographers handle focus when they can't rely on autofocus hitting its mark.
Nothing here to worry about, but also not much to be overjoyed with. A solid performance, but one that won't satisfy those who take loads of photos on their phone and use it almost as a camera substitute.
Video is well catered for and quality is reasonably good too. There's an audio mode that helps you capture sound from a long way away, and it's even possible to apply this effect - and it is a software effect - after you've recorded. As with photo capture, in video it's possible to capture from both the front and rear cameras at the same time, so you can film your reaction to whatever is happening from the main camera. We have to say, the chances of the two things lining up well is something of a lottery though.
We've given the LG G2 a pretty tough time during our usage. LG told us that we should see between one and a half to two days out of a charge. Our experience has been that it's much more like under one day.
To clarify: we're at the top-end of use. We've been playing Jurassic Park Builder on our G2 and it's meant that we've had to charge it again in the early evening. But, on days where we haven't played that stupidly addictive game we still found that there were problems getting right through from when we got up at 7am-ish, until bedtime just after midnight. But that's an all-out better performance than something like the Huawei P6.
READ: Huawei Ascend P6 review
We suspect that light users - those that avoid dinosaur games - will have a better time of things. There's certainly enough capacity here to last a decent amount of useage time. We noted in our hands-on video that it's got nearly the same capacity as the Samsung Note II. Now that's no bad thing.
On the downside though, the combination of that 5.2-inch 1080p screen and powerful processor has obvious implication on the battery life. All that power also leads to a phone that's hot to the touch. Not egg-cooking hot, but hot enough.
The G2 is easily a competitor for every other high-end smartphone out there. The "weird" button layout works for us, and it's paired with some smart touch functions that are well thought out. The phone looks and feels great, and just works as a smartphone should.
There are some minor things about the G2 we don't like, but our overwhelming sense is that this phone does what we want and it does it well, with style and smoothness. There's stacks of power built in to this handset thanks to the S800 chip, and it will be quick and responsive well into the time you're allowed to upgrade. We urge you to replace the LG virtual keyboard though as it's pretty horrible to use - just go back to the stock Android version is leaps and bounds more usable.
Some might struggle to get over their love of Samsung or Apple, but those who do and take the dive into LG G2 land will be rewarded with a phone that features technology that enhances its usability and maintains the balance of what really matters in a handset over those gimmicks no one ever uses. Mission accomplished LG, the G2 is an astounding phone.