Ever since LG introduced the Optimus G, the company has aggressively pushed the boundaries of Android handset hardware and software. The G2 can be seen as the successor of the original G, and it comes only six month after the LG Optimus G Pro, which is a large-display (5.5”) handset. With a display size of 5.2”, the LG G2 places itself somewhere between the Optimus G and the G Pro, and comes with a powerful Snapdragon 800 processor which is anywhere between 25% to 50% faster than the previous Snapdragon 600, depending on which benchmark you look at. More importantly, LG has made some important changes in the phone ergonomics with controls placed in the back, along with many user interface shortcuts and optimizations. In this review, I will tell you how it feels to use the G2 in the real world. Ready?
Before we dive into the review, let me tell you how I use my phone: I don’t call much, not even 5mn a day. However, I check my emails and social networks updates very often. I like to take photos and share some of them right away. Since I work with it, email productivity is important to me, so is a readable calendar. I don’t play mobile games much (except with the SHIELD maybe), but I enjoy watching movies in bed from time to time. This is important because “how” we use our phones will determine how we evaluate at them. I’ll do my best to give you an accurate picture of what it is, so that you can figure out if it will work for your unique situation.
LG G2: What’s new?
LG has brought a number of changes and new features in the G2 design, but if you had to come away with only a handful of them, here’s the list of things to look for.
- LG has moved the main controls in the back of the phone
- Snapdragon 800 processor at 2.26GHz
- Higher density 3000mAh battery design
- Optical image stabilization in the camera
- 5.2″ 1080p IPS display
Industrial design (classic)
Say what you want, but the design does matter, so what about starting with that? Since the power and volume controls are in the back, the lines of the LG Optimus G are clean and it is only at the bottom of the phone that you will find the two loudspeakers, a micro-USB port, and the 3.5mm audio connector.
You are probably going to ask: how is it to have the controls in the back? Well, it is not as strange as it may appear. Unlike most smartphones today, it is a completely ambidextrous system so lefties will be happy. Finding the Power or Volume Controls is actually easier than with most phones. I really like the idea.
I also noticed that there are less “accidental button action” when compared to having the buttons on the side because while you naturally put pressure on the sides of the phone to hold it, you would most likely not press the back hard enough, even with the palm of your hand (the Power button is recessed inside the volume control anyway, so you have to press right on top of it). Using the power button as a reference, it is extremely easy to just slide the finger to increase or decrease volume. LG took a bold step, and it works.
Even better: with the software feature called Knockon it is possible to turn phone on and off by double-tapping the screen. To be honest, that’s what I’m actually using the most. Since the screen area is huge, you cannot miss it (especially when using two hands), it’s very reliable and fast to turn the phone on/off. That is particularly convenient when the phone is on a table: you don’t have to pick it up or find the power button on the side. The double-tap works well with one hand too, but in that situation, you may as well use the back button. It’s good to have option I suppose.
The back cover seems made of polycarbonate. It is not removable in this version*, so there is a very discrete SIM tray on the side (tool required) and you won’t be able to swap the battery, so if this is something you absolutely need, there are other smartphones out there, including the LG G Pro. While I like the design pattern in the back, I also think that the black version attracts fingerprints easily and feels plastic. If you don’t like fingerprints, you may want to opt for white version, if available.
*Note that there is also a battery-removable version of this phone in Korea, but it comes with a 2610mAh battery (vs 3000mAh). As you may remember from our Optimus G Pro unboxing, Korean phones often come with two batteries, and people are very much used to swap batteries, so it was decided that the domestic version would feature the removable cover at the expense of the larger battery. Personally, I would choose the 3000mAh battery option, which is the one you see in this review.
Despite the 3000mAh battery and the 5.2” display, the LG G2 feels lighter than it looks (5oz/142g). The other day, I had it in my pocket, and I didn’t realize it was there and started to look for it around me… it happened to me before with the GS4 or the iPhone 5 (which is much lighter). The front of the phone is plain, classic and classy. I hope that carriers around the world won’t ruin the design by adding logos all over the place.
On my particular unit, the only design element that I found questionable is the sticker in the back with the EMEI and serial number of the device (just above the LG logo). I feel like I should remove it, but I’m not sure that I’m supposed to — I did anyway. If you want to remove it, it comes off pretty easily, but make sure that you keep it in the box in case you need to reference these numbers later on.
To conclude on the design, I feel that it is classic and efficient, but it may prove “not sexy enough” for the design-savvy crowd which may either want an aluminum body, or glass panel. Ultimately, the back panel could have been better, but it would have also been heavier, so there are tough choices to make.
G2 Display (excellent)
The LG G2 display is and LCD-based IPS full HD screen which has excellent color rendering and brightness. It is beautiful to look at and this is one of the best smartphone displays that I have seen to date (and I see a lot of them…).
During the launch of the G2 in New York, LG presented slides that were showing the difference between their HD IPS display and the competing AMOLED screen. In LG’s slides the pixel layout implied that they had both better brightness and sharpness. Since the HTC One also uses an LCD-based technology, I compared the two, and the LG IPS display came out clearly on top with better black levels and color rendering. To see the display under different view angle, look at this image.
Next to the Galaxy S4, the LG G2 has more natural colors, which is rather typical when comparing AMOLED and IPS LCD — but of course, AMOLED has better black levels. I personally don’t mind the AMOLED over-saturation, but I do know that photographers and other folks can be particularly sensitive to it. There’s nothing really “new” in this IPS vs. AMOLED standoff.
When LG launched the G2 (watch the launch overview video ), it showed that their pixel matrix was “better” since they got more sub-pixels in there. I really appreciate the technology behind those displays and the visible result is that the LG G2 display is brighter (and whiter) than the S4. That translates into an advantage to the G2 on a sunny day or in bright environments.
In theory, LG’s tech would also make the text look sharper, but in real-world usage, this is not really obvious. Even when I get to 0.5 feet from my phone, I can’t really tell if the text is “sharper” or not when compared to the S4. In any case, the screen is very beautiful and clearly one of the best features of the phone.
LG G2 display specs
- 5.2” 1080p IPS
- 432 pixel-per-inch (PPI)
- 16:9 aspect ratio
LG G2 Camera (excellent)
For the past 12 months, LG has worked considerably on its camera optics and app. Back in the Optimus G days, it was not competitive enough, and while some progress was made with the Optimus G Pro, more was needed.
This time, LG has taken things to the next level with the inclusion of an optical image stabilizer which allows two things: 1/take sharper pictures in bright light 2/use a slower shutter speed to capture brighter images in low-light. As you can see in the photo below, the LG G2 far exceeds the image quality of the iPhone 5, especially in low-light (see the iPhone’s photo in full-size on Flickr vs. LG G2 shot in full size).
The photos will speak for themselves, but basically, in the most difficult conditions, the LG G2 performs admirably, easily coming on top by a wide margin. The Optical stabilizer works well and allows the lens to gather more light through a slower shutter speed. More light = better image. There is no secret. Two more low-light shots to compare the LG G2 and the iPhone 5.
If you think about it, this is exactly what NOKIA did with its Lumia 920 Series and the latest Lumia 1020, except that LG has better white balance controls in my opinion so the colors stay more natural and true, out of the box. I know that Nokia had issued a fix, but I didn’t have a chance to do a side-by side comparison quite yet. For all I know, things should be just fine right now.
I have also compared the imaging capabilities of the LG G2 with the HTC One and while it is tight, I think that the G2 comes out on top in terms of image quality. The HTC One remains faster to focus and snap photos, and the overall user interface is a bit more fancy. Here’s a plant photo with the G2 and with the HTC One. City shot between the G2 and the HTC One.
More full-size photos of the LG G2, iPhone 5 and HTC One in our LG G2 photo set on Flickr."IN ONLY ONE YEAR, LG'S CAMERA HAS GONE FROM DUD TO STUD"
From a technical perspective, the LG G2 is equipped with a 13 Megapixel sensor with a Sapphire glass to protect the lens (Sapphire is nearly impossible to scratch). Its optical stabilization system can compensate for motion on 2 axis, but I don’t have the f-stop equivalent for now. Since Snapdragon 800 supports dual-recording, the feature is present and integrated in various forms. Basically, the idea is to allow the photographer to participate in group or action photos.
With the additional performance, a Tracking Zoom feature has been added as well. The idea is to maintain the focus on one person, even if the framing changes. When the photo is shot, the person can be isolated and their face cropped and added in a small frame.
Camera Software (very good)
Multi-point auto-focus (AF) is present on nearly every compact camera and above, but this is relatively new for smartphones. It is useful when you want to shoot a picture and have the focus point be off-centered (many smartphones use the center of the image as the focal point). Obviously, many camera apps, also let you tap to focus, but it’s nice to just “point and shoot”. This is particularly true if by the time to tap to focus, the subject has moved. Multi-point AF will let you wander a little off center, but at this point, there seems to be 9 AF-points and they cover something like one-third of the screen around the center.
The Panorama feature works great and what I like the most about it is that it does not force you to take a full 180 degrees panorama. Instead, if you want to shoot a slightly wide shot, it can stitch only two or three photos instead of 7-8. Every smartphone makers should do that. There is also a VR Panorama function that captures a sphere around you. This works best for landscapes shots, although if you don’t mind some stitching artifacts, you can also show your room that way. When I was in Korea, LG mentioned that they were using their own stitching software, but it works similarly to Google’s Photo Sphere, although I have to say that Photo Sphere gets slightly better stitching right now.
There are many more photo modes, but the last one that I would like to go over is the Dual-Camera. If you are always the person taking photos in your family, chances are you are not on most of them. Dual-camera snaps a photo with the front and back cameras at the same time, so the photographer can finally participate. The same Dual Mode is also available during video recording and I will let you imagine what you can do with it. If you have a rugged case, here comes your $600 action cam.
1080p/60 video recording is a cool feature. As you may have noticed, it is very easy to pan a bit too fast and things get jittery if not outright dizzy. At 60FPS, fast panning feels much smoother. The optical stabilization should help make the videos better, and I should really strap two smartphones and go for a bike ride to see how they compare! Here’s a sample below, and you can watch a similar movie shot with the HTC One (on Flickr). Unfortunately, the 60FPS rate is not preserved by Flickr, sorry.
The LG G2 video recording also introduces audio zooming, a feature that lets the G2 focus the audio recording on a specific source of sound. For example, if several people take turns to talk, you can tap to tell the phone “where to look for” the sound. This uses the three internal microphone of the handset along with algorithms which were originally developed for improving phone conversations. I’m not sure if Audience is in this phone, but that company makes processors that do exactly this.
Entertainment capabilities (excellent)
It is obvious that the latest hardware will run any 1080p videos without any issues. Heck, the Snapdragon 800 chip can also decode 4k videos if you have some handy – it looks awesome (I successfully played a TimeScapes 4K video). That said, you need to take this with a grain of salt. First of all, it’s hard to find even 1080p content that will do real justice to the G2 display: on the Google Play store, movies are a bit blurry because the bit-rate is much lower than what you get with Blu-Ray. If you have your own content, you may get a better chance to use the screen to its full potential.
The specs also show that the G2 can play 24-bit, 192 KHz FLAC and WAV files. That’s great and all, but it’s probable that the large majority of users don’t really have the headphones, or the physiological ability to hear a clear difference with the “lesser” content that they may have.
On the other hand, there is surround sound in select movies, and I found that to be particularly good. I typically test those phones with Transformers Dark of the Moon, and I recommend using a good pair of headphones. At MWC 2013, Qualcomm showed an awesome surround sound demo, but unfortunately, those files are not available for download (copyrights issues)… too bad.
In terms of gaming, the G2 is fast enough to provide a top-notch performance. As you can see in the graphics benchmark, it is one of the fastest mobile at this point in time, and nearly all the games that I looked at ran at 60FPS with the exception of Real Racing 3, which runs at 30FPS to 45FPS (I’m “eyeballing” this).
LG phones have a ton of features, and you may have heard of many before, but here are a few that I found of interest since they are new:
Slide Aside: this is a new little feature that can be of help for multi-taskers. It basically serves the same purpose as the default Android Task Manager (which is still here). To switch to a new task swipe from right to left with three fingers. Swipe from left to right to show quick access tabs to the saved apps. Since the space on the screen is limited, you can only save three apps. I like this better than going through the Android task manager because it is faster, but to be honest, I mostly mono-task with my phone.
If you have kids, there is now a Guest mode that lets you setup a secondary access (with its own password) and you get to decide what kinds of apps are accessible. To use Guest Mode, you will need to use and setup a password or a lock pattern so that users can identify themselves. The setup is very easy: basically, select a password/pattern, choose which apps are available and that’s it. If you login with the guest profile, you won’t have access to the settings, app store etc. Apparently, it is still possible to make in-app purchases, so beware if you have kids. We’ve heard of bill shocks before.
Capture plus is a fancy screenshot feature that is capable of capturing complete pages that are several screens long. This is pretty cool because it is now possible to snap complete web pages or emails, add some quick annotations and send the result. Not that this won’t work with every single app, but so far, I tried it on the Email and Browser app and it just works.
The Virtual keyboard is classic, clean, productive and most importantly very responsive. Over the years, I found that the keyboard responsiveness of Windows Phone and iOS to be better than on many Android devices (Windows Phone is still the most responsive keyboard in my opinion). LG has done a good job with the keyboard responsiveness, and it is fast enough for my taste. The Google Edition phones would probably challenge it, but I do a lot of emails, and this is definitely good enough for me. As a possible improvement, I find Samsung’s words suggestions to be better, so LG may want to look into that.
|LG G2||iPhone 5||Galaxy S4||HTC One|
|OS||Android 4.2.2||iOS 6||Android 4.2||Android 4.1|
|Camera (F) MP||2.1||1.2||2||2.1|
|Camera (B) MP||13 (OIS)||8||13||4|
LG G2 Benchmarks (definitely high-end)
A few days ago, I wrote about the LG G2 benchmarks, and I’ll summarize it for you. All the graphs are here to glance at. The bottom-line is quite simple: if we’re talking about smartphones on the market, the LG G2 is among the top 2 phones in terms of performance. That’s completely logical since it is the second phone to come out with the Snapdragon 800 and since there are no Tegra 4 handsets to challenge it, the Sony XPERIA Z Ultra and the LG G2 are the two top phones of the moment, at least until the Note 3 comes out on Sept 4.
The G2 is very powerful, both in terms of raw math performance and graphics performance. In practice, this means that games will run at very high framerates and that’s how gaming should be. In general, I found the raw power to be most useful in games, but when there are a lot of apps in the background entry-level phones start getting into trouble. I suppose that having more RAM also helps in that particular case. It’s not just all CPU.
There is also the responsiveness aspect that is extremely important in my opinion. Since user interface (UI) speed is not always related to raw performance, I’m glad to report that the LG G2 shows an exemplary fluidity when it comes to swiping, scrolling and other UI activity. To show you, I have loaded the home page with a bunch of big widgets, and I’m swiping around. Watch the video and you will notice that the UI never slows down and suffers from lag. Nice.
G2 Battery Life (excellent)
Packing a 3000mAh battery into the LG G2 is not easy: if I place the G2 next to the Galaxy Note II (3100 mAh battery), the difference in internal volume is quite significant (watch the “industrial design” video above). LG says that it had to build a better battery, which features more capacity per unit of volume.
Unfortunately, LG did not provide a whole lot of information on the battery manufacturing and science, but they did mention that it uses Silicon Oxide, which I had heard about before when a Stanford team managed to create a battery that would pack a lot more energy (PDF link) than the conventional ones. Obviously, we’re not anywhere near a huge improvement over the existing batteries, but apparently, LG has used the material to reduce “dead space” in the battery, and therefore increase the power density. As I have mentioned above, the battery is NOT user-replaceable, so you will have to use an external USB charger if you need more juice.
Enough with the theory: we’ve put the battery to the test, and here are the results: when playing a streaming movie from Google Play* at 50% brightness (sorry, the LUX measurement will come next time), the battery life decreased by 11%. If we compare that to the 17% that will go away from a Galaxy S4**, we’re starting to see the benefits of having a 3000mAh battery versus a 2600mAh one (GS4). We are talking about a theoretical 9hrs of streaming HD video playback with the LG G2."THE BATTERY GAME: CAPACITY AND DENSITY ARE EVERYTHING"
If you decide to download the movie to the phone’s storage, things get even better: in our test, 60mn of HD movie did cost only 9% of the battery, which brings the maximum video playback time to 11.1 hours. That’s enough for me.
Finally, if we leave the phone ON (with notifications, emails, GPS OFF etc…) overnight for 8hrs, the battery went from 22% down to 19%. That’s a mere 3% of depletion after 8hrs of standby. Why is this important? Because most of the time, your phone does exactly that: sleep, get notifications and wait until you actually turn it on. A slow standby battery depletion is probably one of the most important things in a smart device.
Note that I’m using my usual smartphone setup which syncs to an Exchange server for email, and pulls notification from Facebook. Depending on your own setup and on the amount of background activity, you may see different results. I typically have the same setup for all the smartphones that I test for consistency purposes.
The LG G2 is an impressive smartphone which runs on the latest hardware available. Its display is beautiful and the Snapdragon 800 processor is more than capable of handling everything that we threw at it. On top of that, the phone has an excellent battery life, so this is a winning combination. Of course, the G2 is among the first “next-gen” smartphones (with the Z Ultra) to come out. Days from now, more will come (Galaxy Note 3) and the competition will be very fierce, but that club of ultra-powerful handsets will be relatively small for this holiday season.
The other thing that should not be underestimated is LG’s progress in software and product planning. 18 months ago, few people would have believed that LG would be where it is now. This has gone under the radar, but when I was in Korea, I found out that LG had invested enormously in software engineering since, and it shows: just like with the G Pro, the LG G2 user interface is nearly always fast and fluid. This is arguably the most important difference if you want to compare it with the Galaxy S4."THE G2 IS GREAT AT WHAT REALLY MATTERS"
Some people asked me if the LG G2 competes with the Note 3 or the Galaxy S4/HTC One. I have been using the Note 2 for a while, and the Mega 6.3 shortly. After using the G2 for a week, I think that the G2 is NOT a “phablet” and I would put it in the same category as the S4 or the One. I’m not getting that “Galaxy Note II feel” when using it.
If I had to boil it down, I would say that the LG G2 is excellent where it matters: super-responsive, amazing display, excellent battery life and very high photo quality. To me, these are the most important aspects of a smartphone, and the LG G2 hits a home run on everything that really matters. Beyond that, it is up to you to decide if the industrial design, graphic design, web services or carrier availability will work for you. If you end up choosing it, you would have made a damn fine choice.