LG G2 review: LG’s best Android phone yet, but not Android’s best phone

LG G2

The LG G2 is a lesson in dichotomy. It is at once the fastest Android phone I’ve ever tested, as well the most frustrating. It has an extremely comfortable shape for a big phone, but awkward button placement makes it difficult to use. It has a great camera, but terrible software. And while the G2 is LG’s best Android phone to date, it isn’t the best Android phone you can buy.

Design: One step forward, but buttons hold it back

Let’s just get this out of the way. The LG G2’s display measures 5.2 inches, which places it firmly within the 5-inch-and-over “phablet” category. That said, the G2 is probably the most comfortable phablet I’ve ever handled. Thanks to ultra-thin bezels the phone measures 5.45 by 2.79 by 0.35 inches and weighs 5.04 ounces. The 5-inch Samsung Galaxy S 4, by comparison, measures 5.38 by 2.75 by 0.31 inches and weighs 4.59 ounces. So you’re getting a slightly larger screen on the G2 with a barely perceptible difference in overall size.

LG G2 size comparison

Here’s the LG G2 (left) next to the Moto X (middle) and the iPhone 5

Many of the LG phones I’ve seen use great displays, and the G2 is no exception. Its 5.2-inch screen IPS LCD is a real beauty. It features 1920 by 1080 resolution, which works out to 424 pixels per inch. It gets incredibly bright, and everything from pictures to text is rendered in sharp, clear detail.

The build quality of the phone is nothing special. I’d put it on par with the Galaxy S 4. It’s made entirely of plastic, which feels slippery and grows sludgy with fingerprints after handling the phone for just a few moments. Unlike the Galaxy S 4, there’s no microSD card slot and the back of the phone isn’t removable. Luckily, battery life is fantastic. With the screen brightness set to automatic, I never had trouble getting through a full day of moderate use — with plenty of power to spare. Credit that to Qualcomm’s energy-saving Snapdragon 800 processor (more on that in a bit) as well as the phone’s whopping 3,000mAh battery.

Unfortunately, almost all of this good will was dispelled by a very curious design decision. LG has placed all of the physical buttons on the phone — a multifunction power button and two volume buttons – on the back, right below the camera sensor. When I first saw this I actually thought it seemed like a good idea. Your fingers do tend to rest there naturally, after all.

The problem lies in the implementation. There is virtually no separation between the keys, and I often found myself turning the screen off when all I wanted to do was turn the volume up a notch. And good luck finding only the Power button in order to wake the phone screen. I quickly took to just mashing my finger against all three buttons and hoping something would work.

LG G2 rear buttons

LG seems to have taken this issue into account, to an extent. You can double-tap the phone’s screen in order to wake it up, which helps. But this only works intermittently, and it doesn’t solve the problem of what to do when you’re already using the phone and need to push a button. Unless you have very tiny, very precise fingertips, it remains something of a crapshoot.

I should note that I tested both AT&T and Verizon models of the phone. The Verizon model features slightly different rear buttons than the other carrier models, and are flatter and a bit more difficult to get a handle on. But even the AT&T model made for a frustrating experience.

Performance: The fastest phone I’ve tested

The G2 is the first phone to feature Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 800 processor. Using four cores clocked at 2.26GHz apiece, the G2 positively flies through anything you throw at it. Even navigating my way around the UI was impressive – I’ve never felt Android operate so smoothly.

LG G2 highlights and specs
5.2″ IPS LCD with 1920 x 1080 resolution (424 ppi)
2.26 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, Adreno 330 GPU, 32 GB internal memory, 2 GB of RAM
13 megapixel rear camera (1080p video support at 60 fps), 2.1 megapixel front camera
Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean software
802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, BT 4.0 LE, GPS, NFC, gyroscope, accelerometer
5.45 x 2.79 x 0.35 inches and 5.04 ounces

Benchmark scores really drive this point home. I tested the G2 against a Moto X, which uses Motorola’s X8 chip (which is based on a 1.7GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 and a quad-core Adreno 320 GPU). The G2 scored 33359 in the AnTuTu benchmark, which tests overall system performance, including CPU, GPU and RAM. That was good enough to land the G2 at the top of the AnTuTu charts, with the Moto X coming in a few stops below, beneath the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S 4.

LG G2 AnTuTu

Geekbench 3, which simulates real-world, processor-intensive tasks, scores single-core and multi-core performance separately. The G2 came out ahead again, scoring 888 for single-core performance and 2229 for multi-core, as opposed to 680 for single and 1246 for multi for the Moto X.

Finally, Sunspider, which tests JavaScript performance, turned in a score of 910.6 for the LG G2 and 1056.7 for the Moto X (in this instance a lower score is better).

No matter how you measure it, the LG G2 is among the fastest Android phones you can get right now. This is bound to change in the near future, as more and more flagship phones are launching with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 chip, but you can rest assured that this hardware should be able to supply you with all the power you need until your next upgrade cycle.

Software: Sometimes more is less

After such a glorious benchmarking experience, I was almost ready to forgive those dreadful controls on the back of the phone. Then I spent some exploring the G2’s software, and grew frustrated yet again.

First off, the G2 is positively loaded down with bloatware. On the Verizon model there are no less than 19 pieces of bloatware, none of which can be deleted. You can disable them from showing up in your app menu, but they’ll still remain dormant, taking up valuable storage space.

LG G2 notifcations bar

Between the settings and the QSlide apps, there’s not much room for notifications in the notifications bar.

The G2 runs Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean), which places it on an even playing field with most new phones. But LG’s software customizations range from interesting to utterly superfluous. At first it felt like LG’s software overlay was created to mimic Samsung’s TouchWiz. And while I’m not a huge fan of TouchWiz, I can at least find some of Samsung’s myriad additional features worthwhile. But I’m just not seeing that here.

For starters, LG has opted to use a menu key at the bottom of the screen in place of the traditional multitasking button. This isn’t an egregious offense, but I find I use it far less than I would use the multitasking button. Worse is the notifications bar, which is filled nearly halfway with quick settings and QSlide apps. This means that when you have multiple notifications to check, you often have to scroll down because you’ve lost so much real estate at the top of the screen.

As for those QSlide apps — they just aren’t necessary. LG allows you to open up to two additional apps on top of your home screen. But there’s definitely not enough space to use more than one at once, and even with just one app running it blocks off a significant portion of the screen behind it. You’re better off just running a full-size version. The G2 might have a big screen, but if you want to do this sort of multiwindow multitasking, get a tablet.

Qslide apps

There’s not enough space to use LG’s QSlide apps

Another feature called Slide Aside allows you to keep three apps open at the same time by using three fingers to slide them to the side. This offers no marked advantage over traditional multitasking, and getting the phone to recognize that I was using three fingers only worked about a quarter of the times I tried it.

And make sure to steer clear of LG’s Voice Mate assistant, which pales in comparison to Google Now. I also encountered a lot of little bugs while using the phone. The screen inexplicably shut off on a number of occasions, and the phone crashed twice while I was running Riptide GP 2.

The good news is that you don’t need to use many of these features if you don’t want to. But I wish LG had spent a little less time thinking about what it could add to the software and a little more time thinking twice about moving those physical buttons.

Sharp shooter

This camera is a bright point. If you take a lot of photographs with your phone, you’ll be pleased to carry the LG G2 in your pocket. It features a 13-megapixel sensor that takes some of the better camera phone images I’ve seen lately, right on par with the Galaxy S 4 and the iPhone 5. Images look crisp and detailed, and the camera manages to capture vibrant colors in average lighting.

LG G2 test photo

The camera has a tendency to overexpose outdoor shots with a lot of bright light, but image quality is still solid. Additionally, LG claims this is the first camera phone to feature Optical Image Stabilization without the need for a protruding lens. Whatever the case, OIS does seem to work really well here, saving shots from motion blur when I was using an intentionally shaky hand.

The video camera is also capable of capturing 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second, thanks to the Snapdragon 800 processor. The 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera is fine, but nothing to write home about.

Networks and call quality

As mentioned earlier, I tested the LG G2 on both AT&T and Verizon’s networks in New York City. While I was able to pull in faster data speeds on the AT&T model, the Verizon phone was better at maintaining a consistent signal, which is something I’ve found characteristic of these networks here regardless of device.

The LG G2 is offered from all four major U.S. carriers, and pricing start at $199.99 with a two-year contract for a 32GB model. T-Mobile doesn’t subsidize the cost of its phones, so the phone costs $99.99 down plus an additional $21 for 24 months.

On both AT&T and Verizon, the LG G2 is an average voice phone. Calls sounded loud and relatively clear in the phone’s earpiece, but calls made with the phone were slightly fuzzy.

LG G2

Conclusion

The LG G2 is a very good phone. It’s arguably the best phone LG has released to date. And yet it’s a hard phone to recommend.

If not for all the needless software modifications and the frustrating button placement, the LG G2 would be one of the best Android phones available. At it stands, you get a far more polished experience with phones like the HTC One and the Galaxy S 4. Not only that, but the HTC One can often be found for less money, and features a much higher quality build than the LG G2. There’s also the Moto X. It’s a little less powerful than the HTC One and the Galaxy S 4, but it offers other unique, helpful options like Active Display and Touchless Control.

If you’re looking for sheer processing power, there’s also the Sony Xperia Z1 and the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I haven’t tested either of those phones yet, but they both use the same Snapdragon 800 processor as the LG G2. And the Galaxy Note 3 features a whopping 3GB of memory. Better yet, both phones keep their physical controls on the side, right where they belong.

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