Overview, Design & Features
At the rate that flagship Android smartphones are hitting the market, it's becoming increasingly difficult to release something that truly stands out from the crowd. LG thinks it's solved that problem with the LG G2 (it's dropping the Optimus moniker) - by putting the buttons on the back! Three of them, to be precise.
While that may not exactly sound like cutting edge technology, it does completely change the way you use your phone (or at least how you turn it on and off). It also makes the 5.2-inch G2 the first ever ambidextrous smartphone.
Let's take a look at the G2's key highlights.
Here's how the G2 compares to other 5-inch Android flagship smartphones, as well as the old Optimus G:
LG hasn't opted for any daring redesigns with the G2 and, from the front, it looks much the same as any other plastic Android smartphone out there. It does have quite clean lines, thanks to the lack of any button all around the frame, but it's a bit disappointing to see LG sticking to the same old plastic build, especially when many of its competitors are starting to experiment with different materials and more aesthetically pleasing designs.
The G2 isn't the sleekest phone out there, measuring in at a rather ho-hum 8.9mm, and weighing 143g. It's not exactly an eyesore - it's just rather unassuming. A thin band of silver-colored plastic running around the edge of the phone does little to spruce it up. The one nice touch that LG has included is a slight curve to the Gorilla Glass 2-protected display (similar to the Nexus 4), that adds a premium feel to the otherwise plain phone. In fact, it kind of looks somewhat like an enlarged Nexus 4. But once you power up the device, you get another pleasant surprise, which is the near edge-to-edge screen, thanks to its ultra thin bezel.
Flip the phone over and things aren't much better. The rear has an interesting patterned finish that looks a bit like cloth or some other textured material, but the glossy black plastic still feels cheap and is also one of the worst fingerprint magnets we've seen. Just for the record, we don't immediately write off anything plastic as cheap, as some plastic phones can actually look and feel quite premium, for example, the polycarbonate Nokia Lumia range.
At the top-middle of the phone you'll find the G2's three buttons: volume up, volume down, and power in the middle. LG has thoughtfully given the up and down buttons a gritty, matte finish, while the power button has a glossy, metallic finish and sits in a small recess on a distinctive bump, providing plenty of tactile feedback for your fingers to feel their way around. There's also an LED notification light surrounding the power button, however, it will only flash for incoming calls and alarms. The front-facing LED notification light has the usual functionality and will inform you of all of your new emails, messages, and app notifications etc.
The rear buttons also serve as shortcut buttons. While the screen is off, long-pressing the down button will launch the camera, while long-pressing the up button will launch LG's QuickMemo app. Unfortunately, for now at least, you can't customize these shortcuts.
It took us a while to get used to the LG's rear buttons, but once we acclimated to the idea, we actually found the layout growing on us. The small bump makes it easy to quickly locate the power button, and compared to a conventional button layout, there's significantly less chance of dropping the phone as you try to turn it on, since you can keep a firm grip on the device. There's also less accidental button pressing, as you're no longer squeezing the side buttons with your fingers and palm, and the rear buttons can also be used as a camera shutter button, making it much easier to take front-facing camera selfies.
If you're worried about accidentally turning the phone on and off, or increasing the volume unexpectedly with your palm, we tried but, due to the width of the phone and the little recess the power button sits in, it's almost impossible to exert enough force to activate the buttons accidentally - it can be done if you're trying to do it, but it's awkward (you essentially have to push with the middle of your palm).
Using the power button as a reference, we also liked how easy it is to slide your finger up or down to quickly increase or decrease volume, useful for when you're listening to music with the phone in your pocket. The only slightly annoying issue we encountered was occasionally smudging the camera lens with our finger while trying to turn the phone on or off, although this happened less frequently as we got used to it. Still, it would have been nice if LG hadn't put the lens quite so precariously close to the buttons.
The rear button layout is an interesting idea and we can see it working especially well on larger smartphones and phablets. Getting used to the G2 over the past few days has reminded us somewhat of switching to an ergonomic keyboard: it takes a while to get used to, and can be quite frustrating while you're familiarizing, but once you've gotten the hang of it, you realize the benefits and start wondering why everyone isn't using one.
The G2 is equipped with a 5.2-inch Full HD IPS display. That's right 5.2-inches. Thanks to LG's new Dual Routing touch sensor technology, which uses two connectors instead of the usual one, LG has managed to decrease the size of the bezel to a miniscule 2.65mm. Rather than make the phone smaller, LG has kept the same footprint as other 5-inch smartphones and given the G2 an extra 0.2-inches of display.
LG's IPS smartphone displays are some of the best around, and the G2 is no exception. Extremely bright, with vibrant colors, deep blacks and superb contrast, the screen also displays excellent viewing angles. Clarity is also second to none, with an excellent 423 ppi pixel density with absolutely no fuzziness, even when inspected very closely.
Audio on the G2 is supplied via dual speakers located on the bottom edge of the phone. Audio quality was passable, if nothing particularly impressive, and should be sufficient for listening to music or watching a movie in a quiet room. The G2 will also be supplied with LG's new Quadbeat 2 in-ear earphones, a new and improved version of the previous Quadbeat earphones supplied with the Optimus G and G Pro devices.
Like their predecessor, the new Quadbeat 2 earphones are far superior to the stock earphones bundled with most smartphones (including Apple's Earpods), delivering clear, natural audio with pleasing highs and solid bass. While there are better in-ears available out there, it's hard to find complain considering that the Quadbeat 2s come bundled for free with the G2.
As a nice touch, plugging any earphones into the G2 will pop up a new customizable menu that you can add all of your audio-related apps to.
Audiophiles will be pleased to hear that the G2 is the first smartphone to include 24-bit / 192kHz music support on both FLAC and WAV files; a nice feature, but one we suspect will be lost on the majority of the population.
OS & UI Matters
The G2 is running Android 4.2.2 with the usual LG enhancements and custom apps included like QuickMemo, LG's note taking and doodle app, QuickRemote, which lets you turn your smartphone into an IR remote control, and QSlide, LG's multitasking app that lets you transparently overlay video, the calculator, and your web browser on top of each other so that you can perform other tasks while the video plays in the background subtly.
New features on the G2 include KnockON, which lets you turn on and off the screen by double tapping the display (similar to recent Nokia Lumia phones) - useful for when the phone is flat on a surface and you don't want to turn it over to access the rear button, and Answer Me, which will automatically pick up your call (without any swiping or button pressing) when your place the ringing phone to your ear. Handily, Answer Me also senses when the G2 has been picked up, and automatically decreases the ringer volume so you don't deafen yourself before the call kicks in.
The G2 also lets you customize which on-screen soft-keys you want displayed, with several permutations of home, back, menu, search, multitask and QuickMemo shortcut available.
A feature that anyone with nosy friends and family will enjoy is the Guest Mode, which lets you lock down certain areas of your phone by setting a specific lock pattern for guest users. Once activated you can specify which apps guests can access although, do note, your browser will remain logged into your Google account.