The Optimus G was LG's 2012 flagship and was an incredible step forward for the company. Prior to the Optimus G, LG's reputation in the smartphone world was less than stellar. But with great smartphones like the Optimus G and the Nexus 4 LG is on the right track to rise up the ranks of Android OEMs. Today we take a look at the Optimus G's successor and what is the baseline hardware for this year's Nexus 5, the LG G2.
With last year's Optimus G, LG finally took a step in the direction of making premium feeling devices in the same league as the HTC, Sony and Apple with a "sandwiched" glass design around, what was then, a generous 4.7-inch display. This year, the G2 follows the Optimus G Pro (which was never released in Canada oddly enough) and opts for a very Samsung-ish glossy polycarbonate construction.
Gone is the monolithic slab that was on the Optimus G and in is a curvier design where the straight edged corners are rounded off. This softening of the edges also made its way to the back where the phone has a tapered back that gives the illusion of thinness, even if isn't overly thick at 8.9mm, and feels a bit more ergonomic in hand and at 143g, the G2 is thicker but ever so slightly lighter than its predecessor the Optimus G. There is no way of getting around it the G2 is a LARGE phone, fortunately it still felt very pocketable and it didn't feel like using a phablet.
Unfortunately that's where the good ends for the overall construction for the G2. The back, as mentioned earlier, channels much of the same design ideas from its South Korean rival. We will admit that on the G2 above the carbon fiber looking pattern there is a very slight "corduroy" like texture to the back which feels a bit better than the slick smooth finish on Samsung devices.
The back of the phone also has the return of the embedded LG logo, FCC/IC and Model information on the bottom, but more importantly is home to the sapphire covered 13MP camera lens as well as the big surprise for the G2, the power button and volume rocker, but more on both later the review. Overall we weren't a fan of moving from the gorgeous but fragile glass of last year's Optimus G to plastic, but the G2 did feel like it was solidly built.
As with the Optimus G, LG is leveraging its position as a world leader in LCD display technology but this time they delivered a 5.2-inch 1080p Full HD display, and to get straight to the point, this display has set the bar for 2013-2014. We do not exaggerate when we say that this is by far the best smartphone display we've seen on ANY smartphone to date.
Unlike many other flagship smartphones that have opted for AMOLED displays, LG leverages its RGB LCD prowess to produce a phenomenal display. At 5.2-inches it's easy to assume that the G2 would be a mammoth phone especially considering that the Original Galaxy Note was only slightly larger at 5.3-inches.
But the G2 is totally different as LG used various strategies to slim the bezel down like we've started to see in other phones like the Motorola Moto X and Sony Xperia ZL but taken to the next level, allowing the G2 to be pocketable despite the large screen.
The first is Dual Routing which essentially means the touch sensors are connected to the mainboard via two connectors rather than a single connector spreading out the touch sensitive tile connectors to split between the top and bottom bezels instead of all stacking towards one end.
The next strategy was to remove any protruding hardware on the sides, this meant removing any power, volume or camera buttons that might protrude from the side of the device and thus increase bezel size. With this increased surface area, the G2 effectively has the physical footprint of a Galaxy S4 or HTC One while having a noticeably larger display.
In the end, viewing angles, color reproduction, sharpness and brightness, on the G2 are all absolutely outstanding and tops the best displays on the market from the HTC One to the Samsung Galaxy S4, to the Apple iPhone 5/5S.
The buttons of the G2 have been "interesting" to say the least. On paper it does seem like a good place to have buttons as fingers tend to naturally rest on the middle back portion of a phone when it comes to smartphones sporting 4.5+ inch displays. But in practice, it just feels bizarre and stayed bizarre despite having over 2 weeks of time using the phone.
I believe the main problem lies in the ergonomics of pressing the phone away from your hand while trying to hold it close. This paradoxical behavior is probably the main reason for the odd feeling that cannot be ignored. That being say LG did a good job making them fit the new placement.
Usually buttons on the side need to have a significant amount of stiffness to avoid accidental presses. On the back of the device, since accidental presses "should" be less likely, the travel on the power buttons isn't as much as you'd expect from a regular volume rock.
The Power button on the other hand is slightly elevated to provide distinction to the volume buttons flanking it as well as the camera lens right above. While this is a nice implementation of the power button, it wasn't used much in our review and was more of an afterthought with the discovery of the Tap On feature which we get into in the software portion of the review.
On the front, gone are the capacitive buttons of the Optimus G and in are the software rendered soft buttons from stock android devices. Although LG thought it would be better to have the multitasking button be turned into a menu button. We have to say that, like with Galaxy S4, we are very disappointed in the need to keep the hidden menu button around. It makes transitions between Android devices a non-standard experience.
There are some interesting customizations available to the navigation buttons as they can be rearranged and have added functionality of dropping the notification pane at the push of a button. This allows users to optimize the buttons to better suit their needs, especially for one handed usability improvements where we think buttons like the trigger pull down notification pane button can help users to live with a larger device.
Overall, the back buttons aren't a deal breaker but we never got used to them, and it's good to see software buttons, but not in this form.
When we had the chance to try out the Optimus G, we were apprehensive of the APQ based SoC which had to have a modem graphed onto the board to get LTE connectivity. Our fears were unfounded as the Optimus G actually had decent battery life. This time around the G2 is actually equipped with an MSM8974 SoC which means the LTE modem is integrated.
The G2 is part of a new wave of smartphones that is now taking battery life by the horns the attacking it with sheer brute force by packing in the largest battery we've seen in a mainstream flagship smartphone. It's also packing interesting tricks like GRAM which memorizes what's displayed on the screen and only refreshes the display when needed.
At 3000mAh, the G2 is packing one of the largest batteries we've seen in a smartphone to date with the help of tricks like stepped batteries which take into account the side tapering of the G2. With its Snapdragon 800 CPU and 5.2 inch LCD display the G2 was going to need all the juice it could get and it most certainly made a huge difference.
A full day's worth of moderate to heavy use was no problem for the G2. With lighter use or more aggressive battery management we can definitely see the G2 getting through an entire day's worth of use. Hopefully this is a trend that we will continue seeing with competing flagships next year, especially since most phones now come with a sealed battery.
The recently reviewed Moto X shows that you don't need top notch specs to deliver a smooth and snappy Android Experience. But LG decided to go in the complete opposite direction by packing the G2 to the brim with the latest and greatest cutting hardware.
- 2.26 GHz Qualcomm Quad Core Snapdragon 800 CPU
- 2GB of RAM
- 32GB of Internal Storage
- Adreno 330 Graphic processor
- 4G LTE (2600MHz capable on Rogers and Bell) and Dual-HSPA+ capable chipset
- WiFi b/g/n
- 13 MP camera with Optical Image Stabilization and 1080p video recording capabilities
- NFC (Near Field Communication)
Let's get straight to the point the LG G2 is an absolute performance beast, full stop. Be it 3D Games, browsing, take pictures/video, tethering, there was nothing that could dent the Snapdragon 800 CPU.
Even in synthetic benchmarks the G2 absolutely killed the competition scoring in the range of 20000 points in Quadrant and 30000 in AnTuTu.
Rest assured that with the G2 we have little doubts in the performance longevity of the device. Software updates however are a totally different story.
LTE 4G Capabilities
With LTE trickling down to even mid-range and entry level devices, flagships don't really stand out due to LTE connectivity now. What they can standout on is speed and the G2 is outstanding in that regard. We did come out impressed with the Optimus G's 2600MHz capabilities and went in expecting the same from the G2. In our time with both the Rogers and TELUS version, we got two different experiences with the G2.
Rogers speeds on the left, TELUS speeds on the right
On one hand the Rogers review device gave us good speeds (10-20Mbps Down) in some areas where we presume there was a lack of 2600MHz coverage and phenomenal speeds (50-100Mbps Down) in others with 2600MHz coverage. While on the TELUS version we constantly had 35-40Mbps Down in every location we went around in Montreal including notoriously low signal areas.
Overall, people on these carrier or looking to jump ship to either can expect that the G2 to provide excellent data speeds for all your needs. It all depends on how much speed to you really need and if you have 2600MHz coverage. Also worth mentioning is that Bell also has 2600MHz rolled out but we didn't have the privilege of testing that unit so your mileage will vary.
As usual we have to note that these tests were conducted various places in the Great Metropolitan Area of Montreal and that your speeds will depend on your area.
Speaker and microphone
Earpiece and Microphone performance was par for today's smartphones. Speaker performance on the G2 however was sadly below our expectations. Placement was pretty good compared to the rear firing loudspeakers found on other flagships (as well as last year's Optimus G). The G2 emulates the traditional iPhone placement of the loudspeaker by having it on the bottom of the device. Unfortunately sound quality wasn't great and ultimately left us disappointed.
If you recall our Optimus G review, we weren't exactly enthused by the quality of the stills and videos produced. LG has fortunately put a lot of effort into this year's offering as it's one of the best cameras we've used all year. From the inclusion of Optical image stabilization and to 60FPS recording at 1080p, the G2 camera is a HUGE win for LG as it leapfrogs the competition from traditionally offering a subpar camera experience to delivering a top notch experience.
Still and video came out looking absolutely phenomenal. Colors were accurate but still quite vibrant, sharpness was great and optical image stabilization help tremendously in getting the clearest shot on the first try. Overall these were some of the best shots we've seen from an LG phone period.
Of course, following in Samsung's footsteps, the LG G2's camera software has an absolute plethora of options from Shot & Clear, Beauty shot, Burst Shot (which is odd since most camera apps have it on by default) and even Dual camera.
Videos came out much like the pictures, with nice colors, contrast and sharpness. LG also includes 1080p at 60FPS capabilities which, when viewed on the phone itself or on a computer or HDTV, makes a huge difference in terms of the overall smoothness of the video. We tried uploading the 60FPS movies to different streaming sites with no success as most services like YouTube simply cap off video framerate at 30FPS.
One last thing we must mentions is that, like the iPhone 5/5S LG went with a Sapphire lens to protect and improve clarity of the 13MP shooter. One concern we had with the buttons right blow the lens is that it would become easy to inadvertently smudge finger oils and make photos look blurry. This wasn't the case either because the sapphire is either oleophobic by nature or was coated with an oleophobic treatment. In any case we found this to be a great detail that wasn't overlooked and we appreciate the added scratch resistance of sapphire.
SoftwareAndroid 4.2 /w "LG UI"
Let's face it, when it comes to LG phones (except Nexus Devices of course) have always come with a certain level of UI changes and many of them were hit or miss. On lower end devices like the venerable Optimus One, the UI didn't move too far from Stock Android (Gingerbread at the time) and wasn't a burden on the system resources.
But with higher end devices like the Optimus 2X and even last year's Optimus G, it's hard to argue that LG didn't follow in the patch of a certain South Korean nemesis. The G2 follows in that long lineage of over the top modifications to the Android operation system but to be perfectly honest some of it is good while some of it not so much.
To start off with the "not so good", the G2 is LG's answer to the Samsung Galaxy S4 much like the Optimus G was a response to the Samsung Galaxy S III and this "targeting" has once again spilled over onto the software side where the G2 take's the S4's "cram all the features you could think of" strategy. While in practice we are sure that these features can be useful to some, we can't help but believe that many of the pre-installed application will ever see the figurative "light of day".
Apps like QSlide, Quick Memo, Voice Mate and Slide Aside are just some of pre-loaded apps included with the G2 that to be honest, I can't see myself, or any mainstream user using them regularly. QSlide made its debut on the Optimus G and was an answer to the Galaxy S III's ability to display floating videos a top Android itself, Quick Memo is as you can imagine LG's memo app.
I'd like to pay special attention to Voice Mate and Slide Aside as they are two features that can really "get in the way" of a proper Android experience. Many argue that Android OEM skins are the worst thing to plague Open Source OS, and while we don't fully agree, these are type of situations which make it hard to argue against the original statement.
Voice Mate is unequivocally an answer to Apple's Siri and Samsung's S Voice offerings. The problem is that in all cases, we feel that Google Now is the better offering for all users (both iOS and Android users alike). Voice Mate actually performed better than S Voice did in our tests but still isn't as versatile as Google Now. So with the use of software buttons (to ease access to Google Now), why put resources into Voice Mate at all?
The second app Slide Aside is LG's take on multitasking. While functionally it works, it attempts to fix something that isn't a problem, and that's Android's Multitasking system. The default app switcher in Android is about as good as it gets when it comes to app switching so really was there much to gain from being able to swipe away and bring back apps with three fingers.
While this isn't an additional app, we also must note the changes to the Notification pane. Because we aren't sure who at LG thought it would be a good idea to cram a million and a half settings into the notification bar, but they didn't think the design or functionality through.
When you first pull down the notification pane you're greeted with enough setting buttons and sliders to take up the space of at least 3 notifications therefor almost nullifying one of Android's great strengths in notification handling. This is without mentioning the confusing double use of the "Gears" icon to signify system settings and sound settings. Overall we didn't like what we saw from LG here where they tried to do much in the wrong place.
It isn't all bad as LG did happen to include some interesting features. The first one we though was the most interesting was Knock On. This feature allows users to wake the phone from sleep by double tapping anywhere on the screen or turn off the phone by double tapping on the notification pane on the top of the screen or any open area on the homescreen. This effectively killed the need to press the back facing power button at all in normal usage.
While this was a really cool idea, and actually was great for one handed use, it only worked about 50-60% of the time. If LG could iron out the kinks and get it to work at a higher percentage we like what we saw in this feature, and could see the potential for maybe different tap sequences for launching different apps for example.
LG also includes some software to leverage its IR blaster, not unlike the HTC One and Galaxy S4. Functionality was okay and setup was a breeze as expected from the experience on the previously mentioned devices.
There are also some nice usability additions like the how you can answer the phone by simply picking the device up and placing it on the ear (even if other phones have already implemented this) as well as allowing users to theme app icons in both size and appearance.
In addition, LG added some integrated functionality into the action of plugging in headphones or a USB cable, called "Plug & Pop, which allows users to instantly access the most common functions associated to each action (we also want to note that the G2 was quite a pain to the our headphones plugged in for the first time for some reason).
Overall, the G2 is a mixed bag of questionably useful software, with some nice surprises like Knock On and the "Plug & Pop"
LG has been moving in the right direction for quite a few months now. Whether this is a result of working closely with Google on the Nexus program for the past two years or perhaps because they are simply taking the smartphone market more seriously, we've walked away impressed from LG's offerings.
The G2 is another step in that directions, despite a regression in build quality and some uninspiring software, the new LG flagship is certainly one to look out for if you're a perspective buying looking for the absolute cutting edge in smartphone tech.
Where the G2 falters on the software side it most certainly makes up for it with the sheer brute force capabilities of its hardware. To us this is a far better compromise than great software on poor hardware given that longevity comes into question and thirds party ROMs are always a staple of the Android ecosystem.
The G2 is a great phone for those who want the best display on the market but can live with the compromises of such a large 5.2-inch display or for those simply looking for the best hardware period and don't mind LG's interpretation on Android. We have the feeling that will be a whole lot of people, but for those more keen on a pure Android experience, we'd hold off till the Nexus 5.
Overall Appearance: 9/10
- A step back in design compared to the Optimus G and other Android flagships but still feel solid.
- Breathtaking display. Best 1080p display on the market. Period
- Rear buttons were just odd. Functionally there isn't anything wrong with them, it just doesn't feel as natural as side mounted buttons. Nice to see software rendered buttons despite forcing the menu button on the user.
Internal Hardware: 10/10
- Cutting edge hardware that is the cream of the crop. Snapdragon 800 + Adreno 330 is blazing fast. LTE 2600MHz is astonishing.
Battery Life: 9.5/10
- The 3000 mAh battery is outstanding. Whole day usage was easily attainable with regular use.
Speaker and Microphone: 8.5/10
- Good call quality both receiving and transmitting. Loudspeaker is improved over the easy to muffle Optimus G but isn't much to write home about.
- Excellent camera. Great stills and Video. OIS helps tremendously in getting clear shots.
UI Changes: 7.5/10
- UI changes on G2 are very reminiscent of the Optimus G as well as TouchWiz from Samsung which is feeling pretty stale at this point.
Addition Enhancements: 8.5/10
- Packs a TON of features that are more or less useful depending on the user. Some great ideas like Knock On but needs to be improved upon. Glad to see IR Capabilities.
Included Apps/Bloatware: 7.5/10 (normalized for different carrier version)
- The Rogers version is HEAVILY bloated with carrier apps. Normalized score for lighter bloatware on other carriers (like TELUS).
Final Score: 8.8/10