Party in the rear (November 17th, 2013)
Product Manufacturer: LG
Price: Starting at $49 on contract
- Solid build quality
- Super fast processor
- Good camera
- Button placement is weird
- Really poor software additions
LG is trying to parlay a novel design into increased share in the Android handset space. How well did they pull it off? Electronista takes a look.
Party in the Back
We'll jump right into it and start with the G2's biggest differentiator: those buttons on the device's rear. LG's commercials hail the button placement as revolutionary, the sort of oh-so-simple innovation that changes the whole experience of handling a smartphone. Much emphasis is placed on the new ease of taking selfies and... well... taking selfies.
In practice, the rear button placement does in some ways make one-handed operation easier, but not too much so. The volume controls and the lock button, for most users, will sit right under the index finger, making for easy access. How much easier this is than the typical smartphone button layout, though, is really up to the user. We found the rear buttons to be novel, but not life changing.
LG has pointed out that long presses on the volume keys can open up access to features like the camera and LG's QuickMemo app. It is true that these things work, and it is true that they work well. A long press on the down volume button will bring up the camera app without one even having to wake the device, and a long press on the volume up button will do the same for QuickMemo. These are handy features, but not something that couldn't be duplicated with the standard layout.
What can't be duplicated with the standard layout is the awkwardness LG's design choice introduces into the act of using the physical controls to take a picture. The volume controls sit just below the G2's lens, meaning that one must contort the hand in order to use the volume keys as zoom controls. Holding it in the normal manner to take a landscape photo means one either relies on the on-screen controls or one obscures the lens trying to reach around to the physical zoom buttons.
To be fair, the volume buttons activate the shutter when the front-facing camera is activated. Selfies are just as easy on the G2 as LG claims. There is even a "burst selfie" mode accessible with a long press on a volume button when the front-camera is activated. If you often find yourself thinking your self-portrait process is a tad bit too difficult, this is indeed the phone for you.
Truthfully, the biggest effect those rear buttons have on the G2 is to interrupt the smoothness of the device. It is a small complaint, but the phone will rock when one places it on a flat surface and presses on one side or another. For a device that is so... smooth... in other aspects of its form, that lock button lump on the back makes for a strange disruption. As to the rest of the G2's design...
Business Up Front
From the moment we first pulled out our review copy, we were struck by the build quality. Even before we paid any attention to how well that rear button arrangement worked, we just spent some time turning the G2 over in our hands. While it may not have the all-around feel of Apple's "unapologetically plastic" iPhone 5c, it is in the same league. No lie, we've occasionally picked it up over the course of writing this review, just to handle it. There are better-feeling phones out there, but they typically feature glass or metal components. The G2 is about as good as you're going to get with plastic.
We're okay with the G2's visual design, though we hope that LG (and other manufacturers, for that matter) will, in the future, follow the HTC One's lead and put the speakers on the face of their devices. The headphone plug for the device rests on the squared-off bottom edge, alongside the speakers, which we found to be an odd but negligibly important aspect. Looks-wise, the G2 isn't going to turn too many heads. Not, that is, until you turn on the screen.
LG packed a 5.2-inch, 1080p IPS screen into its new flagship, and it is a sight to behold. Since the buttons are on the back, and since LG has shrunk the bezels to lilliputian levels, one the screen dominates the G2's facade to a degree matched by few other devices. The G2 has a stunning pixel density of 423ppi, a fact that really comes across when one starts up a graphics-intensive game. Color reproduction on the IPS LCD is quite faithful, if a little brighter than in real life. Whether showing off pictures from one's gallery or surfing the Internet, images on the G2 have a crisp, real-life sharpness to them. In all, the display is quite a pleasure to look at, and we can't imagine too many people complaining about it.
Under the Hood
The G2 is a flagship device, through and through. Some may say that means little when a new "flagship" launches seemingly every other week, but we did feel that the G2 was exceptionally fast. Even just flipping through the Android interface, the G2 is lightning quick in rendering screens, with no hesitation at all in transitions.
While the experience of the device itself was zippy enough for us, we realize the import some place on benchmarks. That in mind, we ran the handset through Primate Labs' Geekbench 3 tests, and weren't too surprised at the results. On the single-core test, the G2 scored a 841, a bit above the result of 834 that we found on Geekbench's own browser. The multi-core test yielded a result of 2044, below the Geekbench browser result of 2170. Results on these tests, though, can vary considerably depending on
For comparison's sake, Samsung's own superphone, the Galaxy Note 3, scored 935 on the single-core test and 2,985 on the multi-core test. Beastly results, to be certain, but we noticed no real difference in responsiveness between the two devices. While opening apps, playing games, or just about any other smartphone activity, LG's device performs just as well as Samsung's Note 3, and we don't think that users will be disappointed with the G2's speed any time soon. They may, though, be disappointed in...
It seems almost de rigueur in mobile device reviews to whinge about the skins Android device manufacturers put over Google's operating system. This review, unfortunately, will be no different.
LG's Optimus UI does have its positive points, such as the interface for adding apps to the home screen. Users need only tap and hold on an empty area of the home screen, and available apps pop up in a tray on the bottom, where one can easily drag them to a chosen page. One can also go with the standard process of going into the app tray, tapping, holding, and then dragging, but we thought this interface was a nice touch.
As to the other elements LG has added to Android, that is a mixed bag. The tap-to-wake feature, when it works, is quite helpful, considering the placement of the G2's physical buttons. The lock screen shortcuts are also somewhat helpful, allowing one to swipe the device open to the camera or to browse widgets. This interface, though, is a bit wonky, as one will sometimes try just to swipe the device unlocked, only to find oneself opening the camera or moving between widgets. It seems that LG was trying to build so much functionality into the Optimus UI that it may have gotten in the way of itself. Fortunately, given the device's speed, this is never too big an annoyance.
The G2 has another feature called Swipe Aside, which enables gesture-based quick multitasking. One swipes in from either side of the device with three fingers in order to push the active app to the side. The app is easily retrievable with a swipe in the other direction. Considering the fact that the rear button placement necessitates persistent software Android buttons on the G2's screen (an especially annoying reality when playing games), the addition of Swipe Aside to the UI doesn't really add much of anything. Whatever the app does can really be accomplished already using the multitasking built into the bottom menu.
The redundancy of Swipe Aside afflicts a number of LG's other Optimus options. Quite simply, many of LG's additions are already better performed by built-in Android features. The worst of these "parallel apps" is the G2's absolutely atrocious Voice Mate. LG has tried to give users the option to activate the G2 by voice with its Voice Mate feature. A noble aspiration, but one so marred by subpar implementation that it should have been left out of the device. Voice Mate is slower and less capable than Google Now, the interface is less appealing, and the automated voice somehow sounds even more stilted than Samsung's S Voice.
Voice Mate is indicative of what we see as a larger problem with most Android manufacturers. In the push to differentiate themselves, they often develop inferior and redundant features, when they would be better served relying on the increasingly mature Android platform's built-in features. So many of our problems with the G2 would have been negated had LG just gotten out of its own way. These additional features may help differentiate the G2, but not in a good way.
Connection, battery life
The G2 is a 4G LTE-compatible device, so it's pretty much bound to be fast. Our tests bore that out, with 16.12Mbps download speeds and 10.43Mbps upload speeds. Ours was a T-Mobile review unit, so we tested the device on that network. Other users, of course, may experience differing connectivity speeds depending on their location and carrier.
Battery life was impressive for a device of the G2's size. LG packed a 3000mAh battery into its new flagship, just 200mAh short of the battery in the much larger Galaxy Note 3. LG boasts standby time of 34.7 days for the G2, as well as 26.5 hours of talk time. In terms of real life usage, you're unlikely to find anything to complain about with this device. We put it through hours of web surfing, gaming, and other tests in the course of our review period, finding that the G2 rarely dropped into the red in what we would consider normal usage. Only in the highest of stress tests did the G2's battery drop out on us.
We have, without a doubt, entered a period where innovation in smartphones is increasingly difficult. Even the new top-selling models from the industry's giants boast only iterative improvements upon their predecessors, meaning their smaller competitors must scrape for anything that can differentiate their wares.
With the G2, LG has made a solid flagship device, but it is questionable whether that is sufficient in a time when two companies make all of the profit and account for about half of all units shipped worldwide. This, of course, led the company to stick its volume and lock buttons on the back of the device, a novel but perplexing choice. Despite that choice, and despite the underwhelming features LG painted atop Android, we would still recommend the device for anyone looking for a fast Android phone with solid build quality.