The Optimus tag has been replaced with cutting-edge hardware and a bold button layout
LG has been on a tear as of late, releasing phones that tick all the marks for hardware aficionados, while paring back their user interface slowly but surely. The G2 is the culmination of these efforts. It's currently the hardware king with the Snapdragon S800 CPU (though that will be changing soon enough) combined with a big screen and everything else Internet phone fans have a hankering for. But we've seen enough to know that it takes more than hardware to make a great phone.
The software is equally important. This is an area where LG has historically struggled, often adding too much of the wrong stuff to Android and delivering a product that nobody ever asked for. While we admire any company who thinks outside the box, everyone here has been waiting for LG to get it just right. A perfect phone is surely something that can never be, but the G2 comes close. Read on and see where the G2 excels, where it fails, and why the former outweighs the latter.
Inside this review: Hardware | Software | Cameras | Bottom line | G2 forums
It's quite the piece of phonery. As soon as you turn it on, you'll notice two things — the buttons, of course, and the screen. You may or may not be digging the buttons, but I think you'll like what you see when you look into the face of the G2.
Of course, there's more to the G2 than buttons and the screen.
If you're in the camp that says hardware is all that matters, you've found your dream phone. It's well built for the most part, has deliciously thin bezels astride the 5.2-inch screen, and will run most anything you throw at it with nary a flinch or stutter. It's stylish and thin, has a great curved shape, and ergonomically it feels very nice in your hand. It manages the size as well as the user can expect, and operation with one hand is certainly possible with minor adjustments.
The display is what we spend all of our time looking at, and is the most important spec to get right
What we didn't like (you knew this was coming) is the extra-glossy materials the G2 is built out of. It suffers from the same problem Samsung's Galaxy S4 does — it looks like it's cheaply made. Clearly it's not, and using it for more than a few minutes will affirm this. It's a solid device. But it looks like a cheap mass-market product. We understand that smartphones are a mass-market product, but we've seen devices use plastic in ways that look and feel good and wish LG would follow suit. If you were expecting a textured, premium feel as we've seen some from of LG's past products like the Optimus 2X, you'll be disappointed.
Don't let this stop you from buying or enjoying the G2. Slap a case on it if it bothers you as much as it does me. I'm not a case user usually, but the G2 is one of those phones that would force me to use one.
What's on the outside
We have to start with the display. It's a gorgeous 5.2-inch "Tru-HD" IPS LCD, checking in with a 1080 x 1920 resolution that gives us approximately 442 pixels displayed per inch. The quality, clarity and color reproduction rivals the celebrated HTC One display in every use case. The viewing angles are excellent, and you will appreciate the time and money LG has put into their LCD technology every time you watch a video or look at a picture. The display is what we spend all of our time looking at, and to me is the most important spec to get right. LG has done more than get it right, and you really need to see it to understand just how damn good it is.
Sharing the front of the phone with the gorgeous screen are the usual array of sensors, a 2.1MP camera, the earpiece speaker and a multi-color notification LED. While not nearly as thin as the side bezels, the top and bottom bezels are small and symmetrical. At the very bottom of the face of the phone you'll find an LG logo that we wish had been left out for appearances sake.
The sides of the phone house none of the standard controls as those are around the back — and we'll be talking about that, shortly — but there are a few things to take notice of. At the top of the phone you'll find one of the microphones, on the left side you'll find the micro SIM card tray, and on the bottom there rests a headphone jack (the 3.5mm standard), a microUSB charging and data port, and symmetrical speaker grills. Under those grills, there is a loudspeaker on the right and the main microphone on the left. The edges are all gently curved, which makes for a nice, seamless feel while holding and using the G2.
You will either love the buttons or hate them, but either way you will be able to adjust
Now we get to the back. Likely as a way to keep the bezels so impossibly thin, LG has moved the volume controls and the power button to the rear of the device. You will either love this or hate it, but either way you will be able to adjust to them unless you have very short fingers. On the AT&T version, the controls are nice and wide, and having the power switch made from a different material than the volume rocker allows you to operate everything by feel rather than turning the phone around to look where your fingers are. The controls work exactly as expected, they are just placed on the rear rather than on the sides where normal, sane people expect them to be. Surrounding the power button is a flashing ring that you would think acts as a notification light, but I'm not seeing this behavior. It does flash when the screen is turned on or off, though.
Also around back, and equally important, is the excellent 13MP camera and LED flash. We'll talk more about these further down the page.
What's on the inside
The features can be used without affecting the performance in ways that make you want to turn them off
Under the great screen is where the beast lives. Of course, I'm talking about the Qualcomm Snapdragon S800 power plant. Consisting of a quad-core array of Krait 400 cores, an Adreno 330 GPU, an extra fast 2MB L2 cache on a 28nm die means it's simply the best ARMv7 system-on-chip available. The version in the G2 is clocked at 2.26Ghz, and it chews through even poorly-coded software with ease. While I'm sure LG spent time optimizing their code to run as best as it can on the G2, the UI is heavy and full of features. With them all enabled, there is nary a stutter or complaint when using the phone. This is impressive, as things like Q-Slide apps, motion gestures and LG's Slide Aside features are heavy and processor intensive. You may or may not find these features useful, but it's nice to know they can be used without affecting the performance of the device in ways that makes you want to turn them off.
I think we have finally reached the point where the hardware is so damn good that we can throw any software on it and get great results. This makes me excited for the future, because a slim, less feature-rich (but highly optimized) operating system running on similar hardware should blow our hair back. I'll put it bluntly — the G2 is as fast and lag free, while running software that's feature-rich and heavy, as the Nexus 4 or Nexus 7 is running bare-bones Android. That's something we haven't been able to say before, and we're glad to see it.
The full specs
Forget the LG Android phones that ran the Optimus UI from 2012. If you've used one of LG's newer phones, you know they have been hard at work to deliver a better user experience than we've seen in the past. If you're looking for Google's Android, you'll want to look elsewhere, but LG has built their software into something they should be proud of, and it offers plenty of features and eye-candy for those who want the features and eye-candy.
I'll admit that out of the box the software wasn't to my liking. But I know two very important things (and so do you) about any device with Android roots:
- You can customize almost anything
- Not every phone should deliver the "Nexus experience"
With that in mind, I sat down and spent a few minutes getting rid of the things I didn't want to see, and adding software from Google Play. I'm left with something that's completely usable and productive. While I'd rather have a slim and utilitarian feel, chances are you'll find the way that works for you as well.
LG's user experience
There is a lot to digest here. In fact, it's more than you'll be able to grasp from a written review, no matter how many words are spent. LG has touched everything, so if this is your first foray into a custom manufacturer build of Android, you're in for an awakening. It's not bad, I won't lie to you. It's certainly not going to fit everyone's tastes, but as I mentioned above the good news is that you can "adjust" a lot of things.
In general, things are very colorful and every line item in the settings is full of options. You can change the font style and size, or enable face-tracking ability under the Display setting. You can set things like looping through your home screens or disable rotation under the Home screen setting. One-handed operation allows you to shift the location of on-screen elements like the keyboard or dial pad. A really cool and unique feature is Guest Mode, where you can display only a few apps of your choosing on a single screen when others are using your device.
All these settings and features seem to work well, though I found it to be a bit of an overload. Thankfully, most of them can be deactivated easily and other than having the line-item in the device settings they remain invisible to the user.
The good news is that the button layout is customizable, the bad news is that all the options still sort of suck
Most of these features are self explanatory when you use them, such as having multiple home screens and lots of LG widgets. Some need more explanation, like the Q-Slide apps and Slide Aside feature. And some are just plain cool and deserve a bit of playing with, like Knock-on. We'll touch on some of the highlights, but be sure to carry yourself into the G2 forums and read what other people using the phones have to say. Often, the best information comes from users just like yourself and not from reviewers who have to juggle around multiple devices and might have missed a nuance because of it.
One of the first things you'll notice is the on-screen button layout. The good news is that it's customizable, the bad news is that all the options still sort of suck. You have a choice which buttons to use — back, home, menu, QuickMemo, and a notification panel pull down. You're given no option for a multi-tasking button, nor an option to remove the menu button. Multi-tasking and app switching is done by long pressing the home button.
You can theme the button interface with different colors and turn transparency on and off. We understand the addition of a notification panel pull-down button, as the G2 is one of those phones where people may find it difficult to reach the very top of the screen when using it in one hand. The menu button is part of Android's legacy, and while it doesn't create any issues, it does buck the unified application design guidelines and standards put forth by Google. If we ever want apps to have the same navigation features, these menu buttons and the apps that need them have to go. On the plus side, there is no Appleesque physical clicky home button to wear out.
LG also offers a complete backup service, where all your apps and their data, personal data, system settings and media are bundled and saved to a compressed file on the device itself. These can be scheduled, and there is even an option to restore data from one device to another. If you're prudent — and you should be — you can then move this file or files to your computer or into the cloud for safe-keeping. LG includes a nifty utility that acts as a wireless gateway to copy files to and from your device from any computer with a web browser, but we've had trouble getting it to work as advertised.
All things considered, we think LG did a pretty good job here. We're ready to stop the ubiquitous eye-rolling that happens when we talk about LG's custom UI, and they are now on par with HTC or Samsung. That's a good thing. Android benefits from the changes and additions manufacturers make to the open-source code that is Android, and we've seen plenty of occasion where they do it better.
I'm not suggesting you automatically disable all the AT&T bundled apps, but if you do I understand completely
The G2 is a phone that LG built for AT&T. We always need to remember that the carriers are the customers of the folks making most of our Android phones, and that means they will fill them with applications that they want you to try. I'm sure they know that those of us who are in to smartphones will do whatever we can do to delete, fold, spindle and mutilate these apps, but that's OK. They don't have these phones built for the enthusiasts, no matter how vocal we are.
The good news is that since the G2 runs Jelly Bean, you can just disable most of them. I'm not suggesting you automatically go into the settings and disable all the AT&T bundled apps without trying them first, but if you do I'll understand completely. Trust me, I understand completely.
Here's your list of what's included.
- Amazon Kindle
- AT&T Address Book — particularly invasive, as it tries to preempt your Android contacts.
- AT&T Code Scanner
- AT&T Drive Mode
- AT&T Family Map
- AT&T Hot Spots
- AT&T Locker
- AT&T Messages
- AT&T Navigator
- AT&T Ready2Go
- AT&T Smart Wifi
- Carrier IQ
- City ID
- Wild Tangent Games
- Mobile TV
Of course, LG has a full compliment of apps built into the OS that you may not find useful, too. Flashlights, Task Managers, Several Notepad apps, those and more are there at the ready. Luckily, most of these can be disabled as well if you find you would rather not have two video editors or four messaging clients. You know the drill here.
Just like the hardware section, there is plenty to get excited about here. The G2 offers one of the best smartphone cameras available today. Outdoor shots in bright conditions are good, just as you would expect, but the results from less than perfect conditions are also top-notch and consistent. There are various shooting modes — which we'll look at shortly — but what impressed me the most was the great automatic mode. I played around with all the settings and different options, but ended up favoring the 10MP setting (it uses a native 16:9 aspect ratio that I've grown accustomed to) with White balance, ISO, Focus and Brightness at the defaults while shooting in "Normal" (automatic) mode. I was pleased with the results. Any camera can take good pictures if you fiddle with the settings and take care to set things up just right, but how it performs in automatic mode, where you can pull it out of your pocket and take a quick picture, is important. While if your serious about taking photos you'll use a camera, the G2 delivers quality shots.
We can't ignore the other camera modes and settings, though. From photo sphere-like VR panorama mode, to Time catch mode, which captures ghosted images of moving objects, LG has almost every gimmick you can think of in the camera settings. I played with them, and you will, too, but to be honest their something so niche and subjective that there's no way I can decide what you should think of them. Don't let them be the deciding factor in your purchase, but do give them a try when you're playing with your new phone if you pick up a G2.
The test photos, all under normal and automatic settings, are below. Some were in good light, some were in not-so-good light, and one was under a hokey fake electric gaslight that glowed orange at one of those eateries that think hokey orange fake gaslights are good ambiance. The last example is of course the front-facing camera, which is also excellent — it's bright, clear, and a treat for video chatting.
The video cameras — both front and rear — are pretty awesome, too. The front camera will shoot in 1080p at 30 fps, and its 2.1MP sensor is nice and bright. It's perfect for video conferencing, or making short intro videos, on anything else where you would want a clear and well exposed video of your face.
The rear camera takes some great video as well. The focus is fast, the colors are accurate, and the image stabilization helps even a middle aged man who drinks too much coffee take videos that don't look like the Great San Francisco Quake. Here's not just a sample, but one of the videos I made with it for a couple of very special friends who happen to be junior fish nerds in training. You will use this video camera and share short clips more than you do now, because it's so easy to make videos that look good. And your friends and family will thank you for it.
How it all works together
There was a lot I really liked about the G2 on AT&T. Conversely, there were things I could do without as well. Most phones are going to be like that. In general, the G2 is a fine phone, and does the things it needs to do rather well. Call quality was acceptable on both ends, though I've used phones that were clearer sounding. Wifi signal was good, both on 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and the 802.11 ac channel works as advertised, reaching intranet (read: not internet) speeds of over 200Mb/s download — though I'm not sure that's necessary on a phone and still think the benefit of ac Wifi is the extended range in the 5GHz spectrum. On the cellular side of things, I have to say I'm really stoked with what AT&T is doing with their network. LTE is good where you can get it, but their HSPA 3G "4G" network is vast and fast in my area. And it keeps getting better. This makes for an almost seamless handoff when you leave an LTE area. I routinely bitch and moan about the evil that carriers do, so when they do something good I need to praise them. Nice work on your network, AT&T.
The phone lasts from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, no matter what I ask it to do during those hours
Battery life was good. The G2 easily lasted me a full day without disabling anything, and would even stretch things out into part of the second day if I needed it to. I wasn't blown away by the battery life, however. Maybe it was my expectations, or maybe it was the fact that there's a 3000mAh battery under the hood, but I thought it would be better. I've done a lot of thinking and trying to make sense of it all and I've come to a conclusion — while the screen is on, and you're working the G2 hard, the battery life is much better than any phone I have here to compare it to. A 90-minute movie or a long session of playing a game drains a lot of juice, but far less than we're used to. I think that's the S800 at work. But (and there's always a but) while idling the G2 uses more battery than phones without all the stuff going on in the background. If my theory is right (and a few other people with the G2 are seeing similar results) that means if you do stop the things you might not want — like auto sync of weather info, or turning Bluetooth off, or using Wifi when you can — it will probably be much better. Folks using the G2 long-term will soon have a game plan, like they do with every other phone.
Just know that while using all the tools available on the phone, and gobbling up AT&T's data on their included SIM, the phone lasts from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, no matter what I ask it to do during those hours. That's really all I can ask for.
Everything else works as advertised, too. Using Bluetooth for both audio and calls went without a hitch, as did the LE module when used with a Pebble. GPS was spot on, and you'll be pleased with the fact that navigation uses less battery than the phone you have now. There is nothing here that doesn't work just like it should. That's refreshing.
Of course, the subjective things — button placement, physical size, glossy materials and the like — can't be measured as working or not working. These are things you'll only know once you hold the phone itself. I could deal with them if I had bought a G2.
Should you buy this thing?
$600 is a lot of money. Whether you pay for it all at once, use AT&T's Next program, or take the subsidy and overpay for the privilege of only having $200 in up-front costs. That's why many of you are here reading this, and other, reviews. You want to find out as much as you can before you dust off the wallet.
- It's fast
- It's the most future-proof phone available today
- It has an excellent camera
- The screen is amazing
- All the gimmicks / features actually work
- It's a little big
- Your OCD side will be constantly wiping the fingerprints off the back unless it's in a case
- There's a lot of bloatware from AT&T
- The rear buttons are less than optimal
- Carrier models usually lag behind when it comes to critical security updates
The G2 is a fine phone, and does the things it needs to do rather well
I'll be blunt, because that's what I'm good at. In my opinion, at this very moment, the G2 is the best Android phone on AT&T if you want a phone filled with features. It doesn't look as good as the HTC One. It doesn't have the Samsung name behind it like the Galaxy S4. But it does have the best hardware available if you're into specs, and it's the only Android phone I've used that allows you to actually use all these features without affecting the performance. Other reviewers go on and on about fonts, or keyboards, but those things are all changeable. Maybe they should have spent more time changing them than complaining if they bothered them that much — I did. The buttons on the rear take some serious adjustment, and the odd on-screen button configurations can be infuriating, but as a complete package I think anyone interested should just bite the bullet and do it.