The LG G2 hasn't exactly been met with the same kind of unbridled enthusiasm as the Galaxy S4, HTC One or Moto X, but that doesn't mean that it is any less worthy of your attention. Indeed, the LG G2 is quite possibly one of the most powerful Android smartphones on the market today. And much like how its Optimus G predecessor served as the basis for the Nexus 4, the G2 could serve as the fundamental platform for the hotly anticipated Google Nexus 5. Indeed, if history is any indication, the main differences are going to be largely cosmetic.
The Second Coming of the G
For this go around, LG has dropped the Optimus moniker from the name, going with a far more straight-forward LG G2. This builds greatly on the successes of last year's smartphone, while updating all the specs and features to compete with the rest of the 2013 flagships from competitors. If you're a glutton for specs, the G2 is right up your alley and its spec sheet sounds a lot like what we're expecting from the Nexus 5.
The 5.2-inch IPS display is a full 1080p (424ppi) and it runs almost edge to edge. The bezel on the sides is virtually non-existent, while they have left just enough space on the top and bottom for comfortable landscape video watching. It's powered by a speedy quad-core 2.26GHz Snapdragon 800 chip, 2GB of RAM, the usual suite of wireless radios (including 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC), and 16GB of base storage. There's a 13MP camera on the back, a 2MP camera on the front, and a skinned version of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean running the show.
One of the common complaints about the Optimus G was the poor battery life. LG has worked hard to address this issue with some optimizations, as well as bumping the battery to a 3000mAh unit. In practice, I found I got nearly two days of life with moderate usage.
Power and Volume on the Back?
When the LG G2 was formally revealed in August, the focus immediately shifted to a curious design choice. Rather than putting the power and volume buttons on the top and side as most other smartphone makers do, LG decided to put them on the back.
To answer your question, yes, this is weird. LG says that it placed the buttons where it did, because that's where your index finger will naturally rest when you're holding the phone. I didn't find that to be the case, as I ended up with an unnatural curl to my finger in order to properly reach the buttons. You also run the risk of accidentallly smudging fingerprints all over the camera lens. On the plus side, though, this makes for some very sleek lines on the sides and the front, because there are no buttons there.
The LG UI Optimizations
If anything, it feels like LG is trying to throw the kitchen sink at you. For example, when you pull down on the settings menu from the top as you normally would, you not only get quick access to things like Bluetooth and NFC, but there's another row of icons called QSlide. These are effectively more app shortcuts. You can remove this row, but it's there by default. And then, below that are sliders for the brightness and volume and then, finally, below that are your notifications. With all of this cranked out, you can only see three notifications at a time. I de-activated QSlide and could get about five notifications at a time.
For me, though, the single greatest software and UI innovation that LG brought to the table here is something called Knock-On. This addresses the re-location of the power button too, because you can wake your phone by simply double-tapping on the screen. To sleep the phone, you can double-tap on an empty area on one of your homescreens. I found myself doing this far more often than pressing the physical power button on the back.
Testing the 13 Megapixel Camera
There are some smartphones out there with fantastically wonderful cameras that will make you immediately want to abandon your point-and-shoot. The LG G2 isn't necessarily one of those smartphones, but it's not exactly disappointing either. The 13MP shooter picks up plenty of detail and, not unlike Samsung's offering, the camera app in here comes with a few different modes for you to play with.
The colors can give you that sense that they're a little off and some the details can be lost in less than ideal lighting situations, but the camera here is certainly more than adequate and you won't feel like you're necessarily missing out on all that much.
The Daily Experience
The LG G2 is made of plastic and some people will argue that the glossy back makes it feel cheap. There may be some truth in that for some people, but I never felt like I was using anything less than a premium device here. The performance just flies, easily handling all sorts of multitasking, video playing, mobile game playing and whatever else.
The 5.2-inch IPS display is also one of the best displays that I've used in some time. You get some really great contrast and the colors really pop without the over-saturated look that you get with AMOLED. The pixel density means that both text and images will appear very smooth to the naked eye. Having a built-in IR blaster is handy too, especially with the pre-installed universal remote app.
Some of the UI quirks can be hit or miss, especially if you're not a fan of LG's skin to begin with, but they never really bog down the experience. Make no mistake: this is one solid smartphone with top-tier specs without having to go to even larger phablet-sized devices with styli.
Quadrant Standard and AnTuTu Benchmark Scores
Subjectively, I thought the G2 does very well in handling just about anything. This is pretty well confirmed with these benchmark scores. In Quadrant Standard, it produced scores in the 19,000 to 20,000 range. As you may recall, the Samsung Galaxy S4 only got scores in the 10,000 range. In like manner, the G2 got scores in the 30,000 range in the AnTuTu Benchmark, outperforming devices like the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z, but it still lags a little behind the flagship Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
MEGATechie Life Is Good or MEGATechie Fool's Gold?
For the most part, we find ourselves in pretty well the same situation we found ourselves last year. I liked the Optimus G for its overall design and performance, but the battery life left something to be desired. And the Nexus 4, which shared fundamentally all the same hardware, made it difficult for you to choose the LG-branded version over a less expensive "vanilla" Google experience.
Yes, LG has very much addressed the battery issue from last year and they've seriously ramped up the performance with this year's G2 smartphone. The UI tweaks are mostly admirable too, particularly for power users who don't a more crowded experience. However, it's quite likely that the Nexus 5 will once again be the more compelling option and the G2 will join its older brother on a forgotten dusty shelf, even if it fully deserves the same attention as its Sony, HTC and Samsung rivals.