The war of the smartphone rages ever on and on, and success is attained or lost in smaller units of time than the past. The question has changed from “what’s the best smartphone?” to “what’s the best smartphone right now?” Some developers make decisions to add new features, while others improve existing ones – Some even do both (while some add features that nobody wants or cares about). It is pretty obvious where LG falls in the fray, especially when you hold their latest phone, the LG G2, in your hand While I have been a BlackBerry user for a long time (and admittedly, something of a mobile phone curmudgeon), I am no stranger to other smartphones. Every once in a while, I’ll read a review or slip into a mobile carrier’s store to check out the latest and greatest – and while there have been a lot of impressive features on these phones, I have never really felt the urge to switch – until now.
When I received the G2 on loan to play with, I was initially ho-hum about it to be honest – reviewing smartphones can be a tedious process because “new” features tend to be marginal improvements over what was there before. While updated or new hardware (of any kind) tends to be better than previous lines (usually), the frequency at which these newer products come out is so rapid that the “wow” factor is lost in the shuffle. This “ennui” surpasses the borders of any one manufacturer, and applies to entire sectors of technology: Company X just created a mode where its phone can make you coffee while Company Y’s new phones can actually teleport your children to school – and so on and so on. However, when I started navigating around the G2′s interface, I found that the normally tedious process of hardware review was actually fun. There is definitely a lot packed into this phone.
The LG G2 is a fairly simple, yet elegant-looking phone (I had the black model). The front face of the phone has little to distract your eyes – there is the screen, speaker, camera and the logo. There are no buttons on the front face, nor are there any on the side. One of the first things that I noticed when I picked it up was how light it was relative to its size. Over the past few years, smartphones have been getting bigger, filling the needs of people who want to use their phones for more than just placing calls. With an edge-to-edge HD display (5.2 inches), I was expecting the unit to be much heavier – but it didn’t weigh that much more than my BlackBerry Bold 99001. The unit is also marvelously thin; for comparison’s sake, the G2 is 9.1mm thick, making it thinner than my 9900 (which is 10.5mm thick) and thicker than my iPod Touch 5 (6.1mm thick). Given how much power is under the hood, this lack of mass and thickness boggles my mind.
The front and back of the phone. Pretty sleek.
Flipping the phone over reveals where the buttons from the sides have migrated to: below the camera lens. The three keys (Volume Up, Volume Down, and the Only Key located in between) are positioned in a vertically aligned fashion, and are recessed to prevent them from being accidentally pressed when you set the phone down. The shape created by the inclusion of these keys on the back of the phone also prevents the camera’s protective surface from getting scratched. These three keys are in a great position to be utilized, because the way we hold a larger phone results in our index fingers being placed exactly where these keys are. Each of the keys allows one-touch access to different phone functions (like the Camera, QuickMemo, or disabling the alarm clock), making it a lot easier to navigate – especially considering that they’re wide: fat finger friendly! Some may consider this a bold move; but I believe that it makes a lot of sense.
The G2, which runs LG’s implementation of Android Jellybean 4.2, is powered by a 2.26 GHz Quad Core beast: the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, which is not only powerful to begin with – it is also more powerful per watt than its predecessors. The accompanying Adreno 330 GPU (that powers the 1920×1080 Full HD IPS Display) also delivers better performance than those that came before. The package is rounded out with a solid amount of RAM: 2GB LPDDR3 800MHz – plenty of local memory to accommodate whatever the user has in mind. According to the literature, the chipset employs asyncrhonous symmetric multiprocessing (that is, it employs each core independently, and adjusts the power of each core to keep up with user needs). For the entire time that I had this phone, I didn’t notice any slow-downs, regardless of what I was doing (which included actual multitasking instead of task queuing). Whether I was watching movies or listening to music (while using a Bluetooth headset as a listening device), or playing games (while using a Bluetooth videogame controller) – all was well in my world.
I also noticed that I didn’t have to charge this phone as much as I did with other devices performing the same tasks – a testament to how well the hardware handles as well as a tip of the hat to the high-density 3,000mAh battery tucked inside (that makes really great use of space to pack in the power). I ran the phone through its paces, running the video on loop and performing other tasks; and then I got distracted and totally forgot that I had left the phone running a looping video on my desk. I returned home later to find that there was still a fairly large percentage of the battery life left – even after several hours of the looping vid (after a number of hours of playing with the phone). Normal usage of this phone resulted in me having to charge it after 2 or 3 days.
Reedonkulous display quality.
The G2 functions very well as a phone, and supports connectivity to CDMA, 2G, 3G and LTE. I placed a few test calls from (and to) this phone, and reception was great everywhere. Sending and receiving data was also reliable – and there were very few areas in which I had a problem with this aspect. I understand that a large part of this is due to the reliability of the carrier’s network – but trust me when I say that I have been on a reliable network with a phone that just couldn’t hack it. GPS tracking was fantastic, as well – far better than I had expected. The G2 did a really great job pinpointing my location – whether I was on the move or standing still. What I found really interesting about the G2 was that LG has taken it back to the roots of the technology in some respects with the Answer Me function. Imagine your phone is on the table, and it starts to ring; as soon as you pick it up, the ring-tone volume diminishes; you check out who it is on the caller display, and then when you put it up to your ear, it engages the phone. This is a fantastic feature; partially because it is simple and makes the phone easier to use – but also because when it’s cold outside, I really don’t want to take off my gloves to answer my phone.
LG has really put a lot of thought into navigating around this phone. First of all, the KnockON screen control allows you to simply tap the display twice to wake up your phone (or put it to sleep). This is a pretty handy function that completely bypasses the need to press any buttons – and it’s intuitive. There were a few times (very few) when it didn’t work exactly when I wanted it to – but I figured out eventually that it was because I was holding the phone in my other hand and my fingers were wrapped around the bezel-less edge, making contact with the screen. Other touch-related control mechanisms include QSlide (which is a neat multi-tasking interface that lets you run two additional windows on the main screen) and Slide Aside (which lets you tab through your applications by using three fingers) – both of which, again, really demonstrate LG’s commitment to the user experience. Even little things, like the ability to customize the soft keys along the bottom, just make this phone very comfortable to use. I had no issues getting used to this Android device.
This picture demonstrates the longevity of the battery – not the ability to use the phone to convert your gender.
Plug & Pop is another cool feature of the G2 that really surprised me. On iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, plugging in your headphones activates a secondary volume control (that is, if your volume was on 1 the last time you plugged in your headphones, and your non-headphone volume setting is 5, plugging in your headphones again triggers the volume to go back to 1 for as long as they are plugged in). On the G2, when you insert a 3.5mm plug, the phone presents you with a list of applications that best use the headphones (applications that are used for listening). It’s a really awesome feature that makes the user comfortable and more productive. Chances are, you’re plugging your headset in for a reason, right?
I remember in the old days, when I had my Palm Pilot: I could operate almost any television thanks to a handy app that turned my Tungsten E2 into a remote control. Granted, I had to be standing really close to whatever television I wanted to operate – but I could do it, dammit. The G2′s QuickRemote grants this ability to the user – with greater range and flexibility. That’s right; the G2 can be a substitute for practically any of your IR device remotes. I played around with this function and it did really well; from my television to my bookcase stereo, establishing control was easy. Not only can the G2 learn commands from other remotes; you can also completely customize it in a layout that makes sense for you.
One of the aspects of this phone that I really like (naturally) is the camera. LG has placed a 13 Megapixel camera into the G2 – with an optical image stabilizer (OIS) and 8x zoom. A fair number of smartphone cameras take pretty crappy pictures. I found that the G2 did a better job than most, taking great pictures in oddly-lit situations, thanks to the intelligent automatic settings (with its 9 auto focus-points) and the OIS. As I investigated, I noticed that the G2 would latch onto the object that I wanted to photograph and maintain that focus until I had taken the photo. What’s more is that if the Auto setting didn’t do a good job (which, truthfully did happen sometimes), I could simply change the settings manually and take another crack at attaining the image that I was after. One of my biggest pet peeves is fingerprints and scratches on my lenses; but apparently LG has thought of this, too, as the camera has been protected with highly durable and fingerprint-resistant Sapphire Crystal Glass. Nothing like a little extra insurance against a blurred image!
The video mode is also no slouch. The G2 can capture HD video at 60 frames per second, which is much clearer than what I am used to. When I first started using the phone, I fired up some of the demo videos and was blown away by the video quality; so when I started mucking about with the video recording feature, I was very pleased. One of the neat features that was pointed out to me by one of the folks from LG was the Audio Zoom feature, which allows you to utilize the G2′s stereo microphones to hone in on an audio source while you are recording a video. It’s great when you want to filter out noise from other sources; it’s certainly not perfect, but it actually works relatively well in some situations. Audio Zoom can also be used when playing back videos that were recorded with the G2 while the Audio Zoom feature was off. It’s not as effective as it would be if you recorded with Audio Zoom on – but it does actually manage do do a fairly good job. Speaking of audio, I would be remiss if I did not also the fantastic audio quality. 24bit, 192kHz Hi-Fi sound during playback is something that makes me smile, mostly because my ears are in heaven.
The final feature that I wanted to talk about was the Guest Mode, which allows you to loan your phone out to anyone that you deem worthy without compromising your personal data. To give a person access to your phone, you assign them a pattern lock that they can use on the unlock screen. This lock is tied to a limited profile of whatever you like, giving you the peace of mind that comes with other people not seeing the embarrassing photos that you took at the bar the night before or knowing that you cheat at online games by seeing your internet history.
There are a number of features that I didn’t have the chance to explore, as I ran out of time with this phone. That being said, I could probably also go on for a while longer about other features that I found really cool – but that would make for a very long read and would be taking away from time that you could be spending trying the G2 out yourself. At this point in time, I don’t think I have seen a smartphone that tries to anticipate your patterns and cater to your daily habits as much as the LG G2 does – and it does so in a very graceful and smooth manner. Two thumbs up to LG for really paying attention to what their customers want. If this phone is any indication of what’s to come, life is definitely good.