LG G2 review: The perfect template for the Google Nexus 5

Credit: Raymond Wong/DVICE

As folks continue to snatch up iPhones and back Samsung's popular Galaxy smartphones, LG's portion of the mobile pie is dwindling. Everyone's picked a side by now, and very few are in the LG camp. With so much at stake, LG's flagship G2 Android smartphone has a lot to prove. And prove it does.

A Spec Titan

When the G2 was announced, it was immediately clear LG had a checklist of items it wanted to tick off. More specifically, the G2 had to be better than Samsung's Galaxy S4 in every way — at least on paper.

Bigger 5.2-inch screen vs. the S4's 5-inch (technically 4.99-inch screen)? Check. The latest and greatest Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor clocked at 2.2GHz? Check. Newest version of Android? 4.2.2 — check. Larger 3,000mAh battery vs. the S4's 2,600mAh battery? Check. Better 13-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization? Check. Higher 24-bit 192KHz "Hi-Fi" sound? Check.

From a hardware standpoint, the G2 is an absolute powerhouse. The screen is fast and responsive, and games and 1080p HD video look gorgeous on it. Despite all of the high-performance apps we threw at it, the G2 never chugged, which is a testament to its beefy processor and roomy 2GB of RAM.

Battery life is also fantastic. In designing the G2, LG said it used a "stepped" design. In simple speak: it means instead of having "dead space" in the chassis, LG is able to squeeze in more mAh in the same space. The result is a non-removable 3,000mAh battery in a smartphone frame only slightly larger than Samsung's Galaxy S4. In real life usage, the 3,000mAh battery goes a long way — a very long way. We were able to get around 9-9.5 hours on a single charge with normal usage (Web browsing, taking photos, a few rounds of Temple Run, Twitter, Facebook, and email) and nearly 12 hours with usage ratcheted down a bunch.

The Backside Story

Powerful internals aside, the G2 also sports a rethought design that puts the power and volume buttons on the rear of the device, just below the camera. Silly? At first, yes, it sounds ridiculous, until you actually hold it in your hand, and you notice how your index finger gravitates towards the middle — right where the buttons are placed.

The idea is that buttons placed on the rear of the device are easier to access on a device of this size, compared to buttons placed on the side. It's difficult to suggest this design is better, since the feel of smartphone is purely subjective, but we think LG gets it right. (It's best to try it out for yourself before you buy, though.) You really can't drop the G2 if you're holding it with your index finger right over the rear buttons.

The volume buttons have another purpose: shortcut buttons. Holding the volume down button will launch the camera. Both volume buttons can then act as camera shutter buttons. Holding the volume up button will also launch LG's QuickMemo note-taking app, although we often accidentally launched this one, or butt-opened it.

One side complaint: why on earth did Verizon gut G2's buttons on its variant and make them smaller? And why is the G2's dual speakers replaced with a single one? It's ridiculous and completely unnecessary. That said, Verizon's G2 does have wireless charging, a feature the GSM models don't.

Finally, A Great Android Camera

With the exception of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One, the cameras on Android smartphones have all kind of sucked. If it's not general slowness, it's poor autofocus, or terrible low-light shooting. Thankfully, the G2's 13-megapixel rear camera is one of the better ones out there.

In our tests, we were able to darn good shots in low-light (especially night shots) from the f/2.4 lens and 9-point autofocus. Although there's bound to be some smart software assisting the camera, the key to the G2's great image quality can probably be attributed to the built-in optical image stabilization, which helps reduce a lot of the blur you often get from smartphone snapshots.

Interestingly enough, LG seems to have copied Samsung's whole two-camera-at-once gimmick, which lets you use both the front and rear camera at the same time. Lame.

HD video recording is also impressive on the G2 and easily bests our iPhone 5. We particularly liked the G2's "audio zoom" feature, which lets you tap on a point while video recording to hone in for better audio recording.

The Verdict

LG's recent smartphones have all been solid hardware contenders. The company's greatest weakness has always been figuring out the software half. (It also has an issue with allowing carriers to preload a boatload of un-installable apps.) And while LG's custom Android 4.2.2 efforts feel stuck in the skeumorphic past that Google and Apple are shedding, we can't fault the device when it comes to overall smoothness. Yes, some of the features such as the "knockon" gesture that lets you tap the screen twice to unlock it and the "Plug and Pop" which launches different apps when it detects headphones or a USB port are gimmicky, but the same can be said for Samsung's oddball "S" and "Smart" gestures.

Whereas LG's previous Android smartphones became noticeably slower over time, the G2 remained a powerhouse day-in and day-out, no doubt thanks to its rather impressive internal specs.

To make a long review short, the G2 is quite a beauty of a smartphone. It's front is almost all display and we like the bold initiative LG is attempting with the rear buttons placement. Even better, if the rumors are true, and the Nexus 5 is based off the G2, we could be in for a real treat (with a nice stock version of Android 4.4 KitKat).

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