Review: LG G2

LG is gunning for Samsung’s Android smartphone crown, but does the LG G2 offer a viable alternative?

A few things are immediately evident about the G2, the newest flagship device from LG Electronics. The first is the smartphone’s display, which is enormous (5.2 inches on the diagonal) and gorgeous.

It’s an IPS LCD, Full HD with a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 and 424 pixels per inch (the new Apple iPhone 5S, for context, features 326 pixels per inch). But what’s striking is that despite being fractions of an inch from phablet territory, it doesn’t seem particularly large.

By which I mean, if a phone with a 4.8-inch display no longer makes you feel like you’re holding a waffle to your ear, the G2, with its nearly half-inch larger display, won’t either.

Back to front

LG G2 rearThat’s because technology has advanced considerably, and LG has whittled down the bezel to near nothing. The Galaxy S III, with its 4.8-inch display, measured 136.6 by 70.6 by 8.6mm. The LG G2 taps up those numbers only slightly, to 138.5 to 70.9 to 8.9mm.

The other impossible-to-miss thing about the G2 is the placement of its power button and volume rockers, which LG placed on the back of the phone, just below the camera lens.

This, sadly, was a far better idea in theory than execution. While one’s index finger is indeed more naturally at the very spot where these buttons are (rather than reaching for the side of the phone), the buttons aren’t distinct enough for a user to be sure of what she’s pressing.

Because the power button is between the up and down volume buttons, I often wound up changing the volume before managing to turn the device off. If it was actually the volume I was after, I inevitably wound up flipping over the phone to look (defeating entirely the purpose of the buttons’ location), and in both cases I almost always succeeded in smudging up the camera lens.

The good, the bad, and the unnecessary

The size of the display and its funny button placement aside, the LG G2 is a very nice, extremely fast (there’s a quad-core Snapdragon processor under the hood to thank) Android 4.2.2.–running smartphone that could just as easily have come from Samsung.

Certainly, LG seems to have been inspired by Samsung.

Where the Galaxy devices come at a user fast and furious with tips for using unexpected (and often unnecessary-seeming) features, the G2 is more subtle. But go looking for these features—things like the ability to have the camera watch your eyes while you’re reading so the display doesn’t darken, or to annotate a screen or image with the blunt instrument of your finger—and you’ll find them.

And when you use then, again as with a Samsung phone, as often as not they’re hard to use, don’t quite work or are so busy being innovative that they fail to be intuitive.

There’s a feature, for example, called Slide Aside. A user can place three fingers on the display and slide an in-use app to the left, as well as fan out—like displaying three-of-a-kind poker cards—by sliding three fingers to the right.

This is stupid

LG G2First, it’s not a terribly necessary feature. It’s just as easy to tap Home and then tap on an app as it is to three-finger swipe to see the open app and then tap on it. But if it’s something that sounds nice to you, good luck with it. I tried it about seven times, religiously following the five steps in the instruction manual. Finally, I called over someone else to try it. He tried three times before muttering, “This is stupid.” But when he lifted his fingers to give up, he accidentally did it.

Similarly (by which I mean, in the category of things I would be perfectly content without and was unnecessarily frustrated by dealing with) the camera includes a feature called Shot & Clear that takes unwanted items out of a photo. The first problem is that you have to take the photo in Shot & Clear mode, meaning you knew in advance that there’s something you’ll want to remove (versus being able to fix someone unexpectedly walking into the shot).

Even anticipating that you’ll want to remove something, and so shooting in the Shot & Clear mode, which makes you hold the camera very still for several seconds (no kid or dog photos with this one), removing the unwanted object still isn’t as easy as it should be. I removed half of my husband from a picture.

Easy to like

But again, the features that made me cranky—a potentially helpful Quick Memo app among them—are extras. If you’re someone who more or less sticks with the basics—apps you love, the camera, videos and music—the G2 is an easy phone to really like.

The 13-megapixel rear camera (there’s also a 2.1-megapixel camera up front) is very good but not great. It’s much quicker than the one in the Moto X, and much brighter, but not as bright or as great as Nokia’s newest phones or maybe even the HTC One. The G2 excels at outdoor shots, but even then, in the shade on a sunny afternoon, it is sometimes underwhelmed in seemingly perfect conditions. Inside, however, it often surprised as well, taking a brighter, better shot than I anticipated.

A feature to love hands-down, though, is the ability to turn the G2 on or off by double-tapping the display. It’s fast, effective and so intuitive that I found myself double-tapping other phones. It’s the perfect example of a smart feature. Once you use it, you want to always use it.

It’s good, but it’s not Samsung

In summary, the LG G2 is very fast and has a beautiful, bright display—together they make it a great phone for watching videos on, as well as emailing, searching and just about anything else. The camera is very nice and has lots of features and options to play with; the battery will last you all day; and despite its significant screen real estate, the G2 is surprisingly comfortable to slip into a back pocket.

LG is currently the third leading shipper of smartphones, but there’s considerable space between the 30 percent share held by Samsung, the 19 percent controlled by Apple and third-place LG, with its nearly 4 percent share.

While the G2 is a very strong effort from LG, it’s not going to persuade Apple users to change their ways. And while the Android faithful may find it as good as the Galaxy S4, they’re unlikely to think it better.

If you’re making Android phones and you’re not Samsung, the included bells and whistles have to be perfect and extraordinary and absolutely set the phone apart. LG, despite making a very, very nice phone didn’t quite manage to do that.

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Originally published on eWeek.