After playing catch-up for several years, LG Mobiles is finally in a position to take charge. Samsung is still the market leader by a huge margin, but the Nexus 4 succeeded in instilling the belief among consumers that LG can also make good smartphones. Last week, LG Electronics India (LGEI) launched its latest flagship Android smartphone – the LG G2. The G2 has a lot riding in it. LGEI expects to pick up 10% of the Indian market share by the end of the year, and it’s targeting Rs. 200 crore in revenue from the G2. On paper the G2 is a monster; however, how does it stack in real life? Read on to find out.
Appearance, Display and Battery
Unlike in the Nexus 4 or the Optimus G, the G2 is made entirely out of plastic. There’s no metal or glass to be found anywhere in the construction. Personally, I don’t mind the absence of glass. There’s no denying that the aluminium bodied Xperia Z1 exudes a more premium feel, but avoiding metal often helps in bringing down the cost and reducing weight, and glass is way too fragile to be practical in a device that you’re going to use day in and day out. However, what I’m disappointed about is the return to the cheap glossy exterior that LG had done so well to avoid in its 2012 line-up. The rear cover has a reflective pattern that’s mildly interesting, but the glossy finishing means that it’s a smudge magnet. The battery in the Indian version of the G2 isn’t user replaceable, but that has allowed LG to fit in a giant 3000 mAh battery in the relatively compact dimensions (138.5 x 70.9 x 8.9 mm) of the G2. However, even with a plastic body, the G2 is fairly heavy, weighing about 143g.
The most distinctive feature of the G2 is its button placement. All the buttons in the G2 are placed at the back, just underneath the camera. This seems counter-intuitive and definitely takes some getting used to. In fact, this is probably the single most debated aspect of G2. When I began using the G2, I wasn’t entirely convinced about the idea. In theory, the button placement made sense. Single handed operation isn’t exactly a joy in most recent top-of-the-line droids, and the reason for that is that reaching buttons placed on the top or on the sides is difficult for anyone with normal sized palms. The G2’s rear buttons should be a lot more convenient to use since they are placed just where your index finger should reside while normally gripping the phone. In practice, things didn’t start so well. For the first couple of days, I had to repeatedly turn my phone to see where the buttons were. However, things improved quickly as muscle memory kicked in. After just a week of regular usage, I instinctively knew exactly where the home and the volume buttons were . In fact, the rear-buttons are now among my favourite things about the G2. LG deserves to be applauded for coming up with the concept and being brave enough to use it in their flagship.
The gorgeous edge-to-edge full-HD display that we saw in the G Pro has gotten even better in the G2. The G2 features a 5.2’’ full-HD (1920×1080) IPS display with a 424 ppi pixel density. This is a good two inches more than the Sony Z1 and the Samsung Galaxy S4. However, the G2 is actually smaller than the Z1 and about the same size as the S4, thanks to its extremely slim bezels, which almost vanishes when the display is off. As far as quality is concerned, there isn’t a single thing that I could find to criticize. The colour reproduction is brilliant, viewing angles are great, and outdoor visibility is never an issue.
As I mentioned earlier, the battery in the Indian version of G2 is non-user replaceable. However, this has allowed LG to use a special step design to pack in more power. I didn’t run any benchmarks, but the G2’s battery backup is among the best I’ve seen in high-end smartphones. It’ll easily last through a day and a half of normal usage on 3G, and will probably keep on ticking for well over two days on 2G. LG claims a talktime of 21 hours on 3G and 31 hours on 2G.
The LG G2 is powered by the mighty Snapdragon 800 chipset, which includes a quad-core Krait 400 processor clocked at 2.26 GHz, and an Adreno 330 GPU. In terms of performance, the G2 is in the same league as the Note 3, Xperia Z1, and Xperia Z Ultra, and ahead of pretty much everything else. No matter what you do, performance is never an issue with this phone. It maxed out the normal 3D Mark benchmark, maxed out a few of the tests in the 3D Mark Extreme benchmark, and was in the top 3 in the 3D Mark Ultra benchmark. The G2 has crazy amounts of processing power, which allows it to do stuff like zoom into full-HD videos and play them in windowed mode with adjustable transparency.
Quadrant Benchmark Score
3D Mark Ultra Benchmark Results
My review unit has 16 GB internal storage; however, a 32 GB model is also available. I’d recommend going for the latter since it’s only a couple of thousand rupees more expensive and the absence of any expandable memory support makes the extra storage crucial. The LG G2 has all sorts of connectivity options that you can imagine. Some of them are Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi direct, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0 with Low Energy mode support, and USB on-the-go. The chipset that LG is using is LTE enabled; however, the units being sold in India are 3G only. I suspect that LG might have disabled the LTE chip to conserve power. LG didn’t elaborate if it’s possible to later enable the LTE functionality through an update.
I’m not an Android puritan, and don’t by default hate all software customizations. With that being said, it’s worth nothing that my main complaints with the G2 are all software related. There are a bunch of unique features in the G2. The first one that you’re going to encounter is the Knock-on feature. One of the disadvantages of having the power button at the back is that you’ve to lift up to phone to unlock it. Knock-on attempts to alleviate this issue by allowing you to unlock the G2 by simply tapping on the screen twice. The concept is deceptively simple and brilliant. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. It works most of the time, but it also fails enough times to make me prefer the physical button over Knock-on.
The G2’s built-in launcher is among the better ones, and is capable enough to not make me miss any of the third-party launchers. It has all the essential features including folders and dock, and even throws in a few fancy features like multiple transition effects.
The G2 runs on Android 4.2.2, which is recent enough, but is still a version older than what Samsung Note 3 ships with. This isn’t as big a deal as it used to be, since Google has decoupled a lot of functionality from Android updates. Sure, I’d love to have Android 4.3 on-board, but I don’t feel like missing out on anything significant even with Android 4.2.
Somewhat disappointingly, LG hasn’t opted to leverage the Quick Settings feature introduced in Android 4.2. Instead, it has retained its old Notification pane with scrollable power buttons, Q-slide apps, brightness control, and volume control. With the exception of the volume control, all of these are handy additions that you’d find yourself using every now and then. However, packing all of them into a single screen is a bad idea, as it makes the notification pane look horribly cluttered. In the G2 only about half of the notification pane is actually available for displaying notifications.
Some of the other unique features in the G2 are:
– Guest Mode: You can protect your privacy by setting up a limited environment for your friends or kids while lending the phone. In guest mode only pre-configured apps are accessible.
– Clip Tray: Just like the Microsoft Office Clipboard, the Clip Tray provides you access to stuff you have copied in the past. The Clip Tray in G2 can store as many as 20 texts or images.
– Text Link: This is another really neat productivity enhancer. The G2 is capable of understanding certain phrases and sentences in your message. If it detects an address in an SMS, it’ll offer to open up maps. If it detects an appointment, then it’ll offer to add the event to your calendar or to your Memo.
– Audio Zoom: This feature was first introduced in the G Pro, but is featured more prominently in the G2. While recording in landscape mode you can tap on a particular subject and the G2 will attempt to amplify the sound from only that subject in the recording.
– Slide Aside: A three-finger swipe from right to left dismisses the currently open app and saves it in a container. A three-finger swipe from left to right restores it. You can save up to three apps using Slide Aside and quickly switch between them. LG claims that it radically improves multi-tasking, but it seemed more like a gimmick to me. The default Android Task Switcher can be used to do the same thing with a lot more ease.
– Shot and Clear: This is similar to the context aware fill feature in Photoshop. In theory this allows you to fix photo bombs, and get rid of other artefacts in an image. However, this feature obviously has limitations, and doesn’t always work.
– Life Square: Life Square is an automated journal that logs pretty much everything you do. This includes events in your calendar, updates you post on Facebook, links you share on Twitter, pictures you take on the camera, and people you text and talk with on the phone.
– QuickRemote: Like most of its competitors, the G2 features an IR blaster, which allows it to act like a customizable universal remote.
– QuickMemo: The trusty old QuickMemo feature is retained in the G2. Quick Memo is the quickest way to capture, annotate, and share a screenshot.
– QSlide: QSlide is like the Pop out feature in Samsung, which allows apps to run in a part of the screen, while freeing up the rest of the space for other tasks. So, you can run the YouTube app in a corner of the screen, while working away on your email. LG has also thrown in the ability to adjust the transparency of apps in QSlide mode. There are a bunch of QSlide enabled apps including the Video player, SMS app, and Calendar.
– Capture Plus: Capture Plus option in the Browser takes full page screenshots of websites.
– Answer Me: To receive a call, simply hold up the phone next to your ear.
– Voice Mate: Voice Mate is LG’s own attempt at creating a voice assistant. The app has pretty decent speech detection, but can’t really do much. Google Now is miles ahead of Voice Mate, and I don’t understand why Samsung and LG are even trying to compete with Google in this arena.
– Smart Screen and Smart Video: These are two more gimmicky features, which were undoubtedly inspired by the Samsung Galaxy S4. Smart Screen allows the G2’s display to stay on when the phone detects your face, and Smart Video automatically pauses the video when the phone cannot detect your face. LG obviously realizes that both of these features are far too inaccurate to be of significant use, and hence has disabled them by default.
There are a bunch of other features including a Translator, and a Task Manager. Traditionally, one of the strong points of the LG Optimus UI has been its customizability, and G2 continues that tradition. There are a massive number of things you can change without ever having to install custom ROMs. This includes customizing the touch navigation buttons, changing the lock-screen swipe effect, changing font type and size, and tweaking notification LED behaviour.
Cameras are back in the spotlight, and the Nokia’s Lumia series has really set the cat among the pigeons. Everyone including Apple and Sony are trying to beef up their camera. LG has fitted the G2 with a 13-megapixel camera that’s at least mighty on paper thanks to its optical image stabilization and muti-focus capability. The good news is that the camera is truly among the best we have seen in a smartphone, and delivers on its promises. The Xperia Z1 will probably outdo the G2’s shooting capability, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of. The G2 features manual focus, which allows it to take some stunning macro pics. In fact, the automatic Macro focusing mode is also among the best I’ve seen in a phone camera. The G2 supports ISO levels up to 800, and beats the S4 as well as the HTC One hands down, as far as low-light photography is concerned. The optical stabilization mode also makes its effect felt while recording from a bus or an auto. The G2 captures full-HD (1080p) videos at 60 fps with stereo sound. HDR mode has also been thrown in for good measure. However, when it came to audio zooming, that feature just didn’t work for me. For now, I’m chalking it up as a gimmick rather a real enhancement.
Low light shot with Manual Focus
Outdoor photo in Night mode
Outdoor photo in Normal mode with high ISO
I’ve always been a fan of LG’s Video player, and it has retained its strengths in the G2. You can pinch to zoom into any part of the video, or zoom and track a particular subject. With YouTube like seek preview, you can preview exactly where you’re about to jump to in the video. And with Q-slide you can continue to playback the video while doing your work.
Like the Note 3, the LG G2 can output 24 bit 192 KHz Hi-Fidelity audio. LG has paired its flagship with the new Quadbeat 2 earphones, which are surprisingly good. They’re not as bass heavy as Sony’s stunning MH 1c, but the soundstage is equally wide, and the IEMs sound really balanced. In fact, if you are looking for a budget IEM, the Quadbeat 2 is something you should definitely look at. Although, LG has done a great job with the bundled earphones, the phone’s speaker is bit of a disappointment. The speaker isn’t bad by any means, but it sticks out as a sore point because pretty much every other aspect of the G2 is superb.
LG has gotten a lot of things right with the G2, including the display, the SoC, the physical button placement, and the camera. As a result, the G2 is an absolute joy to use. The downers are the lack of expandable storage, the average speaker quality, the slightly old Android version, and some poor design choices in the Optimus UI. The 16 GB model of G2 is selling for about Rs. 40,000. The 32 GB model costs a couple of thousand bucks more. This makes it about ten percent cheaper than the Note 3, which is also significantly bigger than the G2. In my opinion, the biggest competition to the G2 is the Xperia Z1, which has the advantage of a better build quality, dust and water resistance, superior camera, and slightly better benchmark scores. Where the G2 outshines the Z1 is display quality and ergonomics. The G2 is a better phone than the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. However, the Galaxy S4 is now available for about Rs. 36,000. I suspect that within a couple of months the G2’s price will also come down to similar levels. However, until then the price difference also makes the Galaxy SIV an alternative worth considering.
LG’s biggest achievement is that it has gone from competing solely on price to competing on performance and quality. Until a year or two back, you brought LG phones because they offered good value for money, not because they were the best phones in the market. With the G2, LG has succeeded in raising the bar and changing the game.