Is it a leap forward or backward thinking? The G2 hopes to stand out from other Android flagship phones by putting the power button and volume controls on the back of the device. The G2 ($199 for Verizon) is also the first U.S. device to sport Qualcomm's superfast Snapdragon 800 processor, which means it can handle nearly every task you throw at it. Complete with a 13-MP optical image stabilization camera, is the G2 capable of snagging the spotlight from the Galaxy S4 or HTC One?
Don't expect to hit the G2's volume keys by sliding your fingers along the device's side. And don't look for the power button at the top of the G2 either. LG has implemented a new Rear Key design that places its volume and power buttons on the back of the handset. Not only is this meant to make the G2 stand out from the competition, but LG claims this design makes the 5.2-inch smartphone easier to use with one hand.
This positioning was awkward at first, considering we couldn't see the buttons we were trying to press. Also, on Verizon's G2, the back-mounted buttons are significantly smaller than on the AT&T version of the phone, and more flush with the body. This makes them slightly harder to locate by feel, but more comfortable over the long run, as we didn't have to move our finger as far when changing volume.
Just like LG's previous smartphones, the G2 sports a sleek, glossy plastic design, and its face is clean and minimalistic with no visible buttons. The standard Android Back, Home and Recent Apps buttons only appear on the display after unlocking the device. The G2's side bezels are extremely thin, nearly giving the illusion that it's sporting an edge-to-edge glass design.
The Verizon LG G2 rocks a slightly different rear design than its AT&T sibling. In addition to featuring smaller buttons, the color is slightly lighter and has more of a chrome-ish shine to it than the AT&T version. Unfortunately, this means it catches fingerprint smudges more easily.
Measuring 5.45 x 2.79 x 0.35 inches, the LG G2 is slightly thinner than the 5.4 x 2.7 x 0.37-inch HTC One but is just a bit longer and thicker than the 5.31 x 2.69 x 0.25-inch Samsung Galaxy S4. It's virtually the same size as the 5.41 x 2.8 x 0.34 Motorola Droid Maxx.
At 5.04 ounces, the G2 weighs the same as the smaller aluminum-body HTC One, but is heavier than the 4.6-ounce Galaxy S4. The 5.86-ounce Droid Maxx is noticeably heavier than all three handsets.
The LG G2's 5.2-inch 1920 x 1080p display delivered sharp images and bold colors, but it trails the competition in terms of viewing angles and brightness. When watching the trailer for "Gravity," we loved how vibrant the red lighting looked in a close-up shot of Sandra Bullock. We preferred the image quality and colors on the LG G2 to that of the Galaxy S4, but the Droid Maxx's 5-inch 1280 x 720 display depicted color much more accurately than the G2. The HTC One trumped all three, delivering the sharpest, most vibrant images.
The G2 registered 351 lux on our light meter, which is below the smartphone category average of 394 lux. The HTC One (375 lux), Droid Maxx (488 lux) and Samsung Galaxy S4 (480 lux) all have more luminous displays.
The LG G2's dual Hi-Fi Sound speakers sounded clear during our testing, but we weren't blown away. "Blood on the Leaves" by Kanye West sounded crisp and loud, but we did notice a slight tinnish tone. The song sounded distorted when compared with the Galaxy S4. The Droid Maxx boasted the loudest sound by far and certainly sounded clearer than the G2, but wasn't as pristine as the Galaxy S4's audio.
Still, all three phones were no match for the HTC One with its dual front speakers and Beats Audio equalizer. "Blood on the Leaves" not only sounded cleaner and more pronounced, but the array of background instruments and synthesizers sounded more balanced and full.
During the LAPTOP Audio Test, which measures a smartphone's sound over the distance from the screen to the user's nose (13 inches), the G2 reached 79 decibels, which is just below the 81 decibel category average for smartphones.
The LG G2's KnockON feature lets you wake up the display by simply tapping, or knocking, on the screen. This feature was generally responsive during everyday use, although the display powered on slightly faster when we used the power button. When using both our fingertip and our knuckle to knock on the display on separate occasions, the display lit up almost immediately. However, there were a few times in which we had to knock more than once for the G2 to turn on.
The Verizon LG G2 runs a heavily skinned version of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, meaning LG brings its own flavor to the traditional Android software. The first difference you'll notice is the splash animation LG supplies in its unlock screen, which isn't common among other Android handsets. The Verizon version also comes with shortcuts for Phone, Messaging, Google search, Notebook and Camera on the lock screen.
By default, LG gives you five home screens to personalize with app shortcuts and widgets. You can add two more home screens by pressing and holding a blank area on any home screen.
The main home screen looks fairly barebones and basic. LG situated the Google Now search bar and a row of shortcuts for Verizon's voicemail service, Email, Gallery, Notebook and Camera here, but that's it. There's no widget displaying the weather and time like on the AT&T version. Another row of icons included shortcuts for Phone, Contacts, Chrome, Messaging and Apps sits in place as you flip between home screens.
Swiping toward the right brings you to the second home screen, which displays a full-page shortcut to the Amazon app store. A third screen provides a music player across the top and shortcuts to Google Maps, Calendar, Help and the Google Play Store. The other three home screens are left blank, but you can drag-and-drop apps from the app drawer to fill these up.
The Verizon LG G2's notification drawer not only displays your most recent messages and alerts, but also offers a selection of quick settings in a toolbar across the top. From here, you can turn on Wi-Fi, change the display brightness and enable Airplane Mode among other settings. This Quick Settings toolbar looks nearly identical to the one found in TouchWiz, except Samsung offers 19 settings rather than the Verizon LG's 12. If this Quick Settings menu is a little too long for your taste, you can delete some of the 12 options via the Edit button at the end of the list.
Overall, LGs interface offers a ton of customization options, but some may find it too busy and cluttered.
QSlide and Slide Aside
One hallmark feature of LG devices is the QSlide function, which lets you open multiple apps on the home screen in separate windows.
QSlide is similar to Samsung's Multi-Window feature, although LG allows you to resize these windows, drag-and-drop them around the screen, and change their transparency. Dragging these apps to the side of the screen will minimize them to app icons, which stay there no matter where you are in the device. Even if you switch between home screens or launch another app, these shortcuts continue to follow you similar to Facebook's Chat Heads. This is convenient for quickly accessing apps.
On the G2, you'll get eight QSlide compatible apps that include Email, Calendar, File Manager, Videos and Calculator among others. Samsung's TouchWiz interface, by comparison, offers 12 Multi-Window apps. Samsung's selection is also more robust, with apps such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Chrome available for Multi-Window use.
Another new feature, Slide Aside, makes it easier to multitask by enabling quicker task switching. Using a three-finger swipe to the left, you can park up to three apps along the side of the screen. Swiping to the right with three fingers will fan out these apps, allowing you to choose one to open. While this feature is easy to use, it doesn't offer anything you can't get with the traditional Recent Apps menu on all Android devices.
Similar to the Optimus G Pro and Galaxy S4, the LG G2 comes with an IR blaster for controlling your television, stereo speakers, Blu-ray player and other electronic devices. LG's app lets you choose the room you're in, which determines the selection of devices that you can control with the IR blaster. For example, if you select Office you'll be able to choose from gadgets such as TV, Set-top box, Audio and DVD among others. Other room choices include Living room, Den, Kitchen and Bedroom.
After selecting the device you'd like to pair with the G2, the setup process is extremely easy. Simply choose the name of the manufacturer and LG will create a virtual remote control for you. If that controller doesn't work, LG will keep creating new versions until it gets it right.
Although LG was able to pair our G2 with a television in our office almost instantly, the QuickRemote app doesn't offer additional features like those found on the Galaxy S4 and HTC One. Both of those phones provide full program guides and video stores, while LG's app is more barebones and basic.
The G2's Answer Me feature cuts out the middle step of having to actually press a button or tap the screen to answer phone calls. Simply raise the phone to your ear while it's ringing and you'll automatically answer the incoming call. After enabling Answer Me in the settings menu, we found that this feature worked well during our testing. LG also lets you decide how long it should take to answer the phone call once you raise the phone to your face.
LG's Text Link simplifies the task of saving information received in text messages. For instance, if you receive an address or invitation via text, you can look up directions via Google Maps, book it in your calendar, save it to your memos, or research it online instantly. Tapping the words or phrase you wish to look up will trigger a small submenu of options that let you carry out these tasks. During our testing we received a text message with the address to a nearby bar, and tapping the Google Maps icon automatically pinpointed the bar's location.
The G2's Guest Mode comes in handy for parents who let children frequently use their phone, or smartphone owners who share their device on a regular basis. With Guest Mode, you can set a separate unlock pattern for your G2 that takes the user to a different interface that only includes apps you've pre-selected for that user. So, for instance, you can load games and educational apps for your child or younger sibling. Note this mode won't allow access to the Google Play store or the Web browser unless you choose those apps.
The LG G2 is among the first smartphones to rock Qualcomm's quad-core 2.26-GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, which makes it a multitasking machine. "Modern Combat 4" ran smoothly on the LG G2, even when we had multiple apps open in the background. It only took four seconds to load levels, and there were no noticeable lag or hiccups. Graphics appeared fluid and lifelike, especially the wafting clouds of smoke and fiery explosions.
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The G2 was snappy and swift when we navigated around the interface while multitasking. After opening seven apps in Google Chrome, running eight apps in the background and downloading an app, the G2 launched its camera in a speedy 1.3 seconds.
The G2 dominated its competition on graphics benchmarks. LG's flagship maxed out the 3DMark Ice Storm and 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme benchmarks and achieved a score of 15,574 in 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited. The Droid Maxx also maxed out the 3DMark benchmark, but received a lower score of 10,842 on 3DMark Unlimited.
The G2 scored 16,960 on the Quadrant benchmark, scorching the 6,027 smartphone category average and beating the HTC One (12,150), Droid Maxx (9,026) and Samsung Galaxy S4 (11,962) by a wide margin.
The Verizon LG G2 took 7 minutes and 4 seconds to transcode a 204MB 1080p video file to 480p using the Vidtrim app. The average smartphone completes this task in 7 minutes and 51 seconds. The HTC One took 7:33, and the Galaxy S4 transcoded the same clip in 7:27. The Droid Maxx, however, transcoded the clip in a speedy 6:40.
The LG G2's 13-megapixel camera took colorful, detailed photos during our testing. When we shot bouquets of roses with this smartphone and the Galaxy S4's 13-megapixel camera and the HTC One's 4-megapixel shooter, the G2's images looked sharper and more vibrant.
When zooming in on the rose petals, the LG G2's image preserved the most detail. The Galaxy S4's colors were slightly brighter, but both the S4 and G2 portrayed the white roses more accurately than the HTC One. The HTC made the white flowers look much brighter than their natural color.
In a separate photo of buildings along a New York City street corner, the LG G2s photo looked a little too washed out. The bright areas of the image were overexposed, and it almost looked as if there was a filter over the scene. The HTC One's photo showed similar issues, but the overexposure wasn't as pronounced. The Galaxy S4's depiction of the same scene showed the brightest and most vibrant color. When zooming in on an awning for a Sleepy's store, the text on the sign looked much clearer in the S4's photo than the G2 or HTC One's.
The Droid Maxx's 10-MP camera shot an image comparable to the Galaxy S4's on the same street corner, but the S4's was slightly sharper. Still, when we viewed the images on our desktop, the colors in the Maxx's photo were much more vibrant and bold when compared against the G2's.
Optical Image Stabilization and Camera Features
One of the most useful camera features you'll find on the G2 is its Optical Image Stabilization, which automatically reduces the amount of blur from shaky hands when recording video. When shooting a video while walking, the G2's footage simply panned slightly from side to side as our hands moved with the camera. The same video taken with the Galaxy S4, which doesn't have OIS, trembled noticeably.
Additionally, LG lets you adjust certain settings such as ISO, white balance and color effects, resulting in three different color themes to choose from. One of the more gimmicky features, the Cheese Shutter, automatically snaps a photo when the subject utters the word "Cheese." The G2 also comes packed with a slew of useful camera features that cater to various shooting conditions such as Panorama, Burst Mode, Beauty Shot, Night and Time Catch Shot among others.
Time Catch Shot fires off five additional photos before you actually take the picture to ensure that you don't miss anything. The back-mounted volume key also serves as a shortcut to the camera and can also be used to capture images if you don't want to press the on-screen shutter.
LG also comes with a dual recording mode that shoots video with both the front and rear cameras at the same time. The feature debuted on the Optimus G Pro phablet and differs from Samsung's Dual Shot in that you can shoot video with both cameras rather than just stills.
The G2's 1080p camcorder shoots sharp video with little to no blur from shaky hands. A video of a New York street corner looked colorful as we panned along the road and sidewalk.
LG also includes a few camera features that make it easier to zoom as you're recording. Tracking Zoom mode (video below), for instance, lets you drag a magnifying glass around the screen to zoom in on a certain person or object. That zoomed in area appears in a small box on the screen, while the rest of the scene appears as normal. Conversely, the Zoom to Track playback feature lets you drag a magnifying glass around the screen as you watch a video to zoom in.
These features worked well when we shot a video of our co-worker dancing on a New York street corner. We dragged-and-dropped the magnifying glass around the screen to zoom in on his face and his hands in certain instances. It's a bit gimmicky and mostly just for fun, but Tracking Zoom could come in handy when trying to accurately capture your subject's facial expression while still recording the entire scene.
In addition to third party apps and Google's standard suite of services, Verizon also bundles in its own applications. Most of these tend to be little more than bloatware, but the carrier does package its Verizon Mobile Security app to scan for viruses and malware for free. Upgrading to the premium edition, which also locates your device and locks it if it's stolen, costs $1.99 per month.
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Verizon's other apps are fairly useless, such as its Voicemail shortcut and ringtone store app.
The G2 isn't flooded with third party apps, but you'll find some welcome additions such as IMDb, Polaris Office 5 and Slacker pre-installed.
4G LTE and Web Browsing
With more than 500 markets, Verizon boasts the biggest LTE footprint across the U.S. Unfortunately, the quality of this network was inconsistent during our testing.
We could barely get service at our office in New York City's Flatiron District. In most instances, the Speedtest.net app couldn't complete its test, but when it did, download and upload speeds averaged less than a megabyte per second. (For those scoring at home, that's pathetic.)
Opening Web pages on the Verizon G2 proved to be unbearably sluggish. It took 25.5 seconds to load the image-heavy Laptopmag.com, 34.2 seconds to load CNN.com. and 15.9 seconds to load the New York Times mobile site.
In Old Bridge, N.J., however, we saw swift download and upload speeds that averaged 16.3 Mbps and 12.25 Mbps, respectively.
The LG G2 is one of the longest lasting smartphones we've reviewed. During the LAPTOP Battery Test, which consists of continuously surfing the Web over LTE on 40 percent brightness, the Verizon G2's 3000 mAh battery lasted 9 hours and 14 minutes. This is well over the 6:15 smartphone category average, and is noticeably longer than the Verizon Galaxy S4 (5:25) and Verizon HTC One (5:44). Granted, the HTC One and Galaxy S4 have brighter screens than the LG G2, but a four hour difference in battery life is pretty significant.
The LG G2 was only beaten by the Droid Maxx's monstrous 3,500 mAh battery, which lasted for 9 hours and 52 minutes during the same test. The AT&T LG G2, however, managed to last for 10:42.
Verizon shoppers seeking a powerhouse of a smartphone would be well advised to consider the $199 LG G2. Its Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor offers some of the fastest performance we've ever seen on an Android phone, and it lasted more than 9 hours on a charge. However, the viewing angles on the G2's display aren't quite as wide as other phones, and its Rear Key design takes some adjustment.
If battery life is your chief concern, you should also consider the Motorola Droid Maxx. Although it costs $100 more, the Maxx comes with a cleaner build of Android and Motorola's Touchless Voice Controls. The trade-off is a heavier design and lower-res 720p display.
While they offer far less endurance, the HTC One boasts a sharper display, more premium build and unmatched sound quality, and the Galaxy S4 is loaded with features. Bottom line: If you think you can get used to the button placement, you'll be hard pressed to find a phone that can perform as smoothly and last as long as the G2.