On release, the LG G2 wowed us with its gorgeous display, lightning-fast performance, great camera and remarkable specification – it was the first smartphone with high-res audio support.
The new kids on the block may have toppled it now, but don't dismiss it – it's several months older than more recent handsets, but you wouldn't think it from the spec sheet.
As we’d expect from a flagship phone, the LG G2 has a very impressive specification sheet. But what jumped off the page at us was LG’s claim of ‘hi-fi sound’ when listening through headphones, so we’ll start there.
Yes, this is the first smartphone to support audio up to 24bit/192kHz, a feat which has promptly been matched by the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Sony Walkman. And the G2 sound is… actually, a bit of a mixed bag.
Loading up some high-resolution FLAC files, we heard very high levels of detail and subtlety – the G2 offers great insight into a track.
The sound is very clear, and we were impressed by the sense of texture to instruments and vocals.
It’s not particularly exciting, however. The G2 sounds very smooth and rounded, and rather too laid-back to throw a proper punch. When we tried the same tracks on an iPhone 5, we found what we were looking for: drama.
Despite carrying only CD-quality WAV tracks, the Apple handset offers punchier dynamics, better timing, and a real sense of drive in its delivery.
Compare to Apple's iPhone 5S, HTC's One M8 and Sony's Xperia Z2, the music feels lifeless. The LG’s extra detail is very welcome, but ultimately it doesn’t give us that outright sense of entertainment.
LG G2 headphones
The bundled earbuds are above average in build and sound quality, but if you're serious about sound we'd recommend upgrading – especially if you want to take advantage of the high-res sound.
MORE: Google Nexus 5
We wish LG wasn’t pushing the audio side quite so hard, because it’s not the phone’s best feature. It’s undoubtedly worthy, but it’s not a showstopper (unless you'll only be listening to high-resolution audio).
For that, we refer you to the rest of the phone.
LG G2 screen
The 5.2in Full HD screen remains as beautiful as ever, with bright, radiant colours, sharp lines and impressive contrast.
The IPS (in-plane switching) display means wide-viewing angles are well catered-for-too. The G2 screen was a favourite of ours for a long time, although the subtler colors and deeper blacks of the HTC One M8 trump it now.
Still, the levels of clarity and detail are breathtaking. Admittedly, the HTC One has greater pixel density, cramming the same 1920x1080 resolution into a marginally smaller screen, but our naked eye can’t discern the difference in those few pixels per inch.
The LG G2’s screen is beautifully crisp and seriously sharp.
The screen is also massive. The G2’s display is bigger than the ones on the Samsung Galaxy S4 (5in) and HTC One (4.7in). All the better for enjoying the excellent video performance.
G2 vs HTC One
Despite the large display, the phone isn’t too big. This is one of the most ergonomic handsets we’ve held. The gently curved back makes it easy to wrap your fingers all the way round, and subtly softened corners fit comfortably in the palm. It’s lovely to hold.
The body is a one-piece design with a polycarbonate shell that is shiny and smooth to the touch. Look closely and there’s a subtle diagonal-stripe pattern.
Some might argue that it’s a bit plasticky compared with the aluminium HTC One, but we reckon the G2 exudes enough quality just as it is.
There’s a reassuring weight to the G2 and a creak-free construction. Pay attention, Samsung: this is how you use plastic.
Admittedly it attracts fingerprints, but a polycarbonate body is also less likely to dent if it hits the ground. We look forward to seeing how it compares to the plastic iPhone 5C.
Not that you’re going to drop the phone, of course. Or at least, that’s what LG’s engineers are hoping, after trying to make the phone as easy to handle as possible. This brings us to the other headline feature: unusually positioned buttons.
Buttons on the back
At first glance, the phone seems free from physical buttons. Turn it over, though, and you’ll find a power/lock switch sandwiched between two arrow keys.
Press them to change volume; hold them down and they’re shortcuts to the memo pad or camera.
‘They’ve lost it!’ we thought. But this is LG’s solution to the trend of increasingly large phones: putting the buttons where the index finger naturally rests.
The idea is to minimise the need to change grip, which is when you’re most likely to drop the device.
And it works. The buttons are easy to find and differentiate without looking. We managed to pull the phone out, take a photo and lock the screen again, all without changing grip.
It actually feels reassuringly as though human hands were used during the product development. You can operate the phone without unnecessary hand gymnastics or the subsequent threat of a sudden pavement attack.
More after the break
It’s not just the phone’s shape that feels carefully considered. The G2’s interface has some excellent ideas.
We particularly like the ability to wake or turn off the screen with a double tap. It’s good for a quick peek without picking the phone up.
The standard Android soft keys are now on-screen, and you can choose to put the menu and back buttons on the left or right. For once, lefties have not been forgotten.
Plug in some headphones and a customisable list pops up, offering apps you might use. Open the notification menu and there’s a bar (again, customisable) that gives you shortcuts to various settings.
Pick up the phone when you get a call, and the ringer automatically decreases in volume. Put it to your ear and the call connects, without the need to press anything.
The downside is that the number of options can be overwhelming. It’s definitely not as simple as the stock Android interface.
There are also features that we wouldn’t use, such as the Samsung-inspired face recognition software that pauses video when you’re not looking.
It doesn’t help that LG has included some flashy animations and cartoony themes. The text message app has a smiley face icon by default, and a background with clouds.
Thankfully, it’s easy to turn off anything you don’t like. It didn’t take long to tailor the interface to our tastes and needs.
The G2’s camera is very good, even if it's arguably no longer ahead of the pack. It’s a 13MP snapper with an LED flash, optical image stabilisation and nine-point focusing.
The result: great shots in both bright and dim conditions. Images are sharp, colours are natural, and whites are punchy.
We tested the G2 against a Samsung Galaxy S4, and in all cases the G2 produced crisper detail with more accurate colours and purer whites. The following examples have the LG either on the left or on top.
When it comes to low-light snaps, the G2 really shines, offering sharper shots with greater detail than Samsung's Galaxy S4.
It’s not as accomplished as low-level experts such as the HTC One or Nokia Lumia 925, but it’s definitely good enough for the average night out.
There are plenty of extra modes. Burst Shot takes a load of snaps in one go, so you can choose the best one. Shot & Clear does almost the same thing, but allows you to remove unwanted passers-by, which is pretty clever.
Then there are panorama and action modes, which let you stitch together several shots for extra-wide photos or time-lapse effects. The G2 can also record Full HD 1080p video at 60 frames per second. It’s crisp and clear, and playback is smooth.
Performance and battery life
There’s no point in fancy features without the means to handle them. Thankfully, the G2 has Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 2.26GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 3000mAh battery.
Translation: this is a seriously speedy multimedia monster, which multitasks easily and keeps going for a long time.
This phone doesn’t know the meaning of lag. We listened to music and viewed image-heavy websites, all the while downloading a movie in the background.
Not once did the G2 stutter. It didn’t even get a little warm until we started playing games with demanding graphics.
We’re very impressed with the battery life. We managed 20 hours of heavy usage: video downloads and streams over wi-fi and 3G, web browsing, texts and emails all day. With light use – no internet – we got through two days easily.
We’d stick with the routine of plugging-in daily, but at bedtime there’s usually more juice left than we’re used to. Charging is quick, going from zero to 60 per cent in about 45 minutes.
LG G2 interface
The trade-off for having a massive battery is a sealed body. There’s no microSD card slot for memory expansion, so you’ll have to make do with the 16 or 32GB internal storage options.
You can get an open-backed, expandable-memory version of the G2 from South Korea, but you’d get a smaller battery and need to check network compatibility.
Elsewhere, you get all the connections expected of a phone these days: GPS, NFC, and Bluetooth (non-aptX).
There’s an infrared port at the top, used for G2’s remote control feature. It’s also 4G-compatible.