12/09/2013 12:45 | By Paul Lamkin, senior editor, MSN Tech

LG G2 review

LG takes a crack at the Android top-spot with its latest flagship - but does it succeed?

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LG G2 review

What is it?
The LG G2 is the button-less smartphone that its makers hope will land it on the Android top table with the likes of Samsung, Sony and HTC.

What’s great?
The display is fantastic, the battery life as good as we’ve seen on a smartphone in a long while and it’s got plenty of juice in the engine.

What’s not?
The design is a little bland and the backside buttons take a little getting used to.

The bottom line:
The best LG smartphone ever? You betcha. Better than HTC and Samsung’s top guns? Not quite – but the G2 definitely hits the upper echelons of the Android hierarchy.

LG G2 review (© LG)

LG G2: Review

With the G2, LG is entering a competitive arena with the likes of the HTC OneSony Xperia Z1 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 currently wowing Android fans looking for a top-end smartphone. But the Korean company has a couple of aces up its sleeve with its latest flagship that it hopes will set the G2 apart from the competition.

Let’s start with the feature that LG is touting as the standout aspect of the design – the Rear Key. We’re told that the G2 is the first smartphone to be completely devoid of buttons on the sides of the device. The master Rear Key on the back controls all of the action – it’s the only physical button on the handset. LG states that this Rear Key is a result of the complexities involved in holding and operating ever increasing-sized smartphones with one hand.

It allows you to access a control menu, change the volume and also provides a quick launch option for the camera. Sitting so close to the camera lens, you may be worried about fingerprint smudges. But worry not, as the lens has fingerprint proof glass.

In practice, the Rear Key takes some getting used to and the common grip suggested by LG, with your index finger resting on the back of the phone (where the Rear Key is), isn’t the way we usually hold our smartphone. Often we’d try and hit the power button and inadvertently alter the volume settings and vice-versa; sometimes when watching a movie or listening to music we’d accidently put the handset into standby mode when trying to crank up the sound.

However, we did like the fact that if your LG G2 is lying face down you can simply double tap the display to fire it up. This isn’t a new thing on a smartphone (Nokia has been there, done that and bought the t-shirt) but it did feel more natural on the button-free LG G2.

LG G2 Rear Key (© LG)

LG G2: Design dilemma

The build quality and design of the LG G2 is slick, if a little conventional. It doesn’t have the wow factor of the HTC One or Sony’s latest Xperia smartphones. It’s not the skinniest smartphone on the market by any stretch, but at 9.1mm, it’s certainly no fatty either. The full dimensions are 138.5 x 71 x 9.1mm and it weighs 143g.

The design is a black or white, plastic affair. On the front it’s smooth as silk, the edges are also fluid but the back plate is a rippled affair to aid with gripping. The Rear Key’s buttons are even rougher but this does make it easier to find them.

The only ports are the 3.5mm headphone jack and the micro USB ones – both found on the bottom of the device. There is no microSD slot.

LG G2: Awesome display

The bezel on the front is extremely thin, as thin as we’ve seen on a smartphone, meaning that LG has been able to squeeze in a Full HD 1080p 5.2-inch IPS display into a footprint no bigger than what rivals have a display 5 inches or less.

The pixel per inch count for the LG G2 is 423. While not quite as high as the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One, that’s because it’s a slightly larger display. However, even Superman hasn’t got sight good enough to see these extra pixels per inch, so you needn’t worry. Rest assured that the display on the LG G2 looks awesome, with incredibly bright and crisp visuals.

‘Startling’ is a word we’d use for when you first fire up the handset – undoubtedly assisted by that ridiculously thin bezel but also because LG employs sub-pixel technology for more accurate colours and crisper images.

 We should also mention that the LG G2 is the first smartphone to feature 24 bit/192kHz Hi-Fi audio recording and playback. Necessary? Probably not – but superior audio isn’t a bad thing either. In practice you probably won’t notice much of a difference unless you use lossless audio files and some expensive headphones.

LG G2: Hardware punch

The next aspect that sets the LG G2 apart from the competition is the meaty engine room.  Packing a quad-core 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, backed up with Adreno 330 graphics and 2GB of RAM – the LG G2 is, on paper at least, the most powerful smartphone you can buy – at least until the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Sony Xperia Z1 land (both of which also pack Qualcomm’s latest and greatest processing power).

And while processor speeds are a bit dull (and not all that important once you get up to a certain performance level) you will notice that the LG G2 is lightning fast as soon as you pick it up. Apps load incredibly quickly, multitasking is a breeze and you won’t even get a sniff of a stutter when playing HD videos or games.

Built in storage is 16GB or 32GB and the LG G2 is, of course, a 4G enabled smartphone.

LG G2: Android, but not as you know it

The LG G2 runs a modified UI of the latest version of Android (4.2.2) with a few user experience tweaks thrown in by the Korean manufacturer. These tweaks include Slide Aside, which enables easier multitasking by sliding open apps off to the side using a three-finger swipe and Guest Mode, with selected apps after a secondary unlock pattern is used.

There is also QSlide which allows you to run two apps at the same time, in a windows fashion – much like your PC or Mac. You can set the transparency of these windows and also adjust the size of them. Impressive – yes. Useful – not a jot; we can’t see why anyone would need this function on a smartphone.

Capture Plus, on the other hand, is very useful. It allows you to capture webpages in their entirety (pictures and all) as images. These images are stored in a gallery, making offline reading (for example if you lose your signal on the tube) easier and much richer than the traditional read-it-later apps.

Another nice tweak is Plug and Pop, which shows a graphic representation of a jack or USB plug being inserted and presents you with relevant apps in a quick-menu. It’s also nice that you can re-arrange the Android soft-keys to your preferred order. Like the S4 and the HTC One – the LG G2 also has TV remote capability built in as well.

LG G2: Camera skills

The camera tech on board the LG G2 is also impressive. The front facing 2.1-megapixel sensor is more than enough for video calling but it’s the 13-megapixel rear facing camera with Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS) technology that will excite users most.

There are a wealth of manual camera options on board and the multipoint (9 point) auto-focus skills, and the auto-tracking and auto-zooming features, should mean plenty of good snaps for the album.

The LG G2 can also shoot Full HD 1080p videos at 60fps.

LG G2: Battery boost

The battery on the LG G2 is a 3,000mAh one. The G2 uses Graphic RAM (GRAM) for more efficient energy usage. GRAM reduces the display’s energy use by up to 26% on a still frame and increases overall usage time on the device by approximately 10%.

While still not matching the 7-day life of your old Nokia 3310, the LG G2 has an impressive battery performance for a smartphone – particularly one with such a large display. Even with all the wireless settings on and brightness turned up full, we were still getting home of an evening with plenty of juice left in the tank.

There are a number of swanky LG G2 smart cases available too -  that provide a clever window into your smartphone world.

LG G2 cases (© LG)

LG G2: Verdict

The LG G2 is a superb smartphone – there’s no doubt about that. And while it comfortably enters the upper realms of the Android arena, it doesn’t quite have the minerals to knock the HTC One off of top spot. Sure, there’s an argument for saying that LG has at least matched its Korean rival Samsung’s latest flagship – the Galaxy S4 – but there are just too many imperfections to award the G2 full marks….although we have to admit it comes very close.

We can forgive the unnecessary inclusions of the likes of QSlide and Slide Aside (which were undoubtedly included to show off the processing power of the G2 rather than to add any benefit to the user) but we do have to mark down because one of the key selling-points of the G2 – the Rear Key – is ultimately flawed. It’s just not as efficient and seamless as LG would have hoped. It’s not a write-off, by any stretch, it’s just not brilliant.

What is brilliant is the incredibly powerful engine room, the super crisp 5.2-inch IPS display and the impressive battery life. The camera is no slouch either.

4 stars

LG G2: Coming soon - prices TBC. Check the latest availability using Bing