PROS / The G2 has a feature-packed camera, a gorgeous screen, a roaring processor and seemingly endless battery life.
CONS / Its lack of microSD card slot is a glaring omission, and its software UI isn't as polished as what you'd find from competing manufacturers.
VERDICT / The LG G2 is the one of the best Android phones on the market. It's not without flaws, but few devices can match its combination of features, power and longevity.
After building a variety of average devices and manufacturing Google's own Nexus line, LG has stepped up its game with a new flagship smartphone: the LG G2. It has a few issues – fans of expandable storage, for example, will be somewhat disappointed – but with its superb screen, processor and battery, it tops our Android phone lineup and earns our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award.
The LG G2 has two visibly dominant features: its screen and its button placement. At 5.2 inches across, the G2's display is the biggest you'll find on a phone without slipping into phablet territory. With 1080p resolution, you get the same number of pixels to play with that other top-end phones offer, but they're spread out over a slightly wider area. This gives the G2 a comfortably open, airy feel, without sacrificing clarity and sharpness. After all, pixel densities over about 300ppi are crisp and smooth; at 423ppi, the LG G2's display is razor sharp. And thanks to IPS technology, it's bright and vibrant under direct sunlight and just about any viewing angle.
To keep the phone somewhat pocketable, LG gave the G2 a thin bezel and relocated the buttons that usually adorn a smartphone's edges. The device's power button and volume rocker can both be found centered on the back cover, where you can reach them with either hand without having to stretch your fingers all the way across to the far side or top of the phone. The placement can take some getting used to – you'll need to train yourself to hold your phone slightly differently, resting your index finger on the back – but once you get comfortable, you won't want side-mounted buttons on a big-screen phone again.
Depending on what carrier you buy the LG G2 from, you'll see different-quality buttons on the back of the phone. Most carriers offer the default model with its chrome-painted rocker and power button. Thanks to how these buttons are angled, you can set the phone down without accidentally turning it on or off. The Verizon model, on the other hand, uses a cheaper set of plastic buttons that feel flimsier to your finger and are easier to press by accident.
While you're getting used to those rear-mounted buttons, you can make use of one of our favorite G2 features: KnockOn. A simple idea, KnockOn lets you turn your phone on by double-tapping its screen. Grab your phone, tap your finger and begin navigating – the power button is outdated. You can still use it if you want, but once you learn to use KnockOn, you'll start using it on other phones and stare in confusion as they refuse to power up.
KnockOn is a software feature that comes packaged with the LG G2's user interface. Like many Android phones, the G2 has a custom UI overlaid atop the stock Android operating system. Unfortunately, it's here that LG shows its inexperience in crafting flagship smartphones. The interface features stunning visuals and ultra-smooth animation, but can't really compete with the polish of Samsung's TouchWiz or the cleanliness of stock Android. You might expect a menu to be in one location in the G2, only to find it in another. While all the functionality of classic Android is here, you might have to search out options that, on another phone, would be more readily accessible.
The G2's camera is packed to the brim with features other Android phones have a hard time beating. Its front-facing lens captures 1080p video and can take 2.1 megapixel photos, the largest of any Android device you'll find. Its primary camera, meanwhile, is 13 megapixels large. It only has an ƒ/2.4 aperture – fairly small for modern Android smartphones – but it features a rare and coveted extra: optical image stabilization.
Optical image stabilization, or OIS, physically stabilizes and aligns the camera's lens to its sensor as you're taking a picture. This effectively removes the blur of shaky hands and or wobble that can come with pressing the shutter button on your phone. Most smartphone cameras stabilize photos digitally, but the quality and crispness of OIS is far superior. Combined with software features like panorama, burst mode and even slow-motion video, and the LG G2's camera demands attention.
Among the device's strongest features, the G2's battery is powerful and long-lasting, easily eclipsing every other Android smartphone in terms of overall viability. Where most phones hover between 12 and 18 hours of talk time, the G2 offers a solid 25. Where other devices reach for 10 hours of continuous video playback, the G2 handles 12 with ease. But the real victory is in the phone's web browsing time, which hits 11.5 hours. Browsing the web is the most power-intensive thing you can do on a phone with a large screen. Websites have predominantly white backgrounds, and driving pure white pixels to a display takes a lot of energy. Other big-screen phones hit 5 or 6 hours; the G2 doubles that number.
Of course, you'd never talk to someone on the phone for 25 hours straight, nor would you browse the web continuously from dawn to dusk. Practically speaking, the LG G2 can last two to three days on a single charge. Even the most mobile-hungry of users won't deplete its battery before bedding down for the night. If you plug your phone in before going to sleep, you'll never have to think about your battery during the day again. Should you buy the Verizon version of the phone, you'll even be able to take advantage of wireless charging – but remember that this version also has the lower-quality buttons on its rear cover.
When comparing phones by their specifications alone, the LG G2 looks great, but it isn't the best. Its 2.26GHz quad-core processor is slightly slower than Samsung's 2.5GHz flagship. Likewise, when we compared their benchmark results the G2 came in just behind our top pick.
Nevertheless, our own experience with the phone left us without complaint. Its graphically intense UI ran buttery smooth, easily matching Apple's dependable animation quality. The games we ran never hiccupped or stuttered, and playing HD video on that 1080p screen gives you all the visual quality of your home theater, right in the palm of your hand.
When it comes to hardware, we can only fault the G2 for its lack of microSD card slot. Among Android phones, going without expandable storage is almost unthinkable. You'll have access to 32GB of drive space in your G2, but if you tend to take lots of photos and videos or want to carry around a large music collection, you'll find yourself bumping into that ceiling.
Though it may lack expandable storage, the LG G2 offers a slew of other hardware features to impress and entertain. Some are quite common: Every Android phone we reviewed, for example, offers 4G LTE connectivity and Bluetooth support. Most of them have near field communication chips, and the G2 is no exception; you'll be able to use apps like Isis to pay for your purchases at participating stores.
Other technologies are more specialized. The G2's infrared blaster, for example, lets it act as a remote control for your TV, DVR and other home devices. Its integrated FM tuner will let you listen to local radio stations as easily as you listen to your own music collection.
The strength of Android phones is in their power, their size, their longevity and their rich feature set. The LG G2 impresses on every front. Judging software is a little trickier, since different users will like different things – if you're a fan of TouchWiz, for example, you'll probably buy a Samsung phone over any other manufacturer. LG's user interface is far from perfect, but it gets you access to some of the best hardware on the market, including a brilliant battery and a winning camera. The lack of expandable storage might be a deal-breaker for you, but if it isn't, the G2 is one of the most powerful Android smartphones around.