You could put a helicopter engine on a motorcycle and fill it with rocket fuel, but if you put a toddler behind the wheel, it's not going anywhere. The same is true with phones; you can turbo-charge the processors and hardware, but if the software is stupid and terrible, you've got a stupid and terrible phone on your hands. This is that phone.
What Is It?
LG's latest attempt at a flagship Android phone. It has a 5.2-inch 1080p screen, Qualcomm's beastly quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.26GHz, and the worst third party UI we've ever seen on an Android device.
Who's It For?
People who root their Android phones. Masochists.
At first glance you might mistake the G2 for a Samsung phone. It has an almost identical shape to the Galaxy S4, and that same glossy, plastic back which we've never been into. There are no capacitive navigation buttons. In fact, there are no buttons on the front or sides of the phone at all. The power button is located in the center of the back of the phone, right in the middle of the volume rocker. It's a unique design. It's bad, but it's unique.
It's certainly on the large size when you compare it to something like the Moto X (which is kind of a triumph of ergonomics), but it's not really any harder to hold than the Galaxy S4. There's a 13MP camera around back, and 2.1MP up front for video chatting.
The software is a poor imitation of Samsung's TouchWiz (which is, itself, bad). LG's software is much, much worse. It's flooded with even more useless "features," it's even more cluttered, even less intuitive, and the overall look is that of a early 2000s feature phone. It's almost begging you to hate it.
A fiasco from start to finish. To wake up the phone you're supposed to be able to tap twice ("knock") on the screen. I'd estimate that feature works a third of the time. After a few failed attempts in a row you will find that you can barely restrain yourself from just pounding on the damn thing. The power button in the back seems like a good idea, since it's equally convenient for right- or left-handed people. In actuality, it's magically always hard to reach, regardless of which hand you're using.
I don't even know where to start with the software. It is so insanely, universally bad across the board. Swipe down the notification panel, and literally more than half of your screen is taken up by various toggles for settings, effectively only leaving room to see two of your notifications. You then have to scroll around in that tiny area. I'm so glad I can access the auto-brightness controls which don't actually do anything!
We're used to seeing bad keyboards made by third parties, but this one was absolutely unusable. It featured auto-corrections that didn't make any sense, an odd keyboard layout, and more typos than I've ever made. I forced myself to use it for three days before I gave up and installed SwiftKey. Even sending a quick text became extremely frustrating.
The onscreen navigation keys LG selected to use are home, back, and menu, instead of multitasking like on standard Android. There was no need for this. If you want to leave an app but keep it open, you can swipe your applications to the side with three fingers, which "Saves" it. Except, LG warns, sometimes it won't save. Ah, well, that's good. Oh, or you know how Google Now is really pretty good at understanding voice commands and giving you what you want? Wouldn't you rather use LG's barely functional "voice mate guide" powered by a company called Maluuba?
At one point I plugged the phone into my computer to transfer some pictures. The phone got caught in some sort of bizarre loop of popup messages which actually managed to cause my MacBook Pro to crash. Impressive! But, also, I was ready to chuck this thing off a roof by that point.
So, that's what it's like to use it.
The Best Part
The camera is actually very good. Photos were sharp, with nice colors and generally decent contrast. The video camera is capable of shooting 1080p video at 60 frames per second, thanks to the Snapdragon 800. It struggled in low light, but no more so than the Galaxy S4 does. It's a nice camera, but it's certainly not nice enough to warrant buying this disaster.
Just go ahead and re-read the "Using It" section. The software is bad enough to be called unusable. Even installing Nova Launcher and SwiftKey only helped a little. You'd have to completely root this thing and install a clean version of Android before it would even be worth considering.
This Is Weird…
I want you to click on this video and give it a good listen. This is the default alarm clock ringtone that comes with the G2. Someone, probably many someones, at LG thought that this is something people would like to wake up to. Go ahead and crank up the volume so you can give it a good listen.
There are only two groups of people in the world who want to wake up to that: those boys' mothers, and serial killers. On the one hand, it's hilarious, but on the other, it's a sterling example of how completely out of touch this phone is.
- Battery life was reasonable, making it to the end of the day with light to medium usage. With heavier use we were reaching for the charger by 7pm.
- The screen is very sharp (424 PPI) and colors look really nicely balanced. The whites, however, skew a little blue, and it is really hard to read in bright daylight. And, again, the auto brightness adjust doesn't seem to work at all.
- In stock Android, when apps don't require the onscreen navigation buttons, the bar is black which makes them stand out less. LG's software has a bright white bar, which is rather ugly and distracting.
- Sound quality is passable. It has one speaker located directly on the bottom of the phone. Its placement makes it somewhat easy to muffle.
- We tested the phone on AT&T's network in Los Angeles, and it performed very solidly, getting at least as many (if not more) bars as the Moto X.
- So many features are copied from Samsung it's insane. The picture-in-picture video, the bar of mini-apps, a floating video window. And again, these weren't good or necessary features in the first place.
Should I Buy It?
That would be one, big, unequivocal no. This is, overall, the most frustrating phone I've tested in the last two years. And yes, it is almost entirely due to the software (though, the power button in the back isn't doing it any favors, either). Yes, you could buy it and root it. But if you're going to buy a phone just for the hardware, just get an HTC One.
LG makes some really good hardware, but I have never seen an LG product with great software. It's a shame, really; Android is excellent on its own. Stop trying to copy Samsung's bells and whistles (which nobody uses anyway) and get out of its way. Bad software made what could have been one of the year's best phones into a big dumb idiot.
The good news is that something like this will likely be the basis for the Nexus 5, which will run Android 4.4 straight out of Google. That might actually be awesome.
LG G2 Specs
Network: Most major U.S. carriers
• OS: Android 4.2.2 with LG's skin
• CPU: 2.26 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800
• Screen: 5.2-inch 1920x1080 IPS-LCD display (424 PPI)
• RAM: 2GB
• Storage: 32GB
• Camera: 13MP rear / 2.1MP front
• Battery: 3000 mAh Li-Po
• Dimensions: 5.45 x 2.79 x 0.35 inches
• Weight: 5.04 ounces
• Price: Varies by carrier, but typically $200 with a two-year contract