Review of the LG G2


The G2 is the newest high-end offering from LG. It is essentially the sister phone of the Google Nexus 5, and as such quite a few of my observations on the G2 match the Nexus 5. Except for one glaring flaw in the phone I tested, I found the G2 to a worthy contender in the crown for best high-end smartphone.

Last Updated: 14-Dec-2013

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

I will primarily compare the G2 to my Galaxy S4 as it is available for side-by-side testing, but if applicable I will compare the G2 to the Nexus 5, going on what I wrote in the review, and what I remember from my testing.

RF Performance

To test RF performance I head downstairs to my basement where signals on both LTE and HSPA are weakened sufficiently to draw conclusions concerning a phoneís ability to pick up weak signals and itís ability to provide useable data service under adverse conditions. I compared the performance of the G2 with that of my Galaxy S4.

On LTE the signals picked up by the G2 (on both Band 4 and Band 7) seemed to be a little weaker than the S4 by a 2 or 3 dB. This didnít seem to hamper its downlink performance much, but the average speeds of the G2 were a little slower in my basement than the Samsung (approximately 10 Mbps vs 12 Mbps down on Band 4).

However, when it came to uplink speeds, the G2 really struggled when signal became weak. While the S4 could easily provide speeds of 3 to 4 Mbps, the G2 could barely provide 1 Mbps. I tried this experiment countless times in different locations around the basement, but the results were always the same. This means that as service gets weak, the G2 will suffer a more noticeable drop in uplink data performance than the S4.

Once the signal rises above approximately -105 dBm however, the G2 performs just as well as the S4. When the signal gets markedly stronger the G2 does have an advantage in transfer rate owing it being a category 4 LTE device (the S4 is a category 3). However, the category 4 classification only helps when it comes to maximum speed, and does not seem to help at all when transfer rates are below the category 3 maximums (which are 75 Mbps on Band 4 and 100 Mbps on Band 7).

In HSPA however, the G2 did just as well as the S4 and provided similar transfer rates and ping times under all observed conditions.

WiFi Performance

Overall the G2 did quite well in this test. I took it downstairs to my basement and I connected with the access point on the upper floor of my home. This router provides a good mid-strength 802.11g signal that demonstrates the kinds of data transfer rates one can expect under normal WiFi conditions. I had no difficulty with uplink speed, and downlinks speeds were good (typically 10 to 11 Mbps). However, they didnít compare well to the S4, which could consistently provide speeds of 15 to 18 Mbps from the same access point, tested from exactly the same locations in the basement.

Curiously the Nexus 5 didnít have any problem matching the S4 when this test was performed. I canít explain why the G2 didnít quite manage the same feat, given that it probably has the exact same WiFi chipset as its sister phone. This might be due to different antenna design or placement in these two models.

Audio Performance

The earpiece on the G2 is plenty loud, but itís rather peaky. This means that certain aspects of sound are overblown and make you want to pull the phone away from your ear to protect it. Volume however was very good and slightly louder than the S4 (unless its volume-boost feature was activated, in which case the S4 is noticeably louder).

The speakerphone provides lots of volume and quality that at least matches that of the S4. This means itís good enough for use in environments with mildly noisy backgrounds, but it wouldnít work in a mall food court, in your car, or out on the street.

Multimedia Audio

This aspect of the phoneís performance was virtually identical to what I heard from the Nexus 5, probably because they use identical speakers. Iíll therefore repeat what I said in the Nexus 5 review word-for-word:

While not quite as bad as the speaker on the Sony Xperia Z1, the native loudspeaker in the G2 is fairly poor when compared to the S4. When I played the same MP3 file on both phones, the S4 was louder, cleaner, crisper, and had more depth. The Nexus 5 sounded like a cheap piezo speaker from days of yore.

And as I noted in the Z1 review however, keep in mind that the S4 pales in comparison to the Boom Sound output of the HTC One. This should give you some idea of how poor the sound quality is on the G2ís built-in speaker. As with the Z1, it gets the job done, but thatís about the only good thing I can say about it. I rather imagined that the HTC One would have set a new standard for the industry, but seems some manufacturers (in this case LG) just donít get it.

Display

While screens on the G2 and Nexus 5 are a little different (the G2 has a 5.2-inch display, while the Nexus 5 has a 5.0-inch display) they seem to be very similar in just about every other respect. However, while I found that the G2 displayed rather darkish reds, as did the Nexus 5, it didnít seem to have any issue with washed-out blues or greens. In that respect the G2 has a better display than its sister phone.

As the viewing angle increases, the brightness of the screen decreases at a much steeper rate than you see with the S4, though no worse than on the Nexus 5. However, as the angle increases there is a distinct yellowing of the display, which I did not see with the Nexus 5.

Black levels, while not quite as jet black as an AMOLED display, are actually pretty decent for an LCD panel. In fact, I felt the blacks were about AS BLACK as Iíd ever seen before on an LCD phone. Only once you turn the screen up to full brightness indoors do you realize that black isnít truly black. This might explain LGís almost exclusive use of white in much of the U/I.

When it comes to screen brightness however, the G2 (like the Nexus 5) has it all over the S4. The maximum light output of the G2 screen is noticeably brighter than the S4 and this makes for easier viewing in direct sunlight. Itís about on par with the HTC One.

The G2, like many Android phones these days, uses on-screen softkeys, but unlike most it has retained the traditional menu/home/back arrangement. You can even change the order of the buttons if you prefer the back key on the right and the menu key on the left. Theyíve sacrificed the softkey for direct access to the recent apps. You get to recent apps just as you do on phones with physical buttons; you press and hold the home softkey. Iím not a huge fan of on-screen buttons, but if I had to own a phone with them, I like the way LG has handled it.

Some reviewers (including Howard Chui) have said that they thought the G2 screen looked SHARPER than other 1080p screens, such as that of the S4. I therefore performed quite a few comparisons of varying-sized text on web pages to see if I could spot any detectable difference. First I made sure that the screen brightness was the same on each device by displaying an almost completely white screen and adjusting brightness to match.

Next I displayed various web pages with fonts that varied from large down to so tiny that even with my ability to see quite close when I remove my glasses, I needed a magnifying glass to read. To be honest I couldnít see any quantifiable difference in ďsharpnessĒ on the text of either screen. The G2 has a terrific screen, but realistically it isnít discernibly better than other 1080p displays Iíd seen.

Processor and Chipset

Like the Nexus 5, the G2 uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core chipset, clocked at 2.3 GHz. This chipset also includes the Adreno 320 GPU. Not surprisingly this combination provides very snappy performance which you can definitely see in graphics-intensive situations (especially viewing 3D buildings in Google Maps).

When it comes to the speed of opening apps however, there isnít really all that much difference between the G2 and S4. There had been a detectable difference when Iíd tested the Nexus 5. In that review I had pondered whether this was a result of the chipset or because the Nexus 5 used Android 4.4. The results of testing this with the G2 (which runs Android 4.2.2 just like my S4) demonstrates that itís mostly because of KitKat. There was a slight speed advantage to the G2, but was very small and could essentially be explained by the 21% difference in the clock speed (1.9 GHz on the S4 and 2.3 GHz on the G2).

Camera

The 13-megapixel camera on the LG G2 begs to be compared with the 13-megapixel camera on the Galaxy S4. The camera app in the G2 is surprisingly similar in layout of the camera app in the S4, but they are markedly different once you actually use them. In terms of image quality the G2 seems to do just as good a job as the S4 in bright light, though it doesnít always get the color balance right. In low light however, the G2 has it all over the S4. Not only does the G2 have optical image stabilization to help steady long exposures, it also has a more sensitive sensor with lower noise.

The flash does an okay job, but the exposure calculations tend over horribly overexpose close objects, whereas the S4 does a much better job of taming the flash when close objects are present. Another area where the S4 does a markedly better job is in the implementation of the HDR mode. The one provided in the G2 does an okay job, but the range of the S4 HDR is just markedly better.

Iím not particularly happy with the video capabilities. The first annoyance is that it blanks that audio whenever it decides there isnít anything useful there. This sounds terrible when the audio comes and goes and it makes it sound like thereís something wrong with the device. I made sure that Audio Zoom was turned off, and it most certainly was. However, turning this feature on or off makes no difference.

The second problem is when shooting in low light. The camera software seems to AUTOMATICALLY switch to a ďnight modeĒ and there is no way to tell it you donít want it to. In this ďnight modeĒ the frames become very ďjerkyĒ and you completely loose the sense of fluid motion. This has been common night modes of camcorders for as long as I can remember, but at least you could decide if you wanted it or not. It also has a tendency to overexpose the image as you come out of a darker area into a lighter area.

It does have one rather unique feature that really should be in all video recorders. You can specify an object in the image (by touching the screen there) to make it the point-of-focus. The software will track that object as it moves around in the frame and maintain the focus on that. Unfortunately the focus task isnít particularly quick, and so if you move away or toward the point-of-focus swiftly, the camera wonít be able to keep up and youíll see it refocusing. However, it works and no other competitor has anything like this.

GPS

Before I begin this section, I should note that I found the performance of the GPS chip in this phone to be so bad I was certain there was something seriously the matter with it. However, I did some research on the internet and I found lots of other people complaining of horrific GPS performance, but many others said theirs worked fine. This might mean that the problem is sporadic, but not unusual. I certainly didnít have a problem with the Nexus 5, and I canít image they use different GPS chipsets. Since the problem is common in the G2, I will continue with my assessment. However, I warn you that you this may not be true of all G2s out there.

As usual, I started out by trying my usual basement test. I live in a wood-frame house, which means that modern high-sensitivity GPS receivers have no problem ďseeingĒ most of the GPS and Glonass satellites even down there. However, they are a bit weakened, and so itís a good place to see how well the GPS chipset performs. I always install the GPS Test app from the Play Store so that I can visually see which satellites are locked and what their relative signal strengths are.

As a baseline reference I started the app on my S4 and it very quickly locked onto 17 of the 21 available satellites. Since the G2 was a high-end phone, I expected its GPS chipset to provide similar performance, but much to my surprise the G2 locked onto just 3 satellites and it took the better part of 10 minutes to finally find enough for a solid lock. Even after that it never exceeded 9 satellites locked at best. After peaking at 9 locks it started to loose them one at a time until was down to just 2 locked satellites. Eventually it worked its way back up again.

Another strange thing was how weak the signals were on those locked satellites. The GPS Test app color-codes the signal bars to make it easy to see which ones are strong. It starts out red, turns orange, then yellow, and then green. Itís rare to see green indoors, but even in my basement at least half of the satellites are strongly into the yellow range. In the case of the G2 however, there were none showing yellow, they were all orange or red.

When Iíd finished the testing the in the basement I brought the phone upstairs to see if things would improve, but they did not. I did see a couple of yellow-range signals, but the number of locked satellites was always 10 or fewer. At one point it dropped to just 2 locked satellites again and reported an accuracy of +/-120 meters.

Later in the day, after Iíd rebooted the phone, I started up the GPS Test app once again, only this time it wouldnít lock onto a single satellite. After about 15 minutes of that I began to wonder if the GPS chip had failed completely, but I dressed up warmly for -10 degrees and I headed outside to give the phone a clear view of the sky. After about 3 minutes it finally found a satellite, and then another, and then another. It worked its way back up to 11 locked satellites, and so I was able to go back indoors where it was warm.

I continued to run GPS Test to see if things improved, but once again I saw only 1 or 2 satellites strong enough to warrant a yellow bar, whereas my S4 in the same location locked onto 17 of 18 available satellites and more than half of them were yellow. I noticed that whenever the G2ís GPS locked onto a Glonass satellite (which was rarely) they were always extremely weak (usually showing as red). My S4 locked onto quite a few Glonass satellites and they were usually yellow (except the ones close to the horizon).

The following photographs were taken in my dining room with the G2 and S4 side-by-side. I gave the G2 long enough to lock onto enough satellites to be useful, and then I snapped the first photograph. Three minutes later however, things had gone from bad to worse for the G2, as you can see in the second photograph.

  

I donít know how many G2s are affected in this way, and I wish I could report to you the true performance of the GPS on an unaffected phone, but I had only this one to test, and this is the best I could get from it.

Battery Life

Unlike the Nexus 5, the G2 seems to have excellent battery life. The Nexus 5 battery level seemed to drop like a rock when the screen is turned on, but the G2 has no such problem. Granted, it does have a much larger battery (3000 mAh vs just 2300 mAh in the Nexus 5), but the difference is much greater than the 30% increase in battery size would suggest.

I deliberately ran the phone in LTE (I turned off my WiFi connection) and I set about doing my usual online activities. The G2 only sips battery power and it seems to have the longest charge life Iíve ever experienced in a smartphone to date.

Button Placement

Clearly LG wants to try and differentiate the G2 from all the other phones by putting the buttons on the back, rather than on the sides or top where everyone else puts them. A quick survey of the internet shows that many people have come to like this arrangement, but there are some issues with it that make it potentially annoying for some.

When the phone is handheld, the location of the buttons can most certainly be convenient, but for those who use their phones on flat surfaces, this isnít an optimal arrangement. LG has tried to address this with a couple of workarounds. It is possible to in and out of sleep by double-tapping the screen. Unfortunately this only works well with the default launcher. If you are like me and use a 3rd-party launcher youíll have to double-tap the notification bar, because itís the only part of the screen that will still be LG-specific. You must also take this approach in apps as well. I eventually got used to this and it seems to work pretty well.

The workaround for volume isnít quite as successful, but it provides a reasonable approach for adjusting volume without picking up the phone. When you pull down the nightshade youíll find a volume slider along with the brightness slider. Usually this slider adjusts the ringer volume, but when MOST multimedia apps are running, this changes to a multimedia volume control. I say MOST, because it doesnít appear to be universal. For example, when Zello is the focused app the physical buttons adjust the multimedia volume, as they should, but the slider still adjusts the ringer volume (requiring the pressing of the gear icon next to it to get to all the volume sliders).

Conclusions

For the most part the G2 is really good high-end phone. It has a beautiful screen, snappy performance courtesy of the Snapdragon 800 chipset, incredibly good battery life, and an excellent camera. For me however, the negatives were in all the wrong places.

The GPS is of course my biggest concern, especially because I rely on having an accurate and reliable GPS for tracking my bike rides. Even for those of you who just occasionally use GPS to help get from point A to point B, the performance may be a problem. I found plenty of complaints online about people having difficulties when navigating with a G2.

The multimedia speaker is pretty lame, which is fine if we were talking about a $180 Moto G, but for a high-end phone it just doesnít cut it. While the quality is certainly ACCEPTABLE, it doesnít even come close to the S4, and that phone doesnít even come close to the HTC One.

The LTE performance is a sub-part in weak signal conditions, but otherwise the phone performs fine on LTE when signals are stronger. If you mostly use HSPA, then you shouldnít really have a problem anyway.

For me the button placement was an issue, despite the workarounds offered by LG. I use my phone quite often on a flat surface and having the buttons on the back in this situation is just completely brain-dead. For those who use their phones in-hand most often probably wonít find it a hardship, and might even find it preferable, so button placement isnít necessarily a strike against the G2.

If the GPS wasnít such a pig I could have really loved this phone (despite other minor reservations). For me the GPS alone was a deal-breaker, but the slightly poorer LTE performance in weak signal conditions was a concern too. If GPS isnít a huge deal for you, or you manage to get a G2 with a working GPS chip in it, then I can find no reason not to recommend this device.

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