LG made such a fuss over its redesigned, pumped up G2 flagship smartphone, announced today in New York, that we thought we better spend some time getting to know it. Especially amid claims that it's basically going to save the world (honest, LG did that).
Up close, is this a Galaxy S4 clone. Or has the LG got enough tricks and features to elevate the G2 above Samsung and HTC's best efforts?
Almost edge-to-edge screen
The G2's 5.2in "True HD" 1920x1080 screen is just as eye-popping as the Galaxy S4's and, next to the 4.7in HTC One, it's easy to see that there's bags more screen real estate in essentially the same sized handset. The bezels are so unnoticeable, frankly they should be embarrassed.
Viewing angles are superb, as you'd expect from an IPS display, and the G2 also betters the likes of the HTC One and Nexus 4 (the latter being the last LG phone hardware of note) in terms of brightness. We didn't get to dash outside into the New York sunlight with the phone, but we'd expect it to perform pretty well outdoors.
Our test device was loaded with stock videos but we weren't able to load it with our reference material, so we'll be spending much more time with the G2's screen in our full review.
In our short play with the LG G2's 13MP rear facing camera, we were flat-out impressed. Images look sharp and vivid on 5.2in screen, though again, we haven't had a chance to view them on an even bigger screen yet. The 8x zoom for stills and video is much more useful than, say, the 4MP UltraPixel camera on the HTC One, making it more of an all-rounder for smartphone shots. The optical image stabilisation also works a treat to counterbalance shaky hands.
Gimmicks such as Tracking Zoom, which magnifies a subject within the picture and layers that zoomed-in video on top of the background footage, don't seem hugely useful at first glance. But there are a wealth of modes, settings and filters to play with, which should keep camera geeks amused.
Big Talk, Big Phone
A 5.2in screen might sound big, but we haven't quite got into phablet territory here – the G2 feels almost identical in the hand to the Samsung Galaxy S4 (though a little blockier and wider), despite that extra fraction of an inch.
Available in white and black, the handset feels sturdy enough. But as with the S4, it doesn't feel as wonderfully weighty and solid as the HTC One. Prices haven't been announced, but we're guessing this will set us back £500+, and the design doesn't entirely reflect the flagship price and spec.
If you're afflicted with tiny fingers, the buttons on the back of the phone won't exactly help matters. Volume keys and a power / lock / camera button are placed just underneath the 13MP snapper – in theory to make them easier to press, and less likely to result in your smartphone divebombing headfirst into the kerb. But, since the G2 is a big 'un, you might still struggle – as we did – to access the buttons one-handed. Which sort of defeats the object.
UI Tricks and Trips
LG's loaded the G2 with a lot of built-in apps, tweaks to Android 4.2.2 and features – so much so, that the 16GB model we played with had only 10GB available. We like the tweaked pull-down notifications menu, but it does make accessing the full settings a bit of a chore. Meanwhile, being able to tap links in messages to quickly see the info on maps, calendar or other apps is a clever touch. KnockOn works well too – double tap the screen to wake the phone up and double tap the status bar to sleep.
We suffered some deja vu as we've seen features such as guest modes, pick up to answer call and Plug 'n' Play (which brings up media apps when you stick your earphones into the jack on the bottom) on rival handsets. Cough Galaxy S4 cough.
And one addition that does seem less useful is sliding apps: swipe the G2's screen with three fingers to bring up an alternative selection of recently used apps. It works quickly enough, but then so does the standard multi-tasking screen.
The G2's new UI introduces a few stutters in screen transitions, but nothing we wouldn't expect to be quickly ironed out. A bigger problem is that, as with Samsung's TouchWiz, it's all too easy to find yourself in an app or menu not knowing how you got there. That's something that rarely happens in iOS or stock Android.
Elsewhere, performance in our test LG G2 was flawless – as you'd expect with a 2.26GHz Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM under the hood. We edited HD video, flitted between apps and generally tried to work the G2 into a sweat, but it stayed classy. We weren't able to try out any games or download anything via Wi-Fi or LTE-A, and as you'd expect, we haven't yet gleaned any info about the battery life its monster 3,000mAh cell can deliver yet either. All in good time.
LG G2 vs The Rivals
Let's be honest here, the G2 and Galaxy S4 could have been separated at birth. It is a big phone to hold, but if that's OK for you, you'll be rewarded with a stunning screen, promising camera and a mighty processor that we can't wait to test out properly. None of the extra features, or the rear buttons, are enough to sway us into declaring this an S4 (or HTC One) killer just yet - but some of the G2's UI tricks could prove to be growers.
There are a couple of glaring issues the G2 faces. It's got the slightly lacklustre fit and finish of an S4, but doesn't have the S4's excuse of expandable storage and swappable battery. As with the HTC One, the specs are fixed from day one, but unlike with the HTC One, you won't own the sexiest phone on the planet.
Still, there's much here to be impressed with. Following the huge success of its Nexus 4, LG looks to be finally getting into its smartphone stride. We'll find out if it can trouble the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4 at the top of our Smartphone Top 10 as soon as we can get a full review unit at Stuff Towers. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: as promised, our full LG G2 review is now live.