Most flagship smartphones launch at more than £500, and occasionally more than £600 on a SIM-free basis. However, sometimes a device turns up and bucks the trend. One of those devices is the Nexus 5 (and the Nexus 4 before it) and with the LG G2 this manufacturer also followed suit.
Unfortunately, most smartphones are still purchased on long and expensive contracts but there's never been a better time to buy your phone outright and choose a SIM-only plan. Ok, you still need to outlay a fair amount to being with but if you can manage it, you'll find yourself saving money in the long run. See also: LG G2 mini hands-on review.
SIM-only plans offer good value for money and when a newer and better deal comes along you can switch quickly and easily because you're not tied down to a contract. The other thing is that new smartphones come along so darn fast, that if you're stuck in a two-year contract then you're phone is going to be out-of-date long before you're due and 'upgrade'. And we use inverted commas here because you're unlikely to be offered a brand new device anyway. Buying outright means you can sell your phone at a good price when something new takes your fancy. You only need to pay the difference rather than the full price.
This is exactly what the LG G2 provides and when you look at the spec sheet, it's simply amazing what you get for your money. A gorgeous 5.2in screen is squeezed into a body which is about the same size as the Galaxy S4. The front of the device has a higher screen to bezel ratio than any other device and the super-slim bezels on the side give an edge-to-edge look which oozes class.
Moving on from the screen, there is a blisteringly fast quad-core processor and a 13Mp rear camera which has optical image stabilisation. Storage is a small downside since there's only 16- or 32GB on offer and there is no microSD card slot for adding more. It's about the only thing which the G2 doesn't have. The G2's hardware is up there with the best devices around but the price is much lower.
Put off by the buttons on the back? Well they work really well. The power button isn't really a bother because you can double tap the screen to turn it on and off and the volume buttons are perfectly placed to make adjustments during a phone call. The only way they don't really make sense is using the volume keys as a camera shutter button – your finger just gets in the way of the lens.
LG G2 review: Design and build
The front of the LG G2 looks similar to the Samsung Galaxy S4, although it has no physical or touch sensitive buttons below the screen. However, flip it over and the handset looks quite unique. We like the fibreglass-style finish but more notable is the fact that buttons have been slapped below the camera. See:What's the best phone you can buy in 2013?
Almost every smartphone on the market has a power button on the side or top but LG has thrown the rule book out of the window. The power and volume keys, collectively known as the Rear Key, are all places on the back.
It's a strange concept but something we've got accustomed to over time – the volume buttons a placed ergonomically so you can make adjustments while on a call. Thanks to a feature called KnockON, you don’t actually need the power key to switch the phone on and off. A simple double tap of the screen will bring it to life, although it doesn't always work first time. You can also turn it off by double tapping the notification bar or an empty section of the homescreen.LG has impressed us in the same way Samsung did with the S4, by squeezing a large screen into a small chassis. The G2 is smaller than the Xperia Z1 and only marginally bigger than the S4 but has a larger screen than both at 5.2 in. Super slim bezels give it a great 'edge-to-edge' look.
Again, the LG G3 can top this with a 530 ppi 5.5in display that offers Quad HD resolution. It is a stunning looking display, but there's nothing wrong with that of the LG G2.
Protecting the front is Gorilla Glass 2 and although the rear is plastic, the G2 feels solid and well-made. A couple of minor caveats on the design and build front include the statutory information and 'do not bin' spoiling the look of the rear cover a tad and the earpiece is slightly recessed from the glass so collects dirt.
LG G2 review: Hardware and performance
The G2 is equipped with Qualcomm's latest smartphone chip, the 2.26 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800. This is accompanied by an Adreno 330 GPU and a healthy 2 GB of RAM. The phone comes in either 16 GB or 32 GB of internal storage and you might be best off opting for the latter as there's no microSD card slot for expansion. This is one area in which the LG G3 massively outperforms its older brother: it has an SD card slot that can take up to 128GB cards.
LG G2 scores 4085 in Geekbench 2, 51 fps in GLBenchmark 2.5 and 901 ms in SunSpider 1.0.
Number crunching is all well and good but the real-world performance of the phone is more important. As we've found with other Snapdragon 800 devices, the Galaxy Note 3 and Xperia Z1, the performance is excellent. Navigation around the OS is super slick, opening apps is snappy and scrolling though pages or lists is smooth.
The only real issue we can find is that web pages can take a small amount of time to re-render when zooming back out. This is an issue which the iPhone doesn't suffer from.
As we mentioned earlier, LG has managed to pack a 5.2 in IPS display into a phone which you wouldn't expect to find such a big screen. Matching other top Android handsets, it's got a Full HD resolution and although the size means the pixel density is a little lower, 424 ppi, the difference isn't noticeable. The fantastic display is a key feature of the G2 for us.
With the smartphone market so hotly contended, extra features are a way of standing out from the crowd. While the LG G2 isn't waterproof like Sony's phones, it still has a few tricks up its sleeve beyond the usual and now standard combination of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and 4G support.
Many of these are software (see below) but there are some hardware delights, too. First of all, the G2 has an infrared transmitter so you can control things like TVs and Blu-ray players from the phone. It works well but can be found on the Galaxy S4 and HTC One.
Something which is more unique will be music to the ears of all you audiophiles out there. The G2 supports up to 24bit/192kHz audio playback for FLAC and WAV files – something which is lacking from even the iPhone 5S. This can only be accessed by the headphone port but it's impressive none the less.
The G2 offers good call quality. Signal strength is consistent (using a GiffGaff SIM and O2's network) and we've had no drop outs. Like most high-end smartphones, the device has dual-microphones – one at the bottom and one at the top. Active noise cancelling keeps, er, noise to a minimum which is great when you're in busy and loud environment.
On the software front, the G2 uses LG's own dialler and contacts apps. The dialler is simple and functional, split into five sections: the dialler, call logs, contacts, favourites and groups. You can easily navigate between the tabs by clicking the icons at the top or swiping left and right.
Contacts is an app which can be displayed in QSlide mode which means it's a floating window which can be made transparent. VuTalk is a take it or leave it feature which you might never use or find really handy. If you contact has it, you can share your screen, and send drawings or handwriting in real-time.
LG G2 review: Cameras
The impressive specs line-up continues with the G2's cameras. The rear camera, which sits above the Rear Key, has a resolution of 13 Mp and features optical image stabilisation (OIS). We like LG's video explaining this.
There's no dedicated camera key on the G2 which is a shame but the camera takes high quality photos and videos nevertheless. It's not the best smartphone camera around, that goes to the Lumia 1020, but it's up there with the best.
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Focus can take a little while to lock on at times but you can switch to manual if you should be brave enough, not that manual is faster. There are a range of different shooting modes which unfortunately include 'Beauty Shot' and 'Dual Camera'.
OIS means that videos are kept smooth and mostly shake-free and the G2 is able to shoot in up to 1080p quality at 60 fps. For videos, you can use Audio Zooming to hone in on the sound from the left, right or center of the clip and Zoom to Track to focus on a subject during playback. Both are a bit hit and miss and slightly on the gimmicky side of things.
The 2 Mp front facing camera also offers great quality imagery with up to 1080p video at 30 fps.
LG G2 review: Software
Smartphone manufacturers tend to go one of two ways with their Android interfaces; vanilla as Google intended or all-out customisation with their own skin or overlay.
Samsung went overboard with additional features with the Galaxy S4 and LG has gone down that path with the G2, but luckily not as far. LG's Practical UX doesn't look as stylish as HTC's or Sony's. It's more akin to Samsung's TouchWiz with popping colours and cluttered areas, namely the notification bar which LG has crammed everything imaginable into (see right).
Luckily it's not enough of a mess to put us off the phone and the following software features really help the G2 to stand out from the crowd.
We've already mentioned KnockON as a way of switching the phone on and off without using the rear located buttons, and the fact the G2 has an infrared transmitter which is unitised by the QuickRemote app. However, there are plenty more on offer.
There are a number of Samsung-esque gestures which you can perform to answer a phone call or snooze your alarm but we found some other software tricks much more useful.
Guest Mode allows you to set an alternative lock screen pattern which effectively leads to a restricted account. That's great if you don't want your mates to see your camera roll or you want to hand your phone to a child without giving them free reign.
QSlide is a function similar to the small apps found on Sony smartphones, but more advanced. You can select from a number of apps, including web browser, messaging and email, which then appear on the screen in a small window. This can be moved around the screen, resized, and transparency adjusted.
Slide Aside is an alternative to the built-in Android multi-tasking which lets you, er, slide up to three apps off the screen with a three finger gesture. You can then easily switch between these with a reverse gesture, or via the notification bar.
There's more to mention, too. Plug & Pop will make suggestions when headphones or a USB cable is plugged in and you can even reply to text messages without even opening the messaging app.
Furthermore, you can access the phone's storage from a PC or laptop wirelessly if they are connected to the same network.
LG G2 review: More software
As well as other basic apps such as the Dialler and Contacts, LG replaces the vanilla Google apps for messaging. In a similar way to iOS, SMS messages appear in a thread formed of colour coordinated bubbles. Not necessary but a nice feature is the ability to customise the look and feel of the interface by changing the background wallpaper (even photos from your gallery) plus the colour and style of the messages bubbles.
As with any Android smartphone, Gmail is included so this will probably be your go to app for email. However, you can add non-Google accounts to the aptly named E-mail app. Here you can add Microsoft Exchange and POP or IMAP accounts.
Many Android smartphones pre-load two web browsers: the Android browser and Chrome. Unfortunately, the G2 is no exception meaning it's a bit confusing having two apps offering the same thing from the off. Luckily you can tell the G2 which you prefer to use as a default browser, just like you would do on your PC.
Chrome is a top mobile browser with a good interface and slick performance. Of course, Android will let you install alternatives if you favour, for example, Firefox, Opera, Dolphin and others.
LG G2 review: Battery life
The G2 continues to impress when it comes to battery life. The smartphone has a large 11.1Wh (3000mAh) capacity battery – notable given the physical size of the device. That's almost as big as the phablet-sized Galaxy Note 3.
With a general usage pattern, the G2 lasts a good couple of days with the potential to last three for those who don't sit playing Real Racing 3 all day long. The phone predicts how much time there is until depletion and how much percentage you've burned in the last three hours.
Buying Advice LG trumped the competition with the G2. The phone offers a combination of value for money with high-end features which we haven't seen from rival flagship devices. A great specification combined with impressive design and handy software features mean there's very little to dislike about this handset - only really the lack of a microSD card slot. That fault is rectified in the new LG G3, and if you can afford that handset it will be worth the upgrade. But the LG G2 remains a great handset.