What the LG G2 is actually like to use

LG's in the midst of a smartphone comeback. We had last year's impressive Optimus G, this year's plus-sized Optimus G Pro, and -- of course -- that little device known as the Nexus 4. So coming off that hot streak, can the company hit another home run?

LG G2

With its new LG G2 -- which, despite its Optimus-free name, is very much the follow-up to last year's Optimus G flagship -- it's certainly fighting to keep the fire alive. The phone goes on sale at Verizon starting September 12th ($200 with a new two-year contract), AT&T starting September 13th ($200 with a new two-year contract) and T-Mobile starting September 18th ($100 down and a two-year payment plan). Sprint is also expected to carry the device but has yet to announce details.

I've been using a global model of the G2 for a couple of days now. I'm holding off on any final judgment, as the phone (a) isn't the U.S.-specific model and (2) still runs pre-release software, but I wanted to go ahead and share some broad thoughts and general first impressions of what the G2 is actually like to use.

In no particular order, then, here we go:

• First of all, this phone is no petite princess. At 5.5 x 2.8 x 0.35 in., the first thing I notice is how large it feels in the hand -- not so big to be completely unwieldy but definitely pushing the upper edge for a regular-sized (e.g. non-Note-esque) device.

For comparison, the Nexus 4 is 5.3 x 2.7 x 0.36 in. And the Moto X, which I've been using as of late, is a relatively svelte 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.22 in. (with a curved back). Compared to the Moto X in particular -- one of the most ergomically comfortable phones I've held -- the G2 feels a bit bulky. It's all relative, of course, and the question of optimal size ultimately comes down to your own personal preference.

LG G2 Size
Size matters: The Moto X, Nexus 4, and LG G2

• The bigger size does mean a bigger screen -- and boy, is it a beaut. The G2 has a 5.2-in. 1080p IPS LCD display (compared to a 4.7-in. screen on the N4 and Moto X), and it looks fantastic. The fact that it's LCD also means it's easy to read even in bright, sunny conditions -- an advantage the phone's AMOLED-packing competitors can't claim.

LG G2 Buttons

• The G2's physical design is an interesting distinction. As you've probably heard, the phone has no buttons anywhere on its face or sides; instead, the power key and volume rocker sit on the device's back panel, right below the camera lens.

The company's rationalization for the placement is convenience: LG contends that too many users drop their phones while reaching for buttons on the sides. The back panel, the company believes, provides a more natural spot for your finger to land.

In practice, I'm still on the fence as to how I feel about it. It's certainly a bold move, and I've gotta give LG credit for trying something different. So far, though, I'm finding it a bit awkward to adjust; maybe it's just years of using phones with side-sitting buttons, but when I pick up a device, my fingers naturally wrap around its outer edge. It actually feels a little unnatural to me to have to shift to the back to find the power button there.

I'll give it some time and more real-world use to see if I adjust. For its part, LG has added a software feature to help ease the transition: You can tap on the phone's screen twice to turn it on and tap twice more to turn it back off. It's a novel idea, but -- on this pre-release model, at least -- I've found that it doesn't always work consistently, and even when it does work, it takes a split second longer for the screen to turn on than when I use the actual power button. That's just long enough to get annoying after a while.

• One last note on design: With the G2, LG has traded the sleek but fragile glass used in last year's Optimus G and Nexus 4 for a glossy plastic back material. The glass had its share of downsides, but I find myself wishing LG had gone with something other than glossy plastic instead; that type of material tends to look and feel somewhat cheaper than other surfaces (even other plastic ones) and also be a magnet for messy-looking fingerprints.

This back panel, by the way, is not removable.

• I'll get into the software side of things much more in my review, but in short, I'll say this: LG's take on Android is a mixed bag. It's almost cohesive, at least, and not as bad as what some other manufacturers do to the OS. That said, it definitely has its share of arbitrary UI changes and unnecessarily added complexity.

LG G2 Notification Panel

To illustrate, I'll show you this: the phone's notification panel. If you can actually still call it a notification panel.

Yeah.

The software does have some interesting add-on features, like LG's QSlide, which lets you open certain apps in movable, resizable windows that float on top of whatever else you're doing (and yes, that's basically the same concept Samsung introduced with its new Note 3 Air Command feature. LG, for what it's worth, has had the feature around since the Optimus G Pro earlier this year).

Among other things, there's also a new app-switching tool called Slide Aside, which initially strikes me as a more complicated and confusing version of Android's own native app-switching setup. And there's an optional Guest Mode, which lets you create a limited environment for other people to use the phone. That's a nice idea.

Lots to take in, right? And trust me: This is just scratching the surface. There's a lot more to discuss about the G2 -- its performance (with a Snapdragon 800 processor, the G2 packs a serious punch), battery life, and that new 13-megapixel Optical Image Stabilizer camera -- and we'll get to all of that soon.

Android Power Twitter

Stay tuned for my full LG G2 review, which will focus on all aspects of the U.S.-specific model and its finalized software. For the moment, I'd say there's one safe conclusion to reach: At the rate we're going, there are gonna be some seriously tough decisions when it comes to smartphone selection this fall.

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