LG G2 deep-dive review: Extraordinary hardware in an ordinary phone

The new LG G2 Android smartphone has an outstanding screen and top-notch performance, but is that enough to make it worth buying?

We're reaching an interesting point in the evolution of Android phones. The race for more -- more power, more performance, more pixels -- is starting to settle down. Mobile technology is nearing a point of maturity; the improvements from one generation to the next are looking less like game-changing leaps and more like nod-worthy hops.

LG G2
LG G2

That's the atmosphere in which the LG G2 -- LG's follow-up to last year's Optimus G phone -- finds itself trying to make a splash. The G2 packs some seriously impressive specs, but at a time when gigahertz and pixel counts alone are losing their luster, does the device offer enough to stand out from the pack?

I've been carrying the G2 in place of my own personal device for several days to find out. What follows is a detailed look at what the phone is like to use in the real world and where it fits in the increasingly crowded Android spectrum.

The LG G2 is available now on AT&T and Verizon for $200 with a new two-year contract and on T-Mobile for $100 down and a two-year payment plan. (I've used both the AT&T and Verizon models of the phone and have also referenced an international model for comparison.) The phone will launch on Sprint later this fall for $200 on contract; the carrier will start taking pre-orders on October 11 but has yet to say exactly when the device will ship.

Size and display

When it comes to form, "petite" is not a word you'd use to describe the G2. At 5.5 x 2.8 x 0.35 in., the phone is decidedly big -- not so big to be completely unwieldy but definitely pushing the limit of a regular-sized (i.e. non-Note-esque) device.

Next to phones like the Nexus 4, which is 5.3 x 2.7 x 0.36 in., and the Moto X, which measures 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.22 in. (with a curved back), the G2 feels a bit bulky in both the pocket and the hand. Carrying a larger phone is a tradeoff, of course; the advantage is getting a larger screen -- and that's one area where the G2 really shines.

The G2 boasts a 5.2-in. 1080p IPS LCD display. For perspective, the original Galaxy Note -- a phone whose supersized form helped usher in the unfortunate "phablet" buzzword -- had a 5.3 in. display. The Nexus 4 and Moto X, meanwhile, both have 4.7-in. screens.

At 423 pixels per inch, the G2's screen is outstanding -- easily among the best you'll see on a smartphone today. It provides impressive brightness, brilliant colors and crisp detail. And being an LCD panel, it remains easy to view even in bright sunlight -- an advantage the G2's AMOLED-packing competitors can't claim.

Body and design

LG made some interesting choices when it comes to the G2's design. First, the company traded the patterned glass back of last year's Optimus G flagship for a glossy plastic (though still non-removable) material.

Unfortunately, while glass has its share of downsides -- fragility, most notably -- glossy plastic seems like a step in the wrong direction. The material looks and feels cheaper than other smartphone surfaces (even other plastic surfaces, such as the soft-touch material used on the recent Moto X) and also serves as a magnet for messy-looking fingerprints. Compared to many current flagship phones -- even the older Optimus G -- the G2 has a less distinctive and premium feel as a result.

One area where the G2 does stand out is in its button configuration: In an unusual twist, the phone has no physical buttons anywhere on its face or sides. Instead, the power button and volume rocker live on the device's back panel -- a placement LG believes will prove to be more natural for users.

One thing's for sure: The setup requires some serious adjustment. I spent the first few days struggling to get used to finding buttons on the back and had more than a few instances of fumbling around with the phone while trying to power on or off in a hurry.

At this point, I'm generally okay with the configuration but still find it more awkward to use than a standard button setup. 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 and slide my fingers around to search for buttons there. I suspect it's going to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it sorts of things; despite my best efforts to adapt, I find myself falling into the latter camp.

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