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?

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The Verizon model, it's worth noting, has smaller and flatter buttons than the AT&T version of the device. I found those to be particularly difficult to find by touch -- much more than the AT&T arrangement. This quirk appears to be limited to Verizon; the Sprint and T-Mobile models are both expected to use the same setup as the AT&T model, which follows the blueprint of LG's international design.

To help make up for the sometimes out-of-the-way placement, LG allows you to turn the G2's display on or off by tapping twice on the display. While nice in concept, I found the action to be inconsistent in practice; sometimes I'd get the display to turn on with a single double-tap as advertised, but just as often, it'd take two or three tries for it to work. At that point, it's more of a frustration than a convenience; combined with the added second it takes for the screen to turn on even when the double-tap does work, I found myself reaching for the power button more often than not.

Another frustration related to the phone's on-off functionality: If you wake the device while your thumb is sitting on the top-left or top-center border of its face -- which is evidently something I do frequently when gripping a phone and reaching around its back -- the display will turn on for a second and then turn itself right back off. I'm assuming that's the result of some sort of sensor-related glitch, but it's a consistent one, and it happens with the AT&T and Verizon models as well as with the international version of the device.

The G2 has a micro-SIM card drawer -- accessible via a special pin tool -- on its upper-left edge. The bottom edge of the phone, meanwhile, holds a 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro-USB port that doubles as an HDMI-out port with the use of a Slimport adapter. Miracast-based HDMI streaming is supported as well.

In addition to the headphone jack and charging port, the phone's bottom edge is home to a pair of speaker grilles that deliver respectably decent audio quality for a phone (except for the Verizon version, which mysteriously has only one speaker grille and sounds slightly worse as a result). Their placement allows sound to remain clear and unmuffled even when the phone is sitting flat on a surface.

Much ado about buttons

The G2's main Android navigation buttons are virtual and appear on the display itself when needed. While this setup generally provides a better user experience than the dated physical-button alternative some manufacturers continue to use, LG has made the vexing decision to alter the standard Android button arrangement and replace the app-switching key (introduced with Android 4.x) with the long-deprecated Menu key.

This causes functions that would typically appear in plain sight to be hidden within the Menu key, with no visual cues; it also forces you to long-press the Home key and wait an extra second to get to Android's app-switching tool.

LG does provide a way for you to customize the virtual button setup but, oddly enough, there's no option to remove the Menu button and replace it with an app-switching key. Instead, you can rearrange or re-theme the buttons and add in quick-keys to open the notification panel or the phone's QuickMemo function. (More on that in a bit.)

The buttons also exhibit a strange behavior in which they use a transparent background until you open an app, at which point they randomly switch to a bright white background. I found this sudden contrast to be distracting and visually unpleasant, particularly when using an app that's darker by nature.

Under the hood

The G2 has plenty of horsepower under its hood: a 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor along with 2GB of RAM. It's no surprise, then, that the phone is fast -- really fast.

Swiping between home screens on the G2 is smooth as can be, app loading and multitasking are snappy and instantaneous and Web browsing is satisfactorily swift. The G2 performs like a champ; no matter what I've thrown its way, I've yet to see a single sign of stuttering or lag.

What about storage? The phone comes with 32GB of internal storage, which means you get about 24GB of actual usable space once you factor in the operating system and various preinstalled applications. There is no microSD card slot for external expansion.

The G2 has a 3,000mAh non-removable battery that's more than capable of keeping the phone running for a full day and then some. Even on days when I had moderate to heavy real-world use -- 20 to 30 minutes of 4G video-streaming, an hour of audio streaming, 15 minutes of voice calls and a few hours of scattered Web browsing, social media activity and camera use -- the phone made it from morning to night with at least a solid 30% of its charge remaining.

The G2 supports near-field communication (NFC) for contact-free data exchanges and payments. Both AT&T and Verizon, however, prevent you from using Google's own Google Wallet payment service, so don't expect to have that as an option.

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