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 software

The G2 runs custom LG software based on Google's Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system. (LG has not said if or when the phone might be upgraded to the more current Android 4.3 release or the upcoming Android 4.4 KitKat OS.) While LG's take on Android is more consistent and less confusing than some other manufacturers' versions of the software, the company does make its share of arbitrary changes that serve only to add clutter and dilute the user experience.

LG G2
The notification pane for the LG G2 is, to say the least, busy.

The prime example is the G2's notification panel: LG has packed so much junk in there that you can barely even call it a notification panel. The top two-thirds of the pull-down are filled with a menagerie of toggles and settings, leaving barely any room for your actual notifications to appear. You can disable a couple of the elements in the panel but, at best, you're still looking at roughly half the screen being taken up by stuff you probably won't need on a regular basis.

What's most vexing about that is the fact that Google's stock Android 4.2 setup includes a Quick Settings area that's designed to hold commonly used toggles and links without overwhelming the main notification panel. (On a stock Android 4.2 phone, you'd access the Quick Settings area either by swiping down with two fingers or by tapping a special icon in the main notification panel.) For some reason, LG did away with this feature and crammed everything under the sun into one overwhelmed panel instead.

Density aside, the design of the G2's notification panel is just a confusing mess. The link to the system settings -- a wrench icon alongside the date -- sits almost directly beneath an identical but larger wrench icon that takes you to a pop-up for volume settings. Even after using the device for days, I continued to tap the wrong icon by mistake.

(The Verizon version of the phone, interestingly enough, has an altered notification panel that cleans up much of the clutter and simplifies things significantly. Once again, it's the only model of the phone that veers from the base blueprint in this way.)

Among the numerous arbitrary UI changes, LG did add some nice functionality into the core software -- functionality that brings to mind the flexibility you get with a custom Android launcher like Nova or Apex. You can do things like expand the Favorites Tray (the dock of icons at the bottom of the screen), choose from a variety of home screen transition effects and easily change the icons for apps on your home screen.

And then there are the features -- and boy, there are a lot of 'em. Most are forgettable: There's QuickMemo, which lets you scribble notes on your screen with your finger and save the resulting images into a gallery. There's Plug and Pop, which causes a bar of recommended apps to appear anytime you plug a headphone into the device. And there's the dynamic duo of Voice Mate, a shockingly inferior version of Google's native Android Voice Search tool and Slide Aside, a complicated and confusing version of Android's native app-switching setup (which is also present on the device).

The G2 does have a couple of legitimately useful add-on features, like QSlide, which lets you open certain apps in movable, resizable windows that float on top of whatever else you're doing. It's a great idea but is limited by the fact that it works only with a small handful of preinstalled LG apps.

The phone also features Guest Mode, which lets you create a limited environment for friends or family to use the phone, and QuickRemote, which lets you configure your phone to function as a remote for IR-based electronics.

The G2 has ample bloatware, too: Both the AT&T and Verizon models have close to 20 preinstalled programs baked into the operating system for your displeasure -- everything from carrier-branded garbage like AT&T Locker and VZ Navigator to random nonsense like NFL Mobile and Life Square. The apps can't be uninstalled, but most can at least be disabled and hidden from view.

Bottom line

The LG G2 is a phone with lots of excellent pieces that don't form a complete whole. Its best qualities are those that revolve around components: The phone has an outstanding HD display, top-of-the-line performance and great battery life.

Its physical design leaves something to be desired, though, and its rear-facing buttons can be a tough pill to swallow. The device also has a bloated and messy UI with no must-have elements to set it apart.

That's the real problem with the G2: It's a good phone that performs well -- but there are a lot of good phones that perform well. And after numerous days with the G2, I'm honestly not sure what makes it special. The phone has some great internal ingredients but no real recipe -- no grand plan of how to put it all together into a compelling dish that commands attention.

For users interested primarily in specs and hardware, the G2 has plenty to offer. But for most smartphone shoppers, this phone is going to have a tough time standing out in the crowded menu of enticing Android options.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. For more Android tips and insights, follow him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

This article, LG G2 deep-dive review: Extraordinary hardware in an ordinary phone, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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