Hands on: LG G2 Android smartphone

Once you get past the unorthodox design, LG's G2 packs quite a punch.

The new flagship of LG's Android fleet, the G2 is initially an Optus exclusive with outright price tag of $699.  If you think you know your way around smartphones you're in for a bit of a surprise when you pick it up. There's no power button on the top. It's not along the sides either, nor are the volume buttons. Turn the handset over and you'll find them all on the back, one central power button with volume buttons above and below. They're about a quarter of the way down the phone, just below the camera lens, where they can be easily reached with your pointer finger.

I say easily reached, but it's actually a pain at first until you adapt to holding the phone between your thumb and middle finger so your pointer finger is free. Even then it's easy to accidentally hit a volume button instead of the power button. It wouldn't have hurt to make the buttons a little bigger, considering how much free space is back there. You might love the new design, but if you don't it's going to annoy you for quite some time – especially if you rely on side-mounted volume buttons to act as a physical shutter button for the camera.

You'd expect such a radical design change to be for good reason. I thought LG might have done something really clever like turning the power button into a four-way rocker. Or perhaps a touch sensitive scroll button so you can scroll down web pages while keeping one hand free. But no, they're just the same old power and volume buttons. There are a few little tricks; holding the volume down button when the screen is locked launches the camera, while volume up launches the Quick Memo app. You can also double-tap the screen to wake the phone and put it to sleep, which some people will find more practical than feeling around for the button on the back. 

Considering there's nothing really wrong with the traditional smartphone button configuration, you can't help but think this is merely change for the sake of change – a talking point to help LG's latest effort stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately for LG this talking point actually distracts you from the impressive hardware under the bonnet. The G2 is one of the first handsets to pack the quad-core 2.26GHz Snapdragon 800 processor and Adreno 330 GPU accompanied by a generous 2GB of RAM. There's 16GB of onboard storage but no micro-SD card slot for expansion.

In terms of benchmarks the G2 puts older rivals like the Galaxy S4 and Nexus 4 to shame, although it's worth noting the upcoming Nexus 5 (also built by LG) should pack the same hardware.

All this grunt helps drive a bright 5.2-inch 1920x1080 IPS LCD display which offers great colours and impressive outdoor performance, although it falls a little short in terms of viewing angles. Once you're outdoors you might appreciate that it's a dual-band LTE device, letting it tap into Optus' 1800 MHz FD-LTE and 2300 MHz TD-LTE networks – collectively known as 4G Plus. Dual-band LTE isn't actually any faster, but it does help reduce network congestion which could work to your favour if you're in an area with both networks.

The phone also sports a 13/ 2.1 megapixel rear/front camera along with all the mod-cons such as NFC, 5GHz wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0, Miracast video streaming, MHL/HDMI video output (requires adaptor) and even an infrared port so it can act as a remote control. 

The G2 runs Android 4.2.2 and may miss out on the update to 4.3 Jelly Bean considering how many customisations LG has made. There are no physical buttons on the front, instead it uses three onscreen buttons which adjust when you turn the phone sideways. By default they're Back, Home and Settings buttons, but you've the flexibility to change these buttons and even add a fourth. You can also adjust the position of the keyboard, dial pad and unlock pad for one-handed uses, depending on whether you're left or right handed. It's although the phone is trying to be ambidextrous.


Actually at this point LG's strategy with the rear buttons seems to become clearer, it's trying to compensate for the width of the device by making it easier to access the virtual and physical buttons with one hand. The handset is only a millimetre or so wider than the Galaxy S4, but obviously LG feels that it's getting a little large for small hands. Moving the buttons to the rear is a noble idea but I suspect it will annoy more people than it delights.

LG has made lots of other tweaks to the stock Android interface which will appeal to those who like to tweak the look and feel of their devices. You can change themes, rearrange the buttons, reorder some of the menus, adjust the individual notification volume/vibrate settings and even alter what the flashing LED notifications mean.

You can also resize QSlide Apps such as the calculator to make them a small window which you can move around the screen and make temporarily transparent when you need to get at what's underneath. LG has also added "Guest Mode" for those times when you hand your device to someone else, helping to compensate for the fact that you've missed out on some of the multi user profile improvements in Android 4.3.

There's a lot to like about the G2, but it will be hard for some people to get past the unusual button configuration. The grunt under the bonnet is also appealing, but in return you're settling for Android 4.2 rather than 4.3. Unless something about the G2's ambidextrous design or software tweaks really jumps out at you, I'd be tempted to wait and see the Nexus 5 before I put down money on the G2.

This article Hands on: LG G2 Android smartphone was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.