LG’s New G2 Smartphone: What’s Interesting, What’s Not

Standing out from all the other high-end phones isn't easy.

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As the holiday shopping season approaches, the high-end phones are piling up.

The LG G2 is the latest contender. It’s coming soon–though we don’t know exactly when, or for how much money–to all the major U.S. carriers. And when it does, it’ll have lots of competition from Samsung’s Galaxy S4, the HTC One, Motorola’s Moto X and new Droid phones, Nokia’s Lumia 1020 and the inevitable next iPhone.

For any phone maker, standing out from the pack is going to be tough, but here’s what LG is banking on with the G2:

Bigger Screen, but Not Really

On paper, the LG G2’s 5.2-inch 1080p display is bigger than any other high-end phone, not counting “phablets” like the Samsung Galaxy Note. LG, in fact, claims that its phone has the “largest display designed for one-handed operation in today’s popular 2.7-inch width smartphone category.”

But there’s an important caveat: On the G2, the home, back and recent apps buttons take up part of the screen. Most other Android phones relegate the same buttons to a separate area below the display. That means the actual space dedicated to apps and the Android software will be roughly the same as Samsung’s 5-inch Galaxy S4.

That’s not a bad thing. The less your fingers have to travel, the easier it is to use the phone with one hand. And while one-handed operation won’t be a breeze on the G2, it won’t be any harder than it is on the Galaxy S4. If anything, it’ll be easier because of the G2’s slightly narrower design.

Buttons Lurk Below

The most curious thing about the G2 is the placement of its power and volume buttons on the phone’s rear panel, rather than the sides.

G2 Backside

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This allows for a narrower bezel (the area between the screen and the edges of the phone), but LG says it also lines up with where people’s fingers rest naturally. To wake the phone without reaching behind for the power button, you can simply tap the screen twice.

I’d hesitate to judge the rear-facing buttons without spending time with the phone, but I’ve used enough large phones with awkwardly-placed buttons to appreciate what LG is trying to do.

It’s a Specs Beast

The G2 continues LG’s tradition of packing lots of raw power into its flagship phones, with a 2.26 GHz quad-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel rear camera, a 2.1-megapixel front camera, and a whopping 3,000 mAh battery. LG’s also throwing in an infrared blaster for controlling your home TV and stereo, similar to the ones found on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One. But keep in mind that there’s no microSD card slot–just 16 GB or 32 GB of built-in storage–and the battery is non-removable.

Software Gimmicks Galore

With the G2, LG is following Samsung’s lead and throwing a bunch of software bells and whistles onto its phone. When someone calls, you’ll be able to answer by holding the G2 to your ear. You can quickly launch the camera and built-in note taking app by long-pressing those rear-mounted volume buttons. You can temporarily set an app aside by swiping it with three fingers. When you plug a USB cable or headphones into the G2, a feature called “Plug & Pop” can automatically toggle certain settings and features. There’s also a “guest mode,” accessible through a secondary lock screen pattern, that only allows certain apps to be used.

All the Big Carriers Will Sell It

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon will all sell the LG G2, but it’s unclear what kinds of cusomizations they’ll add. The company’s last two phones, the Optimus G and Optimus G Pro (Doug liked it; see his review here), were both AT&T exclusives in the United States, so this is a big step for LG in any case.

Where’s the “Wow?”

The LG G2 sounds like a solid phone, but aside from those funky rear-facing buttons, it’s hard to come up with any particular feature that pushes the industry forward. Most other high-end phones this year are offering some kind of “wow” factor, whether it’s the high-end design of the HTC One, the killer camera of the Nokia Lumia 1020, the advanced voice controls of the Moto X or even the extreme thinness and lightness of the Samsung Galaxy S4.

The LG G2 doesn’t have any particular “thing” of its own. Mainly, it’s just a big, powerful, plastic phone with a huge battery to match. There’s something to be said for that, even if it doesn’t make for the most exciting handset.