LG G2 review: Beautiful monster
A story of Android 4.2, Optimus UI, Quick Memo and Guest Mode
The LG G2 is the company's first smartphone to be powered by Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Naturally LG's own Optimus UI topping is overhauls the entire OS. The customizations run deep and there's a rich selection of themes, changeable icons and home-brewed apps.
Here's the LG G2 on video:
The overall user experience is still very similar to the one on the Optimus G Pro, though the latest Android and Optimus UI versions bring a few major features that aren't available on any other LG smartphone yet. LG G2 comes with some cool options like Guest Mode, Slide Aside multitasking, KnockON lock/unlock, lockscreen widgets and more. We'll get to all of them further down.
Since LG has put the Lock/Unlock hardware key at the back of the G2, the company has come up with another idea that will make this key obsolete in case you don't like its positioning. You can wake the screen with a double tap on it. It works flawlessly once you get used to putting a little more force into the knocking compared to how you'd tap if you were actually using the phone.
To lock the phone you don't need to use the hardware key either. You just double tap on an empty area of your homescreen or on the status bar no matter where you are - it will lock your G2.
The cool LG lockscreen that lets you peek beneath the lockscreen is onboard. There are five animations for the peek hole type - the familiar dewdrop, ripple, while hole, crystal and the default particle. All of them are really cool and we honestly had a hard time deciding on which effect we like best. You can also place up to five shortcuts on your lockscreen that will unlock the phone straight into an app.
The lockscreen now has multiple panes, each containing one widget. The page to the right is special and fires up the camera, but you can easily disable it from the widget menu.
The pages to the left contain different widgets - four different clocks, Gmail, Google Now, Calendar, Google+ posts, Quick Remote and Weather you can download apps from the Play Store that add new widgets.
Thanks to the multiple account support that premiered with the Android 4.2, LG was able to support the so-called Guest Mode. It's activated by a specific unlock pattern and unlocks the phone in this mode. There is no app drawer in the guest mode - you can access up to five apps in there - camera, video and music players, calculator and quick remote. You can, of course, add more available apps from the list above. If you want to go back to use the phone normally, lock the screen and unlock it with your standard unlock pattern, not the guest one.
Guest mode will come in handy if you are handing your phone to a child or you just want to keep your stuff personal from friends, who might like to use your phone for a quick call or anything.
The bottom of the homescreen fits up to 5 shortcuts (including the shortcut to the App Drawer). You don't have to use all available slots though - you can discard all but the App Drawer shortcut.
As usual, the shortcuts are visible on any of the homescreen panes. With the exception of the app drawer shortcut, you can rearrange, delete or replace any of these with shortcuts of your choosing, even folders. In fact, most aspects of the phone's behavior can be customized, you can go to as small detail as the capacitive key arrangement and background, lock animation, system fonts, and even the notification light on the back.
By default you get three homescreen panes to fill up with widgets and shortcuts, but you are free to add more (up to seven) or delete any that you don't need to speed up navigation. You can also set any of the homescreens as default.
The front touch buttons are also highly customizable - you can choose their arrangement, you can even add a fourth permanent shortcut for the Quick Memo. You also set black or white background for those keys and choose if that background will be transparent on the homescreen.
The LG home-baked tweaks and enhancements are by no means limited to the visuals. The Q Slide option makes it possible for you to use widget-like resizable small apps while using other full-screen apps. The system-wide Quick Memo integration allows you to take a screenshot anywhere in the phone and take notes over it.
You can resize widgets or you can even shrink a widget down to the corresponding app's icon. Also if you move a widget over an occupied slot on the homescreen, the icons underneath immediately move out of the way, which is really neat and comes as part of the original Jelly Bean release.
Adding stuff to the homescreen is done by tapping and holding on a blank area of a homescreen. A context menu appears, allowing you to add various customizations to your phone. The tabs along the bottom let you select the appropriate app, widget or wallpaper, which you can add to the homescreen of your choice. Gridlines will appear when you hold and drag an app or widget, allowing you to easily place it on the homescreen.
There's a set of different icons to choose from and you can even make custom ones.
The contextual menu gives you a quick access to different settings, as well as themes. There are only two themes available on the G2 - the default one and Marshmallow. The latter is more likely to be used by kids than any adult. Unfortunately you can't get more themes.
We've already mentioned the Q Slide shortcuts that are found in the notification area. They launch pop-up widget-like versions of the video player, web browser, phone, messages, calendar, email, memo, voice recorder, file manager and calculator. In case you don't need some of those shortcuts, you can remove it via the edit key at the end of the shortcut row.
The Q Slide feature is very similar to the Sony's small apps but supports only two windows opened simultaneously. You can resize the mini app whatever you like, there is a dedicated shortcut that'll take you to the full screen app. There is also a transparency scrubber - once you decrease the transparency even by a hair, the mini app is no longer part of the active UI (besides its transparency scrubber) and you can interact with whatever's beneath it (the mini app will continue its work of course, i.e. a video will still be playing).
The notification area has also been tweaked by LG to let you rearrange the toggle buttons available. You are also free to add and remove toggles from the edit menu. You can add an insane amount of shortcuts here, and don't have to worry about whether they'll fit on the screen - the row becomes side-scrollable so you can still access them all.
As usual, if you have a music track playing in the background, quick controls will show up here. You can also swipe notifications to the left or right to dismiss them. Notification expanding is available as well.
The task switcher (tap on hold on Home) hasn't changed a whole lot since ICS. It shows you all of the currently running apps, which can be swiped left or right to terminate. The task switcher is accessed by holding down on the hardware home button. There, you'll also find a shortcut to Google Now.
Finally, there's a shortcut to the task manager.
LG's task manager lists the currently running apps, shows the available RAM and conveniently offers a button to stop all running apps.
Speaking of app switching, LG has implemented a new multi-tasking feature called Slide Aside. You can use a three-finger swipe from the right side of the screen to add the app into the Slide Aside UI, while three finger swipes from the left will switch between the running apps.
Slide Aside supports up to three apps which get into a sort of frozen state and you can access a preview of all the three apps either form the notification area's dedicated shortcut or via a three-finger swipe to the left on the homescreen.
We like this way of multitasking, but it isn't implemented that well on the LG G2. The phone occasionally didn't recognize the swipes and the whole left/right swipes across the screen to open/switch feel quite awkward and hard to remember. Honestly, Apple did a lot better with the app switching gestures on its iPads.
The app drawer lists all your available apps and widgets, with a dedicated tab for user downloads. There is a button in the top right corner, which triggers edit mode and lets you to easily reshuffle or uninstall applications.
You can opt to make the icons in the app drawer bigger, too. If you select an app whilst in edit mode, a pop up will let you see information like storage usage.
LG borrowed a trick from Samsung's TouchWiz and implemented its own version of Samsung's Smart Stay - called...Smart screen. It uses the front-facing camera to detect whether you're looking at the screen. This means you can browse the phone for hours on end without it auto-locking itself. We can confirm that the feature works very well.
SmartVideo on the other hand will pause a currently playing video when you look away. That's another thing copied over from the Samsung Galaxy S4.
The so-called Quick Memo function is integrated in the phone's OS, allowing you to capture screen shots of anything (including the lockscreen!) and scribble notes over them like you would on the LG Optimus G and G Pro. You can save the result as an image or add it to the Notebook app.
You can launch the Quick Memo without unlocking the phone while holding the volume up key. Otherwise you can launch the app pretty much from everywhere from its dedicated shortcut in the notification area or with a swipe up gesture on the Home key. If you enabled the Quick Memo key on the navigation bar, it's probably the easiest way to access this feature.
LG brought a new service called Quiet Mode. It works in a similar way to the Do Not Disturb feature on iOS 6 and the Blocking Mode at Samsung's Galaxies. It gives you extra control over the call alerts.
If turned on, Quiet mode will mute incoming calls only. You can set a time frame, when the Quiet mode is activated every day.
Just like DnD on iOS 6, Quet mode has an exception list where you can add some contacts that won't be affected by its restrictions.
You can easily activate Quiet mode from the dedicated toggle in the Settings menu. When it is on, an icon appears on the far left side of the status bar.
Another cool feature, we didn't notice at first, is the Clip Tray. If you tap and hold on different links, pictures, music and video files, phone numbers or just simple text, then select Add to Clip Tray or Copy to clipboard - they are automatically added to you Clip Tray. Then you can go to messages, emails, browser, etc. and once you choose to use Paste function you'll get access to your Clip Tray items at the bottom of the screen (you must have at least 2 items in your Clip Tray). This way you can easily save various items for later use.
Finally, there is one more new feature we need to discuss - the One-hand operations. We saw this a while ago on the Huawei Ascend Mate. With One hand operations enabled, you can move the screen unlock, dialer, and the keyboard to the left or right of the screen, depending on which hand you are using. It's a handy feature to have on such a relatively big device.