As Samsung, Apple, Microsoft and every other big company can attest, the best design features are the one’s everyone else copies. LG’s G2 has such a feature: double-tapping the display to wake it. That may sound innocuous, but consider how much smaller a power/lock button is than your average smartphone display. An action you perform incessantly, made easier and more intuitive.
To drive the feature’s usefulness home, LG’s dispensed with all physical buttons on the sides and face of the G2. Instead, the power button cum volume rocker sits beneath the camera lens, centred high on the rear of the handset. Having only one button to consider is welcome, and its position is convenient for adjusting the volume while on calls with an index finger.
It’s less convenient when trying to adjust the volume while holding the phone at arms length and takes getting used to. The volume rocker’s placement runs counter to the intuitiveness of the screen’s physical interface. I know I’m harping on about it, but it really ought to be copied by every other smartphone manufacturer. I spent two weeks using the G2 and spent the next two after it was collected cursing my own smartphone for not waking when I double-tapped the display.
There’s no longer any need to have physical buttons on the face of a smartphone. Even the iPad’s iconic home button has been rendered redundant by multi-touch gestures (until Apple finds an equivalent of the five-finger pinch for the iPhone, its home button will remain necessary).
Even handsets without home buttons usually require a press of the power button to wake or lock. That’s far more fiddly than double-tapping the display, which doesn’t unlock it but wakes it. Thanks to Android’s customisable lock screen shortcuts that’s all you need.
There’s another reason to love the G2 — and be sad the Nexus 5 will likely curtail demand for it — it has a built-in IR blaster that allows you to control a wide range of devices that support infrared, including most TVs, decoders and set-top boxes and many hi-fi systems. This is particularly useful for confounding restaurant owners by changing the channel on, or turning off, offending TVs in their establishments.
The G2 ships with Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean), but it’s expected to get 4.4 (KitKat) next month.
I’m not going to bore you with the G2’s specs, because those, like comprehensive reviews of it, are readily available from more attentive sources than this one. What I will say is that the G2 is the strongest offering from LG’s handset division to date.
Well, that’s not entirely true. It may’ve been when the G2 was released, but the latest Google-endorsed handset, the Nexus 5, now joins the G2 in rolling off LG’s production line. (Shutterbugs, however, will be quick to point out that not only does the G2 offer a larger display, but a 13-megapixel camera versus the Nexus 5’s 8-megapixel shooter — for most users, however, this won’t matter).
Google Nexus is the search giant’s branding for its partnerships with Android device manufacturers under which phone and tablets run so-called “vanilla” versions of the Android mobile operating system rather than the customised iterations manufacturers favour. The perk of buying a Nexus device is when there’s a software update in future you get it first.
A comparison of the Nexus 5 and the G2 shows it’s the latter’s larger display, IR blaster and peculiar power button that are the only real differences on the hardware front. But the Nexus is the newer, more convincingly marketed (al least abroad) — and thus, coveted — device. If faced with the choice between the Nexus 5 and, say Samsung’s Galaxy S4 I’d still take the Nexus.*
Google and LG’s offspring may lack Samsung’s marketing, but it also doesn’t have the dreadful plastic and flimsy feel to its back that’s plagued every top-end Samsung since the S2. The G2 feels like a premium device, the S4 is the embodiment of faceless mass production.
More importantly, today you can get Nexus 5 on the ZA Orange Store (random aside: currently the best place to buy handsets in South Africa) for R6 100. That’s less than both the G2 and the S4. It remains to be seen how readily available the Nexus 5 will be when it lands in South Africa. If it’s limited to a handful of online retailers and doesn’t get the operators’ endorsement (and subsequent promotional clout) the G2 could remain a strong performer. It certainly deserves to. — CW
* Most people would rightly take the S4. Why? Because Samsung, a) has a much wider range of devices, b) offers unrivalled after-sales service that includes two free replacements on its top-end devices in two years if dropped or drowned, and c) is absolutely everywhere you look.