LG G2 Australian Hands-On: A One-Button Wonderphone

When LG debuted its last Optimus G “superphone”, we were skeptical. In the end, LG managed to get in its own way with software, and the great hardware it had was ruined. Now it’s back to debut the G2, and from our first-look, it’s a wonderphone.

The G2 boasts a blazing 2.26GHz, quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor — the first major handset to do so — and 2GB of RAM to power its 5.2-inch 1080×1920 IPS display. The G2 will support lightning-fast dual-band LTE in Australia, and has a specially moulded, extra-large-but-still-mightly-slim 3000mAh battery under the hood to try and maximise battery life even under all that strain.

It’s the Porsche of smartphones, in that the power (button) is in the back, and while it looks weird at first, it’s a great idea when you start using it.

Pick up your phone right now and just hold it. You likely have three fingers on one side, the thumb bracing the other as the index finger steadies the handset from the rear. By moving the camera higher on the handset, the button has been placed pretty much exactly where your index finger naturally lives, giving you both added functionality and the ability to further steady the handset thanks to the grooves provided by the button. It really is a clever idea.

The rear-button is the only physical piece of clickety-clack hardware on the device, and it kind of makes the phone jut up at an angle when you lay it flat on a desk. That could get annoying but at least it’s keeping the scratches off of your sapphire crystal lens cover. To activate the phone while it sits on your desk, just double tap the touchscreen and it will magically light up, ready to be used.

The back and menu buttons are all soft keys at the bottom of the touchscreen, but those can be customised to be anything you like. That even means the ability to swap the back and menu buttons if you’re a reformed Samsung user.

The rear-mounted button also has knock-on effects to the design of the handset. It’s one of the reasons why the bezel is so goddamn thin, for example. Thanks in part to some fancy cabling under the touchscreen and the button being mounted on the back rather than the side, the bezel is able to be super thin, allowing LG to pack more screen real estate into the device.

Speaking of packing stuff in, LG hasn’t wasted any space under the hood of the new G2 either. Much like the Moto X we love so much, the G2 also has what’s being called a “stepped battery”. That means LG has jammed battery right up to the curved edges of the rear case to squeeze an extra 400mAh of battery into the phone. At the end of the day, that might come in handy.

The camera is a 13-megapixel shooter complete with Optical Image Stabilisation and a 9-point auto-focus system which cleverly decides what’s closest in the frame to focus on. The OIS helps with low-light shooting, and from first glance it’s more than capable to hold its own against Lumias and iPhones, but we won’t be able to tell until we review it more deeply.

The most concerning aspect of the handset right now is LG’s software. It was our main complaint with the original Optimus G last year. We just hope that LG doesn’t get in its own way with software. Again.

LG has made several software tweaks that actually make the handset quite a nifty phone to use every day, but whether the ongoing tweaking will help or hurt the phone in the long run remains to be seen. For example, there’s a customisable software drawer that pops out when you plug in a headphone jack. Customise it with Spotify or a Podcasts app if you like and it makes playing stuff easier. Same with USB thumb drives: connect it up and the default LG file explorer will let you access the files on that stick.

There’s also a decent universal remote app which — via the IR blaster — hooks into any of the remote-compatible devices in your home, as well as a half-decent guest mode which can be activated by drawing a G-shaped pattern on your lockscreen for example. Good for kids or for hiding your noodz from your parents.

For audiophiles, the G2 will support for 24-bit 192kHz audio playback, so you will be able to stick your uncompressed files on there for your listening pleasure.

The LG G2 will go on sale around Q4 (September-December) for an outright price of roughly $699, which is crazy-affordable for the specs it’s packing. The phone will be exclusive only to Optus for the rest of 2013 at least according to LG. Sorry Telstra and Vodafone customers.

The phone is uniquely positioned to Optus, considering that it’s going to be one of the only phones on the market capable of dual-band LTE. It’s likely to be joined in the dual-band ranks by the Galaxy S4 Mini when it launches.

The benefit of dual-band LTE is the fact that the phone can switch up to Optus’ brand-new 2300MHz network band, where we’re told it has 20MHz of contiguous spectrum. Having 20MHz of spectrum basically allows a network to deliver faster speeds and better performance during congested times. Right now a lot of 4G networks only have 10MHz of dedicated spectrum, which means congestion and speed issues can arise.

To give you an idea of what it all means when the rubber hits the road: Vodafone’s 4G network has 20MHz of contiguous spectrum, and with it we were able to reach an astonishing 107Mbps down on a Category 3 device. The LG G2 is a Category 4 device, meaning it would potentially be able to do faster still, up to a theoretical maximum of 150Mbps.

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