Review: LG G2 Is Android's New Top Dog

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Want the fastest Android smartphone? The one with the biggest screen and smallest bezel? The best battery life? Then the LG G2 is your answer.

And I still can't recommend buying it, sort of.

Let me tell you why.

First, the strengths of the LG G2. This is a flagship smartphone that's shaped and sized almost identically to the Samsung Galaxy S4. Here are the important variances:

The screen is 5.2 inches in a shell that normally fits only a 5-inch screen. This means the bezel is the thinnest we have yet to see. How did LG accomplish this?

These record-thin bezels lead us to the most radical thing about the LG G2: the buttons. There aren't any on the sides, unlike all other phones in the market. On the LG G2, they are on the back, in the middle, right below the camera lens.

Whoa! That's radical. Yes, but it works. And it didn't take me hours, let alone days, to get used to it. It felt natural within seconds. Your fingers strain less. In addition, to wake up the screen, you can also simply tap on the screen twice: "knock, knock." Why didn't anyone think of this before?

I tested the version of the LG G2 that's sold on T-Mobile ( TMUS). The Verizon ( VZ) version has a different set of buttons. After playing with the Verizon version for a few minutes one has to wonder who at Verizon forced LG to sabotage this otherwise outstanding device.

The battery is a massive 3,000 mAh, and the result is the best battery life I have seen on a smartphone, with the possible exceptions of the Motorola Maxx and Samsung Galaxy Note. However, the battery is not removable, and there is no MicroSD storage expansion slot.

How does the LG G2 feel in the hand, other than the button placement? Well, it's just about as good as the Samsung Galaxy S4, aside from the novelty of the button placement. All in all, it's close to a draw between the two.

The phone is very large, so people with smaller hands will probably not prefer it. It's more slippery than I would like, but not nearly as bad as the HTC One. All in all, it feels okay in the hand.

Under the skin, this is the first broadly available (on all US carriers) mainstream smartphone built on Qualcomm's ( QCOM) new flagship CPU, the Snapdragon 800. All the benchmarks show it beating the other previous top dog Androids built on the Snapdragon 600 by wide margins. Sounds exciting, no?

Well, if I could only tell the difference. I don't doubt the benchmarks, but perhaps it should tell us something profound about the Android smartphone market when one can barely notice the performance bump in the market's new flagship.

LG's version of Android is built on top of 4.2.2. Overall, I find the modifications to the menus and notifications to be very poor compared not only to the obviously clean Nexus (and Motorola's new smartphones), but even compared to Samsung.

As for the on-screen keyboard, it didn't seem to predict the next word I was going to type, and it was not great at predicting even the current word being typed. In comparison, I found both the Nexus and Samsung approaches to the keyboard to be a bit better.

On the plus side, I found two things:

1. The huge screen in combination with the 1080x1920 resolution and LG's redesign of the icon grid means the LG G2 fits 30 icons per page. This is up from 21 on the regular Nexus, as illustrated by this comparative picture:

2. Unique to LG, the menu/navigation buttons are configurable in software. No more having to stick to a fixed layout.

The Pink Elephant In the Middle Of The Room: Nexus 5

Unless every single leaked information on the Internet is wrong, the Nexus 5 is based largely on this LG G2. Yes, there will be some modifications to the buttons, the display, the battery and perhaps the camera, but the Nexus 5 will gain the following advantages:

1. Unmolested Android Nexus software. No crapware from LG or the carriers that sell it.

2. The fastest updates. The Nexus 5 will launch with Android 4.4 KitKat, and it will get updates to 4.5, 5.0, etc. -- long before the LG G2 gets them, if it gets them at all.

3. A lower price, most likely. The 16-gig version of the Nexus 4 sold for $349 until it was discounted to clear out the inventories in August. That is approximately $250 less than an unlocked LG G2.

4. No SIM-lock, no contract. Use the Nexus 5 on the cheapest plans, switch SIM cards as often as you like, and travel around the world using low local rates as much as you can.

Conclusion: Sometimes you shouldn't want the best

The LG G2 is "top dog" in terms of Android smartphone hardware today, although the competition -- from Samsung, Sony and others -- will surely catch up fast. However, I still can't recommend it.

Why not recommend it?

In the end, the incremental hardware improvements for smartphones are now indeed very incremental -- read "small." Whereas the LG G2 is a better hardware experience than my other favorite Android smartphones -- the Nexus 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition -- the difference pales in comparison to the software differences.

The thing that will make your Android purchase happy or not over the long period of time is the ability to have crapware-free software and to be getting the latest updates as soon as possible, for as long into the future as possible. As a result, it's almost impossible to recommend an Android device that's not a Nexus.

Another way of saying this is what I always think about when people ask me what Android smartphone to buy. I tell them they should get the one that Google's ( GOOG) own employees use. Today, that means the Nexus 4, or the Google Play Editions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the HTC One.

More importantly, in a few weeks that means the Nexus 5. If you can hold out another few weeks, you should not consider any other high-end Android than the Nexus 5. The good news for LG here is that it's based on this excellent LG G2 flagship smartphone.

At the time of publication the author was long GOOG, AAPL and QCOM.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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