For the past couple of months, my biggest technology dilemma was whether I should get the LG G2 or wait for the Nexus 5 to be released. I had previously had an LG Optimus 4X and I wasn’t at all averse to LG’s Optimus UI, but I had also tried the Nexus 4 and I recently purchased a Nexus 7 so I knew the advantages of a pure Android experience.
As fate would have it, I won the LG G2 at the launch event in my country, and I have been using it for over two weeks as my main device. The screen, the camera, the battery life, the processor and speed,… everything about the phone is mightily impressive and the best of Android at the moment — and probably for months to come. But I’m not the first person to say that.
The opinion discordance comes into play when you mention LG’s Android skin, with some reviews calling it the G2’s Achilles heel. For as many mobile enthusiasts who appreciate this skin, there is an equal amount who dislike it and I have seen it described with a lot of colorful adjectives from “a poor man’s Touchwiz” to “cartoony”, “rainbow-like”, “tacky”… So for once, I would like to dispel the misconceptions about this topic. Join me after the break as I tell you why you shouldn’t dismiss LG’s Android skin so quickly.
1. Homescreen Customization
The first thing you see at phone announcements and demonstrations is the launcher and the main homescreen. While LG hasn’t done a terrible job of picking the G2’s wallpapers, widgets, and notification bar indicators, the icon choice is the biggest culprit in their default introduction to the device. It is flashy, slightly reminiscent of Samsung’s Touchwiz, and doesn’t do the company any favors in terms of differentiation.
However, thankfully, LG allows you to pick different themes for its launcher. Over twenty themes are downloadable from LG SmartWorld, with most of them being quite cartoonish, but Biz, SimpleThin and MarineLook should work well if you want a more sober look on your phone. These themes also bring with them new wallpapers, new docks and app drawer backgrounds. Pushing the customization further, LG has another rare feature among out-of-the-box launchers: you can pick any image file and assign it as an icon, allowing you a level of personalization that you normally only expect from the likes of Nova Launcher and Apex Launcher.
Another neat addition is the ability to remove and add homescreens, so if you only need to have 2 or 3 homescreens, you can remove the others and keep the ones you want, for faster scrolling between them.
2. Drawer Customization
The second most important thing in an Android device is the app drawer as it should provide the simplest way to access all your apps. Aside from adding a handy search option to filter your apps, LG’s default drawer is chock-full of options to help you tailor it to your needs. You can switch between 4×5 and 5×5 grids, arrange the apps by alphabetical order, download date or manually organize them. You can hide app icons if you prefer to declutter your list.
Most importantly, you can pick a transparent background or a couple of white options or a black one. I personally prefer the “Darkness” wallpaper as it provides the most contrast with the icons and makes it easier to find the app I want.
3. Keyboard Themes
Continuing with the customization features of LG’s skin, the default keyboard comes with four different themes. Additional ones can be downloaded from LG SmartWorld so you can pick the one that you like best.
4. Emoji Input
Emoji support on Android is a bit of a hit-and-miss and its implementation on the default Google keyboard is clumsy at best. I had to spend several hours a few months ago researching the different ways to insert emojis, and given the lack of available information on the topic, I ended up detailing all my findings in How to Use Emojis on Your Android Device.
LG simplifies this process by offering visual emoji input on their keyboard out of the box. Click the symbols and smiley face button, and you have access to pages upon pages of emojis ready for a quick insert. These have also received a graphical lifting from LG, and they look better than the WhatsApp/iPhone emojis or the monochromatic black vanilla Android emojis.
5. Font Changing
One of the first things that irritated me about the G2 when I first turned it on was the font the device was using. SmartGothic is acceptable for a quick glance, but it isn’t really suitable for continuous usage over long periods of time. Also, it looks a little dated. That’s why I was glad to see that you can pick a different font, especially since Roboto was amongst the pre-installed options. LG SmartWorld also offers a few additional fonts, but they’re all very Comic Sans-like at the moment.
6. Customizable Software Buttons
I used to prefer hardware buttons, like on my Galaxy S3, but the Nexus 4 changed my mind about onscreen buttons. While vanilla Android currently comes with unmodifiable — unless you root your device — software buttons, LG chose to give a few options to its users. You can pick amongst 6 configurations, all including Back, Home, Menu, with or without a fourth Notification drop-down or a QuickMemo button. The background can also be chosen between Black and White, with or without gradients.
I know that LG missed the mark here by going for the Menu button instead of Multitasking, but I personally don’t use the Multitasking screen all that much, and it is still accessible from any app by long-pressing on Home.
7. Customizable Toggles
Ever since 4.2, Android has offered a Quick Settings panel on the notification drop-down with a few toggles to enable and disable some connectivity and other features on the devices. LG decided to bypass that and keep their own toggles on top of the main notification drop-down. We can argue about which approach is best — I prefer everything to be on one drop-down — but the important fact is that LG lets you customize the toggles on this list.
You can add, remove and reorder pretty much every feature you might want quick access to on your phone, including ones that aren’t available on vanilla Android, like Miracast, the LED notification light, and more.
8. Improved Gallery
The G2 is one of the first phones that made me feel that I don’t need to install a third-party Gallery for an optimal access to my photos. First, it divides the Albums between your on-device pictures, network-shared photos, Picasa and other Cloud accounts (Dropbox), so you don’t have to go through hoops to remove all those Picasa/Google+ photos from your main view. Second, it allows you to Show/Hide any folders, and copy and move items between them, as easily as possible.
9. Clip Tray
I have previously used Clipper to keep a history of my copied items, and even ran across a similar option on the Galaxy Tab range. That’s why I was super stoked to see a clipboard manager on the G2. Whenever you copy an item, be it a piece of text or an image, it gets added to the Clip Tray, which can house up to twenty items. When you need to paste, you can easily paste the last item or access the Clip Tray to pick previously copied ones.
The fact that this option is built-in and always available gives me some peace of mind when I’m hopping between apps, copying and pasting links and text, and using my phone like a productivity tool.
Aside from the Clip Tray, one of the most used functions on my G2 is QuickMemo. This feature was already present on the Optimus 4X HD, but has been made even more awesome on the G2. You can launch QuickMemo from the notification toggles or, even better now, by sliding your finger from the software buttons to the middle of the screen.
QuickMemo lets you annotate anything on the screen, with different marker types and colors, and even crop a specific part of the screen, then save it or directly share it to another app, without ever having to take a screenshot first. It’s fast and once you use it a few times, you simply get hooked to saving and annotating all kinds of screens.
11. Enable and Disable QSlide
The main reason behind everyone’s hatred of LG’s skin, and the culprit behind it being called “bloated” is QSlide. It’s an option that launches apps as pop-up windows on top of other apps. Although QSlide can be useful when you want to do a little calculation or browse something while keeping your main app in the background, its presence in the notification drop-down makes it honestly very clunky.
Thankfully, you can add a toggle for QSlide with the other ones, for a quick way to disable and enable the Qslide strip of apps. I usually keep it off on mine, to have more room for notifications, but quickly enable it when I want to launch the calculator, mostly.
12. WCDMA-Only Mode
Vanilla Android — and most other Android skins — offer 2 different data modes: Dual Mode (where the device connects preferably to 3G but hops to 2G when it can’t hold onto a signal) and 2G-only (which saves some battery in areas with no 3G connection). However, LG have also allowed for a 3G-only mode, where you force your phone to stay onto 3G even if the signal is a bit weak. This saves you from having to wait for the device to switch to 2G and then back to 3G, it also guarantees you’re getting the speediest connection available.
13. Mark Bluetooth Devices as Trusted
I use Bluetooth quite often to transfer photos between my phones or with my computers, but having to manually approve each transfer gets tiring. LG lets you set some bluetooth devices as trusted, so whenever a file is being sent from one of them, it is always accepted and the transfer begins immediately.
14. Spam Management in SMS
A recent discovery of mine is the G2’s Spam Inbox and its settings. SMS can be automatically sent into the Spam Inbox based on keywords, phone numbers, and you can even direct any unknown number to it. Goodbye useless ads!
15. LED Settings for Individual Contacts
The G2 comes with an LED notification light with support for different colors. In the phone’s settings, you can enable and disable some of the actions that trigger the LED, but one hidden functionality is the ability to dedicate a specific color to a contact. That way you can easily tell if you’ve missed a call or received a message from this special person before you even turn your screen on.
16. Charge Only as a Default USB Connection Method
One of the features I hate about vanilla Android is the fact that it only offers MTP and PTP modes when you connect your phone to the computer. Given that I use a Mac with Android File Transfer, every time I simply want to charge my phones, I plug them into the Mac’s USB port and Android File Transfer launches automatically. It really annoys me. But LG has added a Charge Phone option which doesn’t trigger any software and lets your phone know that you only want to top the battery up.
17. USB Storage and Earphone App Panel
Whenever you connect a USB storage device or earphones to the G2, the phone will show a small panel of apps that you are most likely going to launch now. You can enable/disable this panel, and set up the apps and the order in which they appear for each of the accessory types — handy!
18. Camera Enhancements
The Camera interface on vanilla Android is one of its weakest links, and LG have done well by changing it. The flash, front/back camera toggle, and Mode are always present on the screen for quick access. But, most importantly, the camera app lets you set which shutter sound you want (including silent) and what the volume keys would serve for (capture or zoom).
19. Guest Mode
Guest Mode is one of the newly introduced LG features on the G2. Basically, it allows you to set two different patterns to unlock for your phone. One of them accesses your device as it is, with all the apps and settings available. The other is a guest mode where you control which apps are shown. Settings and the notification bar and drop-downs aren’t accessible in Guest Mode, so you can hand the device to your kids or friends without allowing them to lurk around your private content.
20. Pop-Up Messages and Calls
Whenever you have any app open and you receive a phone call or an SMS, the G2 automatically shows these as pop-up windows, with the option to answer or decline the call, or to reply to the SMS there without having to open the Phone or the Messaging apps.
LG has amassed some bad rep for their Android skin, and to some degree the criticism is justified. The default settings — icons, font, keyboard color, Qslide apps in the notification drop-down — are a bit over the top. But once you realize that every option in these is customizable, and that they almost gave you total freedom to personalize many aspects of the experience, you can forgive them for it.
Also, many of the options added to the LG skin are quite useful in my opinion. The Clip Tray and QuickMemo for example have become an integral part of my smartphone usage and make it worth “putting up” with some of the other quirks. Yes, there are obviously quirks that I haven’t mentioned here, but they pale in comparison to the amount of handy options interspersed in the software.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: if I have to use an Android device as it is, without rooting it and installing a custom ROM, I would pick an LG phone. And this is exactly what I’m doing with the G2: I haven’t installed any custom ROM yet, despite my love for all things modding and tweaking, because I’m not ready to lose what LG have added in their own skin.
And that says a lot, coming from someone who has so far run custom ROMs for 32 out of 34 months that she’s been using Android devices.