Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. LG G2: Neighbor squabble
The "rounded rectangle" trend has all but killed meaningful debate on design, yet there's surprisingly much to say about the styling of the LG G2 and Samsung Galaxy S4.
The LG G2 feels like you're holding an edge-to-edge screen - like we said, LG has done an impressive job here. Only 2mm taller and 1mm wider than its opponent, the G2 fits an extra 0.2" of screen diagonal. When you put both side by side it becomes easily apparent that the LG's screen is bigger. To put that in concrete numbers that's 8% more surface area - it sounds smaller than it looks.
There are no buttons on the front or in fact the sides of the LG G2. We'll talk about what LG did with the standard Android keys in the software section, let's go find the hardware keys first.
Well, we find them on the back - hardly a surprise as LG made quite a big deal out of the ergonomics of this design - the volume rocker and the power/lock key are positioned in the midline, just below the camera lens.
We still have mixed feelings about it - the way we're used to holding big phones puts our index finger too high up, so we have to bend it (which is slightly uncomfortable) to reach the keys, while index finger and thumb are where these buttons are on the Samsung. However, that might just be a matter of habit.
It takes a little time but you get used to holding the G2 in a way that lets you easily hit the keys with your index finger. That, however, means putting your hand lower on the phone making it all the more difficult to reach the top corners of the 5.2" screen (and 5" are already a stretch for some, even when putting your hand higher up around the phone).
Still, you don't need the power/lock key for everyday use - the LG G2 can be woken up and locked with a simple double tap on the screen. Note that this uses the capacitive sensor on the screen and won't work if you tap anywhere else. The upside of this is that it detects the lightest of taps (which isn't the case with accelerometer based approaches like we've seen from Nokia). The downside for locking is that you need to tap on a blank space on the screen, free of widgets, icons and buttons, which is a pain if you have a busy homescreen (and in apps like the Calculator).
We really like the two ridges that flank the power/lock key - they prevent accidental presses when you put the phone on a table, but also keep the camera lens off the surface, minimizing chances of getting it scratched. There's a thin illuminated strip around the button too, which acts as a secondary notification light (great if the phone is face down).
LG has moved the loudspeaker to the bottom, so it doesn't get muffled on a table. The 3.5mm audio jack is also at the bottom, the setup is very reminiscent of the iPhone 5 arrangement. This lets you put the phone top down in your pocket so you can just reach and pull it out right side up, but still comfortably connect a pair of headphones.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 design is practically unchanged from the original Galaxy S from 2010 - if it ain't broken, don't fix it. And the design really isn't broken - you can hold the phone so that you can reach the top of the screen, which positions your index finger over the volume rocker and thumb over the power/lock key (vice versa if you hold the phone in your left hand).
The front of the Galaxy S4 sticks to the hardware Home button and two capacitive keys around it - Menu and Back. We like having a hardware button for some of the most used interactions with the phone, but the downside is that the arrangement is fixed - you can't add buttons to the bottom, but you can tweak on-screen buttons as we'll see with the LG G2.
On the back, the camera protrudes from the body so the Samsung Galaxy S4 rests on it and the small nub on the loudspeaker grille when you put it on a table. That exposes the camera to potential scratches and the speaker still gets muffled. Samsung has kept the 3.5mm audio jack on top, pretty much standard these days.
What the S4 has going for it is that it's a full millimeter thinner - it's a difference you can feel. The G2 is not uncomfortable to hold - in fact, the curve of its back makes it fit quite well in the hand - but the thinner body of the Galaxy S4 does make it feel more like a cutting edge gadget. The Galaxy S4 is also 13g lighter, which again is not a major difference but still a small advantage in terms of in-hand feel and user experience.
The back cover of the Galaxy S4 is removable, giving you easy access to the battery, the microSIM card and the microSD card. You'll need a tool to get to the microSIM in the LG G2 and, more importantly, its storage is fixed. Its battery is sealed too, but it's bigger - we'll find out if this tradeoff is worth it in the battery life chapter.
The removable back also means you can easily swap out the admittedly unattractive (other than to fingerprints) back of the S4 with a third-party one or just because it got too damaged. To be fair, the G2's back is not much more stylish - it's a similar-looking glossy plastic. The pattern is different, but it's nothing like the Nexus 4's back so it makes no difference.
We should note the LG G2 comes only in Black and White for now, while the Galaxy S4 is available in many more colors (all with fancy names): White Frost, Black Mist, Aurora Red (AT&T only), Arctic Blue, Purple Mirage, Brown Autumn, Pink Twilight.
Colors aside, both the LG G2 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 have their own versions of a flip cover with a window, called QuickWindow cover and S-View cover respectively. Here are a couple of promo videos that explain what they are all about.
Section winner: Tie!
LG G2 won us over with its wafer thin bezels and compact size. We also like the attention to detail - like the ridges and LED around the power button, the better positioning of the loudspeaker and 3.5mm audio jack and even just the novelty of having buttons on the back for a change.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 has its own advantages, quite tangible and practical ones, too - thinner and lighter, expandable storage, easy access to battery and SIM card, which also means easy repair if the back gets scratched or if you need to use a second battery to last you through a busy day or a long trip (hike).