Only a few years ago, when asked for recommendations on which smartphone to buy, the last name to pass my lips would be LG. The phones they produced weren’t terrible, just faceless, corporate machines seemingly designed to put people to sleep. However, things have changed at LG. For the last two years, it has taken mobile very seriously, and we’ve enjoyed using the G2, G Flex, G Pro 2, and of course, the Nexus 5. LG is in the middle of a renaissance, and its latest masterwork is the LG G3. It’s the first mainstream mobile to feature a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution screen, known by LG as a Quad HD panel. The pixel count, along with the 538ppi (pixels per inch) density, are big, impressive numbers. But Quad HD is an untested feature, and many question whether there is any need for it at all. We’ve been putting the G3 through its paces, so lets find out if it impresses beyond its spec sheet.
LG G3 video review
4X the display goodness?
Bigger is better in the smartphone world. Therefore, a 2560 x 1440 pixel screen is better than one with a 1920 x 1080 resolution, right? Well, yes, and no. There is absolutely no question over the quality of the G3’s display. It’s crystal clear, super sharp, and a beautiful to look at, but then so is the screen on a Nexus 5, a Galaxy S5, and any other Full HD resolution smartphone. It’s obvious it looks good, but does it really look better? To see the difference, you have to do something that either takes advantage of the screen’s capabilities, or puts it alongside a phone of lesser resolution. Starting with the latter, we compared it to the Nexus 5, a 1080p smartphone made by the same company. Aside from the G3’s stock font being an improvement over the Nexus 5, there was little difference between the two at first glance. Get in close though, and the G3’s extra clarity could be seen.
The new look UI is a vast improvement over LG’s older software. It’s fast, smooth, and unobtrusive.
However, comparing it to another phone isn’t exactly convenient, so how about shooting some video. The G3’s 13-megapixel camera can shoot in 1080p, and in UHD, which is 3840 x 2160 pixels. While the G3’s screen can’t show all the pixels contained in the UHD video, it’ll show more than the 1080p version. Here’s where it starts to make sense. The UHD footage is lush, full of color, and wonderful to behold, even on the small screen. We shot a video overlooking some train tracks, and zoomed right in on a sign next to the rails. In the UHD screenshot, the number is readable, but it’s all a bit of a blur in the 1080p image. The only frustrating thing, oddly, was finding compatible wallpaper. Yes, there are a few from LG, but if you like choosing a different image each week, the field is considerably reduced when you have to look for such high-res pictures. Obviously not the end of the world, but it did hurt to abandon all my 1080p pictures because they looked rubbish on the G3.
Metal-look gives the G3 premium appeal
Prior to the G3’s announcement, there was a lot of talk about the phone having a metal body, something only HTC seems to have perfected with its One M8. LG hasn’t quite pulled it off, but it has reached a compromise with a “metallic skin” on the rear. Apparently, it’s made of a metal and plastic blend, but it’s a bit of a cheat, as the G3’s rear panel looks but doesn’t feel like metal. What it does do well is resist fingerprints, and the brushed metal finish has a sleek sheen to it, which reflects just enough light to catch the eye. It’s better looking than the Galaxy S5’s perforated rear panel, but isn’t up to the One M8’s high standards. If you’re wondering why LG hasn’t included the G Flex’s self-healing coating to the G3, it’s not for want of trying, and it comes down to the glossy finish. The coating would make the phone twice as shiny, which went beyond the designer’s wishes, and the problem couldn’t be solved before the deadline. However, the metallic skin will resist scratches, and the end result is a light (149 grams) phone without any design compromises to improve reception.
LG was keen to remove all distractions and unnecessary parts from the G3, and therefore has brought back the rear-mounted controls seen on the G2. They’ve been redesigned, so the curvy buttons are smaller and sit flush against the surface. Coming from a phone with a traditional sleep/wake key on the top or side of the phone, these take some getting used to, but LG has come up with an ingenious solution. I found using Knock On, where two taps wake the screen, was far more natural. Despite its 5.5-inch screen, the G3 is a compact phone, and barely larger than a Nexus 5 and the Galaxy S5. The curved shape is very comfortable, and the chamfered bezel around the screen ensures it doesn’t feel sharp against your palm.
Interface and Apps
More than anything else, LG really had to do something about its slow, dreary Android user interface. It has treated the G3 to a complete redesign, resulting in flat icons, muted colors, and simpler visual cues. LG called the color palette “mature,” which translates into creamy, solid pastels. It’s partially successful, but because this is Android, it’s all too easy to fill up your home screen with icons that don’t match LG’s style. Open the stock apps, or any of the settings pages, and you’ll notice they all have their own primary color, making it easier to identify different sections.
There are three primary new apps baked into the G3. LG Health, Smart Tips, and Smart Notice. The latter never really came into play during our test, but will remind you of birthdays, missed calls, and to add new contacts to your address book. I was obviously too efficient during my time with the phone. Prior to launch, we heard about the new software’s predictive ability, which sounded something like Google Now. For me, it never came close to matching Google’s service, and usually only added a line about how the weather would be during the day. Again, it may become more useful over time, but it didn’t make itself known over the first seven days. Smart Tips and LG Health both show up as a home screen. Tap the Smart Tips, and you’ll get advice on how to make the most of the G3’s features. LG Health works like a fitness tracker. It counts your steps, can record specific exercise routines, and keeps track of calories burned. By entering your own stats, it recommends how much exercise you should do each day in order to lose weight. Putting the pedometer up against the FuelBand saw different results, with the G3 recording more than 1000 additional steps than the wristband.
For LG Health to effectively track your fitness, it needs to be with you all the time, which isn’t always possible. It’s an interesting app, which does seem to work well, but it’s no replacement for a wearable tracker. The new look UI is a vast improvement over LG’s older software. It’s fast, smooth, and relatively unobtrusive. The standard email app, used for accounts other than Gmail, worked very well, but annoyingly wouldn’t send alerts to my Pebble smartwatch. Special mention should also go to Knock Code, where a series of screen taps unlock the phone, which proved to be an easy-to-remember and convenient way of securing the G3. It baffled everyone I showed it to, proving its effectiveness against casual snoopers. LG says it’s a true alternative to using fingerprint security, and much neater to implement.
Some performance issues
All LG G3 phones use the latest quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, but the 16GB versions have 2GB of RAM, and the 32GB models have 3GB. Apparently, this won’t have much of an effect on the standard apps, which have all been optimized for 2GB, so any benefits may come with games and other third-party apps. Our test phone had 32GB of storage, and therefore 3GB of RAM. The phone speedily performed all basic tasks such as calls, messages, Hangouts, emails, and some Web browsing. The G3 felt faster here than stock Android, and has obviously been well optimized. Weirdly, it didn’t always feel that way when playing games. While the phone handled Taxi Drift without a problem, and Galaxy Defense Force HD played perfectly, the far more basic Hill Climb Racer stuttered and jerked about unpleasantly. This problem didn’t show up playing the game on the Nexus 5, or even the Moto G. Hopefully it’s a problem with the almost-final software installed on our review phone, and will be cured before the phone goes on sale.
A laser-focus camera
LG has fitted a 13-megapixel camera on the G3, and the lens is mounted just above the sleep/wake key, which means it’s almost always covered in fingerprints. The big talking point is the laser-assisted focus, found in a sensor to the side of the camera lens. Apparently, this little tool – actually adapted from LG’s robotics division, and originally destined for use in a robot vacuum cleaner – measures the distance between the camera and a subject in 0.276ms, faster than the blink of an eye.
The laser-autofocus may sound gimmicky, but it works.
The laser-autofocus may sound gimmicky, but it works. Holding two phones alongside it – an iPhone 5 and a Nexus 5, in this case – the G3 was always fractionally ahead of both in identifying its subject, and being ready to shoot. In the real world, this means you’re less likely to miss important moments. Picture quality is great. Shots taken on a gloomy day in London revealed plenty of detail – making great use of the Quad HD screen – and were considerably better than those taken using an iPhone 5. Around the front is a selfie camera (LG wants to rebrand the front camera as this, ignoring its video abilities), which has been adapted to take pictures in low-light. The lens is also placed at a more flattering angle.
One cool feature is the gesture control for the front camera. Get in position, put your hand up in front of the lens, and once it recognizes it, a slow clench of your fist will set a three-second timer. Whip your hand out of the way, and there’s just enough time to prepare your best duck face. If selfies are your thing, the G3’s front camera is fantastic, and you’ll be very happy with the results.
Effective optimization saves the G3’s battery
The thought of a Quad HD screen drawing power from a humble smartphone battery is enough to strike terror into the hearts of most users, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been. LG has fitted a removable 3000mAh battery into the G3, which on a good day returned around 50 hours of 3G use before needing a recharge. This included using the phone for a range of activities, including a Bluetooth connection to a Pebble, a few Wi-Fi hotspot uses, and the usual mix of email, messages, games, plus the odd call. This excellent performance is made possible by some clever LG software, which makes adjustments to the frame rate, CPU use, and the display driver to maximize the battery life. It’s all done in the background, and LG promised the phone would return a similar standby time to a 1080p phone. Using the camera did see the battery drain more quickly, and indicated the battery wouldn’t last beyond a day if you were snap-happy.
The G3 is a dream LG smartphone
LG needed the G3 not just to be good, but fantastic. The company is riding a wave of goodwill, following some well-received mobile hardware, and it couldn’t throw it away with a substandard 2014 flagship phone. It hasn’t. The G3 is everything we hoped it would be. Rather than stuffing it full of features and flash, LG has shown restraint, and the G3 is all the better for it. It’s not without fault. There are slight concerns over how the screen or the processor is affecting the performance of some games, something which will only show up as a real issue over time, or disappear with a software update. LG Health isn’t a roaring success, and Smart Notice didn’t do its best work during our test. Thanks to a modern, sleek design that avoids any ungainliness, despite its size, along with a peerless screen and some genuinely handy little features, we won’t hesitate in recommending the LG G3 to you.
- Beautiful Quad HD touchscreen
- Classy metal-look rear panel
- Laser-autofocus works well
- Vastly improved UI design
- Incredibly loud 1w speaker
- LG Health isn’t effective
- Smart Notice isn’t that smart
- Spotty game performance
- Not waterproof like Galaxy S5