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Android superphone smackdown: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs. LG G3

LG’s resurgence has added another high-end smartphone over which to drool in 2014. The G3 is certainly LG’s best Android device yet, and because it comes with a very desirable set of specs, its enough to worry Samsung, HTC, and Sony. The Galaxy S5 recently won our shootout between it and the HTC One M8, so we’re going to pit it against the G3 here, and see which one comes out on top.

It’s a battle that has been years in the making, and it could get messy. This isn’t just about smartphones, but national pride too. Let’s put the two together, and see how each performs in all the important categories.

(You can read our full LG G3 review here, and our full review of the Galaxy S5 here.)

Processing power

Samsung Galaxy S5 review rearBoth the Galaxy S5 and the LG G3 use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 processor, and both run at 2.5GHz, with the Adreno 330 graphics processor taking care of the visuals. Samsung has given the S5 2GB of RAM to mess around with, while LG has confused everyone by giving the 16GB G3 the same, but upping the figure to 3GB on the 32GB model.

Putting the two phones through a Quadrant benchmarking test saw the Galaxy S5 return a figure of 23,000, and the G3 23,950, proving how little there is to separate the two super phones.

It’s not worth trying to decide which one to buy based on processing power and benchmarking results. In the real world, both feel incredibly fast, very smooth, and almost impossible to separate under normal usage. Whichever you choose, you’ll won’t think “I wish it had more power,” for a long while yet.

Winner: Draw

Pixel power

LG G3 homeWe’re only on our second category, and the G3 is about to leap ahead into an early lead. LG pulled out all the stops for the G3, putting its very flash, QuadHD 5.5-inch, 2560 x 1440 pixel IPS screen on the front of the phone. It’s gorgeous, and it’s worth shooting video in UHD to see exactly what it can do. Not that using the Galaxy S5 is like looking through a muddy windscreen. The 1080p Super AMOLED panel is incredibly bright, with deep blacks, and natural colors.

In a game of smartphone Top Trumps, the G3 easily beats the S5, and although the Super AMOLED screen is beautiful, the draw of that 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution is too much to resist.

Winner: LG G3

Camera

LG G3 top backOn paper, it’s a relatively close match between these two. The Galaxy S5 has a 16-megapixel front camera, and a 2.1-megapixel front camera, while the G3 has a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 2.1-megapixel front camera too. However, get them both out into the world, and the results are different.

The Galaxy S5’s rear camera takes great pictures, and we’ve noted how well it balances colors and lighting when in automatic mode. It also performs well in low-light. However, the front camera isn’t very good, and the after effects on offer aren’t very inspiring. Overall, Samsung has fitted its best camera yet to the Galaxy S5, but does that mean it beats the G3?

In almost all situations, the G3’s rear camera takes brilliant pictures, and the laser autofocus sensor is more than just a gimmick – it’s noticeably quicker to focus than competing cameras, which is important for capturing fleeting moments or action shots. We’re also fans of the editing software which is built into the G3, and how effortless it is to apply good-looking filters, or to resize images.

Where the G3 excels is with its front camera. LG doesn’t really talk about pixel count, preferring to emphasize the size of the sensor, the wide-angle lens, and how it has been positioned to take great selfies. It works too. The option to use a fist-clenching gesture, or the rear mounted volume control as a shutter button also means it’s easy to avoid camera shake. It’s the attention LG has paid to the front cam that once again sees it edge ahead of Samsung.

Winner: LG G3

Look and feel

Samsung Galaxy S5 review macro topSamsung made a considerable effort to step up the design and ergonomics of the Galaxy S5 over the S4. The chassis is attractive, and despite not being made of metal, certainly does a good job of looking like it. Samsung’s perforated rear panel may have been billed as “premium,” but it’s not really. That doesn’t mean it’s ugly, or cheap, it’s just not as cool as the HTC One M8. The waterproof body has well-positioned buttons, and it’s comfortable to hold.

The G3’s curvy body has been well thought out, and nestles in the palm of your hand perfectly. Shifting the buttons to the back of the phone makes the edges very thin, and the screen bezels border on the tiny. The 5.5-inch screen is larger than the S5’s 5.1-inch display, but the two phones are sized almost identically, and weigh within a few grams of each other. Despite that large screen, the G3 feels compact, and few people believe it has a 5.5-inch display.

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 is good-looking, but it’s a little dull, and doesn’t really stand out in a crowd. The G3’s rear controls are unusual, and it’s always fun to watch people struggle to find the sleep/wake key, then smile and nod approvingly when you reveal the secret. The G3 is let down by the rear panel. LG can talk about how it’s made of a special blend of materials all it likes, but it looks and feels like plastic, regardless of the cool texture and brushed look.

Winner: Draw

Speaker quality, and listening with headphones

LG G3 bottom portsLG has fitted a whopping 1w amplified speaker to the back of the G3, and it’s very loud. It’s possible to have the phone sitting on the passenger seat in your car, driving along with the windows open, and still hear music from it clearly. Quality may not be up there with the Vertu Signature Touch, but in terms of sheer volume, it has everything bar the HTC One M8 beat.

The Galaxy S5’s speaker is more in-line with what we’ve come to expect from a smartphone. It’s acceptable, but only just, and can’t compete with the G3. Samsung has also fitted the headphone port to the top of the S5, while LG has stuck it on the bottom, a far more sensible spot. LG also includes a decent pair of in-ear headphones with the G3.

Winner: LG G3

Android interface

Samsung Galaxy S5 review android screen homeJudged against Galaxy phones of old, the S5 is a considerable leap forward. TouchWiz looks better, is more colorful, and faster than ever before. Samsung listened to the (many) complaints, and turned TouchWiz around, making it almost pleasurable to use. No, it’s not stock Android, but it’s not the disaster it once was. There’s also the option to use physical or virtual navigation buttons, which is a welcome addition, and gives the user more choice.

Samsung also offers a wealth of bonus content and free apps to Galaxy S5 buyers, adding considerable value, provided you’re interested in some of the line up.

LG has also overhauled its Android user interface, which was perhaps even more necessary than it was on the Galaxy S5. It’s a big improvement, with muted, soft colors, minimalist icons, and limited clutter. It also puts the LG Health feature right on the home screen, ensuring you’re only a swipe away from seeing your progress. While LG is on the right track, the interface is still a bit fiddly, and messing around with LG’s apps instead of Google’s can be a pain. Plus, if you’re using the QuickCircle case, Hangouts is sidelined in favor of LG’s own messaging app, which almost no-one uses.

Winner: Galaxy S5

Battery life

LG G3 work review back cover offThe G3 has a 3000mAh battery inside, while the S5 has a slightly smaller 2800mAh cell, meaning on paper, the round goes to LG. However, it’s a different story in real life. The G3 will last the day if you’re careful, but raise the brightness too high, take a few too many pictures, or dare to shoot some UHD video, and everything goes wrong.

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 isn’t much better, and doing the same things will also destroy the battery’s life. However, Samsung’s Ultra Power Saving Mode comes to the rescue when things get worrying. By switching off all the non-essentials, it can make the last remaining percentage points last for hours. No, you won’t be watching any videos, but you’ll be able to make and receive calls or see your messages. The G3 also has a power-saver mode, but it’s not as effective as the Galaxy S5’s system.

Both smartphones use the Snapdragon 801 processor, which benefits from Qualcomm’s energy consumption improvements, and its fast charging system too. Where LG does win back some points is by including wireless charging as standard in the G3, and while the Galaxy S5 is going to win this category, the G3’s performance is still excellent considering the screen specs.

Winner: Galaxy S5

Water resistance

This is a no contest. The Galaxy S5 has an IP67 rating, which means it can survive for 30 minutes underwater, down to a depth of one meter. It also keeps dust out too. The G3 doesn’t have any of this, and remains utterly terrified of the wet stuff, and so will you.

Winner: Galaxy S5

Bragging points

samsung-galaxy-s5-review-rear-light-1500x1000There was a time when the Galaxy name alone was all the bragging rights you needed. While this is still true, the brand is now so diluted that the world and his dog seems to own a Galaxy phone. The Galaxy S5’s heart rate sensor is cool, but ultimately a bit pointless, but the range-topping specs means it’ll beat or match almost every other current smartphone on the market. You won’t be left red-faced if you slap an S5 down on the bar.

LG has never been a brand to brag about owning, but that’s all changing. Many of the most interesting phones of the past year or so have come from the manufacturer, and the G3 is the best yet. The amazing, high resolution screen looks fantastic, and zooming in on pictures taken with the great camera, to reveal an impressive level of detail, always impresses onlookers. The rear mounted controls are cool too. The sculpted shape is prettier than the boxy S5, and the QuickCircle case is a great accessory.

Owning the G3 makes you look slightly ahead of the game, while the S5 remains the established quality smartphone benchmark. It’ll be down to you which image you prefer, but we’d choose the LG.

And the winner is: LG G3

It was almost too close to call, with both phones winning three categories each, and two resulting in a tie. The result was decided by which one has the most bragging rights, and we gave it to the LG G3. Why? The screen resolution is higher than the S5’s, and bigger numbers always matter. Because it went down to the last – and quite subjective – category, it’s hard to call the S5 a loser, but this year it can’t quite match the hard-charging LG G3.