Last year LG released one of the most critically acclaimed smartphones of the year, the LG G2. After rebranding the old Optimus brand, the LG G2 was the successor to the Optimus G, at least in spirit. The LG G2 completely set itself apart from the Optimus G, though, and quickly became LG‘s best-selling smartphone.
Now LG brings us the LG G3, available in South Africa from 1 August, and it‘s trying to take everything on board from fans and critics alike and apply to the design of its latest flagship to appeal to all. Does it succeed in improving everything we didn‘t like about the G2 while consolidating its successes from that device?
Before we find out, check out some of the key features of the G3:
- 5.5″ QHD (1440 x 2560px) IPS LCD, 538ppi, Gorilla Glass 3
- Android 4.4.2 KitKat
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset with quad-core 2.5GHz Krait 400 processor, Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB/3GB of RAM
- 13MP camera, phase detection/laser autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash, OIS, 2160p video recording
- 2.1MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording
- 16GB/32GB of built-in storage, expandable via a microSD card slot
- 3,000mAh user-replaceable battery
- IR-port and NFC
With the best specs we‘ve seen in a global flagship to date, you would expect it to perform among the best of all today‘s super phones. But will it be the blockbuster LG hopes it to be? Without the style of the HTC One M8 and the notoriety of the Galaxy S5, the LG G3 will have to win over hearts the old fashioned way: by simply being better than everything else.
Design and Build
While the LG G2 was certainly interesting in design as it had the back button configuration, it certainly left a lot to be desired in terms of materials. The glossy plastic on the back wasn‘t nearly as slick and nasty to handle as we saw on the Galaxy S4, but it was still a glossy plastic that would pick up dust and fingerprints on a continual basis. It would also scratch extremely easily.
That is the first change you notice here ““ the metallic skin looks much better than the previous version‘s plastic back. Don‘t be fooled, though, it isn‘t metal. Rather, it is a plastic shell painted to look like a brushed metal case. LG said the mechanics of the device didn‘t allow for a real metal case, which we can believe, but it is still a slight let down.
That being said, this is still the best plastic you‘ll find on any device, including Nokia‘s Lumia range. It may not be as robust as the Lumia‘s, but it arguably looks much classier and doesn‘t bend and creak at all.
The buttons on the back are better built than before as well ““ they are more tactile and easier to use. You won‘t hit them by accident as much as on the G2, either. If you are a newcomer to this configuration it can take while to get used to. But as we said with the LG G2, it is worth getting used to ““ the configuration just works. It‘s natural and intuitive, comfortable and easy to use after a day or two.
One aspect that people may find a bit disappointing is that fact that is doesn‘t have an IPX rated dust and water protection chassis ““ it was sacrificed for a sleeker, more compact design. That doesn‘t bother us in the least, because just look at this device! It is certainly the sexiest Android device available in our opinion. Those thin bezels around the edges of the screen steal the show on the front – almost the entire front of the phone is taken up by that gorgeous display (which we‘ll come to). That, in conjunction with the curved, grippy back makes this device extremely easy to handle despite its relatively large size. I say “˜relatively‘ large size, because it is actually quite compact considering it has a 5.5-inch display. In fact, it‘s hardly larger than the HTC One M8 and basically the same size, yet thinner, than the Galaxy S5 (even though the G3 has a much larger display than both). We have to commend LG for this feat, it‘s an example of form not being sacrificed for function.
LG is improving everything about the quality of their phones with every new iteration, which is great to see. They have even listened to consumers and made the back cover
and battery removable and included a microSD card slot.
Overall, we can‘t fault the build quality of this device, even though we would have loved a metal skin.
Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest talking points of the new LG flagship. It is the first globally sold flagship that ships with a Quad HD display. The 5.5-inch IPS display delivers a whopping 538 pixels per square inch.
Colour accuracy, contrast, and viewing angles are all very good on this display. Unlike some of its competitors, the display is also more than capable outdoors and is bright enough to be used on a sunny day.
While the level of detail is much better for a 1440 x 2560px display when compared to a 1080p display, you won‘t really notice it, though. The jump from 720p to 1080p displays was immediately evident, but you won‘t see same difference when switching on this display. Let‘s call it what it is, a spec stunt.
The most impressive thing about this screen is not its otherworldly 538ppi pixel density, but how efficient the designers have been with the space around it. More than 76 percent of the area at the front of the device is occupied by this display. Not only does it pre-empt you to focus more on the display, it makes the device look spectacular.
The display is extremely detailed, sharp and vivid. It certainly has the best screen out there (the Galaxy S5‘s display can be bundled in the same group, we feel).
LG have tried to make this software release its most robust yet. It has been almost completely rebuilt from the ground up. It also looks vastly different to anything we‘ve seen from LG in the past. LG have focused on keeping the device closer to what Android was meant to be, while adding their own touches of flair where possible on the Optimus UI skin.
The lock screen is still what you would expect, but LG have added some weather displaying capabilities to it, as you can see. While it‘s not new, it is beautifully implemented here. You also have many forms of security available, including LG‘s Knock Code. It can be a bit finicky at first, but once you get used to it you won‘t need to enter the same code twice. Since the LG G3 has no buttons on the sides of the device to unlock, this is a great solution to accessing the device, especially when it‘s laying on a surface and you don‘t want to pick it up.
Like on the G2, the navigation buttons are virtual. Having the buttons on-screen ensures better response time and less chance of mechanical wear but, as we‘ve seen on other devices, it also means you’re effectively giving up part of your screen estate. Most of the time, though, the background behind the buttons is transparent and they obediently move out the way when you’re watching a video or image so you still have use of the entire screen area.
The leftmost pane on the G3 is reserved for Smart Bulletin, akin to Samsung‘s My Magazine and HTC‘s BlinkFeed. It shows at-a-glance info from LG’s Health app and Smart tips that highlight aspects of the phone’s technology and usage thereof. We have to admit that it‘s slightly limited at the moment, but LG have promised revisions with every software update, so we look forward to testing out the new functionality when it becomes available.
The app drawer, widget selector and homescreen organisation is business as usual, and pretty much what you‘ll find on any Android smartphone.
One of the biggest changes of LG‘s software experience is the aesthetics, and it shows throughout. Take the notification bar, for example. It still functions as you‘d expect ““a swipe down from the top bar displays a scrollable row of quick toggles, some sliders, and any notifications you may have ““ but as you can see the design is flat and much simpler than it was on the LG G2. You can expand or collapse notifications with a two finger swipe, and dismiss them by swiping left or right as before.
Getting to the recently-opened apps is done with the dedicated on-screen button. The interface shows a list of thumbnails for each app. It is a different layout to what you generally find on Android, but we quite like it as you see many more open apps at once than you did previously. While the functionality has been expanded, swiping an app away is a bit more frustrating than before. It‘s a small price to pay for the expanded list of apps, however.
One brilliant addition is the smart keyboard. It can be scaled vertically to suit user preference, split into two clusters so it‘s more thumb-friendly in landscape mode, or pushed to either side of the screen to make typing easier. It gives the user so much flexibility, and even helps with one handed usability and makes typing easier for people with smaller hands. The predictive text is also better than we‘ve seen on other Android phones and it was the first time in ages that I didn‘t find myself downloading SwiftKey directly after turning on the phone.
The LG G3 is, most welcomingly, a very solid Android KitKat experience. LG deserves credit for its implementation “” this phone does the mundane tasks like picking up a signal and switching between Wi-Fi networks with aplomb ““ and for showing Samsung that added features don‘t need to be in your face the whole time to be useful. It also manages these alterations without affecting software performance, something its competitors have not managed to do when implementing heavy skinned version of Android.
Performance and Battery Life
As you can imagine with the Snapdragon 801 CPU on board, benchmark performance is top notch. Using a smartphone isn‘t about benchmark scores, though, we measure the performance on day to day use.
Here, the G3 is no slouch either. Admittedly, there were a couple of occasions that we saw a bit of lag and slowdown (mostly with the Recent Apps screen), which we feel is likely down to the larger amount of pixels it needs to push with this display. The only phones that perform slightly better on a day to day basis are the HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z2, but the G3 still has it over the rest of the competition.
The 3,000mAh performs admirably, even though we thought it would suffer a bit to power that vivid display. LG‘s battery optimisations go a long way in helping you stretch battery life, but even without it you won‘t find yourself needing a charger at any time during the day.
Even with extreme use which included video playback and listening to music via a Bluetooth connected device for hours without end, we were unable to use up all the juice in a single day.
The interface on the G3‘s camera app has also been completely overhauled. Taking photos is much easier and quicker than before, because of the simpler, more coherent app but also because of a new addition: lasers.
Okay, it‘s only one laser, but it is used for the G3‘s autofocus feature. It sets the focal point of the photograph and the hardware stabilization provides a steady viewfinder image. LG quotes a time of 276 milliseconds for the G3‘s autofocus and it is indeed very fast. The speed that a user experiences is a combination of how long the camera app takes to launch, the autofocus time, and the image-processing time, and here the G3 is second to none, bar the iPhone. You can see more camera samples here.
The same can be said for image quality on the G3. It is better than most, but not an outright winner. Approaching the performance of the standard-setting iPhone 5S and Nokia‘s cameras, the G3 falls slightly short with the performance of its 13 MP camera. Once again, the G3‘s combination of good light and low-light performance is the best you‘ll find on any Android device, but that Nokia PureView and iPhone cameras are brilliant.
The general quality of photos taken from day to day photography are up there with the best on the LG G3, and it’s a real recommendation from us.
If you haven‘t used an LG in recent years, the LG G3 may get some getting used to. But if you are in the market for a new Android device, you‘ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don‘t go to a store and handle this device when it hits the SA market on the 1st of August.
It has a fun, easy to use, quick, laser-guided camera, one of the best software experiences around, the assurance of great battery life and excellent build quality. The Quad HD display is fantastic, even if its extra resolution doesn‘t contribute much in the way of meaningful improvement. Some may think the G3 big and awkward because they see it has a 5.5-inch display, but it is really no larger than competitor devices. The size trade-off is also worth it on the whole, with a curved and easily handled body which compensates for any unwieldiness.
Overall, we think that many have lost sight of what a smartphone is actually meant to be. It is supposed to be smart, and not get in the way of doing simple tasks. Many of LG‘s competitors have that problem, but the G3 will accept your commands without question and not get in the way with other suggestions. The G3 has performed admirably and fulfilled every function you would need it to, and then some. Minor cosmetic issues with a plastic brushed metal finish aside, this is the best phone we‘ve used in 2014.
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