The LG G3 is the culmination of LG’s 2 years winning-run in the Android market. As the tip of the spear of LG’s smartphone line, the G3 brings its share of high-impact features, and it is undeniable that its 2560×1440 5.5″ display will set the pace for the reminder of the year. The G3 design was built with the goal of providing users with more screen real estate, while at the same time keep the look and feel or a 5″ phone.
Those are seemingly two conflicting goals, but LG has managed to leverage its back-side physical interface to create a phone that was devoid of Home button, opening the possibility of a great screen-to-body ratio.
There are however a number of critical question that need to be answered: does the awesome screen resolution affect battery life? Does it really feel like a phone and not a “phablet”? Is it worth having such high details on a phone? This review will cover all of this, and a little bit more. Let’s dive.
Before I jump right into the review, let me quickly tell you what I do with my phones. My main use is text communications (Email, SMS, Hangout, Viber) and social networks (mainly Facebook). I have 10-15 apps that I use on a regular basis to pay taxis, parking and of course the unavoidable maps, restaurant finders, etc.… I don’t actually play games on my phones, but I enjoy checking one out every once in a while. Video streaming happens from time to time, especially in bed, but I rarely buy movies to watch offline since the laptop or tablet would be better for that.
Display (amazingly sharp)
It is abundantly clear that the 5.5-inch LG G3 Quad HD/2K display (2560×1440) is the star of the show here. LG did impress us with the LG G2 display, and they did it again with the G3’s, in a slightly different way. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that display technology can move so quickly and in less than a decade, mobile displays have gone from being sub-par to be the tip of the spear for the whole computer industry. The LG G3 brings an incredible 534 PPI to the table, along with a maximum brightness of 380 Nits.
Read about what PPI really represents and why it affects content sharpness.
I have to admit that I came to the 5.5” display (2550×1440) with some reservations. One would think that you need to have very sharp eyes to see the resolution difference, but just like it was the case of laptops when going from 1080p to 2560×1600 (MacBook Pro Retina 15 in 2010) or even 3200×1800 (Yoga Pro 2 in 2013), there is a visible difference between the three. In most day to day operations, it won’t change your life, but the readability of normal text is improved and small text is absolutely more legible..
I knew for a fact that both HD photos and 4K movies would look better because human eyes can perceive way beyond 300-dpi. And yes, Apple was wrong when it implied that was the limit of human eye perception. Soon, they too will cross that threshold, not only because of “specs”, but because there are genuine user benefits.
“Did the world want a 2K display?” You may ask. The question should be: “will the world reject a 2K display?” As long as there are no significant negative implications for the battery life, the world will embrace 2K displays, and probably 4K displays when the time comes. Sure, there are diminishing returns as we move to ever higher pixel per inch (PPI) displays, but right now, 2K has no real downside and a visible upside.
In the battery life section, I will go over LG’s optimizations to keep the battery life under control. You will see why having many times the number of pixels doesn’t lead to a proportional battery life drain.
It wasn’t long ago that 5.5” was considered to be nearly a tablet. The world has changed, and even 6” (like the Huawei Mate 2) and 7” Smartphones are becoming a bit more common. Of course a lot of people like bigger screens, so much that in 2014 every single phone maker will offer a large phone, even those who once had a one-hand “doctrine” which says that customers would never want a phone with which they can’t touch any point on the screen with a single hand.
They were dead wrong: the original Galaxy Note and countless large phone spawned after that have proved that this market is real and thriving. Large-display Smartphones will grow many times faster than the rest of the market and represent more than one third of all 2014 shipments – that’s according to a report by Canalys.
At the same time, nobody wants a big screen if the price to pay is to have a huge body and weight. Your own definition of “huge” may vary, but we can all agree that a light weight and a larger screen/body ratio are better. LG has built exactly what most users want with the G3 design by making the frame as thin as possible and by making sure that the phone felt as small and comfortable as possible.
LG has not used any voodoo, but instead has moved the internal volume of the phone towards the back, by making it slightly thicker than both the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy Note 3, its natural competitors. This is smart because thinness/thickness is not nearly as perceivable as width. When you hold an LG G3, it doesn’t feel much bigger than a Galaxy S5, and the weight difference is a mere 4 grams (0.14 Oz).
The front of the phone looks very clean, minimalist and classy with just the LG logo at the bottom. I have a non-US version right now, and we can only hope that carriers worldwide will refrain from adding too much branding on the phone. Frankly, I don’t know a single person that is happy with carrier branding on their phones. I surely know who I pay (big) my bills to, and if anything, too much branding actually hurts the phone design, which hurts everyone — just saying.
The back of the phone is where LG puts all the controls (there are no buttons on the side). As you know, this was a very polarizing feature when the LG G2 came out, so you will have to decide if you like it or not (don’t listen to anyone’s opinion, try it for yourself) but LG is sticking to it, and I think that they are ultimately right because this saves a ton of space in the front by not having a physical button (at the bottom), and their Knock On a Knock Code feature supplement the back buttons nicely (more on that later).
Visually, the back cover is very interesting because LG has given it what it calls a “Metallic” skin. In fact the material is a very fancy Plastic, but I was impressed by what they have done here. To be clear, this won’t feel like the Aluminum of the HTC M8, but this is just the best plastic back that I have seen on a phone. Korean manufacturers have been particularly creative in the past year: Samsung came up with a faux-leather on the Note 3 and a soft plastic on the Galaxy S5.
Overall, I found the LG G3 to be an extremely nice phone to use on a day-to-day basis. For all practical purposes, it does feels like a 5” phone. It will come in 5 colors, but depending on your carrier/country, you may not have access to all of them: Metallic Black, Shine Gold, Silk White, Moon Violet, Burgundy Red.
Camera (very good+)
Laser AF (fast)
One of the most interesting feature of the LG G3 Camera was its use of a laser. This is not something that you hear often, even when talking about larger camera systems (the Sony F828 had a laser), let alone a Smartphone. So how does a laser help the autofocus (AF) system?
The general idea is that a laser can help the regular contrast-based AF in two main ways: First, the laser can tell the cameras how far a subject is extremely quick. Based on that, the camera can assume a certain AF range (macro vs. distant) which saves a lot of time right there. The laser can also be used to project a pattern that will be much easier to focus on when in dim lighting conditions.
"LASER AF CAN GREATLY DECREASE FOCUS TIME" Since this is not a powerful or a large laser beam, you can imagine that the laser works better in relatively close proximity, and I’m not sure how much the sensor can see during broad daylight, although in broad daylight, the contrast AF should work fairly well. Clearly, this is going to help my many food photos since the distance is so short.
Under normal, empirical testing, I found the AF system to work very efficiently in all conditions. It was smart enough to focus on the right subjects most of the time. It also worked well with glass or shiny objects, which can be challenging for many cameras on the market. As a person who takes a lot of (shiny) gadgets photos, that’s a total “plus”.
In terms of auto-focus, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is the LG G3’s main competitor. During my tests, it was hard to find a clear winner, with each phone winning or losing, depending on what I’m looking at and, in which lighting condition. Both were not focus-hunting for a significant amount of time, and overall, the user experience is comparable and the AF performance is excellent.
This is important to all of us, and the good news is that overall, the LG G3’s camera provides excellent photos across the spectrum. We have uploaded some full-size photos to our Flickr account in case you want to check them from up-close. The G3 is particularly good in situations where the lighting is rather homogeneous and without high-contrasts like those below. The full-size pictures are sometimes incredibly impressive since they are so sharp and well contrasted.
When there are high contrasts, things can get challenging for the G3. For example, I have a number of photos that are over-exposed in some areas, and that’s because LG has optimized the G3 for low-light situations, in which it excels. As usual, check the full-size photos on the Ubergizmo Flickr account to see them in all their glory.
LG G3 vs. Galaxy S5 and HTC M8
That is the question that many users want to ask, and that many sites have tried to answer. After using the LG G3 for a couple of weeks, here’s my take on it.
"THE LG G3 CAMERA CAN OUTPERFORM THE SAMSUNG GALAXY S5, BUT NOT ALWAYS" Out of the box, the LG G3 outperforms the Samsung Galaxy S5 in some situations, but not all. The AF is very comparable, and the photo quality is even superior in many scenes. The Flickr uploads show images where the G3 is a clear winner.
That said, Samsung holds the advantage in high-contrast scenes, and I found the S5’s camera to be a little more predictable in general. If LG can tweak their photo metering in auto-mode, it will have a good chance to win across the board. The Flickr uploads also show some instances where the S5 is the clear winner, so Samsung is holding its ground here.
Unfortunately for the HTC M8, it simply doesn’t win any photo-quality tests when competing against the G3 and the S5. That said, the M8 is the clear winner in terms of camera app experience because it is the most responsive and the fastest camera of all. Shutter lag is the lowest. The G3 camera app has a ton of features, if you want a quick overview, head to this official video.
In extreme conditions, we are looking at two different approaches to taking night-time photos. On one hand, LG has done everything it can to preserve the user experience, so the shutter speed remains fast, but the trade off is to have more noise in the photo. On the other hand, Samsung went for absolute image quality, but at the expense of the user experience, because you have to stay still much longer when taking such a photo."THE G3 IS FAST + USABLE IN LOW-LIGHT. THE S5 GOES FOR BETTER IMAGE QUALITY BUT IS SLOW TO REACT"
This is very important to point out because phones are not really used to take the best possible pictures. Instead, they are there to capture the moment without getting in the way. I’m quite happy with both, but for regular web usage, I would rather use the faster camera and live with the noise.
Video and 4K video
4K video is coming and we know that it can look stunning even when shot from a smartphone. The LG G3 can of course capture 4K 30FPS (3840 x 2160) videos, but we noticed that LG was not using as much bitrate as their competitors. The G3 shoots videos at an effective bitrate of 30Mbps. The Galaxy S5 shoots at 4K 29FPS at 47Mbps.
When I tried shooting the same video with both phones, the LG video looked very good, but the Galaxy S5 one looked even better and has a wider view angle as well. At times, the LG G3 image stabilization fared better when I walked around, but overall, I have to give this round to the Galaxy S5. I have uploaded the videos on Youtube, check them out:
Ultimately, the camera of the LG G3 is among the best available. It goes toe to toe with the Galaxy S5 and other top phones, but it doesn’t win across the board. I think that most people would be very happy with the overall experience, but if you are very picky, I hope that you now have enough information to make up your mind.
This is a very strong point for the LG G3: with its Quad HD display, the G3 takes the lead as soon as “beyond 1080p” content is available on the phone. What kind you may ask… The most obvious type is represented by the many photos that you will undoubtedly take. The camera is capable of recording much more detail than a 1080p display can show.
You may record 4K videos as well. Granted, they take a lot of storage space, but with a 64 GB card getting ever cheaper, I suspect that many people will actually capture 4K video. Unfortunately, native H.265 video encoding is not yet available on today’s phones, so the file size will be quite large.
However, 4K videos do look noticeably better on a higher resolution screen. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Netflix will stream in 4K on a handset at the moment, and we’re all definitely waiting for official video sources. In the meantime, some up-scaling magic may help a little, but you will be the main video 4K provider for the time being.
LG mentioned the 1-Watt speaker quite a few times, and I was very curious to see how good it was. In all fairness, it’s good, but I’ve seen better. The good news is that the sound is loud and distortion free, even at maximum volume. The bad news is that the typical back speaker design tilts the sound towards one side, and in short it’s not as good as the HTC M8.
I’m surprised by the kind of sound LG could produce with a less-than optimal speaker setup, and if I had to choose, it is certain that I would sacrifice some audio quality to get a better screen/body ratio, so I can’t blame LG for doing this. Still… in absolute term, it’s good, but not “excellent”.
LG phones often come with a lot of features and apps, and this is no exception. I’ll go over the new features of course, but one of the biggest “feature” of the LG G3 is its new user interface (UI) design on top of Android 4.4.2. I’m sure that some of you would rather have a “pure” Android experience, but the truth is that phone makers do want to differentiate and LG is adding quite a lot of features very deep into the UI, so I get why they need to do their own thing."THE USER INTERFACE AND THE TYPOGRAPHY LOOK NEAT"
However, it’s also fair to say that LG has not been at the forefront of Design in the past, and although things have incrementally gotten better since the original G, we have reached a new level of graphic design with the LG G3. The user interface design is very clean and much better-looking that the G2’s interface. This looks great to me, and maybe you’ll like it too.
Already present in the G Pro 2, LG’s Knock Code (watch LG’s k.c video) allows you to wake up the phone and enter your code in 4 taps. If you’re going to password-protect your phone, this is a very effective way to do it, and you don’t have to run the risk of having a fingerprint reader getting false negatives. Here’s an LG video that shows how it’s supposed to work.
If I had to compare it to Apple’s fingerprint reader, I would say that Apple’s way is still the fastest by a small margin and there’s no risk of “forgetting” your code (seems dumb, but it does happen). Still, this is a great feature that I would like to see on other Android phones.
Smart Tips is new and looks like Google Now from a distance. It suggests weather updates, and reminds you that you may want to call back a number that was previously dismissed while you were busy. It’s an interesting idea of data-driven personal assistant. Your mileage with it may vary depending on your usage, but check the official video demo here.
The Smart Keyboard is one of the more exciting update. I type a LOT, so anything that gives me an edge is welcome. In addition to supporting swipes and a new suggested keyword selection system, LG has made it possible to change the height of the keyboard to get 2X the surface of the regular keys (you can make it smaller too…). Also, the LG keyboard is one of the most responsive on Android, which is very nice. This means a more comfortable typing experience, and possibly faster typing. Smart keyboard video demo from LG.
Multitasking with Dual-Window can be very handy when you need to read/type information from one app, while using another. The idea is that LG will let you split the screen between two apps (it doesn’t work with every app). Again, you may or may not have a use for it, but I know that having to switch between apps can be very frustrating, so it’s not a bad option to have, and the screen size definitely makes it usable. Dual-window video demo from LG.
Guest Mode lets you lend your phone to someone else (friend, kids…) while limiting the access to resources, apps, photos in order to maintain your privacy. To switch from personal to guest mode, just login with a different password and voila. It’s easy and your kids shouldn’t be able to spend money in the Android Market Place. Watch the Guest Mode video demo from LG.
System Performance (very good)
As you have seen above, the LG G3 uses Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 801 chip, just like virtually every other high-end phones. Although each manufacturer can tweak their own settings, like clock speed and thermal tolerance, I have yet to find phones that exhibit a perceptible performance difference due to those tweaks.
More likely, the software would be responsible for any lag, and other potential hiccups. That said, it’s always nice to run a few numbers just to check things out and verify that nothing is out of the ordinary. Note that since we are using a pre-release handset, the numbers should be assumed to change by the time the general public gets the phone. Things do evolve in-between firmware updates.
The numbers aren’t always what I expected (especially with IceStorm Unlimited), but this is not the first time that a 2014 Smartphone doesn’t really outperform their 2013 counterparts in synthetic tests. You can follow the link above to understand the difference between Snapdragon 801 and Snapdragon 800, but basically the graphics performance should be noticeably better and the overall system performance should get a visible bump in the benchmarks.
We end up with what we’ve seen with the G2 where synthetic benchmarks were not “winning” across the board, but this had no impact on real-world usage. I’m not sure how much performance LG engineers can squeeze during the lifetime of the G3, but I think that winning benchmarks isn’t a priority over user experience.
Unfortunately, the Android benchmarking landscape remains somewhat sketchy, so I would not advise anyone to purchase based on benchmark scores. They’re nice pointers, but ultimately have little to do with the actual user experience.
As I installed the phone, the whole system was extremely fast and responsive. Of course, that’s true for most new phones, so I loaded up my usual setup and used the G3 for a while as my primary phone. As you may know, nearly all phones will slow down to some extent when loaded with more data and applications.
The LG G3 experiences that as well, and I find it comparable to the Samsung Galaxy S5 from that point of view. The HTC M8 fares better since the responsiveness reduction isn’t as noticeable. Except for the occasional G3 lag, it didn’t bother me much and this is within what I consider to be normal. If you really can’t stand lag, then the HTC M8 is an option to consider, but most users should be just fine with the G3.
Battery Life (excellent)
With the addition of the 2K display, all eyes were turned on the battery life data. It’s a very fair question, and let me show you some data. I ran a 60mn video test (150 NIT brightness or 65% on my handset, WIFI ON, BT OFF, GPS OFF, local 1080p MP4 file).
The 60mn video test depleted 12% of the battery, which leads us to a theoretical 8.3 hours of battery life while watching movies. The video test is normally a good representation of many moderate use cases because you are not over-taxing the system as you would do with gaming, but yet, the level of activity can be compared to browsing or doing some productivity tasks.
You may now be reassured that the extra display sharpness doesn’t turn into a battery-monster. The 8.3 hours of video playback is very good, considering that this is a stress-situation on the display optimizations (more below).
To achieve this, LG could have added more battery and made the device heavier – this is essentially what Apple did with the iPad 3, before optimizing the iPad Air that we know today. Instead, LG used a number of optimizations like not refreshing the display 60 times per second when the image is static, and other power-efficiency measures that are completely transparent to the user.
As a result, the video test is one of the most taxing (60 FPS gaming aside) that we can throw at it, display-wise. The net result is that is most apps like Facebook, Web browsing etc… the display should not have a huge impact, if any, on the battery life.
LG G3 For T-Mobile USA: WiFi Calls, Unlimited Data Roaming
The main difference between LG G3 smartphones across carriers tends to be the supported bands and network types. Some have LTE support, others may not, and since the analog part of the radio can’t support every single bands, there are a handful of models with different radio front-ends to serve most of the world’s networks. Advances in modem technology will tend to reduce the number of models (or SKUs aka Stock Keeping Units).
The second difference resides in the various apps that are loaded by default. T-Mobile and other carriers have things such as account access, etc. In general, they don’t much a drastic difference, and are rarely the topic of a conscious choice from the customers. I’ve never seen someone pick a phone or a carrier because of one of those built-in apps.
T-Mobile is different because it is the carrier that has put all its weight behind the WiFi-call technology. The function has been in many T-Mobile products for years, but recently, T-Mobile had announced that all its phones would be WiFi-call capable.
WiFi call is voice-over-IP functionality, but it is very different from Skype or other VOIP app you can download. That’s because WiFi call means that a WiFi connection can effectively access ALL phone functions usually delivered by the cellular network. T-Mobile calls this “having a cell tower in every home“. For instance, SMS typically don’t work with only WiFi, and workarounds like Apple Messages are needed. With WiFi-calling, the phone actually acts as if it was connected to a cellular network.
For T-Mobile customers, it means that they can call from anywhere in the world (over WiFi) as if they were connected to a U.S T-Mobile network. If you travel a lot, this could save you a LOT of money. Note that if a WiFi network is not available, T-Mobile’s cellular roaming is also much less expensive ($0.20/mn when I checked) than competing U.S carriers.
Unlimited worldwide data roaming
But when you travel a lot, data is often the first thing you miss. Email access, Google Maps, Calendar sync… these are simple things that we take for granted, but when we no longer have access to it, things can go downhill really fast. T-Mobile is the only U.S carrier to provide an unlimited 3G access worldwide (where they have a partner).
I have tested this feature in Korea and Japan, and I know other people who have done so in France, Germany and other countries. Every single person was very happy with this T-Mobile feature. For sure, being connected in 3G (sometime HSPA+) is noticeably slower than 4G LTE, but it is largely enough to get email, social media, maps and even limited app download to work reasonably well to be genuinely useful.
More importantly, the fact that you don’t have to even think about data roaming it is the best part. Other carriers have policies that can be stressful. For example, one carrier had a default price of $.0195/KB. It doesn’t sound so bad, until you convert this to 1GB (1GB = 1,048,576KB) – that’s about $20,447/GB. This is when you realize that those default roaming prices (pay-per-use as they call it) are ridiculous. But believe me, this will show up in your bill.
I was very impressed by T-Mobile’s international data roaming ease of use. I have bought SIM cards in many countries in the world, and it’s fair to say that activating and changing the APN network settings can be a hassle for a geek and a roadblock for non-savvy users. With T-Mobile’s roaming, you don’t have to worry about any of that. You keep your number and you enable the data roaming – that’s it. It will just work, and will go as fast as the partner carrier allows.
T-Mobile’s international data roaming is simply awesome, and the company has recently announced more features, like unlimited SMS on GoGo flights – more is coming, John Legere (T-Mobile’s CEO) told us in a recent event in San Francisco.
Conclusion (well-rounded & powerful)
The LG G3 is a mighty phone. I am not talking about just the specifications, or even the incredible sharpness of the pixels. It is impressive because it has a great balance of design, speed, ergonomics and battery life that should please users. Of course, the display is amazing and I encourage you to see it for yourself because nothing you will see on the web can convey how sharp it is."WHAT'S IMPORTANT IS THAT THE G3 IS GREAT AT NEARLY EVERYTHING"
Making a 5.5-inch phone feel like a 5” phone is extraordinary, and combined with the other qualities of the LG G3 will ultimately push even more users towards large display phones, because you can now have all the benefits (display size, large battery, comfort, photo+movie experience…) with none of the usual downsides (too wide, heavy). This phone is not a one-trick one trick pony which “the best” at one specific thing (camera-phone anyone?), what’s important is that it is great at everything.
The LG G3 is currently one of the best Smartphone available on the market and competes effectively with both the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy Note 3 — this is no small feat. If you are considering getting either Samsung phones, you absolutely must have a good look at the LG G3. If the G3 seems very attractive, it’s because it is. You won’t be disappointed.
I hope that this review answers your questions about the LG G3. If there’s something I didn’t cover, please leave a comment and I will do my best to address your questions. Thanks!
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