LG’s latest handset isn't looking to rewrite the book on smartphones, and we aren't even sure if that's possible at this stage. What it does want to do is dazzle your eyes with its huge, ultra-sharp display. Is that display, a more restrained take on Android and some genuinely useful features enough to make this one of the best smartphones of the year? Read on, as Gizmag reviews the LG G3.
When you power on the G3 for the first time, the first thing that hits you is just how impressive its display is. At 5.5-inches, with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440, it's big, beautiful and easily one of the best smartphone/phablet displays we've seen. It's damn near ideal for things like video, browsing the web or thumbing through pictures you've snapped.
That bigger screen space also means you can comfortably fit five icons across a single home screen. It’s a small thing, but it makes organizing your apps and widgets that much easier. Another nice bonus is that you can tell the device to hide the "home touch buttons" (navigation bar) in certain apps, giving you even more usable screen space. It's a very phablety screen, but the device itself doesn't feel like your typical run-of-the-mill phablet.
That's because there’s a lot less bezel here than on most competing handsets. The display extends closer to the top and bottom of the handset than is often the case. Putting it next to an HTC One (M8) or a Samsung Galaxy S5 reveals a big difference in display size, and you couldn't really accuse either of those devices of having diminutive displays. What’s most impressive is that, despite having a 16-21 percent bigger screen, the G3 isn’t much larger than those rivals. Thanks to its tiny bezels, it’s actually a hair shorter than the HTC One (M8).
The contrast on the display isn't as impressive as the resolution, with blacks looking just a little grayer than we’d like (if you're looking for contrast and deep blacks, nothing beats a Super AMOLED, like you'd find on the Galaxy S5). Despite this, colors appear bright and vibrant, and the handset is great for viewing media thanks to that large screen. While you might struggle to find video content that actually matches the display’s impressive specs, HD content from Netflix and Google Play Movies still looked great on the handset. LG also pre-loads the device with a couple of promo videos that play in the phone's full resolution. Needless to say, they're great showcase pieces that really show off how many pixels are packed into the display.
If you ask me, one the biggest problems with Android is manufacturers’ insistence on putting their own stamp on the experience. Sure, you get the occasional useful feature that you wouldn't otherwise get, but these UI overlays too often muck things up and get in the way of providing a great experience. Luckily, LG’s changes aren't all that significant, and are mostly aesthetic.
Aside from its flatter look and slightly muted palette, LG’s version of Android offers a number of features not found in the stock OS. Text messages pop up on top of the UI, and provide the option to reply without opening the app. The customizable drop-down menu integrates quick settings and notifications in a similar way to Samsung’s treatment of the OS. It’s not a huge change from stock Android, and the design language is consistent throughout the experience.
Knock Code is a terrific feature that lets you tap a secure pattern on the display to unlock the handset. Combine that with a tap-to-unlock feature and you have a genuine improvement over competing solutions. The ability to wake and lock the display with a few taps makes the placement of the power button on the back of the device less of an issue, though I did struggle with the rear positioning of the volume keys (LG actually pitched this back button placement as a breakthrough feature when it launched last year's G2). The lack of any buttons on the top, bottom or sides of the handset, however, does make for a clean and slick look, similar to the G2 before it.
The front of the device is dominated by the large screen with its tiny bezel, while the back looks a bit square-shouldered. The faux-metal finish (it's a plastic backing with a metallic film on top) is pleasant but doesn't look or feel quite as premium as competing aluminium-built handsets. On the other hand, there is at least one nice perk to that, as it's 8 percent lighter than the HTC One (M8).
The G3’s 13 MP rear camera is one of its strongest features. The secret sauce is that the device actually uses a laser to measure the distance between the phone and its subject. Tapping the screen to focus the shot instantly snaps a picture, removing a step in the process and making it easier to take quick pictures. There’s advanced image stabilization tech on board as well. It all combines to make it much easier to quickly snap sharp images, even of moving objects.
I tried the camera out in a number of lighting conditions, mostly sticking with the “auto” setting. The results were some of the best-looking smartphone photographs I've ever taken, with great (but not over-the-top) contrast and vibrant colors. The 5 MP front-facing camera also produces some great results, and is indeed, perfect for selfie-loving consumers.
The device shoots video in 2,560 x 1,440, with some fairly impressive results. Shooting video on a smartphone rarely produces great results, with often shaky image stability and significant motion blur. That said, in good lighting conditions the G3 produced some really good footage, with the resulting video packing in a lot of detail and vibrant colors. When it comes to shooting video on a smartphone, you could definitely do worse than the G3.
If you’re the kind of consumer that’s willing to open your wallet for the latest smartphone tech, then you’ll likely expect top tier performance for your money, and this is where the G3 falters a little. The device’s performance certainly doesn't qualify as sluggish (gone are the days of the trademark Android lag), but it’s noticeably less snappy than some other leading smartphones.
Whenever you tap an icon or open an email, there’s a small but noticeable delay. Using the handset side-by-side with an HTC One (M8), when tapping icons at the same time on both devices, the LG routinely lags behind the HTC handset. The slower performance on the LG handset was consistent across the entire experience.
It’s worth noting that this issue isn’t nearly as noticeable against my Samsung Galaxy S4, and the G3 doesn't feel slow when you’re using it, but it does suffer in comparison. The handset has the same Snapdragon 801 CPU powering things as the One (M8), along with many other recent flagship devices.
The slightly slower performance is likely due to the combination of LG’s custom UI and the strain of animating all those pixels on its quad HD display. It’s worth noting that I'm reviewing the 16 GB version of the handset, fitted with 2 GB RAM. The 32 GB version, which we also have in house, packs a meatier 3 GB of memory. We noticed some lag there as well, though it wasn't especially dramatic.
If you want to blast all lag to timbuktu, there is one (relatively) easy solution: switch from Dalvik to Android runtime (ART). If that sounds like Martian to you, bear with me. Just go to Settings>General>About Phone>Software information and tap on Build until it tells you you're a developer. Then open the new "Developer Options" menu and change the runtime option from Davlik to ART. After about a 10 minute reboot period, the G3's performance will sing like a bird. It's too bad you have to go through that process to unleash the G3's full performance potential, but at least the option is there.
Luckily, the quad HD display and high-powered components don’t translate to poor battery life. I was easily able to get through a full day of moderate use, including recording video, taking photos and watching the occasional video. Call quality was solid, but the device’s speakers are a little disappointing. LG has opted for a single speaker on the rear of the device, and while it isn't the worst we've heard, it can’t compete with front-facing stereo speakers we've seen on some competing devices (most notably, our old friend, the HTC One).
LG’s new flagship has a lot going for it. Its quad HD display is undoubtedly its killer feature, and it’s all the more impressive when you consider that the device is only a little wider than HTC’s latest. I did feel that, aside from its tiny bezels and button-less sides, the design of the G3 is a little ... safe. It doesn't have the cold, hard touch of a premium aluminium build and it’s not quite as thin as some devices. That said, it certainly doesn't feel cheap, and once again, only really shows in direct comparison.
The G3's screen is big enough to call it a "phablet," but its form-factor is closer to that of a standard smartphone. It's a terrific combination. The handset’s minor issues, chief among which is its ever-so-slightly laggy performance (at least before switching to Android runtime), tend to fade into the background when you’re staring at its huge, ultra-sharp display. Small touches, like the ability to fit more icons across a single home screen, or the tap-to-unlock feature, make the device feel distinct from the competition. And its super-quick auto-focusing makes it great for photography. On the whole, it's an absolute pleasure to use.
If you’re in the market for a sizable Android handset with a great camera and display, then the G3 might be just the device for you. For more on how the smartphone measures up to the competition, check out our comparisons with the HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5, and Amazon Fire Phone.