Will the third time be a charm? You can tell that LG really wants to swim with the bigger fish, that is Samsung and Apple, but they just can’t seem to gain any market share. The G series is their flagship, but go up to the average person in the street and ask them if they have heard of the Optimus G, the G2, or even the G3, and I can guarantee you that 8 to 9 out of 10 people will say no. It’s not even like LG is an unknown brand. They are very well known for their TVs and appliances, but when it comes to smartphones, they continue to play second fiddle to Samsung and Apple.
So here we are again, wondering if the G3 will take LG to the Promised Land. It certainly has the fire power to do just that. With a Quad HD display and a camera that features laser autofocus, LG is ahead of Samsung and Apple in terms of hardware. Another plus is that Samsung’s market share is on the decline so consumers might be looking for something different. The G3 might be classified as a “big boy,” but is it ready to play with the “big boys?”
When we saw leaked images of the G3 prior to the official announcement, there was a lot of excitement because it appeared to be a metal phone. However, that excitement was quickly deflated when that back cover was referred to as featuring a metallic finish. Just another fancy way of saying plastic. But just like any device, you have to hold it in your hand before you can make any judgements, and I was pleasantly surprised. At first, I still kind of thought it was metal, but I knew it wasn’t. Still, it felt very nice in the hand as if it was a premium metal phone. The reason is that although it’s made of plastic, it does have a unique metal film on top. Now I am not saying it’s the same thing as the HTC One (M8 or M7), but that might be a good thing. As much as I love the HTC One, it’s very slippery. The G3 gives you that premium look and feel, but it’s not slippery. That’s a huge pet peeve of mine, and is something that is hard to find in smartphones today. You have to give LG credit here because they were able to pull this off with minimal cost. Metal on smartphones isn’t practical because of the cost. I like it, but if you can’t charge a premium for it, it doesn’t make sense for the manufacturer to offer it.
My next concern was the size. 5.5-inches sounds great, but I have never owned a phone with a display larger than 5-inches since anything higher than that is just too big. Those devices wind up catering to a niche crowd so LG certainly took a chance going with this size on their main flagship. Again, I was pleasantly surprised because it wasn’t as big as I was expecting. No it’s not the same size as my old DROID DNA, but it’s actually shorter than the HTC One (M8), and only a little wider. In fact, it’s smaller than one of the most popular 5.5-inch phones ever, the Samsung Galaxy Note II. It’s actually smaller than the original Galaxy Note, which sported a smaller 5.3-inch display.
The G3 also features the pyramid style back, which many manufacturers have adopted over the years. At its thickest part, it’s 8.9 mm, but it’s only 2.7 mm at the sides. This, and the fact that it only weighs 149 grams, not to mention the nearly non-existent bezel, adds to the fact that this doesn’t feel like the behemoth that one would expect with a 5.5-inch phone.
LG introduced rear panel buttons on the G2, and they were refined for the G3. The power button is now circular and a little bigger. It’s also easier to feel the difference between it and the volume rockers. They still take a little getting used to, but I found it a lot easier since I already had the experience last year with the G2. I still don’t think rear controls are a game changer, just a differentiator. I use a lot of phones, and I never find myself wishing others had the same type of controls. At the same time, I don’t have an issue with LG going this route.
As long as we are at the back of the device, you will also find the 13 MP rear camera lens, the laser autofocus, and LED flash, all just above the volume and power controls. You will also find a speaker towards the bottom to the left. You won’t find anything on the right or left side of the device. At the top is the IR blaster, and at the bottom is the USB port at the middle, while the microphone jack sits to the left. The back is also removable, and inside you will find a removable 3,000 mAh battery, as well as slots for your SIM and microSD card.
There are no physical buttons as LG has opted for on screen controls just like stock Android. The only difference is LG allows you to customize them.
In terms of the design, I think LG knocked this one out of the park. The rear controls are a little quirky, but the premium feel of the device, and the fact that it’s not too big for a 5.5-incher, more than make up for that.
The G3 features a 5.5-inch Quad HD (2560 x 1440) IPS LCD display (538 ppi), a 2.5 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, Adreno 330 GPU, 3 GB of RAM (2 GB with 16 GB storage option), 16 GB or 32 GB of internal storage, microSD slot for up to an additional 128 GB of extra storage, 13 MP rear camera with OIS+ and laser autofocus, 2.1 MP front-facing camera, 3,000 mAh battery, WiFi Dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, and Miracast.
Radios (CDMA version): LTE 850 / 1900 / 2500 for Sprint (instead of 750 / 1700 / 2600), WCDMA 850 / 1900 / 2100, CDMA 800 / 850 / 1900, GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900.
As is with most flagships today, the G3 features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 and 3 GB of RAM, which is more than enough power for the average person. They also offer a 2 GB version (16 GB model), but I doubt you would be able to tell the difference other than storage is obviously less. The G3 can handle anything you can throw at it and is free of hiccups. I did run the obligatory AnTuTu benchmark, and it came in at 36,911, which is right up there with other flagships.
The display is one of the focal points on the G3 as it is one of the first phones to feature Quad HD, which is a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440. It does seem like overkill, but if LG is willing to give it to me without charging me more than other phones, I will take it. Now when I say, “overkill, ” I don’t mean the display isn’t anymore beautiful than competing displays. It’s actually one of the best displays you will ever see. However, you really won’t be able to enjoy the full potential of it beyond the UI and looking at your photos. You will have a hard time finding any apps that support this resolution at present, but don’t forget, Quad HD will more than likely become the norm over the next year, so more apps will support it over time. LG is one of the leaders in terms of displays and the G3 is no exception.
With a phone of this caliber, I would liked to have seen stereo speakers, but LG wanted to keep the phone as small as they could. I would say that is more important since most consumers aren’t concerned with the sound so much. So you get one speaker at the back of the device that sounds okay.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to conduct my usual battery test since LG sent me the Sprint version. Sprint’s LTE is nowhere to be found in my area, so I can only comment on my daily usage based on 3G data, and what other reviewers have experienced. The G3 has a 3,000 mAh battery so it has plenty of juice, but don’t forget, it’s powering a whopping 5.5-inch Quad HD display. My experience is that you should get through the entire day with moderate to heavy use. This would include the use of WiFi in the mix. My guess is that if you were to be on LTE the entire day, it will be tough, but you should be able to make it with moderate use.
If there was ever an achilles heel for LG, it has been their software. I have always thought that LG’s approach was very much like Samsung’s approach, as in include a lot of add-ons with the hope that consumers love them and will return again with their next phone purchase. Then there is the interface. In the past, LG’s approach wasn’t too user friendly, but they have promised a more simplified experience with the G3. I would agree. I do like their approach of it looking more like stock Android even though it isn’t. In the past, I didn’t think I could live with LG’s interface as my daily driver, but for the first time, I am okay with it.
Now let’s get to the proprietary add ons. The newer stuff first.
This isn’t completely new for LG, but it’s going to get more attention now that it’s available on their main flagship. Knock Code is just another way to unlock your phone. This method breaks your display into four quadrants. You can predefine your own pattern (by tapping whatever quadrants you want in whatever order), which can be as simple as 3 taps or as many as 8. A couple of things are cool about this. The first is that when you want to wake your phone from sleep, you don’t need to tap the power button first (then enter your pattern). You can simply pick up your phone and tap your Knock Code, and the display will turn on. If you do happen to tap the power button, the lock screen will be displayed and you will still be able to tap your Knock Code. Secondly, your taps don’t have to be in a specific spot. It’s kind of hard to explain, but when you record your Knock Code, the four equal quadrants take up the entire display. However, when you actually tap your code to unlock the phone, you can miniaturize it if it’s easier for you. As long as you knock your actual pattern correctly, it doesn’t matter if you use the entire display, the middle of it, or even a small area at one of the corners. I would classify Knock Code as not only cool, but also useful.
This is LG’s take on Google Now except it adds in information about your phone. You really have to wonder why companies like Samsung and LG continue to regurgitate other’s work and depict it as their own, but that is for another post. Smart Notice will let you know “useful” information such as when one of your contacts has a birthday and what the weather is going to be like, but it will also mention that you might need to call a particular person based on how often you call them. It will also tell you when your battery is a little low, as if you couldn’t see it in the status bar. Smart Notices appear in both the notification shade as well as within the main widget on the default home screen, although it appears the notification area is used more of a reminder in the event you have ignored the widget. I don’t really think it’s all that cool, but I will say it will be somewhat useful to some people.
This is another useful app, but it doesn’t include anything more than other third party apps that are already available in the Play Store. It’s somewhat of a Samsung S Health knockoff, but it isn’t as comprehensive. LG Health includes a pedometer that will keep track of all your steps throughout the entire day. It will also let you record your route for those times when you want to go for a walk as part of your exercise routine. LG calls this tracks and it also works for running, cycling, hiking, and inline skating. It will record your entire workout and tell you how long you worked out for, how many calories you burned, your distance, your average speed, and your average pace. For those looking for a simple workout app, LG Health will get the job done. However, Samsung’s S Health is more comprehensive in that there is a built-in “personal trainer” and you can track your food intake from a database of millions of food items. It’s also more polished in that you can see your total steps for the day on the lock screen so you don’t have to open the app all the time. Of course, with the G3, if you use Knock Code, you will never see your lock screen. The other thing that is quirky with LG Health is that there is no app icon. LG decided to place the app on the leftmost home screen (along with Smart Tips). You can see your stats for the day and you can just tap anywhere to open the app. It’s fine if you want to dedicate the leftmost home screen for this information (actually it’s not fine, it should be a widget), but give us an app icon if we want to quickly open the app from another home screen. As I said, there are better options in the Play Store, but the average consumer might be too lazy to seek them out so LG Health will be useful for many.
Smart Tips provides information and help about many of the features on the G3 such as the Camera, Guest Mode, Smart Notice, and much more. Some of the info is just plain text and others are YouTube videos embedded into the software. Smart Tips is the bottom half of that leftmost home screen I was telling you about in the LG Health section. I suppose Smart Tips could be useful for new users of the phone, but there should be a way to remove it from that home screen and replace it with something else.
Most of the stock keyboards that come standard on phones are usually quite boring, but LG is looking to change that with Smart Keyboard. This again does most of the same stuff other third party apps in the Play Store already do. One of the best features of it has to be the ability to resize the keyboard to suit your needs. You have to go into the settings, and once you do that, you can drag the top of the keyboard making it smaller or larger. It would be a lot easier if they included the ability to long press on the top of the keyboard to drag it without having to go into the settings, but you shouldn’t need to adjust it all that often. Smart Keyboard is also “smart” because it learns the words you like to use and will predict what you are most likely trying to type. You can simply swipe up to complete the word. Catch a mistake you made, and you can long press on the space bar to move your cursor to the word that was misspelled. Smart Keyboard is nice, but I still prefer something more like SwiftKey. I found Smart Keyboard’s predictive function to be subpar at best. It wouldn’t even add apostrophes automatically. For example, if I typed “youre” and hit the space bar, “youre” would display in my message. Other apps like SwiftKey will automatically convert that to “you’re.” Not all that cool, and not all that useful.
Android phones can get sluggish over time because of files that pile up and should be deleted. These include temporary files as well as apps you no longer use. Smart Cleaning will recognize those temporary files and let you know what apps are idle, as in you haven’t used them in a while. It will even give you an opportunity to look in your download folder to see what should be deleted. I would classify this as very useful.
The Old Stuff
You will still get all the features that have appeared on past LG phones such as Guest Mode, Quick Memo, Quick Remote (for using your IR blaster with your home theater system), Dual Window (2 apps at the same time), Q Slide, Text Link, and more. Quick Remote will allow you to use your G3 as your remote control in your living room and is probably the most useful here. Dual Window allows you to run two apps at the same time on the display. It’s okay, but the compatible apps are limited. Q Slide is another way of multitasking allowing multiple apps to float on top of other apps. Both Dual Window and Q Slide seem cool on the surface, but I can’t see all that many people using them. Guest Mode is for when you want to give someone else your phone so that they won’t have access to what you don’t want them to see. It’s okay, but how many times are you handing your phone to someone that you really need to be concerned about that? You can see how most of these functions work by checking out previous G2 guides.
Most of what LG has brought to the table this year will be useful so kudos to them, but the phone still feels a little bloated with some of the older stuff. Adding that useless home page for LG Health and Smart Tips doesn’t help either. However, as I mentioned before, I feel like I can finally live with an LG phone as my daily driver, which is a drastic change.
It’s obvious the Quad HD display is one of the main focal points with the G3, but LG touted their camera as much, if not more than the display. The claim to fame here is OIS+ and laser autofocus, not to mention a 13 MP lens and a dual LED flash. OIS+ is an enhanced version of optical image stabilization that promises to remove even more shake than a traditional OIS system. Laser autofocus is an industry first for a smartphone, which speeds up focusing. What is does is measure the distance between the camera and the subject. The idea came from when engineers from LG’s home appliance division were testing lasers with a robot vacuum cleaner’s camera. The result? The G3 can focus in 220 ms vs 300 ms for traditional smartphones. It works well, but don’t expect a drastic improvement. It’s not like it’s going to give you clear shots of a vehicle moving fast, and I am not even sure I would have noticed it much if I didn’t know it existed. When it came to photos with motion, it was a hit or miss as you will see in the examples below. Low light performance was very good, but just like any other phone, you will find a lot of noise when light it extremely low. Overall, the G3 takes great photos in most situations and is one of the best cameras I have tested. Here are some example shots.
Extreme Low Light
I should also note the camera interface has been simplified. Those of you that like a lot of settings to fumble with won’t be excited. It now caters to the casual user, which is the majority of people. Users will get options for Auto, Magic Focus, Panorama, and Dual (Using both the front and rear lenses at the same time). Magic Focus is LG’s take on the Bokeh effect, which allows you to select certain parts of the picture to be more out of focus or in focus. It didn’t work well for me at all. You can also set HDR to Auto, On, or Off. If you want to automatically capture pictures by saying either Cheese, Smile, Whiskey, Kimchi, or LG, you can do that too. One of the coolest features is the ability to remove all icons and buttons from the interface allowing you to tap anywhere on the display to snap your photo. If you choose to have the icons displayed, you will need to press the shutter button.
LG added some features for the selfie and grouphie fans as well. A quick swipe up will switch to the front-facing camera. They have added a slider bar to the right to enhance your selfies. Basically it adds some light as in a fake flash. I didn’t notice anything majorly significant to it. There is also a hand gesture that you can use to start a 3 second countdown so you can get ready for your epic picture. Just put your hand out like you are saying high and make a fist. Probably the biggest downer though, is the fact that the front facing lens is only 2.1 MP. Most of the flagships are starting to include upwards of 5 MP, so this is something LG missed the boat on.
As far as video goes, the G3 does a good job. However most people can’t use it’s best feature, which is the ability to record 4K video. TVs that provide that kind of resolution are still priced too high for the mainstream. I guess you can record all your video in 4K for that one day in the future.
If you have read any of my past reviews regarding LG phones, you probably didn’t get that warm and fuzzy feeling from me about them. The hardware was always there, but the interface was always clunky and annoying. On top of that, LG has one of the worst track records when it comes to updating their devices with the latest versions of Android.
I can’t say anything about their future plans with Android updates, but I am pleased with their changes to the interface. It still has room to grow, but for the first time, I feel like I can use an LG phone as my daily driver and recommend it to family and friends. It’s still going to be a little big for a lot of people, but I think you will be surprised at how “not humongous” it is when you see it in the store. Add in the fact that the display, the camera, and battery life is up their with the best of them and it looks like LG finally has a winner on their hands. Will it translate to success? I will leave that to the marketing team, but if you’re looking for a new phone, you can’t go wrong with the LG G3. It’s simply the best Android smartphone available today.