LG G3: A Metallic-Skinned Monster-Sized Phone

By Gerald Lynch on at

So, which LG G3 leaks were correct? After the tsunami of info that hit the web ahead of tonight’s flagship smartphone launch, that’s the real question that had to be answered.

As expected, the 5.5 inch screen is present, running at 2560 x 1440 resolution, the rear buttons return with a new 2.5GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, an interesting Laser Auto Focus for the camera and Selfie-orientated gesture controls – all leaks that LG promises it wasn’t responsible for. But the G3 still, surprisingly, has some surprises up its sleeve.

For starters, that curvy back is neither made of a unique plastic polycarbonate LG is calling a “metallic skin” that offers the best of both plastic and metal materials, being scratch-resistant with a premium finish, but without affecting wireless signals. As such, the G3 supports wireless charging too.

The high-resolution screen is an attempt by LG to come even closer to an analogue, printed reading experience. It’s looking at the screen in terms of “lines per inch” rather than pixels per inch, a measurement used when creating glossy art books, apparently. The G3’s 538ppi is closer to the 300 lines per inch that the human eye can recognise, working against Apple’s Retina reasoning. “Steve Jobs was wrong” laughed LG's head of smartphone planning, Dr Ramchan Woo at today’s event. It certainly looks gorgeous, crisp and brightly coloured, though I have to admit it felt more than a little superfluous at a regular viewing distance.

But that screen resolution, at such a big screen size, is a potentially-massive battery drain. LG has attempted to counteract this with what it is calling its “3A Optimisations”, adapting power draw on the fly depending on your usage. Frame rate, CPU clock speed and the timing control of the LCD driver will each be adapted as required by the application in use, squeezing out as much from the G3’s large 3,000mAh removable battery as possible. However, there was an admission that it would only be “almost the same” as a screen running a full HD display, rather than matching it. It will be interesting to see how much those adaptive CPU adjustments affect performance too -- especially if the phone becomes torn between battery life and usability as nears the end of a charge.

A 13MP camera sits on the rear, and now employs an infrared Laser Auto Focus – something the company has repurposed from its vacuum cleaning robots. It sends out an invisible laser cone at lightning speed in order to establish focus points, finding them incredibly quickly. It also allows the focus to work far better in low-light situations, and by extension allows for faster image capture. The camera UI itself is very minimalist by default – although manual controls can be accessed with a button tap, the default setting keeps the camera UI almost completely bare. Simply tapping on the screen instead captures an image.

Similar work has gone into the front-facing camera, which LG stresses is intended as a “Selfie Camera”. Its sensor uses larger pixels, allowing for better low light performance, and sounding similar in principle to HTC’s UltraPixel technology. With a f2.0 aperture brighter than the rear shooter and a wide 77 degree FOV, it also makes use of gesture controls. Making a fist activates the selfie countdown timer. “Young ladies really like this one,” LG assured us. Great to know.

LG has stripped back the GUI this time around too, going for a flat UI with what it feels are “mature”, more-subtle colours.

LG also has introduced a Smart Notice widget. A bit like Google Now, it offers call back reminders, new contact suggestions, birthday notifications and other at a glance info that you may have missed or need reminding about. Other notifications include smart cleaning suggestions to wipe out rarely-used folders, LG Health tracking targets, clothing suggestions based on the weather and (gulp) promotional materials.

There’s also a new Smart Keyboard to cater for the larger screen size. Minimising the discrepancy between the keyboard and typed-text area, it offers customisable keyboard height, and allows you to swipe the space bar to correct a mistake. It also has a “Typing Focus” bar just above keys and below the full body of the text so you can see the word you are writing without constantly moving your eyes towards the top of the large screen – an otherwise-potential strain.

As well as an IR blaster for controlling home cinema gear, you’ve also got NFC and 4G connectivity onboard. Quite large at 146.3 x 74.6 x 8.9mm and 149g, it sits surprisingly comfortably in the hand, though this is very much verging on phablet territory. Black, white, gold, violet and red, shades will be available. Both 16GB and 32GB versions will be on offer,  with either 2GB or 3GB of RAM respectively -- an unusual division. All can accept microSD cards up to 128GB.

Though pricing isn’t confirmed yet, LG’s reps state there isn’t a massive increase in the cost of the hardware over the G2’s internals. Whether that translates to a similar launch price come the G3’s in-store June debut remains to be seen.