The LG G2 had the sort of spec sheet that should have had the competition running scared, but a bloated, fractured software experience and quirky design features held it back from bothering the top dogs. Its successor, the LG G3 has an equally boisterous spec sheet, paired with a more considered unifying software approach. Has LG finally nailed it?
Gizmodo UK has been sent a Korean, pre-production version of the LG G3, handed over to us with the caveat that it may be someway off the final experience that UK users will get once the localised handsets hit stores. With strange Korean network configurations and software, we’re not in a position to give a final review verdict on the phone. Instead, look at this as a taster of what to expect from the UK version, with warts that may yet be removed.
What Is It?
LG’s 2014 flagship, the G3 is a giant Android phone with a 5.5-inch, 2560 x 1440 resolution screen. Despite its size, it’s being pushed as a standard smartphone rather than a phablet, putting it up against the iPhone 5S, Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8. Under the hood is a 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, while around the back is a 13MP camera with a Laser Auto Focus system.
Who Is It For?
Pixel connoisseurs. With a high-resolution 538ppi display, the screen is easily the G3’s stand-out feature. For those that prize screen quality above (or even at the expense of) other features, the G3 is designed just for you.
Though very large, the LG G3 sits quite comfortably in the hand. With a curved-back “Floating Arc” design, it keeps the bezel size to a minimum, allowing for one-handed use with relative ease. It’s still obviously a big phone -- there’s no escaping that fact -- and there’s no ignoring it once you slide the G3 into your trouser pocket. But a good effort has been made to offer as large a screen as possible without being too much of a strain on your digits. Weighing roughly 150g, it’s about as light as you could hope a phone of this size could be.
With just a headphone jack and charging port on the lower edge of the device, the sides are otherwise free of buttons. Instead, like the G2, the LG G3’s physical buttons sit on the rear, with a circular power button sitting between a volume rocker. On a phone this size it almost makes sense -- reaching to the top or sides for these controls could be quite a stretch otherwise. However, being out of sight, you’re just as likely to smudge the rear-mounted camera or send the phone to sleep when all you wanted to do was adjust the volume levels. A tap-to-wake Knock On screen feature alleviates this issue a little, and I’m sure that a little longer with the phone would have me comfortably recognising which areas I should be pressing for the given task.
The rear cover is removeable, giving access to the battery, microSD slot and SIM card. Rather than using a metal in the construction of the LG G3, the casing uses what LG is calling a “metallic skin”. It is, in fact, simply a polycarbonate plastic that has been finished to give a brushed-metal look and feel. While it’s not a premium material we’d expect from a flagship, it does have its advantages. For starters, it adds minimal weight to the device, but more importantly it allows the LG G3 to support wireless charging. It doesn’t feel cheap in the hand, and I believe you could quite easily trick the uninitiated into believing it was indeed a metal finish.
There’s no getting away from how insanely sharp the LG G3’s screen is. It’s the first thing you’ll notice about the phone, being so stonkingly large and bright. Put it right up against your nose with a high-resolution image and you’ll struggle to see any individual pixels. But this praise also acts to highlight just how extravagant this feature is -- at the regular arms length that you’ll be using the phone at, you’ll notice few appreciable benefits over a 1080p display this size. There’s no denying it’s an impressive feat but, as I’ll get to in a minute, this screen may have come at the expense of some other valued features.
Looking at the software is a little more difficult -- everything on the handset we’ve been given is written in Korean, and it’d take me a little longer than the week I’ve had with the phone to translate it all. As such, a verdict on many of these features will have to wait until we’ve got our hands on a UK edition. What’s instantly clear though is that LG has taken onboard the criticism levelled at the G2 -- this feels a much lighter experience overall, with attractive, flat icons and only minimal animations slowing LG’s take on Android 4.4.2 down.
The Smart Notice assistant is likely to be the most notable addition to the UI that LG has made to stock Android. It’s LG’s take on Google Now -- a perhaps-needless endeavor considering that Google Now is already great, and available on the phone regardless. In this pre-release state it’s hard to judge the usefulness of the feature, as it doesn’t yet seem fully operational. All it’s giving me now are weather reports and a reminder to clean up temporary files, but come the full release it’ll give callback reminders and suggest people to add to your contacts list if an unrecognised caller regularly rings.
More appreciable is the keyboard customisation options. Dig into the settings menu and you can tweak the height of the keyboard, and change its colour from black or white. It allows you to make the best possible use of the screen size offered to speed up your typing. It’s an intelligent system too -- over time it’ll recognise any regularly mis-hitted keys, and adapt corrections accordingly. As such, I was able to type at speed with the G3, a speed that I could confidently say would only increase as the phone gets to know my habits better.
The LG G3’s camera is a notable improvement over the G2. It’s using an OIS+ system over the G2’s OIS, with a 13MP sensor. With image stabilisation tweaks and a dual white/amber LED flash, you’ve a camera that is able to accurately pick up skin tones and bold colours, while avoiding needless blurring. Low light performance is surprisingly good too, even without the flash activated, giving the HTC One M8 a run for its money in this regard.
The G3 also makes use of an unusual Laser Auto Focus system. Measuring depth from a laser beam fired out of the rear of the camera, it claims to speed up the time it takes to isolate a focus point, even in very low light conditions. As such, it’s able to more intelligently react to shutter speed requirements, delivering improved pictures overall. While I’ve been unable to really see a notable improvement in auto focus speeds, the accuracy, especially in low light, is definitely admirable. You’ll be able to pull this out in a club and take a decent photo of your pals without asking them to stand statue-still beforehand.
The camera interface itself is minimalist. By default, all the settings are hidden away, with a simple tap on the sparsely-populated screen all that’s required to take a picture. If you want a little more control there’s little on offer beyond the auto-mode though, with no manual controls to be found in the software build I’ve been issued with. You do get a choice of three additional photo modes though; the self-explanatory panorama option, a “Dual” mode for taking a photo from the rear and front-facing cameras simultaneously, and a “Magic Focus” option that does a poor job of emulating the HTC One M8’s post-processing bokeh focus-shifting effects. Voice commands can also be used to capture images, while having your hand go from an open palm to a fist in front of the front-facing camera will trigger a selfie-shot countdown.
3840 x 2160 UHD video capture is supported. It’s sharp and detailed, but I found that the auto-focus system can result in some distortion to the image as the camera adapts to its subject. It’s a nice option to have given the screen resolution nonetheless, even if few will have an opportunity to appreciate the extra resolution beyond the phone’s own display. A slow-motion video option is also available -- it’s not the smoothest I’ve ever seen, but it has a nice novelty value, especially if you’re looking to film a pal making a prat of his or herself.
This Is Weird
As a Korean model, our handset comes with an extendable antenna at the top of the phone. Don’t expect to see this on the UK edition, though Zack Morris wannabes may see some novelty value in having it.
Battery life is not looking good. It’s worth stressing at this point that LG said to expect battery life fluctuations with our test model, being a Korean edition not tuned for UK networks. It’s also using what it is calling its “3A Optimisations”, adapting power draw in relation to the activities you are in engaged in. These include tweaking the frame rate, CPU clock speed and the timing control of the LCD driver. It’s a system that may yet have some final optimisations of its own ahead of the final build.
With that in mind, I’ve found that the screen is proving a massive drain on the battery, far and away the component demanding the most attention from the battery, and certainly more so than rival 1080p displays. It’s to be expected, but that means that with average use you’re unlikely to see a full day out of the phone in its current state, even with a sizeable 3,000mAh battery onboard.
Also, those 3A Optimisations may be causing some performance issues. I noticed some inexplicable moments of slow-down and stutter when just browsing the UI. Given the Snapdragon 801 in use, I can only assume that it’s down to some over-zealous throttling of the processor to compensate for the power required by the screen.
-- Reception was a bit patchy, but again this was likely down to a Korean model being used. When in a call, the speaker sounded a little quiet for my liking, but I’m notorious for wanting the call volume of every phone I’ve had to be a little louder.
-- A 1W speaker sits on the rear. It’s reasonably loud, so is good for hands-free calls, but is also quite tinny. You won’t want to use this for listening to music in any enjoyable detail, and pales in comparison to the work done with HTC’s BoomSound speakers.
The LG G3 has a lot going for it. That screen, despite the extravagance, is inarguably beautiful, and it’s an attractive design overall. I’m even slowly getting my head around those rear buttons. But unless the inconsistent performance and rapid battery depletion issues are ironed out ahead of the UK version becoming available, it will be difficult to enjoy the best of what this flagship has to offer.
LG G3 Specs
Processor: Quad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Screen: 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440
Memory: 2GB RAM / 3GB RAM (dependent on model)
Storage: 16GB /32GB, with microSD expansion supported
Camera: 13MP rear camera
OS: Android 4.4.2