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LG G3 REVIEW: The Superphone We’ve Been Waiting For

by Brandon Russell | June 25, 2014June 25, 2014 5:39 pm PDT

The smartphone market is going through a predictable cycle. Has been for a few years now. That is: specs get bumped up, and designs change in a marginal way. Amazon noted this when it introduced its Fire Phone just last week—and it’s true. The HTC One (M8) and Samsung Galaxy S5 are essentially identical to last year’s models; we’ve hit a kind of summit where new flagships suddenly don’t seem like must-have upgrades.

That makes it difficult for companies to stand out, like LG. But it also presents an opportunity. People are going to choose Samsung because the company has unprecedented brand recognition. HTC’s popularity, meanwhile, is at an all-time high because of its incredible design and fluid software. But outside of the Top 2, there isn’t much room for anyone else to nudge in. But damn if LG isn’t going to try.

Last year, when the G2 was released, LG made the truly unique and bold decision to put the power and volume buttons on the back, just under the camera. That’s a good way to stand out—but also a quick way to isolate potential customers. Specs for the device were great, as expected, but the handset was largely undermined by LG’s insistence to add an excess of software tweaks; it made Samsung’s additions look minor by comparison, which is no easy feat. To that end, the LG G2 wasn’t much of a success—a device with brawn but no brains.

The LG G3 is similar in many ways; the specs are raw, the design is suitable, and the software is familiar. But, best of all, it manages to stand out without shooting itself in the foot. This is a more refined experience, one that shows a company willing to adapt and evolve. If you were a fan of the G2, this is a much more impressive package that can easily challenge the biggest devices in the Android market.

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LG G3 Video Review

Design

LG hardware has always been decent. The G2, G Flex and even the Nexus 5. All great. With the G3, LG kind of marries the three into a singular juggernaut, though it isn’t anymore remarkable than any of the current Android handsets currently available. There’s a comfortable curve to the back, and it doesn’t actually feel so thin it’s going to fall out of your hands. The back panel, meanwhile, now has a “metallic skin” that essentially tries to mimic the look and feel of aluminum, though plastic. When put next to the HTC One, however, you definitely notice a difference in quality, both in terms of looks and how they feel side-by-side.

On that note, the back panel feels leagues better than the G2, which was a smeary, slippery, slimy mess; it always made the device feel dirty, and therefore much less premium than the competition. Here, on the LG G3, the back panel thankfully has an immunity to fingerprints, and that’s a bigger deal than you think. Even after extended use I never noticed any grime or oil, allowing the G3 to maintain a squeaky clean appearance throughout the day. That helps the device keep up a wonderful impression of “newness,” even after handling the device while eating a few slices of pizza.

The design is definitely better than the G2—much more premium, more futuristic. But let’s be real: it isn’t an authentic material, instead made to feign the quality of a real aluminum handset. That probably won’t be an issue for many people, and I’m sure consumers won’t even know the difference. But it has to be said. It feels loads better than the previous model, however, and that’s all that matters. Anything is better than the unpleasant feeling of the G2’s glossy plastic.

That said, this kind of design is more advantageous for the user. You can remove the back to access the battery, which is replaceable, and there’s also a microSD card slot, giving users the opportunity to increase the device’s overall storage. The back cover takes some doing to get off, but it’s ultimately a benefit to the user over something like the HTC One (M8), which doesn’t allow users to swap batteries at will. Devices today are more optimized than they ever been, so battery performance isn’t as big of an issue as it once was. But it’s always nice to have the option.

Staying on the G3’s backside, the company has stuck to a more refined rear button placement, which is both good and bad. The pros of the button placement is twofold: one) it adds to the illusion of the device being all screen, making it so all you see is the 5.5-inch content. That makes the device appear cleaner, more advanced; it’s nice to be able to run your fingers across the top and edges without being interrupted by a protruding button.

On the other hand, the rear buttons are definitely an acquired taste—and you might not ever really get used to it. During my time with the device, even though I knew exactly where the buttons are, I still, without fail, had to turn the device over and confirm exactly where my index finger was before pressing any of the three buttons. Luckily, LG has created a very convenient smart feature where you can “knock” the screen off and on. So if I want to turn the screen on, I can just double-tap the display; same goes for if I want to turn the screen off. It’s a nice touch, and means users will be less reliant on pressing the oddly placed buttons.

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Display

Aside from the LG G3’s rear-facing buttons, the most striking thing about the device is its display, which is pretty great, but not quite as good as you’d think. The 5.5-inch screen has an incredible 2560×1440 resolution (538 ppi)—something that would have been crazy to think about just a few years ago. But is it such a big deal now that it’s here?

Compared to the crispness of a 1080p screen—the Samsung Galaxy S5’s 5.1-inch Super AMOLED, for example— it’s very difficult to discern the differences. You’d be hard pressed to convince someone who doesn’t know any better that the G3 screen is a higher resolution than the Samsung Galaxy S5; the differences are that minimal. That’s not really a bad thing, because the LG G3’s screen still looks amazing. Just don’t expect to be blown away.

Probably the most striking thing about the display is how thin the bezels are. From the front, the G3 is pretty much all screen—approximately 76.4-percent. LG has done something truly special in terms of design and engineering; the side bezels are barely there, while the top and bottom are as equally as impressive. What’s more, the minimal bezels have allowed LG to fit the display in a smaller device. For comparison, the G3, which has a 5.5-inch display, is about as tall as the HTC One (M8), which has a 5.2-inch screen.

In terms of how the screen looks, you can expect terrific color accuracy, and viewing angles are also excellent. Outside, performance is also quite good, allowing you to actually see what’s on the screen when in bright sunlight. So while the actual display won’t blow your mind—the jump from 1080p isn’t all that noticeable—it does look great, especially spread over a 5.5-inch canvas. You won’t be disappointed, that’s for sure.

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Daily Use

In terms of software, this is where G2 users will notice the most significant changes. Last year, the company smothered Android in a number of unneeded tweaks, and quite frankly it was a disaster. Compared to a device like the Moto X, or even the HTC One, LG adopted the “More Is More” approach by not just throwing the kitchen sink at users, but the whole dang house. In that regard, the G3 is much, much better than the G2.

On top of Android 4.4, the experience is very slick, and doesn’t really get in the way of actually using the phone. Everything is very straight forward, and the immediate availability of Google apps means you can basically turn the G3 into an LG-ified Nexus device. Swipe up and Google Now will appear. Say “OK Google” and you can do a quick voice search. I was able to easily configure my setup so I didn’t need any LG apps (aside from the dialer); even though the LG skin was still on top, it looked very clean and smooth (a lot better than how TouchWiz looks, that’s for sure).

The thing about the G3 and LG’s skin is that it doesn’t make the experience seem unfamiliar, and it doesn’t force you to use anything you don’t want to. Dual Window is there; same goes for an enhanced KnockCode feature. There’s also a new Smart Keyboard, which is actually pretty darn useful. The feature allows you to scale the keyboard vertically to better suit your preference; you can even split is down the middle so it’s easier to use while in landscape. I credit LG for re-thinking its strategy and making a more straightforward experience, which is ultimately better for users.

Anytime a device comes with less bloat is a time for celebration. That said, the LG G3 still comes with a ton of apps you’ll never ever use—and especially on the Korean model, you can expect to see quite a few apps you’ll never ever use. Still, the actual skin of LG’s software looks great, and is pretty easy to get around (as easy as you’d expect getting around a phone with a foreign language would be). There still aren’t any standout additions we’d recommend you use (besides “knockOn”), but the skin isn’t nearly as obnoxious as it was last year, and that’s absolutely a good thing.

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The camera is another area where LG spent time making improvements. LG this year added a new laser auto-focus system that promises to take lightning quick photos, and it does. But it’s only marginally quicker than something like the HTC One (M8), which is also impressively quick. The G3’s system works by shooting lasers at whatever it is you’re taking photos of, achieving faster and better focus in bright and low light. You will notice that it’s fast—just not in any tangible way where you’d ditch a phone you currently have now, because the AF is just barely faster.

That applies to the quality, too. The G3’s 13-megapixel takes some decent images, but it won’t beat out something like the Apple iPhone 5s or Samsung Galaxy S5. The camera app itself is super easy to use, and gives owners just enough flexibility without being confusing. Out of the box there are some pretty cool modes you can use, such as Auto, Magic Focus, Panorama and Dual, and you can also tweak other settings, such as HDR, self-timer and more. Simply tap the screen (or press a button on the back) and it’ll instantly snap a picture. Easy. You can also make an odd gesture (close your hand) when taking a selfie and it’ll count down a short timer and snap a photo.

Delving into some of the device’s intangibles, you’ll find that the 3000mAh will get you through the day without issue. Like I say in my other reviews, I’m not what you’d call a “power user.” I typically look through Instagram, browse the Web, text and looks through Twitter during the day. (Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever watched Netflix or any other streaming service (YouTube excluded) on my phone, so your mileage will certainly vary.) I didn’t perform any scientific battery tests, but put it this way: at the end of the day the G3 was still alive and kicking, which is what you’d expect out of a flagship of this nature.

Since the LG G3 has a higher resolution display, it does demand more power, but it was never an issue in my experience. If you constantly play games or watch higher resolution videos, of course your battery will drain quicker. But if your usage is just a little social media, texting, and Web browsing, you’ll be fine. More than fine, actually.

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BUY

The LG G3 sports a terrific screen and pleasant software that gets out of its own way.

Ultimately, I don’t really have any complaints about the G3. I’m not the biggest fan of the rear button placement, but that’s about the only thing I can immediately think of. The overall design is just average, though the bezels around the screen are something to behold. When put next to its biggest competitors, the G3 looks in a different league because of the smaller bezels. The QuadHD screen, however, isn’t noticeably better than a Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8 even though it packs more pixels per inch.

The camera experience is great, and the image quality is good enough; you can also record in 4K, which we have an example of right here. In terms of the overall OS, this is a huge improvement over the G2, and a promising direction for LG to head toward. The company has managed to create a true next generation phone, one that can easily go toe-to-toe with today’s biggest flagships. But is it enough to break Samsung’s strong grip on the market? The early signs are promising.

The size of the LG G3 isn’t any more cumbersome than something like the HTC One (M8), which has a noticeably smaller display. With a 5.5-inch display, the G3 is definitely a large handset, but we’ve become increasingly used to the larger form factor. Moral is: if you like big devices, this will feel just fine in your hand. If you haven’t quite warmed up to the phablet market, you’re still going to have trouble with the G3’s size.

Video sponsored by Audible.com.

I’m happy with what LG has done. With the company’s new skin, the G3 mostly gets out of its own way, giving users ultimate control over the experience. That’s exactly how phones should be. If you haven’t yet purchased a new phone this year, I’d definitely recommend this over something like the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8. It doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner, nor does it have a “Duo” lens arrangement. But the overall package is so, so solid; the battery is great, the phone is fast, and that barely-there bezel looks fantastic.

Disclaimer: Jon used the LG G3 as his daily drive for fourteen days. Brandon used the LG G3 over the course of a five-day work week.


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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