LG has just taken the covers off its G3, the company’s latest Android flagship which boasts a 5.5-inch screen with a resolution and pixel density higher than any other phone.
Being a range-topping flagship, the G3 will go up against the HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2. We've spent a couple of hours comparing the four Android flagships to come up with an early verdict on which is best, ahead of a full group test next month.
As smartphone spec sheets start to align and it’s less easy than ever to spot the powerhouses from the weaklings, design is beginning to play a major role in smartphone production. First HTC led the Android charge from plastic to aluminium, then Sony followed and now LG has seriously upped its aesthetic game, leaving the Samsung Galaxy S5 something of an odd-one-out for sticking with glossy plastic and shiny fake chrome.
The LG G3 has a brushed metal finish similar to that of the One (M8), but instead of using an aluminium chassis, the LG is plastic with a finish which feels like metal. The company did this to save on weight, and it’s paid off - the G3 looks and feels every bit as premium as the One (M8) and has a larger screen, but weighs less and is equally thin.
Sony could also learn a lesson or two from LG in reducing bulk and improving that all-important screen-size-to-footprint ratio.
Line the G3 up with a Z2, Galaxy S5 and One (M8), and all phones are similarly sized - and despite the LG having the largest screen, it’s actually smaller than the Sony, the same as the HTC, and slightly taller than the Samsung. Packing a screen half an inch larger than the HTC in a phone the same size is a remarkable feat by LG.
Following on from last year’s G3, the new LG features rear-mounted buttons for turning the handset on and adjusting the volume. Awaking and unlocking the phone is done with Knock Code - tapping a user-defined pattern on the screen when the phone is asleep, negating the need for a more easily-accessible power button. LG has also rid the G3 of a home button, giving the handset the most minimal look of the bunch.
Both the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2 are waterproof, but the HTC and LG are not; the S5 and G3 have removable batteries, whereas the One and Z2 do not.
This is where the LG G3 knocks its competition out of the park. A 5.5-inch display with a resolution of 1440 x 2560 and a pixel density of 535 per inch gives a sharpness and clarity never seen on a smartphone - or even a tablet - before. It’s called Quad-HD and means the G3 has 200 more pixels per square inch than the iPhone 5s and its Retina display.
Some may argue why you need so many pixels on a (relatively) small screen, when televisions and even Retina-screened MacBook Pros can’t match the G3 for pixel density, but LG seems convinced and claims far superior image quality over its rivals - again, we’ll have to wait for our review unit to arrive before knowing for sure if these claims ring true. After an hour or so with the G3, we’re struggling to argue with LG’s claims - the G3’s screen is simply beautiful.
The Galaxy S5, One (M8) and Xperia Z2 all have screen resolutions of 1920 x 1080 and pixel densities of around 430 per inch. For us, the S5 has the brightest screen, and while the colours can look slightly artificial due to high saturation, it’s the best Android screen on the market, followed closely by the One (M8), which is also excellent. The Z2 left us disappointed with its lack of brightness making it very difficult to use on a sunny day.
From what we’ve seen so far, the LG G3’s screen looks to be an absolute stunner - again, we’ll have lots more in a full review and four-way group test soon.
This is where all four devices put up a hell of a fight, with the Samsung and Sony both producing beautiful shots, while the HTC’s Duo depth sensor makes some great blurred-background images with minimal effort.
LG has given the G3 a 13-megapixel sensor, which is slightly less than the Sony (20.7mp) and Samsung (16mp), but much higher than then 4mp HTC, although that one offers larger pixels called Ultrapixels, which capture more light and offer the best low-light performance of the bunch.
The G3 has a trick up its sleeve, however, and that is optical image stabilisation (OIS), which uses a floating lens and software to create beautifully smooth video and low-light shots which are superior to its rivals.
Added to this is something never seen on a smartphone before - laser infrared autofocus. By using technology similar to that of police speed guns, the G3 fires an infrared beam, which bounces off objects in front of the camera and returns to the phone, which times how long it took for the beam to come back. The G3 uses this time to adjust the camera lens and bring the object into focus - and this entire process takes less than 300 milliseconds, or less than the time it takes you brain to send a signal to your hand.
All but the HTC can record 4K or Ultra HD video, but where Sony suggests Z2 owners use the function for no more than two minutes at a time due to overheating issues, LG claims the G3 can shoot video for up to five minutes at a time. Any more, the company says, and the phone’s 16GB of storage will be almost full.
Processor, RAM and Storage
The Sony, HTC and Samsung are all powered by Qualcomm’s quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at between 2.3 and 2.5GHz, while the G3 runs at 2.5GHz. In the real world, you are very unlikely to notice any speed difference between the four handsets, although their versions of Android could make a difference here.
Sony has given the Z2 3GB of RAM, while the other three make do with 2GB; as for storage, all four come with 16GB as standard and they can all be upgraded with a microSD card. LG will be selling a version of the G3 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, but this will not be available in the UK at launch - it may arrive a few months down the line as a minor update, however.
All four phones offer very similar levels of performance - HD video streaming is shrugged off with ease, along with intensive 3D gaming. We’ll be putting the LG through its paces in a full review soon, and be sure to look out for a four-way group test next month.
The Samsung, Sony and HTC all retail for around £550 SIM-free, and although LG is yet to announce a price for the G3, we expect it to cost slightly less, with suggestions that it could be free on contracts from £38 per month. Also expect retailers to bundle the phone with the upcoming G Watch.
The G3 will go on sale in the UK on 1 July, and we’ve heard the G Watch will also arrive at the start of that month.
The Early Verdict
There hasn’t been a better time to be in the market for a high-end Android smartphone. All four manufacturers have brought out their A game for 2014 and we’re not even half way through the year yet.
For us, the Sony is the weakest of the bunch. That isn’t to say the Z2 is a bad phone - far from it - but issues with ergonomics making the phone uncomfortable and a screen which borders on unusable in bright sunlight mean it doesn’t quite make the podium.
The HTC and Samsung are as close as it gets on performance and screen quality, but the latter is let down by a plastic build which simply can’t compete with the aluminium of the One (M8).
As for the LG G3, we’ll have to spend a lot more time with the phone to make up our minds, but on first impressions we can say we love the design and the looks, the display is simply stunning, and the camera is very impressive. We were pleasantly surprised at how compact the G3 is for a 5.5-inch phone - it’s really no bigger or more difficult to hold and use one-handed than the One (M8) - and improvements to the user interface make for a simpler and smarter-looking Android experience compared to LG’s previous offerings.
Getting all fours together and deciding on a winner won’t be easy, but we’ll have a group-test for you soon.