Review by Sunetra Chakravati,6/9/2014 11:51:30 AM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Incredible QHD screen |
Ultra-fast infrared camera focus |
Too large for some |
Not a true aluminium chassis |
Knock Code needs work.
By Alistair Charlton, Devices Editor
The G3 is LG’s latest flagship Android smartphone and boasts a 5.5-inch screen with a massive Quad-HD resolution which is far higher than any of its rivals, and an infrared ‘laser’ which can focus the rear camera in (quite literally) the blink of an eye.
Going up against the HTC One (M8), Sony Xperia Z2 and Samsung Galaxy S5, the G3 sets out to prove a bigger screen doesn’t mean a bigger phone - and with it the company seeks to prove it can be much more than an also-ran.
The G3 used for this review is a South Korean model. As such, it has a retractable television ariel in the top right corner which will not be present on the British or European G3.
First thing’s first. The LG G3 is not made of metal. While its brushed finish looks a lot like the all-aluminium HTC One (M8), the phone is in fact plastic, but with a metallic layer that is both startlingly reminiscent of brushed aluminium and is blessed with an uncanny ability to stay clean and fingerprint-free. Where glass-backed phones like the Sony Xperia Z2 show grease and fingerprints like it’s going out of fashion, the LG remains perfectly clean.
For our full set of high-resolution LG G3 photos, visit our Flickr page.
It’s slightly cold to the touch - at least before the handset warms up a little from general use - and my dark grey review unit in particular looks fantastic. Even the gold version is attractive, while I felt the white model lets the range down by looking and feeling the most plasticky of the bunch.
Tiny bezels mean the G3 is almost all screen and despite offering a display half an inch larger than both the Galaxy S5 and One (M8), the LG is no larger than its rivals and actually weighs noticeably less. Add this to a curved back and I found the phone much comfier to use than I was expecting, although one-handed typing is still an advanced exercise in finger-yoga.
Because LG can’t afford to sell its smartphones on its name alone the company’s approach to handset design has to be a little different - and to that end the rear-mounted power and volume buttons from the G2 make a return here. Redesigned to be easier to find and press, finding the volume buttons without thinking about it takes some practice, and although this isn’t necessarily better than a conventional setup, LG scores points for being different.
Include the lack of a home button and the G3 sports a cleaner look than any other smartphone on the market; apart from a discrete LG logo there’s nothing to distract you from the display - and what a display it is.
Boasting a resolution of 2560 x 1440 and a monstrous pixel density of 538 per inch, the G3’s display is in a league of its own. Only the Vivo Xplay 3S and Oppo Find 7 can compete, but neither of these are sold outside of China.
You could reasonably argue against needing a screen this sharp, given the human eye struggles to see individual ones at around 330 per inch, and side-by-side with its rivals the G3 doesn’t look twice as good. It looks better, but I’m not sure how much of that is simply my brain being tricked by LG’s claims of how many pixels are there. That said, the 4K video samples included on my review phone looked spectacular and better than anything I’ve ever seen on a mobile device before.
At 5.5 inches, the G3’s display is treading a fine line between smartphone and phablet, but those tiny bezels make it feel more compact than its measurements suggest - and thankfully so, because it really is a thing of beauty. Not just razor-sharp, but vibrant, well saturated without being artificial, and bright enough to be easily read outside on a sunny day. It really is a spectacular screen that fully justifies the hype LG has given it.
LG’s message for the G3 is “simple is the new smart” and nowhere is this more true than with the software. It’s Android 4.4.2 KitKat with a few modifications to make it simpler both visually and in how it works. Similar to Apple and its iOS 7, LG has flattened much of the G3’s interface, but with an emphasis on a palette of deliberately muted pastel colours; LG doesn’t want its phone to look childish, as I’ve criticised the Huawei Ascend P7 (page 30) of being.
As is familiar across most high-end Androids this year, the G3 can be awoken with two taps of the screen. But taking this a step further is Knock Code, where a pattern between two and eight taps long can be used to both wake and unlock the handset.
More discreet than entering a PIN or swiping a pattern - both of which can be very obvious on big-screen phones - Knock Code makes it super easy to unlock the phone with one hand, as your pattern can be tapped anywhere on the screen. I found you have to be quite accurate with Knock Code, and I often had to re-enter my four-tap code before it was recognised. A double tap of the menu bar at the top of the screen locks the phone.
In further pursuit of simplicity LG allows its own applications to be deleted by the user - something other manufacturers do not always allow - and they will only be returned after you perform a factory reset. Also unique to the G3 is Smart Notice, a Google Now-style service which provides advice based on your calendar events, tip on how you use the phone, and what the weather is like. Initially this means little more than a home screen widget telling you the weather is not just sunny and warm, but “clear without a cloud in the sky.”
Smart Notice will also remind you to call someone back after you miss their call, and suggest you add a commonly dialed number to your address book if you haven’t done already. Thankfully if you don’t want this it can be removed like any other home screen widget.
A home screen to the left of centre is dedicated to just two widgets; Smart Tips, which provides advice on using the phone, and LG Health, a fitness app which logs your walking and running, similar to Samsung’s S Health. While the latter is useful, the Smart Tips widget cannot be removed or relocated without removing the homepage entirely, taking LG Health with it.
Next up is LG’s new keyboard. Typing errors can be corrected by swiping slowly across the space bar, which then lets you navigate left or right by swiping across the keyboard; useful for targeting a typo without inaccurately prodding at the screen until you get the cursor in the right place.
Performance from the quad-core 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB of RAM is every bit as good as the competition, matching the Samsung S5, Sony Z2 and HTC One (M8) punch for punch. A second version of the G3 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage (up from 16GB) will be available in some markets, but I’m told it won’t be arriving in the UK anytime soon. Thankfully there’s a microSD card slot tucked under the removeable 3,000mAh battery to increase storage.
Speaking of the battery, I was worried such a high resolution screen would cause real stamina issues, but this simply isn’t the case - the G3 can power through a full day of average to heavy use and still have enough juice left for a night out. A battery-saving mode kicks in at 30%, but after a week I’ve only seen this activate once.
Where LG has stuck most firmly to its “simple is the new smart” mission statement is with the G3’s camera app. There are no manual settings in the traditional sense - meaning no way to adjust brightness, ISO or white balance - and there isn’t even a shutter button when you first open the app. Tap anywhere on the screen to focus on that area and take a photo - and this is where you notice the G3’s party trick: a laser-guided autofocus.
Using an infrared ‘laser’ instead of the conventional LED light, the G3 can focus in 276 milliseconds - or, LG claims, faster than the 300 milliseconds it takes you to blink.
The results are astonishing. Hold your hand in front of the camera, move it away, and the background instantly focuses into pin-sharp clarity. Not only does the infrared sensor bring speed, but also the ability to focus in low-light, where other phones struggle.
The sensor is 13-megapixel, although 10 is the default, and video can be recorded at Full HD, Ultra HD and 120-frames-per-second slow motion HD. Photos with ‘bokeh’-style blurred backgrounds can be taken with Magic Focus, which does an excellent job of letting you blur either the foreground or background after a photo has been taken. To my eyes, the G3 performs this trick better than any of its rivals, apart from the HTC One (M8), which uses hardware instead of software to make it possible.
Photos taken by the G3 look great, with very little graining or obvious signs of post-production, even in low light. Colours are sharp and vibrant but without looking too artificial. Overall, this is an impressive camera which LG should be proud of. The front-facing camera is 2.1-megapixel and has a clever feature where you can take a photo by opening and closing your hand in frame, which starts a three second countdown and takes your picture.
A uncompromising powerhouse of a smartphone, LG has squared up to its better-known rivals and knocked the ball out of the park. The G3 has, by some margin, the best screen of any smartphone and garnishes it with a powerful processor, expandable storage, a removable battery, some clever and intuitive software tweaks, and a camera which focusses literally in the blink of an eye.
Drawbacks? Well, not everyone will get along with its size. It may be compact for a 5.5-inch phone, but for anyone used to an iPhone the G3 will feel enormous. And while it looks and very nearly feels like metal, the metallic finish is plastic and doesn’t quite have the same premium feel as the HTC One (M8) and iPhone 5s. Despite this, the G3 makes up enough ground in other areas to be awarded the full five stars.
The G3 goes on sale in the UK on 1 July, and although prices have not yet been announced, we believe it will be free on contracts from £38 per month.