We review the ultra-sharp LG G3, a 5.5-inch smartphone with an amazing screen and a bevy of useful features.
LG was the first phone manufacturer to bring us a bendy mobile, the LG G Flex, and now the buggers are innovating again, this time with the world's sharpest smartphone screen.
The LG G3 may just be the best media phone around, thanks to that incredible display and a surprisingly powerful speaker - bus patrons beware. But how does the rest of the device stack up against flagship rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8?
LG G3 review look and feel: Poke my back, baby
We abso-bloody-lutely loved the LG G2, but we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to like the cheap-looking plastic design. Like a mother whose child is a total genius, but has a face like Quasimodo’s ugly cousin - we knew there was some great stuff packed away inside, but our hearts sank every time we looked at the thing.
Well, the G3 is definitely the looker of the family, greatly improving on the G2’s aesthetics. It’s still constructed from plastic, but it’s solid enough to handle a few bumps and scrapes, and it really does look like a premium phone now thanks to its faux metallic sheen. It’s gorgeously slim, and fits into any decent-sized pocket with ease.
What’s even more impressive is how LG has made a 5.5-inch smartphone feel comfortable to clutch in one hand. It’s more or less the same size as the Samsung Galaxy S5, which at 5.1-inches has a significantly smaller screen. It’s all down to the G3’s incredibly narrow bezels, which form only the tiniest border at the edges of the display.
And of course, the LG G3 isn’t waterproof, which helps to trim a bit of the bulk compared with the Sony Xperia Z2 and Samsung Galaxy S5. So if you’re after a phone for tweeting in the shower or playing Flappy Bird in the bath, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Don't worry too much if you're a bit butter-fingered, because we can testify that the G3 not only happily survives a face-down tumble onto a hard pub floor, it comes away with not a single scratch. That was our experience, at least...
LG’s iconic rear-mounted power button makes a return on the G3, and it’s once again a love-it-or-be-rather-baffled-at-it feature. At first we found ourselves vainly tapping the sides every time we tried to turn it on, but once you get used to the unusual positioning, there’s no denying that it works well. And it's easily found whether you're left or right-handed. They're definitely an improvement over the G2’s, and now lie flush with the surface rather than jutting out in an ugly fashion.
LG G3 review screen and media: So sharp you’ll bleed
Now onto the good stuff. The LG G3 boasts a screen sharper than any of the other flagships, an absolutely stunning 5.5-incher that packs in 538 pixels-per-inch (ppi) thanks to the 2560x1440 resolution. Compare that with the likes of the Galaxy S5, with 432 ppi, and there’s a remarkable step up in visuals.
You might think this level of detail doesn't make a difference, but you'd be wrong. The LG G3 is absolutely the best smartphone for enjoying an HD film, especially as the screen is comfortably spacious and produces stunning colours. Viewing angles are wide, so you can watch a movie with a chum.
We also love how the display feels flush with the glass, rather than sunken into the device.
LG hasn’t forgot the importance of audio quality either. A mighty 1-Watt speaker has been rammed into the G3, and it's both powerful and pumps out some high-quality sound, easily enough to enjoy a movie or some music while you're sat at your desk or chilling on the sofa. It can't quite beat the mighty HTC BoomSound speakers, mostly because the single speaker points out of the back, while the One M8's dual speakers blast delicious audio directly at your face. But still, the G3 delivers awesome audio with gusto.
And media fans will also be glad to hear there’s a microSD memory card slot for expanding the 16GB of on-board memory, so you can carry tons of films around to stay entertained.
LG G3 review user experience: Drowning in features
As usual, although you get full Android 4.4 KitKat, Google’s OS is almost unrecognisable under LG’s tweaks and extra features. It’s pretty much impossible to go over all of them without writing a full university dissertation, so we’ll just cover the main stuff.
First, general look and feel. The G3’s interface is colourful and vaguely cartoony, much like Huawei’s Ascend P7 interface. You get a great range of widgets to stick on your desktops, but the best features are found by tugging down the notification bar.
One of our favourites is Q-Slide, which allows you to run two apps over each other at the same time. So, for instance, you could have a video running in the background, faded out slightly, while you type out an email over the top of it. It sounds like it should be a confusing mess, but it really does work like a charm.
And while the Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5s have their la-di-da fingerprint scanners, the G3 opts for a different slant on the old screen pattern routine. Known as ‘Knock Code’, you basically record a series of taps (up to eight in all) using the four quadrants of the screen, which then unlocks the phone. Here’s a clip of it in action:
We definitely prefer Knock Code to the old pattern PIN, as it’s a lot harder to spy over someone’s shoulder as they enter the code. However, it isn’t quite as cool as the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner, and takes slightly longer to unlock as well.
We had ample opportunity to test out LG G Health too, thanks to a ramble through the Hebrides. This widget gives you a quick and clear reading of how many steps you've tramped and distance covered, using the pedometer or GPS. The pedometer seemed to mostly take reasonably accurate readings, certainly better than the likes of Samsung's S Health, although a much taller fellow G3 user got a reading that was a couple of miles out. We also noticed that occasionally our steps count would creep up when we were sat on a bus, possibly due to the vibrations.
Finally, Smart Notice feels like a rushed, half-arsed version of Google Now. It pops up weather alerts and missed call alerts, but doesn't offer the same depth of information that Google Now does, such as travel information and time alerts.
LG G3 review performance and battery life: Dependable ‘dragon
Although Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 805 processor isn’t squeezed into the LG G3, it’s hard to be disappointed with the quad-core Snapdragon 801, running at 2.46GHz. Not only did we find the general running satisfactorily smooth, but our apps and games loaded quickly and there was zero struggle with the latest power-sappers.
A mighty 3,000mAh battery provides the power, and given how amazing the LG G2’s battery life was (I easily got two full days of use per charge), we were expecting great things.
Sadly the G3 doesn't enjoy the same amazing longevity. That large screen really saps the power, even on auto brightness, and if you fiddle with the phone often through the day you'll be lucky to make it through a full 24 hours. And if you're hoping to stay entertained on a long journey, forget it. We managed just three hours of playback on full brightness before the battery conked out. That's an hour or two less than most phones.
Thankfully, if you're the kind who likes to set out on extended treks, you can always grab a spare battery and swap on the move. And the average user should find the G3 lasts the day, without too much fondling.
If you hate trailing wires everywhere, LG also has you covered. Stump up a few more quid and you’ll get the nifty wireless charging dock - just plonk the G3 down onto the dock so the back is touching the dock plate, and your phone will start charging up. No more fiddling with cables = happy us.
LG G3 review cameras: Fist-pump action
The LG G3’s 13-megapixel rear-facing camera is another highlight, taking shots in double-quick time and keeping them sharp thanks to the rather funky laser auto-focus.
We were really happy with the quality of our photos, especially given the speed of that shutter. Everyday shots are absolutely rammed full of detail and even when we were walking or sat in a moving vehicle, they came out perfectly blur-free almost every time. Colours are realistically reproduced but also stand out beautifully, and the dual LED flash also produces well-toned snaps at night.
Aside from auto mode, you get the ever-popular ''magic focus" mode (takes lots of snaps at once to allow you to change focus afterwards), dual shot (uses both cameras at once) and of course video mode, where you can shoot in ultra-high def or slow mo.
We also enjoyed using the front-facing camera to take shameless selfies, thanks to the amusing fist-pump shutter feature. Selfie fans will know how awkward it can be to push a button one-handed while stretching the phone out at arm’s length, so the G3 allows you to take a shot simply by making a fist. It works surprisingly well, complete with countdown timer to help you get ready.
LG G3 review verdict
After running down most of the LG G3’s features, we're now well and truly spent. There’s an awful lot packed inside that gorgeous faux-metallic frame, and most of it is absolutely marvellous.
If you’re after mobile entertainment, the ultra-sharp screen and games-worthy performance will more than satisfy. Camera lovers will get a kick from the awesome 13-megapixel snapper, and there are a gazillion other great features that together form a slick and highly satisfying smartphone experience. Only the less-than-stellar battery life proves a downer, but it's nowhere near a big enough bummer to keep this phone from grabbing our full five-star plaudits.