- Attractive design
- Good battery life
- Great connectivity
- Lacklustre performance
- Weak camera experience
- Plastic construction
It’s a trend that’s been taking shape for some time, but the small flagship smartphone is well and truly dead in 2014 and the LG G3 S is a perfect example of this fact.
The top-tier flagship LG G3 launched in the first half of 2014 and now a smaller 5-inch doppelganger is here to offer the same thrills at a lower price.
LG G3 S review – Design: Don’t I recognise you from somewhere?
The whole point of the G3 S’s design is to emulate that of its flagship counterpart and it does so with aplomb. Although the ‘S’ may stand for ‘smaller’ (LG hasn’t officially said) that’s only relative to the vanilla G3. The S is still an imposing device, offering the same distinctive design language and key characteristics, not to mention a sizable overall footprint.
The display is bordered by an impressively thin bezel and characteristic concentric circle detailing at its base. On the back you have LG’s latest centrally positioned volume rocker/power key button arrangement underneath the phone’s 8-megapixel camera. Whether you find the unorthodox positioning helpful or a hindrance will depend on how often you plan on snapping a selfie as the placement was chosen specifically for this feature.
The bodywork itself looks nice in an inoffensive sort of way, but despite the brushed metal effect on the removable plastic back, it offers next to no grip, even if the curved form does fit comfortably in the hand. The 10.3mm thick body is also notably chunkier than its flagship sibling.
LG G3 S review – Screen: Bigger isn’t always better
At 5-inches the LG G3 S is not a small device, whatever LG might think. That said the expansive display paired with the phone’s lightweight body make it a great device for enjoying media.
At 720p HD resolution, you shouldn’t expect the sharpest images around, particularly when you consider both the screen’s size and how it compares to the vanilla G3’s Quad HD display; which packs four times as many pixels onto its display.
Pictures, videos and text look crisp, sharp and accurately coloured, although we would have liked an auto-brightness option (the brightness can only be controlled with a manual slider) and a display that’s less prone to catching fingerprints.
LG G3 S review – OS: A phone of many faces
Like most of the current smartphone crop, LG’s latest big-small handset packs Android 4.4 KitKat, but heavily skinned with the company’s own user experience.
In practice it has a number of helpful extras like Quick Memo+, letting you rapidly snap a screenshot to crop, highlight and annotate as you see fit. That said the level of customisation on offer is simply staggering and the majority of users probably won’t touch most of the additional tweaks and tools the phone boasts.
Themes are the most obvious way of changing the look of the G3 S’s UX, with a range of first and third-party alternatives available to download from the LG Smart World app. Then there are tools to customise homescreen animations, scrolling, button layout, colour and more.
Despite the superfluous frills, the Settings menu does contain a few gems too. Tools for one-handed use (considering the phone’s large size) when operating the adaptive keyboard or the dialler are welcome as are the simple gesture options for silencing the ringer or pausing a video.
The company’s trademark KnockON and Knock Code features are present to, letting you quickly sleep or wake the phone with a swift double tap on the screen or make use of an alternative lock pattern that remains invisible to prying eyes.
LG G3 S review – Performance: Plain Jane processor
Android handset manufacturers in 2014 for the most part pick from a small handful of silicon to imbue upon their latest wares. Flagships have (with the exception of the new Galaxy Note 4) opted for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 quad-core champion and in the case of the G3 S and many other lower-tier devices, a variant of the quad-core Snapdragon 400.
Whilst we have no major complaints over the chipset used by the G3 S, it doesn’t offer anything particularly special. Lag, stutter and waiting times are infrequent but do appear from time to time. The experience as a whole still feels well put together.
Longevity-wise the lower resolution screen and the sizeable 2540mAh removable battery ensure the phone can keep going for just shy of two days use (switching it into flight mode or off at night). 4G-usage and screen brightness have the most notable impact on the battery’s resilience, but at least you shouldn’t have to worry about checking the power gauge every five minutes.
On the connectivity front as well as 4G, you’ve got Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS as expected, along with NFC and an IR blaster to control various home appliances using the device’s Quick Remote app. This means you could manage everything from your air conditioning to your TV all from the G3 S; handy.
LG G3 S review – Camera: You’re like a laser light
At the original G3’s launch, the company showed off the device’s killer camera feature with a visual representation of a Terminator-style red laser beam scanning the environment before taking a shot. The reality of this technology is a little less dramatic, but still impressive and it makes an appearance on the smaller G3 S as well.
The multi-point laser autofocus is still wonderfully fast, albeit hindered by the slower shutter likely restrained itself by the more modest processor. Photos produced by the 8-megapixel snapper are usable, but won’t blow your socks off. Detail takes a hit, particularly in low light and a relatively narrow dynamic range means it’s easy for elements to get blown out in certain higher contrast scenarios.
Video is also pretty unimpressive with below average detail and sub-par audio recording, but colours are at least reproduced accurately. Instead LG wants to impress users with the camera’s extra features; such as automatic HDR detection, voice or gesture-based shutter activation and a beauty mode when using the front facing camera.
LG G3 S review – Verdict: Beauty is only skin deep
If you’re after a premium user experience, the LG G3 S can undoubtedly deliver. It also packs a contemporary design and number of helpful and handy features; it just a shame that the end result isn't particularly memorable.
The handset does a decent job of emulating the flagship experience of the full-featured G3, but under the surface its hardware lacks flare. Don’t discount the S, but consider other 5-inch phones before you pick this one up.
- 720p HD (1280x720)
- 134 grams
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- 1.2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
- 1GB RAM
- 8GB (4GB user accessible). Expandable via microSD up to 64GB
- Quick Memo+, Quick Remote, Knock Code