LG G3 review – 2014′s phone to beat?

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With Samsung pretty much cleaning up on the Android market, you could be forgiven for ignoring its Korean competitor up until last year. The LG G2 turned heads. Its odd, rear-placed power and volume buttons as well as its super-slim bezels made it something of a milestone for LG. And then the ridiculously huge, curved G Flex ensured no one could ignore the company again.

The big question for 2014 was whether or not the manufacturer could follow up the awesomeness that was the G2 with anything as good this year. Then it dropped the G3. And to make sure everyone heard about it, there were launch events in multiple countries, in multiple timezones. One of which I was fortunate enough to attend. And thanks to the hosts, I’ve been using the G3 as my daily, go-to phone for the past couple of weeks.

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Design

In the modern day, it’s difficult for companies to stamp any noticeable creative mark on phone chassis design. You don’t have too much to work with now that every phone must start with a large, rectangle touch screen. But LG’s managed it here.

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Unlike virtually every phone on the market, the G3 doesn’t have any buttons around the edges. Left and right edge surfaces are completely undisturbed, as is the top edge. On the bottom edge, all you have is a Micro USB port and 3.5mm jack input. Instead, the power button is placed about 3/4 of the way up the back of the device, right in the center. Directly above and below are the volume up/down buttons, and all are very easy to get to with your index finger regardless of which hand you prefer to use.

To make it even easier to detect the buttons, the power button is slightly convex, while the volume buttons are concave. Concentric circles texture the power key, while tiny dimples are used to add a different feel to the volume buttons. Once I’d used them for a few days, I soon got out the habit of trying to find buttons on the edges. What’s particularly pleasing, from an aesthetic standpoint, is the symmetry on show. The dual-tone, pill-shaped LED flash is perfectly mirrored in positioning and dimensions by the laser equipped sensor used for the auto-focus system.

Apart from the large panel of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 on the front, the G3 is made predominantly of plastic. But don’t let that fool you in to thinking it feels cheap, or flimsy. It’s solidly made, and even the attractive, brushed-effect design removable back cover is strong and durable.

More impressive than any of that though is how LG has taken a device with a 5.5-inch screen and made it look and feel comfortable in hand. It doesn’t feel gigantic, and it doesn’t look like a phablet. That’s down to two or three factors. Firstly, the bezel around the display is so slim, the screen is virtually edge-to-edge. Secondly, the thin edges and curved back help it feel natural in your palm. And given the fact that the buttons are so easy to reach, it really is no struggle to use.

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Display

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On paper, the 5.5-inch, 1440×2560 pixel, 534ppi display sounds incredible. But the reality is, there’s very little benefit to having such a high resolution on such a small display (in comparison to a 27-inch iMac display). Particularly when there’s no content optimized for that resolution yet. That’s not to say it’s not sharp. It is. Just not noticeably much sharper than a 1080p phone display.

But apart from that, LG’s display panel is among the best on the market. It’s bright, shows up colors really well and has great viewing angles. Regardless of what angle you’re looking it at from, whites remain white and don’t veer towards pink, blue or green. What I particularly enjoyed was how close the display panel is to the glass surface. It almost gives the illusion that your app icons, and on-screen content is floating on top of the glass.

Its color and tone reproduction are impressive too. I wouldn’t say it’s the most vivid display on the market, but there does seem to be a bit more quality. App icons seem to display more texture, there’s better and more gradual gradient distinction. So if you have an image that’s supposed to go gradually from dark to light, you see a more natural blend instead of just a few steps and high contrast.

It’s not perfect though. Daylight visibility isn’t the best. And something I did notice, which was quite unusual, is the way it renders text sometimes. It’s almost too sharp. Similar to the way your images look if you edit them and turn the sharpness all the way up to 11. Details are fine, but they stop being smooth and look – sort of – jagged. But this is plain nitpicking on my part.

In short: If you love gaming and watching movies on your mobile device, there’s very little you won’t like about the LG G3′s awesome screen.

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Camera

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Cameras on smartphones these days are getting really good. In fact, bespoke point-and-shoot cameras are pretty much on the way out thanks to the fast evolution of tiny sensors and lenses. Rarely is about megapixels, but more about what the processors do with the pixels, and what the lenses let on to the sensors. LG’s G3 is up there with some of the better cameras, but perhaps not the best.

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One area the LG really excels is speed. If you have it set up to focus and capture an image when you touch the screen, it’ll snap a shot and process it almost as soon as your thumb’s left the surface of the display. That’s thanks, mostly, to the lazer-guided auto-focus system which claims to focus in less time than it takes you to blink. In good light, the 13MP sensor will lock on to any subject, even when it’s really close up and take a good shot. End results – however – have a very unprocessed finish.

Many times I found that the images light/dark levels weren’t evenly balanced out. Colors weren’t particularly bright every time, but it very much depends on what the lighting conditions you’re shooting in. Saying that, images are almost always very sharp. In fact, I was massively impressed by the automatic macro capture. I shot a couple of really close, small objects and got some wonderful detail. OIS built in to the lens also helps rid your images of blur if you happen to be on the move when shooting.

One thing I really didn’t like was the way the camera deals with low-light situations. When shooting without bright, white light, it has this way of making images look almost oil-painted. Too much smoothing making skin look unnatural, and details smudged.

You can also capture video in 4K (if you feel the need). But otherwise, video quality is okay. I got plenty of sharpness, and the phone’s auto-exposure engine is quick and works smoothly.

It’s one of the best phone cameras I’ve used when it comes to the small details. And the issues I have with color aren’t exactly unfixable. A quick trip to a photo editor like Snapseed or Pixlr will soon sort those out. On the plus side, it does have an automatic HDR mode for balancing out areas with high contrast. On the down side, it doesn’t work as well as others I’ve used.

All in all, it’s a good camera. And unless you’re a big fan of shooting people in low light, you’re not going to have many issues with the G3′s snapper.

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Performance

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T-Mobile’s selling the 32GB model of the G3, equipped with 3GB RAM. I was sent the 16GB model with 2GB RAM, so my experiences could be different to the ones you have with your Magenta-powered devices. But in some cases, I was left a little unimpressed by the G3′s speed.

Like a lot of top devices, the G3 has a quad-core Snapdragon 801 series processor. With it being 2.5GHz, and having as much RAM as a low-end laptop, you’d expect it would handle everything with consummate ease. But it doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, it loads apps up just fine. But there’s very noticeable lag when switching back to my home screen after using an app. Even if it’s just Instagram, or Facebook, I’ll hit the home “button”, and my app icons load, then my wallpaper, than my standard clock widget. In that order, taking 2-3 seconds in total. For a phone this powerful, it shouldn’t be happening.

There are a number of possible reasons for this lag. Number 1 – The way Android’s programmed to load apps in a specific way. I noticed similar (but less severe) lag on the Sony Xperia Z2. Number 2 – There are too many pixels on the screen. In which case, LG should have stuck with 1080×1920. Number 3 – LG’s not optimized the processor efficiently. Number 4 – LG’s custom skin is too heavy.

I have at least one app decide to “stop running” each day, adding to the performance frustrations. If performance, fluidity and speed of major importance to you, I’d have a hard time not recommending the HTC One M8 over this. It’s more reliable, and doesn’t suffer from any of the lag I experienced. Its custom Sense UI isn’t as heavy, perhaps one of its big plus-points. And unlike a lot of other tech reviewers, I wasn’t sent a Korean carrier version. I have the official, unlocked, non carrier-branded UK model. It’s as clean a software install you can get.

But that’s where my complaints end with the G3. Downloads over Wi-Fi or LTE are quick and painless, browsing is as quick as I’ve seen from any device and loading up games and apps is very quick.

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Battery Life

It’s rare that I use a smartphone and end up surprised out how good the battery life is. But in this case, I’m delighted. Considering how much power it must use to light up the large 5.5-inch, 2K display, it’s pretty phenomenal.

I’m a pretty light user. A typical day is used mostly uploading a couple of pics to instagram, maybe taking a few photos, messaging and playing a game or two. To give you some kind of comparison, an iPhone in my typical daily use will last a full day. An HTC One M8 will last perhaps a day and a half on a single charge. G3: 2 days.

Its 3,000mAh battery isn’t the reason for its success. It’s the clever way the device handles displayed information. Based on how you’re using the phone at any given time, the display’s refresh rate is altered. So it’s higher when you’re video watching, and lower when you’re looking at still images. As you use it, it learns how to optimize for your personal use and becomes better over time. And for those who like not having to use cables, your G3 is Qi-compatible and will charge wirelessly.

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Software

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LG has jumped on the “flat is best” bandwagon with both feet. All its stock app icons are flat and colored using hues you might find in 1930s decor. Lots of beige, orange and green. And I’m not a big fan. The problem is, stock app icons like Messages, Camera and Phone look out of place alongside the brightly colored icons like Chrome, WhatsApp, Messenger and many others.

It has some nifty features though. Its smart cards are built-in to a stock weather/clock widget and advise you on upcoming weather changes, calendar reminders among other things. There’s also the quick reply functioning for messages, and optional mini-apps that open up as pop-ups on your screen regardless of which app you’re in.

All that aside, I’m still much more of a stock Android persuasion and can’t help but wonder what a vanilla Android version would be like. I’d not hesitate to slap some cash down on a GPE edition.

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Wrap Up

Overall, the G3 is a brilliant phone. It has one or two problems here and there, but nothing that detracts from what has been a really great experience. It’s a good-looking, well-built phone with a great camera, amazing display and stunning battery life. Yes, I’d like it if the operation was a bit zippier. But I’ve not once wanted to swap it out for a different device since I received it.

T-Mobile’s official G3 launch date is July 16th, but some customers have started receiving theirs already this week. Let us know how you get on with the 3GB versions, and if you notice the same home screen boot delay as I did.

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  • Guest

    Mine is out to be delivered today! Cant wait

    • bisayan

      +1 Me too!!!!

      • Scottfun24

        Same here

  • CompSciPhd

    presumambly the official unlocked version doesn’t have wifi calling? :(

    • qpinto

      wifi calling is a Tmo exclusive in the USA. Sprint is still working in this department. Im considering waiting until this fall to see what happens at the IFA 2014.

      • CompSciPhd

        hence why I said “presumambly”. Also why the iphone is a bit more interesting to me as doesn’t really matter what its branded.

  • YubYub

    I have read that the US version will NOT have Qi wireless charging due to “carrier agreements”. This will suck.

    • Cam Bunton

      US versions won’t by compatible, or just don’t come with a compatible case? If the latter, just buy a rear shell. If the former, that sucks.

      • YubYub

        According to the Verge (http://www.theverge.com/2014/6/2/5771620/lg-g3-uk-europe-release-date) it won’t come with the Qi back preinstalled. The only official option looks like LG’s QuickCircle case which is $60 and adds the Qi back.

        • Cam Bunton

          Might be able to find rear shells elsewhere.. Perhaps. Too soon to tell right now.

        • Mathew Colburn

          My question is, couldn’t we just buy an international back that is Qi enabled and use that and say screw the US backing? Or is there some other standard that is used internationally and it wouldn’t work on a US Qi charger??

        • qpinto

          thats what i am trying to figure out. however when looking on ebay i see NFC backs for the international version. It doesnt say if it contains Qi however.

      • Stephen McAteer

        I would be careful.. The Nokia Lumia 1520 on AT&T had Qi charging removed, and you couldn’t even use a Qi back, the phone was only compatible with PMA backs, whereas the international version was Qi compatible, but wouldn’t work with the PMA backs.

  • Mike

    Cam, my LG G2 started doing the same home screen lag after I updated to the new LG software. I think it is a problem with LG’s skin.

    • qpinto

      clear your cache and you will be good to go. it did something similar to me as well and that fixed it. this was the update with knock code yes?

  • taron19119

    No band 12 so not for me

    • Wil

      What is Band 12?

      • taron19119

        it’s the new low band spectrum t Mobile got from Verizon that improve indoor coverage and rural coverage

        • Wil

          Thanks for the heads up. Do you know where that coverage is live?

        • taron19119

          Its being build out as we speak and t-mobile has said they will release phones / devices with band 12 in them in late q3 early q4 2014 so im guessing iphone 6/note 4 to the first to use band 12

  • Bryck

    Is T-Mobile only selling the 32gb plus 3gb ram G3?

    • Cam Bunton

      I think so. Yes.

      • Bryck

        Thanks Cam.

  • D_Wall__

    This was going to be my next phone. I may hold off and see if the Moto X+1 Comes to Tmobile or a New Nexus Device. This phone is SOOOO Tempting though.

  • jbrizzy

    Currently have the G2. Im going to upgrade to this down the line but my main concern is when is the Purple and Pink version being released? I wan’t to get it in one of those colors badly

  • Wil

    Cam, what do you think would be better, a G3 or a Note 3? Thanks in advance

    • Justin Merithew

      I’d say G3, unless you really want the S-pen.

    • ye

      We’re only a few months away from the note 4 so I suggest you wait.

  • Chris

    Whoa, was that a Spinal Tap reference I saw in there?

  • Dee Winn

    No lag on 3GB ram 32GB Tmobile version when switching between apps.

    • tiffanydawnn

      Yes, none for me either. I love this phone!

  • mreveryphone

    Is there a led light on the phone anywhere?

    • Jeff Ko

      On the back to the right of the camera lense.

      • mreveryphone

        I’m sorry, notification light like on the g2 and gflex

  • http://www.t-mobile.com Big-Myke Kanuri

    It’s not the 2014 phone to beat. we;re in the 2nd half of the year. It should have been released in December/January. This phone is so DOA!

  • Philip

    Everything is nice except for the back firing speaker. I need it to Skype and hear audio for Waze. At least front or side firing speaker. Its just too bad!

    • Jerry Rich

      Simple solution Phillip, just turn the phone around and use the back camera for Skype. If you need to see the screen for some reason, you could set up some kind of mirror arrangement. Problem solved.

  • KijBeta

    It’s sad LG screwed up, trying to release earlier. First was the QHD screen that uses more battery. But not doing more to make sure the phone was smooth with the extra pixels, feels like a cheap marketing stunt instead of a flagship phone. Then the removable back made of cheaper plastic than the G2, then made a metal design that made it feel worse. SD slot is good, but it is behind the plastic backing like it’s 2010. They decided to move the loudspeaker back to the horrible placement, making it useless for quick multitasking on a call.
    I love my G2 and I can use jump, but I don’t see a phone I want to upgrade to. I am too attached to the back buttons, but the Z2 is tempting. I was very excited to use the jump program, but it looks more like I will have to wait for something good.

    • Rob

      What on Earth did people expect? The Adreno 330 is not meant for QHD, that’s what the 420 in the Snapdragon 805 is for.

      LG knows its in for some big competition so it wanted to be first to market with QHD to pull in the people who are suckers for specs. If anyone thought this was going to be on the same level as an S5 or M8 in performance, they will be sorely disappointed by this phone – just as every other phone that was released with a new resolution on an older chip not meant for it.

      • KijBeta

        Honestly I expected them to make sure it was smooth, if that meant using the 805 as you say to handle the QHD. And I also expected them to follow up a great phone that did many things differently, with another that stayed true to the new direction LG took with the G2. Instead the G3 feels like they went back to following Samsung and caving into popular pressure. The G3 feels like they took whatever they could get and slapped a QHD screen on it.

        In the end I was expecting the next generation of the G2. The vision and direction enhanced in some way. What they delivered was as Samsung device with some back buttons and a “look what we have” screen.
        Honestly I am likely just butt hurt because I really like my G2.

        • Rob

          Unfortunately, the 805 isn’t available yet or we would have seen something from Samsung using it. LG probably felt that most users would appreciate the QHD screen and be willing to sacrifice some performance in exchange.

          One nice thing is that the 801 doesn’t overheat like the 800 and 600 did so the G3 shouldn’t have the widespread reports of overheating that the G2 did. Everything else… well I am not surprised LG failed to deliver. But then again, I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the original “G2″ – the G2X Tegra 2 dualcore mess of a phone they launched on T-Mobile years ago.

          Its too bad HTC is giving in to Samsung. Out goes innovation across the industry and here come the plastic masses *sigh*

        • David Firebaugh

          I think you will see a change over the next couple years. Samsung is going to have to make a change on design. Their phone are getting boring big time.

  • tiffanydawnn

    Nice review. You will find the lag in the actual T-Mobile version to be minimal to nonexistent. Phenomenal phone.

  • Jerry Rich

    Sorry, the HTC M8 is still far and away the best phone of the year, maybe the decade. Keep trying Samsung, Apple and LG. No phone will ever have the premium feel of the M8. For most people, that’s all that really matters in a phone.

  • Nevsky2

    Without being able to utilize T-Mobile’s upcoming rollout of its 700 MHz A-Block Spectrum (LTE Band 12), I would hold off getting a new phone no matter how good it is. My guess is that phones with the Snapdragon 805 will have it. Also, the 805 a really fast modem with great aggregation, great network support and LTE Category 6.

    • Jerry Rich

      The GS5 uses the Qualcomm WTR1625L RF transceiver which is capable of operating on ALL LTE bands. It is release 10 compliant. All restrictions are firmware based.

      • Nevsky2

        Regardless of where the restriction comes from, without band 12 I would not buy a phone if on T-Mobile. The biggest problem with T-Mobile in urban areas is lack of performance inside. Band 12 should fix that.

        Also, the 9X35 modem with the WTR3925 RF transceiver, which works with the Snapdragon 805 will allow much more bandwidth. It will allow 300 Mbps peak download data rates–LTE Category 6. Major performance increase.

        • Jerry Rich

          Frankly, I could care less if you would buy a phone. My point was that based on hardware, the GS5 should be fully capable of utilizing 700a band 12.

        • Nevsky2

          Thank you, but as I understand this phone as currently configured on T-Mobile does not utilize 700 MHz band 12. That is something that someone buying the phone might be very interested in. I know I am. That is the main reason I am not purchasing it. Others may also decide to wait until it does. What it may be capable of is not really important to a buyer. They need to know what it actually does.

          Also, I assume you are talking about the LG G3, which is what this discussion thread is for. If you mean the Samsung Galaxy S5, as currently configured, it also does not work and will not work on T-Mobile’s Band 12, 700 MHz as far as I know.

          If there were confirmation that there would be and could be updates to them from T-Mobile that would be very helpful. At this point, I am not aware of such.