Hands-on with LG’s G3: a possible Galaxy killer?

It’s not a black hole that kills a galaxy, but it might just be a new phone, as our hands-on with LG’s upcoming G3 smartphone shows it has the guts and the design integrity to take on the best of Samsung in 2014.

If there’s one thing we know about smartphones this year, it’s the consumers are spoiled for choice. There’s just so much good stuff out there.

LG looks to be adding to that selection and making the decision much harder with last week’s announcement of the G3, the next in line for LG’s flagship handsets that boasts some pretty impressive features and specs.

Some of these are pretty standard for the high-end smartphones thus far, and include a Qualcomm quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 2-3gB RAM, 16 or 32GB storage, 4G support across every telco in Australia with Category 4 compliance, 802.11ac WiFi support, Near-Field Communication, GPS, Apt-X compatibility with Bluetooth 4.0 Smart support, and a 5.5 inch Quad HD display sporting 534 pixels per inch, which is unheard of in this country.

But it’s how the phone looks and feels that will really grab people, and this week, LG has given GadgetGuy a hands-on, spending some time with the G3 ahead of its release in the next few months.

Let’s talk about what we like, because there’s a lot of that from the initial glance.

First is the screen, and oh yes, that screen is lovely. It’s big, bright, and fills more of the frame than any phone we’ve seen before it, and that’s a good thing.

While HTC, Sony, and Samsung have trotted out identical resolutions from their 2013 phones on the 2014 models, LG is taking a different approach, installing one of the world’s first small Quad HD screens, making it insanely and ridiculously and remarkably sharp.

To put this into context, the LG G3 screen is around 40 percent sharper than Full HD screens on smartphones, which is already a fairly impressive achievement, making pixel peeping just that much more difficult.

Good lucking finding pixels here, people. Everything is smooth and if screens look like this in the future, then we’ll probably see a faster push away from printed media because the screen can be just as sharp and easy on the eyes as the printed book. A nice printed book, at that.

The size will also catch attention, because while LG will boast that 74 percent of the front of the handset is screen, the important statistic to take away from this is that LG has stuffed in a 5.5 inch screen into a body normally designed for a 5.1 inch display.

While that might not make a lot of sense, in comparison it comes from the sizes of other handsets. Sitting next to our Sony Xperia Z2, the LG G3 is just a little bit smaller, partially thanks to the larger top and bottom framing that Sony used on that handset.

The lack of frame sizing is certainly impressive, though, and between the resolution, size, clarity, and colour, LG certainly has an edge over its competitors with one of the best screens set to be available in our market.

What else do we like? The changes to software.

This is one of those changes that had to happen eventually, partially because it was the direction that Google was taking Android in, anyway.

For LG, what this means is flatter design, with more colourful icons continuing in a circular design. The fonts are clearer, there are more lines, and the interface feels like it keeps things close to what Google envisioned with Android, but just brings it back to consumer land a little more.

And hey, you can change the shortcut dock at the bottom of the screen. Try doing that with a local Samsung phone (you can’t in Australia, not since 2012 anyway, but you can with a Samsung phone from most other parts of the world).

Also on the positive side is the camera which is doing some pretty neat things.

While we’re not sure the shutter sound can be switched off, the 13 megapixel shooter on the back of the handset now takes advantage of a neat feature called “laser autofocus” which is more or less what it sounds like: a laser that you can’t see fires out of the back and achieves a faster autofocus time, allowing you to get shots in both daylight and the dark a little faster than with conventional phase and contrast detection autofocus.

Our quick play with the G3 didn’t include poor lighting to test this considerably, but what we did see was the autofocus point system picking up on numerous different regions, changing focus points quickly and without any action on our part.

It even looked as though there would be some decent macro capability here, which is a positive for us.

The front-facing camera can also pick up on a neat gesture, so when you hold your hand open and then ball it into a fist, the camera will trigger a three second timer to fire a photo at you. No more reaching around to hit the camera button, even though that was one of the reasons LG moved the buttons to the back of the handset on the G2.

Some of the little extras are positives, too, such as the removable 3000mAh battery, which strays away from previous G series design (the past three LG G handsets all had built-in batteries you could not remove), a microSDXC slot rated for as much as 128GB, the knock code system which is similar to a pattern unlock code but works in relation to touching sections of the screen, and some colour coding for apps to make things easier to view and associate with categories of apps, similar to what HTC did in its 2014 One.

The accessories could be interesting, too, with an optional wireless charger compatible with all Qi chargers (the same sort Nokia uses on its phones) and a special window smartphone case that runs a circular clock inside and even lets you use the phone with the cover closed, allowing you to make and receive phone calls, read texts, change music, and even take photos.

What we’re not sure about on the G3 is the body and the keyboard.

Normally the weakest parts of the package on an LG phone, the company has made improvements to each, but it might not be what people were expecting.

The on-screen keyboard has been changed slightly and now supports multiple heights, allowing you to modify it as you work, which is neat.

That said, normally the LG word prediction technology isn’t as good as the ones used by other companies. Samsung, as an example, started using SwiftKey’s technology to help it better predict words, and while we’re checking to see if LG’s research involves using a company like SwiftKey or Swype, at the moment, we’re just hopeful the keyboard is better than past efforts.

For the body, there are no premium materials here as many expected, with polycarbonate (plastic) used across the handset, though the removeable back has little lines of metal to create the brushed look as well as a coating that makes it very, very resistant to oil marks from fingers.

If anything, that last point is one of the more impressive design features, and we did try to leave oily finger marks on the back, but found nothing appeared. Whatever LG has done here appears to have done the job, so now all you have to do is make sure you don’t handle bacon and then use your phone if you want to keep it in good condition.

In general, we prefer metal or glass to plastic, but the LG G3 still feels good in the hands, and really, provided it can survive a year or two of life, how it feels and if it will survive is all that matters, premium material or not.

So far, they’re the only two issues, and with as many positives going for it, there’s already a good feeling for LG’s G3. There’s already a potential for this to be the phone of the year.

In any case, expect the handset to be released in August, with our review just before it.