LG’s best yet, and a real contender for phone of the year: LG’s G3 reviewed
4.8Overall Score
Price (RRP): $799 (outright); Available on plans from Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone; Manufacturer: LG

LG has long been trying to be the leader of the smartphone race, and in its 2014 flagship, it just might have the edge to beat the others, with one of the sharpest screens in the world and a smattering of other cool features. Is this the best phone yet?

Features

The last of the major Android flagship releases for the first half of the year are here, with really only phablets left to go.

If you’ve been waiting for a new LG handset, here it is, bringing a 5.5 inch screen with a new resolution to go with it. That resolution measure 2560×1440, making it the highest resolution display found in a smartphone in Australia, and delivering 534 pixels per inch, 200 higher than Apple’s Retina-grade panels found on the current crop of iPhone handsets (5C and 5S).

The 5.5 inch display is also protected by the third generation of Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass technology.

Underneath this screen, LG is relying on a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked to 2.5GHz, paired with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage. If 16GB isn’t enough, there’s a microSD slot available, and in some parts of the world, you’ll find a 32GB model with 3GB RAM instead of our 2GB. Not Australia, at least not yet, so here you’ll find the 2GB/16GB model in most places.

Android 4.4 “KitKat” runs natively here, with some changes from LG, and it works with a fair amount of connectivity, including 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP and LE, Near-Field Communication (NFC), infrared, GPS, and support for 4G LTE running under Category 4. MicroUSB is also supported, but it’s a wired connection found at the bottom of the handset.

Since cameras are such an important part of the mobile phone world, you’ll find a 13 megapixel shooter on the back, paired with a flash and laser-based auto-focus, as well as a 2.1 megapixel camera on the front. Both cameras can take stills and Full HD videos, but only the rear camera can capture in Ultra High Definition (4K, or close to it).

Buttons on phones are getting fewer in number, and that’s certainly true of LG’s G3, with the front only supporting Android’s soft buttons — back, home, and multi-tasking — though thanks to some programming, LG will let you move these around. The few hardware buttons that exist sit on the very back of the G3, with a volume rocker sitting under neath the camera lens, with a power button in between.

There are only two physical ports on the handset, with the microUSB and 3.5mm headset jack found at the very bottom of the handset.

The back of the G3 can be removed, however, revealing the battery, which can be taken out, and two slots sitting atop each other, with a microSIM slot underneath and a microSD slot just above this.

LG’s G3 battery is rated for 3000mAh.

Performance

It doesn’t seem like we’ve had LG’s G2 for all that long, but here are with another model, not even a year past that handset’s release. In August, however, LG is taking the G2 and improving it, updating the specs and bringing a new screen into the mix, and changing the design slightly.

We’ll start with that last bit, because everything else flows from it.

Pick up the handset and like the G2, you’ll notice there’s something rather interesting about the design: there are no buttons on the front or the side.

Just like in that older model, the buttons sit on the back, with a volume rocker sitting at the rear cover, just under the camera, with a power button the middle.

This design has been modelled on a particular hand-hold of the phone, which is that you rest the base of the phone in your palm, use your fore-finger to control the back buttons, and grip the handset with the rest of your digits.

It’s a little unorthodox, especially in comparison to the other phone out there, but once you get used to it, LG’s control scheme does make some sense.

Next is the design, and that’s a pretty basic gunmetal grey look on the back, with a front mostly set out with a piece of glass — the 5.5 inch screen — with small bezels on the top, bottom, and sides. The top and bottom are the thickest areas, with a speaker and camera up top, and an LG logo at the bottom, but it’s mostly a pleasing design that isn’t overly showboat, but still nice to look at.

We’re not sure we agree with LG’s decision to go with plastic as the main material, though. The body is made of polycarbonate, but features metallic paint applied to the back, making it look like metal.

It’s not, mind you, but it’s pretty enough, and is definitely comfortable in the hand, with a curved back that pushes into your palm nicely, though it can be a little slippery at first.

Switch the phone on and the first impressive feature you’ll be treated to is the screen. Oh my, that screen.

For its third generation G-series phone, LG is applying a new resolution to its handsets, moving on from the Full HD 1920×1080 resolution we’ve seen on handsets for the past year or two, and settling on something that appears to be a new benchmark: Quad HD, or QHD for short.

Don’t get that confused with qHD, either, since that initialism or “quarterHD” as it came to be known by those in the know saw it on smartphones a few years ago. That was a lower resolution, and generally reserved for phones that hasn’t yet reached the pinnacle of HD screen technology — 1280×720 — so went with something close to it instead, which was 960×540, or simply put, qHD.

LG’s G3 isn’t that. Make that little “q” a big “Q” and there’s a world of difference. At least four times the world of difference, to be exact, because QHD is four times the resolution of HD’s 1280×720. Take four of those screens, put them together, and you have 2560×1440 (or 1440×2560 if you look at it from the phone’s point of view, vertically, but no one does the math in that way, so let’s move on).

That resolution makes all the world of difference, because while the Full HD screens of the Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, and Sony Xperia Z2 all manage to pack in around 420 to 440 pixels per inch, the G3 goes above and beyond the call of detail to bring in a staggering 534 pixels per inch.

Why is this important?

Well, a few years ago, when phones were doing their best to beat the juggernaut that is the Apple iPhone in features, Apple raised the bar, not just making a strong glass-encased aluminium-framed smartphone, but also bringing in the world’s first “Retina-class” phone.

At the time, Steve Jobs called it “the biggest leap since the original iPhone,” and that Retina technology technically translated to a higher resolution screen in a small body, for Apple, packing in a display supporting 960×640 in its 3.5 inch body, which meant sharper text, images, and pretty much everything, and when you did the math, delivered 326 pixels per inch. Later on, when Apple released the bigger iPhone 5 with its slightly taller 4 inch display, that raised the Retina display to 1136×640, keeping the 326 pixels per inch around to match its sibling.

Essentially, the reason this number was so important was because research suggested the human eye could only see a maximum of 300 pixels per inch, and since our eyes were the bottleneck, you didn’t need to make a sharper display.

But Android manufacturers didn’t necessarily agree, and since then, we’ve seen phone manufacturers move beyond it, with the most obvious updates happening in 2013, as we moved to 441 pixels per inch for the likes of Samsung, LG, and Sony, while HTC took a lead with its 2013 edition One (M7) and a 468 pixel per inch screen.

We’ve compared pixel sizes before, and you can see our previous work on that, but really, it’s a different game now, as LG has one upped everyone releasing in Australia, with its 1440p screen, going around 100 higher.

According to LG’s own research, this is needed because humans can see more detail than what was previous identified, and so rather than just increase the resolution for no reason, the company has tried to match the detail seen in an art book, with a level of sharpness akin to that found in high-quality printed materials.

That really is the holy grail, because if we’re to replace print with digital, you want it to be just as good, if not better.

And that’s a good thing to keep in the back of your mind, and to pull out into the front of your head, because LG has made what appears to be the best screen on a phone we’ve seen yet.

Hands down. End it there. No questions asked. Seriously, we’re going to call this thing the “amazeballs screen” from here on in. Sorry Retina, but you have been thrashed by LG’s amazeballs screen, and here’s why: when you look at the G3, everything pops.

Not in a “holy crap, it’s going to explode” kind of way, but in a “wow, this is sharp” way.

For the most part, text isn’t a massive difference, and sometimes it feels too sharp, even appearing faint until your eyes adjust, which takes a split second. In fact, depending on the app, only some of the text will load perfectly clear to begin with, as not every app has been optimised to work with this new overly high resolution screen.

But for most things, it’s perfectly clear, and it becomes more apparent when you look at visuals which push themselves from the screen, looking absolutely wonderful and vibrant across the board.

It’s also a surprisingly big screen, measuring 5.5 inches, which at one point was considered phablet size, thanks to the use of a 5.5 inch display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. For what it’s worth, the G3 is not a phablet, but manages to pack this 5.5 inch display into a body near the size of the Sony X2 and Galaxy S5 due to very small bezels, which maximises the total screen size.

There’s also a decent amount of brightness on offer, and as we walked through Sydney, the sunlight beating down on our phone, we could still see some of what was going on, a testament to the amount of light shining out of this phone’s screen.

Moving on from the amazeballs screen, you’ll find Android, and keeping it consistent with LG’s idea that the look of Android should be close to what Google imagines, this one is like that, and yet updated to sit closer to what Google is going for lately, with flatter icons, block colours, and scrolling app menus.

On the whole, it’s a very easy overlay to get used to, and LG has even left some of our favourite features from previous models, such as the ability to change app icons easily, support for more than four icons in the shortcut dock (and you can change these), pulling and pinching in gestures to either show an entire photo or show all of your homescreens, soft-buttons that can be re-ordered, and the knock features such as the ability to tap on the screen to switch the phone on, and even use the “knock code” which is a security code based on tapping the screen a set amount of times.

You’ll also find a drop down menu, as per typical Android, but with LG’s modifications applied, with a degree of transparency, modern flat icons based on line art, and a remote controller for your TV and amp built into this section.

A smart widget also pays close attention to what you’re doing, monitoring your activities in a way similar to what Google’s Now does, reminding you of things in everyday English, such as if you need to bring an umbrella with you because it might rain, or if you should charge your battery.

It’s like having an assistant that doesn’t talk, because if you don’t need a virtual talking friend, you can have one in text that sits underneath your clock and weather monitor.

And there’s even a dose of that dual-screen app action, something Samsung first introduced in its handsets that allows you to run two apps side-by-side, or in this case, on top of each other.

Gmail with web browsing? Done. Maps and messaging? Done. On the G3, simply hold the back button down to begin, and your last session will also be saved in case you want to bring it back to life in a jiffy.

Using the phone is more or less the same as it ever has been, so we won’t get into that, but sufficed to say, you can still make phone calls, and send messages, and do all the things you would normally do on a phone.

Performance is decent, and thanks to high-end specs, it’s pretty strong across the board, though there is some lag, which we’ll get into later on.

From a benchmark point of view, the G3 matches the competition, and that shouldn’t be surprising since there’s pretty much the same technology inside.

Mobile performance is also very strong, and if you’re on a network with support for Category 4 LTE connectivity, this is helped with download speeds of up to 150Mbps.

Our Telstra tests in Sydney aren’t supported by Cat 4 just yet, but we managed speeds of between 19 and 80Mbps, which puts the G3 on par with just about all the other major smartphones coming out, so you should have decent downloads where ever you go in Australia.

The camera is also very important, and for this side of things, there hasn’t been just a recycled camera.

Don’t get us wrong, LG’s cameras haven’t been bad in the past, but we’re excited to see some different technology make the transition to LG’s G3 handset.

As such, you’ll find a 13 megapixel with a truly futuristic sounding “laser auto-focus.”

What’s that, you might be asking?

Rather than just work off contrast detection, the G3’s camera will fire off a laser looking for things to focus on, working with the contrast detection to acquire focus quickly. In lots of light, the laser won’t probably do much, but in low light, a laser could be beneficial for a speedy shot, making it a neat inclusion altogether.

Using the camera is easy enough, mind you: simply touch the screen and the auto-focus points will pop up, generally firing the shot after focus has been acquired. You can, if you like, use a button on the back of the handset, and for that either of the volume buttons on the back will do, with both volume up and volume down firing the shot off.

An image taken at night with the LG G3

For the most part, the images are good, if not on par with other cameras out there. From far back, the images are sharp and detailed enough, though up close, it’s easy to see softness, so don’t expect this to replace your dedicated camera any time soon.

In daylight, the images pop and look good, with low-light also providing some decent power, though don’t expect a lot of control when you’re taking photos.

For the most part, LG seems to have taken a pretty minimalist approach to the camera controls, with a simple “touch here to take pictures” approach. There’s no manual control whatsoever, which is an interesting omission.

Overall, though, there do seem to be less features for the camera itself, and that means you won’t find a lot of effects for the on-board camera, if any at all.

If you’re just sending your photos straight to Instagram or Snapseed, that’s probably not a concern, but if you loved the pixelation look or monochromatic sepia-tones other software cameras give you, LG’s software won’t provide any of that.

Magic Focus in the flesh. With a Lego Minifig. As you do. Or we do, anyway.

There are a few extra modes, though, with LG providing a panorama mode, dual-camera activation (your picture from the front-facing shooter pasted on the picture from the main rear camera), and a “magic focus” mode, which recreates the Lytro-like focus later style of photography.

The front-facing camera also comes with its own little neat feature, such as a flash mode, which isn’t really a flash. Rather, it sets your image inside a border of a rather bright colour for the screen, acting almost like a ring flash for your face and lighting you up from the front.

That’s a neat idea, and it’s one that could work for all the self-portraits you might take in the dark dingy poorly lit nightclubs where you desperately wanted to show that you visited.

Another neat concept for the front camera is the gesture for starting the self-camera timer, which basically tracks you open hand (palm up, fingers out, like you’re showing the number five on your hand), and waits for you to close it, balling it into a fist. Once that’s been seen, a three second timer starts, and then your picture is taken.

And if you don’t want to do that, you can always press the volume down on the back of the phone. That takes a picture, as well.

There are also some bonuses that help to increase the appreciation of the handset, such as support for wireless charging inside the unit, upgradeable storage thanks to microSD (something that was missing on previous LG G-series phones), and some support for 24-bit FLAC files, making it possible to play back audio in one of the highest formats out there.

If you have some fantastic headphones, it means you don’t need to go out and buy a high-res audio player, like the one Sony makes, and can simply rely on a phone for this to work.

For what it’s worth, LG’s G2 had this support too, but the phone limited you to fixed storage inside the handset, and when you’re talking over one gigabyte per one hour album, and you mix that with storage for photos, videos, apps, and games, this limits what you’re likely to store considerably.

Fortunately, with microSD storage on the G3 supporting up to 128GB, there’s loads of room to move, and if you’re buying high definition audio, you can use this phone to listen in without dramas.

As good as this product appears to be, though, there is no perfect product. You can attain close to perfection, don’t get us wrong, but we’re critics, we’re reviewers, so we can always find something wrong with a product.

In the LG G3, those flaws come from a few areas, with the performance seemingly affected by this new screen technology, the chassis material used in the construction of the phone, a mediocre on-screen keyboard, and a feature missed out by the G3 and yet found on one of its key competitors.

Let’s start with the performance, since this is a noticeable one, and it’s expressed through small amounts of lag that occur when you’re trying to run applications: simply put, you press an app through it’s shortcut, and rather than load straight away, there’s a minor pause — maybe half a second — and then it runs.

And that’s not a one-off thing either, as it happens pretty much all the time, which is strange since the system isn’t struggling with its quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB of RAM.

We’re not entirely sure on this one, but what we think is going on here is that the extra pixels required for that amazeballs screen are slowing down the processor marginally. There are more to show, obviously, since 2560×1440 is bigger than 1920×1080, and rather than be optimised out of the box, the system is just a wee bit slower than it should be.

For us, that’s a little like the first run games for the Xbox One and PS4 not being as fast as they should be out of the box, since you learn more about how to tweak and control hardware as time goes on, not from the first retail sale, and just like the future games will load and perform faster for those video game consoles, firmware updates for the G3 could easily fix this, as will subsequent hardware versions.

But it is a first generation hardware issue, and a minor one at that. We just know you expect us to report on these things, so there it is, in the flesh for you to read.

Go on LG, release an update to your G3 to fix this. Prove us right. Please.

LG’s keyboard appears to be different from this idea, though, and while we’ve complained about it in the past, and suggested not just in our writing but to LG people that it gets a company like SwiftKey into its R&D (similar to how Samsung uses it), its on-screen keyboard is only marginally improved.

There are things you can do with its on-screen keyboard that you can’t do with many others, such as change the height of the keys, turn off the numbers on the top of the keyboard, and change what symbols appear natively next to the space bar, and LG has even made it appear a touch more responsive, which is only a good thing, but we don’t feel we’re being too hard on it by saying that its word prediction just isn’t crash hot.

Seriously, it’s 2014. I shouldn’t have to press the shift key on my on-screen keyboard when I type the letter “i” by itself to see it go uppercase. I’m saying “I,” and every other phone that costs this much gets this, so why can’t LG?

That spelling prediction fails in other times, and if you gesture type — running your finger over the letters to make a word quickly — and slightly misspell something, LG will instead suggest the word that makes the least sense, instead of the one that makes the most.

Go figure. Just like last time, we’d suggest that if you find the LG on-screen keyboard equally annoying, just replace it with one of the many available from the Google Play store. You can do that on Android, and we’re thankful for it.

The battery could also be better, lasting at most a day for us, which is about average, but could be better.

If you use your phone a lot, LG’s battery should last that full day, but also may not.

Our regular phone test — which includes surfing the web, streaming music, making phone calls, texting, emailing, playing the odd small game, and a spot of social networking — helped us last a little over a day, but that seems to be the most you’ll get out of the G3’s 3000mAh battery.

Also of note is that there is no ultra low power saving mode, which is a feature both HTC and Samsung have included in their products, but is missing in action here. Maybe it’s something LG will add later on in firmware. We sure hope so, since that could make travelling with small amounts of battery life that much more useful, especially since you need to have power if you’re going through security at some airports.

The hardware is our final area of concern, most notably its construction and lack of ruggedisation, which we thought was a trend in the smartphone world.

It’s interesting to see how smartphones are evolving from a design point of view. In many ways, it feels like there are two roads being crossed, with some manufacturers seeing that highly resistant and solid materials are the way forward — like metal and glass — while flexible and cheaper to produce materials are the other way for everyone else.

In the Android smartphone world, it’s HTC and Sony that agree on high-end materials. Buy an expensive smartphone and you’ll find aluminium and glass for those two companies, and sometimes a mix of both.

But for Samsung and LG, we’re over in the plastics, with the idea being that texture or paint can emulate the experience of a high-end material just as well as using the real thing.

Sorry, but it can’t. The dimpled texture on the Galaxy S5? That’s not leather, and the metallic paint on the G3 can’t fool us either. It’s nice looking, don’t get us wrong, but we’d easily take real metal over faux metal any day of the week.

That’s not to say it’s unattractive or feels bad; it doesn’t have either of those qualities, but premium should feel premium, and it doesn’t here.

Also missing in action is water and dust proofing, which is something both Samsung and Sony seem to agree on in their phones, but that LG has missed out on.

This could be one of those things you don’t care about, and we totally get that.

You might buy a case to protect against water, and that’s totally up to you, but we can’t tell you the amount of times we’ve been taking photos while cooking on the Sony Xperia Z2 only to have it get food on it, and washing it off — running it under the tap — makes everything return to the way it was so much more easily.

We’d have liked that level of ruggedisation here, we really would have.

Image sample from the LG G3 camera

Conclusion

Without a doubt, this is LG’s best phone yet. Full stop.

Actually, forget the full stop, because there is more to the G3 than just being LG’s best phone, since it also gives all the other players a good run for their money, as well.

While every flagship this year bar one — Apple’s iPhone 5S, which has yet to be updated — runs on the same processor spec (the Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor) there are things in the LG G3 that set it apart from the competition, and even rise it up a notch or two.

That screen helps, since it brings the best sharpness to any mobile phone wideley available in Australia, but it’s not the only thing, and with a great looking Android overlay, a solid and fast autofocus camera, and a dose of expandable memory — something yet to appear in an LG G series phone — there’s some serious reason to move to LG here.

It’s not perfect, though. Not yet, anyway, but it is excellent, and with loads of positive features that other manufacturers haven’t thought of yet, we’d pick this over the Galaxy S5 any day. Highly recommended.

But is it the best phone? We’ll have a flagship fight in the next few days, highlighting our favourite phone out of the lot of them… stay tuned!

LG’s best yet, and a real contender for phone of the year: LG’s G3 reviewed
Price (RRP): $799 (outright); Available on plans from Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone; Manufacturer: LG
The best screen on the market in Australia, no questions asked; Great 4G speeds; System performance is mostly fantastic, with only a spot of quarter- or half-second lag when you're running or switching between apps; Removeable battery; Yay, you can finally add microSD memory!; Plays FLAC files in 24-bit/192, something few phones support; Wireless charging (Qi) supported out of the box; Nice camera with some very fast and solid low-light auto-focus;
Battery life could be better; No water- or dust-proofing applied; Body may look metal, but it's still made out of plastic; Lag can be noticed; LG's own included virtual keyboard still isn't amazing, and we'd replace it the first chance you get; While the battery lasts a day (longer than what we saw on the S5), there is no ultra-low power saving mode;
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4.8Overall Score
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