LG G3 Review: Slick Design, Sharp Display & A Great Camera

Reviews Paul Briden 12:24, 10 Nov 2014

Should you consider the LG G3 as your next smartphone? We road-tests it to see what's what

Rating: 
4.5
Typical Price: 
£489.00
Pros: 
Attractive design, Great performance, Excellent display, Brilliant camera, Great UI
Cons: 
Knock On can cause issues with unwanted screen activation, Gets hot, Some scenarios tax the battery
Verdict: 
A really excellent high-end Android smartphone with one of the best displays currently available and a rewarding user experience

While on the surface it might seem the smartphone market remains a vibrant, dynamic, and busy place, in reality it's relatively stagnant, at least, compared to how it was not very long ago. New devices are getting launched, and with as much ceremony as before, but recent flagships from Sony, Samsung, and even Apple and Google, have seen fairly incremental changes from their predecessors.

The truth of the matter is that the so-called "arms race" is drawing to a close - processors and other phone hardware across the board are now much, much more powerful than they need to be for the majority of software and content available. Performance has more-or-less levelled out, not only between phone makers, but from the high-end to low-end too.

This all means phone manufacturer's are having to go further and further to differentiate their devices through clever features and stylistic tweaks. While this can certainly be beneficial for the end user, there is a risk of feature-bloat, or the introduction of something that doesn't work quite as planned - too fiddly, annoying, intrusive, or otherwise undesirable. Such design decisions can come back to bite a manufacturer in the ass.

The LG G3 follows on from LG's impressive LG G2 flagship, and it has more than a handful of showy tricks up its sleeves. Do they benefit the experience or is the phone all mouth and no trousers?

Design & Display

At a glance the LG G3 is an attractive beast with some qualities not seen elsewhere on the smartphone market. Primarily, it’s all about that massive touchscreen, being one of very few offerings available which could genuinely be described as “edge-to-edge”. I can’t even begin to put together the mathematics to prove it as fact, (because writing for a living means that maths is basically wizardry) but to me it feels as though bezel width is directly proportional to phone attractiveness, ie: the narrower it is the better looking the phone becomes.

But the really curious thing seems to be how much LG appears to have been listening in on consumers’ wants and desires, vis-a-vis what everyone was saying prior to, during, and after the launches of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8.

That’s really the only conclusion I can reach when what we have here is a phone which goes to great lengths to make itself look like metal, but is in fact plastic, though not the kind of crap-feeling plastic which seems like it’s been reconstituted from all the unwanted drinks straws thrown away by fast-food chains.

Yes, LG earns some major cool points on the build front. The shape of the device looks different enough from most rivals with an overall angular profile. I suppose the nearest look-alike would be the LG-made Nexus 5, although the back panel has a more pronounced curvature on the G3. It’s also not using any of that soft-touch plastic, this is solid stuff with a smooth, though not overly glossy finish and a brushed metal-effect texture.

As I’ve come to expect from the last few LG flagships, the build quality is solid and it’s quite a robust device. However, while it’s likely more durable than aluminium, and it did survive a few heavy drops, I have noticed a bit of scuffing to the plastic finish in one of the corners.

The LG G3 handles reasonably well on the whole but it’s worth pointing out the tapered edges don’t give the best grip, combined with the size and the fact that, while not glossy, the material finish is quite smooth and slippery, those with smaller hands may struggle to hold onto the device.

While it may look like a unibody device, the back panel is in fact removable, revealing a removable 3,000mAh battery and card slots inside. Meanwhile, LG has pulled the same trick it performed on the LG G2 in streamlining the phone’s exterior and isolating the controls to the top centre of the back panel, just below the camera port.

This comprises a central power button housed in the middle of a volume rocker, just as before, although it’s been made to look a bit flashier than the LG G2 in-line with the rest of the phone’s metallic theme. The power key has a brushed effect and the volume rocker has a small dimpled texture, both of which are physical rather than simply visual and therefore make the keys a bit easier to locate on the back of the handset. I maintain it’s still not as easy to operate as a regular side or top-mounted power key and volume rocker, however, and for some reason on our review unit the power key had a tendency to stick or jam slightly. I've also found over time the power button can behave oddly, powering on the handset only to shut the screen off again immediately - as many as three or four times in a row before it actually decides to play nice and keep the screen on.

What about the display? Well, it’s pretty stunning really. It is incredibly sharp, thanks to LG further refining its use of IPS+ LCD with a denser sub-pixel arrangement and an insanely high-resolution at 2560x1440 pixels QHD. At 5.5-inches on the diagonal that gives a pixel density of 534 pixels-per-inch, meaning there’s little else on the market that comes close in terms of clarity. Colour is also nice and vivid, whites are very pure and there doesn’t appear to be any tint throwing off the whole setup.

Blacks and dark tones have good depth, although are not the deepest compared to something like an OLED setup, but brightness is excellent in general use. Viewing angles aren't too bad either, and it’s a similar story for bright sunlight, with the G3 besting most of its high-end Android stable mates. Generally speaking though, it’s a film or game lover’s dream in terms of usability as your own little portable cinema screen – viewing multimedia is a joy.

Is The LG G3 Waterproof?

You may have noticed a recent trend in the smartphone space towards waterproofing handsets with "IP" durability certifications. In terms of high-end, mainstream handsets this was pretty much started by Sony with its IP58 certification aboard the Xperia Z series, but other phone makers have followed suit, with Samsung sticking IP67 certification to the Galaxy S5.

With the launch of the LG G3, LG made no mention of any such  protection from the wet stuff for its latest flagship. For now, officially at least, it seems it doesn't have it.

Unofficially, however, some users have been bravely putting it to the test agains the elements and have found it to be surprisingly robust.

Youtube user and LG G3 owner Harris Craycraft took to the video sharing site to show how his handset survived two whole hours underwater.

He left the display turned on during the procedure and afterwards it still appears to function normally.

As PhoneArena points out, the video does not show whether delicate components such as the microUSB port, audio jack, or speakers, are either damaged or still effective. In waterproofed devices these areas are either treated with a water resistant coating or covered with ports, or in the case of the speakers, surrounded by an internal rubber seal. Popping the back off our LG G3 it certainly seems there's no seal around the speaker and we know there's no port cover on the USB as there is on Sony and Samsung's hardware.

We've been in touch with LG for a statement on the G3's water resistance capabilities, but in the meantime, while the experiment is certainly interesting, we'd still advise users to avoid getting their handsets wet for now. We will, of course, update further as we hear more.

Software & User Experience

The LG G3 uses Google’s Android software, version 4.4 KitKat, which until the recently unveiled Android L rolls out, is the most up-to-date build. It has LG’s own custom UI layer on top, which presents an interesting, if somewhat idiosyncratic, set of features – some of which are tied into hardware functionality.

One of these is the return of the Knock On feature seen on the LG G2, which allows the user to wake or sleep the phone by double-tapping on the display. This is now joined by Knock Code, but I’ll come back to that in a second.

Now, previously I made a rather glib comment during our LG G2 video that Knock On was “gimmicky”, which I’ve since come to regret as it actually does have it uses and is not a bad little feature. It’s not without its problems, however. Firstly, LG suggests it operates via a double-tap, but in practice I've found it only really responds consistently to a triple-tap.  Secondly, it's a bit overly sensitive – enough so that I quite often found the phone would wake up in my pocket. That led to one of two scenarios, either I’d take the phone out to use for something else, only to find it already on, and perhaps pratting about inside an app (I haven’t sent so many nonsensical “zzzjsdhdhdhd” style text messages by accident since the early 2000’s).

It also gets pretty hot too.

And that should give you an ominous indication of the next scenario: last week I noticed something burning a frigging hole in my chest. Alarmed, I investigated only to discover it was the phone. Screw wearables, this thing will bring about a glorious cyborg union much earlier, whether you want it to or not, when it fuses itself to your ribcage or hip.

Less dramatically: think of the battery drain.

I’ve encountered this before, with a similar feature aboard the HTC One M8, but the key difference there is that HTC lets you toggle it on or off. I’ll concede I may have missed it, but I looked long and hard through the LG G3’s UI and found no such toggle – you can’t switch off Knock On, it seems.

Which means the only real way to stop such tomfoolery is to activate Knock Code or some other security lock instead. Knock Code acts as another unlock option alongside the usual run of PIN, password or pattern unlocking. It’s similar to pattern unlock, except that it lets you set a knocking pattern for tapping the screen in order to unlock it (rather than a swiping pattern), using specific sections of the display. It’s a bit like having a secret knock, and it works very well.

This can be a remedy to the aforementioned overactive-in-your-pocket scenario caused by regular Knock On, simply because the odds of it hitting the right code while jumbling about in your pocket are pretty damn slim – it might still activate the display, as that still works on a double tap, but your code isn’t likely to be entered, which means you won’t get into apps, tax the processor, drain the battery, or start sending derpy messages. And even if it is activated in this case, if you don’t input your code it will time out from the lockscreen.

Remember what I said about getting bitten in the ass? Yeah, that was it. I understand the good intentions behind this feature, but from a practical standpoint it falls flat on its face.

What about the rest of the UI design? Well, as seems to be the trend of late, Android 4.4 KitKat has seen a lot of phone makers which have conventionally slapped a thick layer of brand flavour icing onto things opting instead for something a bit more reserved and, dare I say it, “true to Google”.

The LG G3’s UI is very much in-keeping with KitKat – it has flatter app icons, white notification elements, transparent bars at top and bottom, a translucent app drawer and plenty more along these lines. The Quick Settings section of the drop-down notifications menu is particularly noteworthy for its neat little circular toggle icons. Meanwhile, there’s customisation a-plenty with the ability to change the Quick Setting toggles, adjust the full Settings menu viewing mode (tabs or list), and select a custom font.

The keyboard has its own bag of tricks, as well as offering a Swype-like text input you can customise the height of the keyboard – either condensing it down or spreading the keys out a bit. You can also toggle one-handed operation where you can flip the keyboard to one side of the handset or the other with a swipe, which is nice.

A neat feature is the “Dual Window” functionality accessible via the multitasking screen. Rather like Samsung’s Multiscreen, you can share the display between two apps – you can even set this up so that links and image attachments will automatically open in the Dual Window mode. The handset also features a built-in File Manager application, QuickMemo+, and a configurable “Guest Mode” to give restricted access to whoever you might hand your phone to.

One little quirk is the “Smart Bulletin”, which is rather similar to some of Samsung’s stuff and HTC’s BlinkFeed as a panel positioned on the far-left of your set of homescreens. It comprises two panes, one for the LG Health suite (which is pretty much like all the other helath suites being pushed right now) and one for “Smart Tips”, which can guide you in how to use certain features aboard the phone. The whole Smart Bulletin feature can be handily toggled off in Settings should you wish to be rid of it.

Performance wise this is as buttery smooth as I’ve come to expect having handled the LG G2 last year, and subsequently a boatload of Qualcomm Snapdragon 801-based handsets. It’s crazy fast and doesn’t skip a beat. But importantly the UI operation appears to have been well optimised. There are a lot of similarities in look, feel, and animation style and fluidity, with HTC’s Sense 6 UI, which is a very positive thing as I wrote enthusiastically about that in my HTC One M8 review. It’s rewarding to operate and view, and it’s fluid too.

Android 5.0 Lollipop Rollout Begins

LG has officially announced the beginning of its Android 5.0 Lollipop update rollout, with the software arriving on devices in Poland. The company is yet to confirm where the rollout will arrive after this, but being an EU region it's expected other EU countries, including the UK, will get the update very soon.

“LG is absolutely committed to giving our customers the best mobile experiences available and bringing Android Lollipop to G3 owners as soon as possible is a top priority,” said Dr. Jong-Seok Park, President and CEO of the LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company. 

“The new features and improvements in Android 5.0 will bring a whole new user experience to the G3 and make it even better than it already is,” he added.

As well as this, a Polish tech news site has obtained screenshots showing the in-development build and its new UI running on the LG G3 - we can see from the image that it features a new Google Now card style notifications screen.

Connectivity &  Hardware

All the connectivity options you might expect from a high-end smartphone are aboard the LG G3, including full 4G LTE and 3G mobile data (via a Micro-SIM), dual-band Wi-Fi (with Wi-Fi Direct and Hotspot), Bluetooth 4.0 and microUSB. It also packs DLNA, an infrared blaster, NFC, A-GPS (GLONASS), and an FM Radio.

On the storage side of things, the UK version has 16GB onboard with microSD support for cards up to 128GB. Not a massive amount of onboard space, but should be adequate for most apart from the power users, the card capacity is nice for media aficionados to hot-swap music, image and film collections. A 32GB model does exist but is currently only available in Asia.

At the heart of the phone is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 quad-core chip based on its Krait 400 architecture, specifically the MSM8975AC model clocked at 2.5GHz. It carries an Adreno 330 graphics processing unit (GPU) and again the UK model has 2GB of RAM, while buyers in Asia can enjoy 3GB alongside their 32GB of onboard storage space.

The LG G3’s smooth running interface is one thing but it’s also a dab hand at more intensive tasks thanks to that engine block. It handles high-end gaming such as Asphalt 8 effortlessly and with no performance lag, while multitasking a large number of apps is also no problem. I did notice the handset tended to heat up rather a lot even during relatively light workloads, meaning intensive use turns it into quite the little burner, but that’s not unusual for Snapdragon 800/801 devices by any means.

Battery

LG’s gone for a removable 3,000mAh cell, which is handy as it enables hot-swapping of spare packs, if you’re that way inclined. Battery life seems quite variable, I ran our video test with Django Unchained from 100% charge – the film runs 2.45 hours. With full brightness on (bearing in mind this is a massive, high-resolution and ultra-bright display) and Wi-Fi enabled, streaming the film for its full duration ran the charge down to 37%. Not great.

However, re-charging to 100%, pre-loading the film and then running it on the same settings saw the phone come down to a more respectable 50%. Not bad.

That display is no doubt taking a fair share of the juice, but you’ll have to be careful with other power drains if you want to get a decent run from the LG G3. Being careful, it should manage around five hours of continued video playback (pre-loaded), but streaming significantly less.

As expected, I found with moderate to heavy use the handset needed a charge by the end of a working day from 100%. Considering the demand that screen no doubt puts on the phone it’s actually impressive that it manages this kind of performance, which is fairly typical of several high-end devices with generous batteries these days.

Camera

As LG’s tech is so often very similar to that of Samsung’s, it should perhaps not be surprising that the camera performance is very reminiscent of what we’ve seen from its fellow Korean phone-maker. By that, I mean that it’s got a clean, easy-to-use UI, and has been calibrated to produce slightly more vibrant images than you might get on sensors which aim for very true-to-life contrast and colour accuracy. That’s not to say the results looks unreal, because they don’t, but they have a lot of pop, meaning there’s little need to use apps such as Instagram if you like a striking image.

The sensor is a 13-megapixel back-illuminated (BSI) setup with a 1/3” sensor size and an f/2.4 aperture. It has a dual-LED two-tone flash, optical image stabilisation (OIS+) and laser autofocus. LG claims the laser autofocus means it’s able to focus and capture a snap faster than you can blink, and this does indeed seem to be the case – it’s very quick on operation. That, combined with its easy UI means it’s great for fast and effortless point-n-shoot purposes while delivering great results.

The OIS+ seems to help too as image quality seems to be a wee bit sharper and more detailed than Samsung’s 16MP ISOCELL, while dynamic range and contrast are both excellent and it handles low-light quite well. The LG G3 supports HDR mode, panoramic capture and voice activation, as well as geo-tagging, face and smile detection, and burst mode. Video capture supports 1080p and 4K Ultra HD quality and is incredibly sharp and smooth, while a 2.1-megapixel front-facing secondary can be used for selfies and video calls in 1080p quality.

If you're interested in how the LG G3's imaging capabilities stack up against key rivals (*spoiler*: it did rather well), head over to our big flagship cameraphone shootout where we put it through its paces alongside the likes of Samsung's Galaxy S5, Nokia's Lumia 1020, and Sony's Xperia Z2, amongst others:

Conclusion

The LG G3 is a really quite impressive device and I’ve enjoyed using it. It has one or two odd little quirks which hamper the experience a bit – for me these have been relatively minor gripes which I’ve been able to cope with, but I can imagine them being more irritating for some users.

Despite some initial concerns during my first hands-on, I think the software experience is great, as I mentioned, there are parallels to be drawn with HTC devices and it’s really just a pleasant UI to look at and operate. A spoonful of customisation options never hurts, and some added functionality, such as the Dual Screen mode and built-in File Manager are most welcome indeed.

I do think the Knock On feature is a bit of a stumbling block though, it just needs better implementation and may annoy more users than it pleases due to its tendency to activate the phone in your pocket. The LG G3 could benefit from more onboard storage, and while the battery life can be quite reasonable, if you’re not super-careful there’s quite a risk of getting caught short. The display, camera and general performance, however, are all superb, as is the design and build. A highly recommendable handset, with a few caveats.

If you wanted to pick up the LG G3 16GB edition you’ll find a bit of a nice surprise, it has had a price cut in certain areas of Europe, including the UK where the price has been dropped from £489.99 to £455. That's the tag you'll currently find on the Amazon UK Store, but a selection of other retailers have also adopted the price cut.

The LG G3 & The LG G Watch

Logically, you'd think that in order to generate interest in the new wearable product there'd be more than a few offers around provided by retailers, networks, and even LG itself, to bundle the LG G Watch in with the LG G3. Sadly, this doesn't appear to be the case, we've only discovered two so far, and one of them leads to a dead page (TalkTalk), so really there's only one - Three UK. It's definitely worth pointing out that the LG G3 will pair with any smartwatch running Android Wear (such as the Moto 360 and Samsung Gear Live), while the LG G Watch will pair with any Android KitKat phone - so this kind of dualling up on LG products isn't strictly necessary, but still, it's surprising not to see more bundles.

If you're thinking of picking up an Andorid Wear smartwatch to pair with your LG G3, the G Watch is one of the cheaper options. Here are some excerpts from our full review (which you can read in full here), to give you an idea of what it's like, and whether it's for you.

"Previous smartwatches made the mistake of trying to include too much functionality, and that isn't a pitfall Google intends to fall into. Android Wear keeps things simple and is primarily a notifications platform. Pretty much every alert or message you could normally get in Android's notification pane is instantly beamed to your wrist, allowing you to view emails, read tweets, acknowledge calendar appointments and digest eBay messages without having to remove your phone from your pocket."

"While Google and its hardware partners have tried to talk-up the stamina of Android Wear devices, we found that around two days is the most we could expect from the G Watch's 400mAh power cell before it started gasping for air. Realistically, you're going to end up charging this watch on a daily basis, just to ensure it doesn't run out of steam mid-way through the day when you're away from a charging point. "

"The G Watch does an excellent job of showing off Google's new wearable OS, so the lack of aesthetic bells and whistles isn't an issue. LG knows the software is the star here. Android Wear makes managing and responding to alerts a lot easier and more intuitive, and we'll no doubt see the platform improve and mature over the next year."

So that Three deal then. Essentially when you pick up the LG G3 with Three UK on a contract, you can get the LG G Watch for £99 instead of the usual price of £169 when bought on its own. Check it out here.

Specifications

Length 146.3mm
Width 74.6mm
Thickness 8.9mm
Weight 149g
Screen Colours 16 million
Screen Size 5.5-inches
UK Launch June 2014
Phone Style Touchscreen
Typical Price £489
Website http://www.lg.com/uk/mobile-phones/lg-D855
Camera Resolution 13-megapixels
Video Resolution 1080p, 2160p (4K)
Flash Dual-LED Two-Tone

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