LG G3 review

The LG G3 is set to launch in South Africa soon, rounding out the local availability of flagship Android smartphones.

It will go toe-to-toe with the Samsung Galaxy S5, which launched in April 2014; the Sony Xperia Z2, which launched at the start of June; and the HTC One M8, which officially launched a few weeks ago.

Those are just some of the more well-known Android devices the LG G3 will compete against. It will also have to take on the iPhone 5s and the high-end Windows Phone devices in Nokia’s Lumia range.

Design and build quality

As far as the exterior of the device is concerned, it more than holds its own against the other powerhouses on the market.

The front of the device is almost all screen, which is a monstrous quad HD (1440×2560) 5.5-inch in-plane switching display.

All you’ll find along the edges of this device are the micro USB port and headphone jack on the bottom, and an infrared sensor on the top.

Like the LG G2, its sides are completely devoid of buttons, with the G3 opting instead to put the sleep/wake button and volume rocker on the back of the device.

These buttons sit just below the rear camera’s lens, and while they may seem unwieldy at first, you do get used to them within the first few days of using the device.

The back of the LG G3 is slightly curved and the cover is made of pretty thick plastic that looks like brushed metal.

Its curves let it sit comfortably in the hand, though the device is a little too big for my tastes.

Performance: hardware and software working together

Specifications LG G3
Dimensions 146.3 x 74.6 x 8.9mm
Weight 149g
Operating system Android 4.4.2
Display 5.5″ Quad HD IPS (1440×2560)
Rear camera 13MP “OIS+”
Front camera 2.1MP
Storage, internal 16GB / 32GB
Storage, expandable microSD
RAM 2GB / 3GB
Processor 2.5GHz quad-core MSM8974
Graphics Adreno 330
Battery 3,000mAh (removable)
Cellular data HSPA+, LTE
SIM type Micro
NFC Yes

Looking at just the spec sheet of the LG G3, one expects a powerhouse of a device.

Though we only got to review the baby G3 with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage, it did not disappoint.

Curiously, our LG G3 didn’t perform well on AnTuTu benchmarks (it even came in behind the LG G2), but it held its own against the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5 (3G model) in all the other tests we put it through.

It beat the Samsung Galaxy S5 (3G, which uses Samsung’s own Exynos chip) in 3DMark, as well as in a number of GFXBench benchmarks.

Benchmarks only tell part of the story, however, and testing the LG G3 with games such as Dungeon Defenders, GT Racing 2, and Ingress showed that the device’s graphics hardware was up to scratch.

Using Ingress and apps such as Google Maps and Waze also showed the device’s GPS hardware and other directional sensors such as the accelerometer, gyro, and electronic compass were up to scratch.

Though the LG G3 screen was pretty responsive (as one might expect from a high-end smartphone), at times it felt slightly slow to react to touches compared to other devices we’ve reviewed.

There were also times where the touch response on the device became quite sluggish, usually after it had been on for a few days.

Rebooting the LG G3 made it snappy again, and one has to wonder whether the problem wasn’t just caused by a rogue application.

However, the issue is worth noting as it is not something I have experienced on the Nexus 5, where I run most of the same third-party apps.

Features: software

LG G3 screenshots: default homescreen, notification tray, LG Health
LG G3 screenshots: default homescreen, notification tray, LG Health

Like most high-end smartphone makers, LG uses its own custom “skin” for Google’s Android mobile operating system.

Those who prefer Android’s defaults will be happy to know that LG does not deviate too far from them with the G3.

It uses software “back”, “home”, and “recents” buttons, even allowing you to customise whether the back and recents buttons sit to the left or right of the home button.

LG has opted for circle-based user interface elements that do nothing to offend, with the minimalism in the LG G3’s notification tray worthy of a special mention.

Instead of the gaudy, colourful icons we often see in custom notification tray implementations, LG has gone with a simple black-and-white design that is functional and looks great.

The recently used app screen on the LG G3 is also somewhat different from stock Android, letting you choose between three different ways of viewing recent apps.

You can elect to use Android’s default scrollable list of recent applications, or a view them in a grid of 2 or 3 abreast by pinching the list.

In addition to the custom user interface design, LG also offers a few other features worth mentioning:

  • Smart keyboard: A pleasant default keyboard that is similar to SwiftKey (learning as you type), but not quite as powerful. Auto-correct is switched off by default, which is great for South Africans that like to mix their languages. LG’s keyboard doesn’t have an Afrikaans dictionary, but it does have a Zulu one.
  • Smart notice: This is meant to provide suggested actions based on past behaviour, usage patterns, and location, but ended up being more of a nuisance than anything else.
  • Knock code: Lets you unlock the device with a pattern of taps even when the screen is off, instead of needing to push the sleep/wake button and then drawing a pattern on a grid or using a PIN code. Handy.
  • One-handed modes: Can make it easier to type while holding the LG G3 in one hand, but doesn’t change the fact that you have to swipe down from the top of the device to access the notification tray.
  • LG Health: LG’s way of getting in on the “mHealth” trend. Tracks exercise using the LG G3’s various sensors and let’s you record your stats. Uses body mass index to recommend exercise goals.
  • FM Radio: Not something you see on all smartphones nowadays, despite many South Africans saying that it is a feature they use frequently.
LG G3 rear, cover off
LG G3 rear, cover off

Camera

One of the most used features of a smartphone is its camera, so it is worth a mention in any review.

The LG G3 features a 13 megapixel (MP) camera on the back and a 2.1MP front camera.

In my testing it took great photos both indoors and outdoors in a variety of lighting conditions.

It offers a high dynamic range mode which does what it says on the tin, and also uses what LG calls “laser auto focus”. The manual also clearly warns that the LG G3 is a class 1 laser device.

While the phone was certainly able to focus quickly on whatever was tapped on in the viewfinder, it wasn’t immediately apparent whether it offered significant benefits over devices that do not use a laser for auto focus.

Laser auto focus is not the only trick of the LG G3’s camera, though.

It also lets you take a photo by speaking one of a number of command words such as “cheese”, “smile”, and “LG”; or by using a hand gesture while using the front camera.

While this may be a bit of a gimmick, it can be useful when holding the phone absolutely still for a photo to prevent blurring.

Battery life

The battery life of the LG G3 over the period that we tested it was fantastic, comfortably making a day of my typical usage.

This includes making and receiving a few phone calls, using various instant messaging and other social applications, sending and receiving (a lot) of e-mail, and occasionally using Google to win an argument.

For the duration of the review, Wi-Fi and 3G were left on all of the time, while Bluetooth and NFC were turned off.

Overall

Good battery life, well-built hardware and software, and a decent set of features make the LG G3 a solid competitor against the other top-end Android devices launched this year.

One thing I really disliked was the slight lag that was occasionally perceptible between touching an icon or button on the screen and the device responding.

If I had to choose one aspect of the device I really liked it would be a tie between the high resolution display, and the user interface design that feels like it adds to the stock Android experience rather than detract from it.

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LG G3 review