LG is tired of playing second fiddle to Samsung in the smartphone market. So to one up its biggest competitor, the company is kicking things up a notch with the LG G3. Available on AT&T for $199, the 5.5-inch G3 sports the highest resolution display of any smartphone in the world. The handset also packs a powerful laser focus camera and a sexy new design. But is all of this enough?
The G3 features what LG calls a Floating Arc design, which gives the handset's rear a dramatic sweeping curve. Though primarily made of plastic, its back panel features a metallic skin with a sexy black, brushed metal look. Up front, the G3's 5.5-inch display is surrounded by an impressively thin black bezel.
There are no buttons on the G3's front or sides. Instead, the handset features LG's Rear Key combination volume rocker and power button. The Rear Key is positioned perfectly for you to tap with your index finger. That said, it still takes some time getting used to the feature.
Measuring 5.8 x 2.9 x 0.35 inches, the 5.5-inch G3 is larger than Samsung's 5.6 x 2.9 x 0.32-inch Galaxy S5, which has a 5.1-inch display, and roughly the same size as HTC's One M8, which measures 5.8 x 2.8 x 0.37 inches. Despite its larger size, the G3 is a relatively light 5.3 ounces. The all-aluminum HTC One M8 weighs 5.6 ounces, while the Galaxy S5 weighs 5.1 ounces.
Despite it being taller than the GS5, we found the G3 comfortable to hold and use with one hand.
The G3's most important feature is its 5.5-inch, 2560 x 1440 QHD display. To give you an idea of what such high-resolution content looks like on the handset, LG pre-loaded some high-res videos and photos. A time-lapse video of a desert looked incredibly sharp with every star appearing as a pinpoint in the sky.
Unfortunately, the G3's display is the dimmest of any flagship smartphone. At just 289 nits, the G3's screen is well below the smartphone category average of 355 nits, not to mention the Galaxy S5's 373 nits and the HTC One M8's 402 nits. Not only does the G3's dim display impact overall image quality, but it makes it much harder to see in direct sunlight than the S5 or One M8.
In addition to being too dim, the G3's color reproduction also fell short of the competition. The G3 displayed 93.4 percent of the color spectrum using our colorimeter. The HTC One M8 showed 115 percent, while Samsung's Galaxy S5 offered 158 percent.
What's more, the G3's color accuracy was lower than the One M8 and S5, with the LG registering a Delta-E rating of 5.5 (0 is perfect). That's worse than the One M8's 4.1 and not even close to the S5's 0.9.
Taking all of this into account, the G3's screen didn't stand a chance against the S5's or One M8's. While watching a trailer for "The Guardians of the Galaxy," colors were far more muted than those on the S5 or M8. Worse still, viewing angles on the G3 were poor, causing images to wash out when we tilted the device.
Even if you like the idea of having a QHD screen on a phone, keep in mind there is very little content available to take advantage of it at this point.
The G3's 1-watt rear speaker produced loud but unimpressive audio. While listening to Danzig's "Mother," guitar riffs sounded flat and drum beats were lacking any bass. The HTC One M8's front-mounted BoomSound speakers easily blew away the G3 with quality bass and more accurate vocals.
Though it doesn't have the best sound, the G3's speaker was certainly loud. On our Laptop Audio Test, which involves playing a continuous tone at a distance of 13 inches, the G3's speaker pumped out 84 decibels of sound. That's louder than the smartphone category average of 80 dB, as well as S5's 73 dB and the One M8's 83 dB.
LG has completely revamped its smartphone interface for the G3. Riding on Android 4.4.2, the UI replaces the in-your-face colors and cartoonish icons found on the G2 in favor of earthy tones and icons based on geometric shapes. It's a more appealing look, and one that's more fitting for a flagship device.
Beyond its improved styling, the G3's UI is nearly a carbon copy of the G2's. From the lock screen's five app shortcuts to the way the settings menu is laid out, the G3's interface is nearly identical.
The Notifications Drawer features 20 customizable quick settings for everything from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth and more. Unlike the international edition of the G3, the AT&T version doesn't offer brightness or volume sliders in the Notifications Drawer. Bummer.
Like Samsung's Galaxy S5, the LG G3 offers split-screen multitasking. But whereas the Galaxy S5 features 25 Multi Window apps, the G3 supplies only 11 so-called Dual Window apps, including Browser, Messaging, Email, Chrome, Maps and Gmail. Missing from that list are Facebook and Twitter, two apps you can multitask with on the Galaxy S5.
To use the G3's Dual Window feature, press and hold the Android Back button and choose the two apps you want to open. Long-press and drag the app icons for the app you want to open and drag them to the top or bottom of the screen. It's a cool feature; I just wish I could use the feature with all my apps.
In addition to Dual Window, the G3 also features LG's QSlide apps, individual apps that open in resizable windows. If you want to keep a QSlide app open but don't want it to get in the way, you can drag it to the left side of the screen, where it shrinks to the size of an app icon.
You can open up to two QSlide apps at the same time, which, when combined with the Dual Window apps, means you can have up to four apps open at once. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. With all four apps open, we could barely make out what was on the G3's screen.
LG is making a big to-do about the G3's Smart Keyboard. Although it's not a groundbreaking addition to the pantheon of smartphone features, it's certainly useful. The idea behind Smart Keyboard is that you can stretch the keyboard vertically to make its keys significantly longer and larger. The result is fewer typos and an easier typing experience.
The customization doesn't stop there. You can also add or remove the settings and symbol keys next to the spacebar, depending on what you find most comfortable.
LG's new Smart Notice widget provides updates for all sorts of things, including local weather conditions, contacts' birthdays and your G3's battery life. You'll also receive notifications when you don't make a call for a while after you missed one, when you get frequent calls from a phone number that isn't in your contacts list, and when you should clean your phone's temporary files and downloads.
Say it's raining outside. The G3 will tell you to take an umbrella with you before you head out for the day. If you get several calls or texts from a person you just met, the G3 will tell you to add the person to your contacts.
Though these kinds of notifications are generally helpful, you can already receive similar updates through Google Now.
In its ongoing quest to trump Samsung, LG has added a fitness app to the G3. LG Health, like Samsung's S Health, tracks your steps, as well as the amount of calories you've burned while exercising. You can set a goal for how many calories you'd like to burn in a day, which the app translates into the number of steps you'd need to take to meet that goal.
You can also select different types of exercise, including running, walking, cycling, hiking and skating, and record your workout in real-time on Google Maps to get your number of calories burned, distance traveled, workout duration and average speed.
Unfortunately, there is no way to sync data from other fitness apps or devices with G Health. There's also no diet tracking functionality, something that's offered by Samsung's S Health app.
File this one under gimmicks. Knock Code is meant to make it easier to lock and unlock your phone by letting you tap on four corners of the screen using a combination of between three and eight "knocks." LG says users can create up to 86,000 different knock combinations, which should keep your phone secure if you leave it at the bar or in the bathroom stall. Though Knock Code is supposed to make locking and unlocking your phone easier, it really only saves about a second of your time compared to using a pin number or pattern lock.
The LG G3 packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM and up to 32GB of onboard storage. In everyday use, we found the device to be on a par with the Galaxy S5.
Opening the camera app was about half a second faster on the G3. With Chrome open, switching orientations from landscape to portrait mode was mixed. However, exiting from Chrome to the home screen was a hair faster on the S5, as was launching Google Now.
It took the G3 just 15 seconds to open the resource intensive game "N.O.V.A. 3," which is the same as the S5, and slightly faster than the smartphone category average of 16 seconds. "Minion Rush" launched in 21 seconds on the G3, but the S5 took just 17 seconds.
Oddly, it took the G3 6 minutes and 10 seconds to complete our VidTrim test, which involves transcoding a 204MB, 1080p video clip to 480p. That's faster than the smartphone category average of 7:56, but slower than the HTC One M8's 4:47 and the Galaxy S5's 4:42. What makes that strange is that the G3 has a Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of RAM, while the One M8 has the same chip, but only 2GB of RAM. The S5, on the other hand, has a Snapdragon 800 CPU and 2GB of RAM.
The G3 performed similarly on various synthetic benchmarks, creaming the category average, but falling behind the One M8 and S5. On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures a smartphone's multicore CPU performance, the G3 scored 2,401. That's far better than the category average of 1,848, but just off the HTC One M8's score of 2,480. The Galaxy S5 scored 2,897.
On the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, which measures graphics performance, the G3 notched 17,548. That spanks the category average of 12,216, but doesn't quite measure up to the Galaxy S5's 18,204. The One M8 performed even better, hitting 20,640.
If you need more storage, you're in luck, as the G3 also comes with a 128GB microSD card slot.
One of the G3's killer features is its new camera. What makes it so special? Well, to quote Dr. Evil, it's got a "frickin' laser." The G3 uses the light beam to quickly measure the distance between the phone and your subject, ensuring you can capture photos faster than standard smartphone cameras. And it works surprisingly well.
During testing, the G3 was able to focus on a stationary object 200 milliseconds faster than the HTC One M8 and 250 milliseconds faster than the S5. That's not a huge advantage, but if you're shooting pictures of your kid's soccer game and want a cool action shot, the laser focus might be the difference between a blurry and a crisp image.
In addition to its laser, the G3's camera features a new Magic Focus mode (pictured above) that lets you adjust an image's focal point after you've shot it. We've seen similar tools on the HTC One M8 and, surprise, surprise, Samsung's Galaxy S5. But whereas the One M8 lets you tap on the screen to choose the area you want to focus on, and the S5 lets you choose between the background and foreground, the G3 uses a slider that blurs the background or foreground to your liking.
Unfortunately, LG's Magic Focus doesn't work nearly as well as HTC and Samsung's solutions. What makes Magic Focus problematic is the fact that you can only move the slider a certain amount until your photo is either totally blurred or sharp.
Photos taken with the G3's 13-megapixel rear camera looked crisp and colorful. An image of a flower offered sharp details in the petals near our point of focus, and fairly neutral colors. A shot taken with the Galaxy S5 had deeper reds and brighter greens, though it also exaggerated blues. The HTC One M8's photo was dull and hazy.
Pictures of a flower pot near a busy street offered similar results, with the G3's photos offering the most even coloring, the S5's looking a bit too blue and the One M8's image appearing muddy.
Videos taken with the G3 were just as beautiful as the handset's photos. Colors were clean and natural looking, and details were sharp. Disappointingly, the G3's Optical Image Stabilization, or OIS+, didn't work nearly as well as the S5's OIS. A video taken with the G3 while walking down the street had a lot of movement. The Samsung's clip looked much more stable.
Although LG brags about the G3's long battery life, other handsets offer much longer endurance. The G3's 3,000mAh battery lasted just 7 hours and 12 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over AT&T's 4G LTE network with the display set to 150 nits. That's a half hour short of the smartphone category average of 7:44. The Galaxy S5 and One M8 lasted more than 2 hours longer, at 9:42 and 9:52.
AT&T has a habit of overloading its smartphones with apps, and the G3 is no different. The carrier encumbered the G3 with nine apps: AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Locker, AT&T Mobile Locate, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Ready2Go, AT&T Smart Wi-Fi, att.net Home, Drive Mode, Mobile TV and myAT&T. That's not to say some of them aren't useful.
Drive Mode (pictured below), for example, detects when you are traveling faster than 25 miles per hour and automatically sends reply texts saying that you're driving, while the myAT&T app gives you quick access to your account information. And if you're a parent, AT&T FamilyMap can locate your kids on a map. AT&T Locker offers 5GB of free cloud storage.
We could do without the other options. AT&T Mobile Locate is a security app, but charges extra to locate your phone, back up your data, erase your data or factory reset your device. AT&T Navigator is a decent navigation app, but requires a subscription to get features like voice control and guidance, two things Google Navigation offers for free.
Beyond AT&T's apps, the G3 comes with Google's standard array of apps, as well as Beats Music, Facebook, Twitter and the cab-sharing service Uber.
With the G3, it's clear that LG is trying to step out of Samsung's shadow, and to a degree it does. The G3's design is sexier, and its interface is a big step up from previous iterations. We also really like the sharp and fast 13-MP laser focus camera and Smart Keyboard feature.
Unfortunately, the G3 falls short in both the display and battery life departments, two areas where this phone is supposed to shine. Yes, LG is first out of the gate with QHD resolution on a handset, but the panel is relatively dim and lacks the colorful punch of the Galaxy S5's AMOLED screen.
Overall, we prefer the Galaxy S5 because of its richer display and longer endurance. But if you crave a bigger screen and faster camera in a more attractive package, the LG G3 is a good option