The LG Lucid series has connected callers to Verizon's speedy 4G LTE network for little to no up-front cost, and the new Lucid 3 aims to give the budget phone a more premium feature set than ever. This free (with contract, $299 off-contract) handset benefits from a bright display, handy camera options and LG-exclusive features such as KnockOn and QuickMemo. But with other dependable smartphones available for nothing or next to nothing, is the Lucid 3 the clear choice?
While its predecessor sports a rectangular build, the Lucid 3 opts for curvy edges that bring LG's flagship G2 to mind. The plastic phone's black bezel and back panel are separated by a stripe of silver along the edges that hosts the device's ports and buttons.
Like last year's model, you'll find a power button on the right edge, volume control on the left and a headphone jack on the top edge. The handset's VGA front camera is once again located on the top right of the bezel, and the physical home button at the bottom is flanked by touch-capacitive keys for Back and Menu.
The device's black-plastic back panel sports a 5-MP camera at the top and a miniature set of speakers at the bottom. The panel has a smooth texture and is fairly easy to grip, though its glossy makeup makes it highly susceptible to fingerprints.
At 5.18 x 2.60 x 0.39 inches, the Lucid 3 is taller and a bit thicker than other budget phones like the Motorola Droid Mini (4.81 x 2.41 x 0.35 inches) and Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini (4.9 x 2.4 x 0.35 inches). The 4.4-ounce Lucid 3 is a smidge lighter than the 4.5-ounce Droid Mini, though the S4 mini is the lightest of the three, at 3.9 ounces.
Living up to its name, the Lucid 3's 4.7-inch 960 x 540-pixel IPS display looked bright and crisp as we scrolled through app icons and browsed the Web. The handset offers more real estate than the 4.3 inches provided by the S4 Mini and Droid Mini, though the latter phone has a higher resolution of 1280 x 720p.
In "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" trailer, the blue-and-red fabrics of Spider-Man's suit looked vibrant as he swung through New York City, and the clip's many explosive action scenes held up well on the Lucid 3's screen. We didn't notice a great deal of facial detail when it came to close-ups, however.
The Lucid 3 registered a respectable 350 lux (352 nits) on our brightness test, outshining the S4 Mini (267 lux, 190 nits) while falling behind the 540-lux Droid Mini and 430-lux smartphone average.
The Lucid 3's tiny stereo speakers are surprisingly loud, but don't expect fantastic music playback. While the vocals and lead guitars of Foster the People's "Coming of Age" came through clearly on the handset, the rest of the instruments got buried in a hollow mix. It doesn't help that the speakers are on the rear panel, as the song became even more canned when we laid our Lucid 3 flat on a table.
The LG handset registered 78 decibels on our audio test (sound output from 13 inches), coming up just short of the S4 Mini (79 dB) and 80-dB category average.
The Lucid 3 runs Android KitKat 4.2.2 layered with LG's Optimus 3.0 interface, which is more vibrant than Google's stock offering. The phone's lock screen sports instant access to Phone, Message+, Email and Camera by default, and provides a stylish expanding bubble effect when you swipe to unlock the device.
The Lucid 3's default home screen features a weather widget and Google search bar at the top, with a Gallery, Email, Play Store and a folder of Google apps at the bottom. No matter which of the five home screens you're on, you'll be able to access a customizable app bar at the bottom, which consists of Phone, Contacts, Camera, Message+ and Apps out of the box.
Sliding down from the top of the screen opens Quick Settings, which allows you to toggle a customizable row of eight settings -- including Wi-Fi, Brightness and Airplane Mode -- while also providing fast access to LG's eight QSlide apps. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen allows you to instantly pull up Google Now or LG's QuickMemo app.
The Lucid 3 utilizes the proprietary LG Keyboard, which has a smooth gray-and-white aesthetic instead of Android's default black. The keyboard features predictive text and trace typing, the latter of which allowed us to easily swipe phrases such as "How to get a phone."
The LG Keyboard has a handy settings icon right below the Z key, so you can toggle features such as word suggestion, auto capitalization and haptic feedback without having to go to the main settings menu. The only thing holding the LG Keyboard back is the lack of a dedicated number row at the top, which is one of our favorite features of the Galaxy S5.
KnockOn and Gestures
The Lucid 3 sports LG KnockOn, which allows you to wake the device or put it to sleep by simply double-tapping the display. Both functions worked responsively, making it easy to slip our phone in and out of Sleep Mode with our thumb while using the device one-handed.
You can use LG's KnockCode as an alternate means of password protection, as the feature lets you program a series of four screen taps that unlock your device.
The Lucid 3 supports a handful of optional gestures, including the ability to silence calls, snooze alarms and pause videos by flipping the phone facedown.
QSlide and Quick Memo
LG's QSlide feature allows you to run up to two mini apps at once on top of your home screen. Your options include Videos, Phone, Messaging, Calendar, Email, Richnote, File Manager and Calculator, and you can adjust the transparency of an app if you need to interact with anything beneath it.
It's nice to have a mini calculator or calendar on your home screen, but we found that having two QSlide apps open at once cramped the Lucid 3's 4.7-inch display. The feature is better suited to handsets such as the LG G2, which has a roomier 5.2-inch screen.
While the Lucid 3 lacks an included stylus, the LG QuickMemo app is still a useful means of making quick handwritten notes. You can start from a blank slate or mark up whatever you see on screen, which comes in handy for adding notes to driving directions or Web pages. QuickMemo provides a handful of colors and pen thicknesses, and you can share or save your notes with a single tap.
Powered by a 1.2-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 1GB of RAM, the Lucid 3 offers mostly smooth performance. We noticed the occasional frame-rate skip when running around in "Temple Run 2," though it wasn't bad enough to throw us off course.
The handset took a quick 1.17 seconds to switch from portrait to landscape modes, and was similarly fast when opening the camera app from the lock screen in just 1.73 seconds.
As far as synthetic benchmarks go, the Lucid 3's Quadrant (overall performance) score of 8,852 is higher than those of the S4 Mini (7,894) and Droid Mini (8,736) but below the category average of 11,792.
The Lucid 3 scored 5,745 on the 3DMark Ice Storm graphics benchmark, losing to the S4 Mini by a little (5,824) and the Droid Mini by a lot (11,408). The smartphone average also sits at a higher 7,359.
On the Lucid 3, it took 11 minutes and 50 seconds to transcode a 1080p video to 480p, which is significantly slower than the Droid Mini (6:35), S4 Mini (7:19) and 7:51 smartphone average.
The Lucid 3 is packed with a healthy helping of camera features, including panorama mode and an HDR setting for difficult lighting situations. The Continuous Shot function snaps six shots in a row, while Sports Mode reduces blur on images filled with fast movement.
Time Catch mode will capture a few stills from the moment before you tap the shutter, making it ideal for capturing objects that are always in motion, like a pendulum.
The Lucid 3's front-facing VGA camera is your standard base-level selfie taker. One row of thick stripes on our gray-and-white t-shirt came out clearly, while a set of thinner stripes became a blur. The front camera preserved our facial birthmarks, though our face as a whole looked pixelated and blotchy.
The handset's 5-MP rear camera captured crisp outdoor shots, allowing us to see the individual creases on each piece of clothing in a colorful American Apparel window.
Things worsened when we shot inside, however. A close-up shot of several red and green toys on our desk looked blurry with washed-out colors, as did a photo of our co-worker under artificial office lighting. The 5-MP camera did a decent job of capturing our co-worker in low lighting, though the image was heavily pixelated.
In the 1080p video we shot of a busy Manhattan street with the Lucid 3 outdoors, colors looked accurate and company logos were easily viewable from a distance.
The Lucid 3 packs a pretty standard smattering of Android apps, but they're presented nicely on the device. By default, all Amazon, Google, Verizon and utility apps are lumped into single folders, allowing you to get a glance at almost all of the phone's software on a single screen.
Aside from the usual fare like Kindle, YouTube and Chrome, you'll find productivity tools such as File Manager, Richnote and Polaris Viewer 5, the latter of which allows you to view Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files.
The phone comes loaded with Isis Mobile Wallet, which lets you store your credit cards digitally for instant phone payments at retail shops.
On Verizon's end, there's Verizon Cloud for backing up data like contacts, call logs, messages and videos, as well as Verizon Navigator for your GPS needs. The Verizon Games app lets you download free and paid Android titles like "NBA Jam," "The Sims FreePlay" and "Cut the Rope," and Verizon Support and Protection will scan your device for malware and update your virus-protection software.
Verizon's Message+ looks like any other texting app at first glance, but its signature plus icon opens up a wealth of handy communication options. Once you tap the plus sign, one half of the keyboard is dedicated to emojis, while the top portion provides one-button shortcuts for sending a picture, recording a voice note, sharing your location or sending a song or video. The app's postcard feature is neat, as you can whip up a fun custom postcard for any of your friends within seconds.
Call Quality and 4G
The Lucid 3 provided speedy 4G LTE performance in Manhattan's Flatiron District, averaging 34 MBps for downloads and 19.3 MBps for uploads on Speedtest.net. The handset was similarly zippy for Web surfing, loading up the image-heavy Laptopmag.com in 3 seconds and ESPN.com in 4 seconds.
The Lucid 3 offered dependable call quality, as we enjoyed a clear conversation with a contact within Manhattan.
The Lucid 3 provides considerable endurance for its budget price, lasting an impressive 7 hours and 28 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi). This beats the S4 Mini (5:40) and Droid Mini (5:04) by a landslide, and edges out the 7:15 category average.
It's worth noting that the Lucid 3 was tested at 150 nits -- which was 63 percent of its full brightness -- while the S4 Mini and Droid Mini were tested at 40 percent of each device's full brightness using our old battery test.
Plans and Pricing
As of this writing, you can nab the Verizon Lucid 3 for free with an activation fee and two-year contract. You can also opt for Verizon's quick-upgrade Edge plan, which consists of 24 monthly payments of $12.49, with the option to upgrade when at least half of the phone is paid off. If you want the Lucid 3 contract-free, the full price is $299.
In comparison, the S4 Mini is $49 with a contract, $16.66 per month with Edge and $399 unlocked. The Droid Mini is free with a plan, $18.74 per month on Edge and $449 unlocked.
As far as budget phones go, the LG Lucid 3 is certainly one of the better options on Verizon. The handset offers zippy 4G LTE performance, a bigger display than other cheaper devices and a battery that will get you through most of the day on a single charge. However, the camera suffers indoors, and the screen resolution is on the low side.
The Lucid 3 isn't the only Verizon freebie out there, as Motorola's Droid Mini offers touchless controls, faster performance and a higher-res 1280 x 720p display. Still, if battery life and screen size are your top considerations, the Lucid 3 delivers.