The LG G3 is upon us. And like any smartphone not named iPhone or Galaxy S, it's sort of swimming upstream. That is, it's got to fight against huge marketing budgets, cults of personality, and out-and-out fanboyism.
But as we've been saying for years now, LG's long made excellent smartphones. And in the past year they've truly come into their own right, with features that are now being aped by other manufactures.
We're still in the early stages of working with the LG G3, and we've got a little time before it's going to hit store shelves. But here are the top 10 things you need to know about LG G3 as we see them so far.
1. The LG G3 is not a small phone
Let's just get this out of the way. If you're looking for a petite smartphone, the LG G3 isn't it. It's got a 5.5-inch display. (Last year's LG G2 had a 5.2-inch display, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is 5.7 inches, by way of comparison.) It's nearly a full centimeter taller than its predecessor, just over 4 mm wider, but just about as thick. (You can find the complete LG G3 specs here.)
It'll still fit in your pocket, of course, but you'll know it's there. And LG's got some pretty innovative features that help mitigate the phone's size. (We'll get to those in a little bit.)
So, yeah. It's a tall, thin phone.
And that's OK, because ...
2. The display is big and gorgeous and full of pixels
A 1080p has been the high-water mark for a couple years now. That is, a 1080p screen, usually referred to as "HD," has a resolution of 1,920 pixels by 1,080 pixels — that's just over 2 million pixels in total. And that's a lot of pixels in a 5-inch space.
LG has gone even further with the G3, giving us the first QHD (as in quad-HD, or four times normal 720p HD) display. That's 2,560 pixels on the long end, and 1,440 on the short end, for a little less than 3.7 million pixels — again, all crammed into a 5.5-inch space. That's not easy to do, but the end result is that images and text are a crisp as they possibly can be. This is where we get into "pixels per inch." The LG G3 sports 538 pixels per inch.
Again, for comparison's sake, the Samsung Galaxy S5 has 432 ppi at 5.1 inches. The iPhone 5s and its "Retina" display is 326 ppi, but at a mere 4 inches. We've also seen 720p displays over the past that have been perfectly usable, albeit in smaller screen sizes.
Will you notice? That's up for debate. "It looks absolutely amazing," our own Alex Dobie said. But it's "going to be wasted on most apps, and if we're honest, most movies and videos, too. But photos games look really great on the G3's display."
The other caveat — and this is one that we're still testing — is that it takes power to push that many pixels, both in terms of the phone's graphics processor, and in its impact on the battery.
3. You can resize the keyboard if you need to
Manufacturer-bundled keyboard apps are often challenging at best, and frustrating at worst. LG wants to change this, and it's given some special attention to the built-in keyboard. Usefully for a larger phone, the height of the keys can be adjusted down to wherever's most comfortable. There's also a word preview area just above the number row, letting you see what you're typing without glancing up. And like SwiftKey, it's capable of learning and adapting as you use it for more accurate auto-corrections.
And the new setup seems to work pretty well, but we're not sure it's ready to replace our favorite aftermarket keyboards just yet. (Plus we're using a combined English/Korean keyboard on our Korean G3, so there's that.)
4. The buttons are on the back
This was one of our favorite features introduced on the LG G2 and continued in the G Pro 2. And it sounds crazy, but it works.
LG has moved the power button — traditionally on either the top of the side of a smartphone — and the volume buttons to the rear of the LG G3. That does a few things.
One is that it completely cleans up the lines of the phone. There are no unsightly bulges protruding from the sides. It gives the phone a gorgeous, sleek profile.
Other benefit is that the buttons are where your fingers tend to rest on the back of the phone. So you don't have to reach up or adjust your grip to turn it on. (Hell, you don't even have to use the power button to turn the phone on, but more on that in a minute.) That also puts the volume buttons within easy reach, and LG's added in some functionality to those as well, allowing them to serve as a shutter button for the camera, and as a way to quickly launch apps.
More: LG G3 back buttons
5. The LG G3 has frickin' lasers
This year many of the top Android smartphones are competing on camera focus speed, but LG's got a unique trick up its sleeve — LASERS! The G3's autofocus system fires out infrared lasers (of the friendly, not deadly or blinding kind) in a cone pattern, and you can actually see them blinking if you turn the phone around while the camera app is open. LG says this new method is faster than the regular contrast detection used by most phone cameras. According to the manufacturer, this lets the G3's rear shooter locks on in 276 milliseconds, compared to 300+ for most phone cameras. (Though if the laser-based setup fails for whatever reason, the camera can fall back on a standard contrast detection method.)
And there's a fun backstory behind the G3's laser autofocus module. LG's head of smartphone planning, Dr. Ramchan Woo, tells us the tech was adapted from the company's range of robot vacuum cleaners, which use a similar system to judge distance when they're navigating around a room.
6. The camera is pretty impressive
LG's updated its camera with a new 13-megapixel sensor, a new OIS+ optical stabilization feature with wider angles of compensation, and laser-guided autofocus. On top of that you'll get video recording up to 4K "Ultra HD" resolution and a new gesture-controlled selfie mode in which you can take pics by holding up your hand and closing it into a fist.
And our first impressions of image quality have been fairly positive. The G3's a little aggressive with its noise reduction, but it produces consistently good-looking shots in most conditions, and outperforms its major competitor, the Galaxy S5, in low light. What's more, the optical stabilization pays off when recording video, helping to smooth out judders from shaky hands.
Check out our first impressions article for more LG G3 camera samples.
7. You can control your TV with it
This is one of those underrated features that popped up in smartphones a year ago and hasn't yet let go. You can use the LG G3 as a remote control for your television. It's got an infrared port in it that allows the phone to act as a remote, and LG's got its own universal remote software to go along with it. All you have to do is answer some questions in setup, do a few tests, and it just works.
Will you want to replace your go-to remote for a smartphone? Maybe not. And that's OK. But it's a pretty handy feature to have in a pinch.
It's also a pretty sweet way to prank your friends.
8. LG's user interface continues to improve
LG's re-vamped its user interface, reducing visual clutter like embossed edges and drop shadows, and settling on a flatter, more modern look with muted shades. LG's own apps have their own highly geometric widgets icons, as well as unique accent colors a la HTC Sense.
The UI isn't perfect, and there are remnants of the old approach to be seen in places (in particular, the notification shade is still a bit busy for our liking, but it's good to see LG finally addressing an area of major weakness in previous phones, and putting a strong focus behind software simplicity in the G3.
9. If your battery dies, you can replace it
This is one of those specs that sometimes gets glossed over for any number of reasons. But for those who need it, it's damned important. The LG G3 has a removable battery. That is, you can take it out and replace it with a fresh one if you run out of juice.
Does that imply that battery life isn't great on the G3? To the contrary, Alex says. "Even on our pre-production Korean G3 on UK networks, which it hasn't been optimized for, we're seeing a little over 15 hours of relatively intense usage per charge. That's on par with what we're getting from the HTC One M8."
So it's a nice feature to have if you need it.
10. Knock Code is awesome
LG's already given us one of our favorite new features with rear buttons — here's another one. The 2013's LG G2 brought the ability to unlock the phone by simply tapping on it twice. With 2014's G Pro 2 and continued with the G3, you can knock in a patterns — as in a pattern that only you know — to unlock the phone. So it's easy and secure.
There are thousands of permutations here. Knock in a square. Go back and forth. Go nuts. Go crazy. Just be sure to use a pattern that won't be easily guessed if you really want to be secure.
Trust us when we say Knock Code will spoil you for all other smartphones.
More on Knock Code here.
Bonus No. 11: Look for the G3 everywhere in a month or so
This phone's going to be everywhere — on 170 carriers worldwide at launch, LG says. That includes the major carriers in the United States — T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T have all announced their intentions to carry it, and Verizon gave a brief mention on Twitter, so it's coming there, too. So you won't have a hard time finding it, and chances are you'll be able to find yourself some deals when you do.