LG's brand new Android flagship puts an enormous, insanely sharp display in the palm of your hand
It was only a matter of time. The implacable march of smartphone progress has brought us a handset with more pixels than most HDTVs. The LG G3, LG's much-leaked follow-up to last year's G2, was announced today at events in London, New York and San Francisco. It's a phone which pushes the boundaries of smartphone screen size and resolution, while building on other areas of the G2's hardware.
LG joins a high-end Android market overflowing with strong competitors from the likes of HTC, Sony and local rival Samsung, but the Korean manufacturer will be hoping the G3's stand-out feature — that ridiculously large, super-high-res display — will turn heads when the phone launches this summer.
So now that we have the G3 in our hands, does it shape up? Head past the break for hands-on video, photos and our first impressions.
Hands-On Video and Hardware Impressions
First up, that big, beautiful display. It's a 5.5-inch panel at a whopping 2560 x 1440 — just shy of 3.7 million pixels — in an area that's a surprisingly comfortable in-hand fit. The screen looks as gorgeous as you'd expect it to — with a whopping 538 pixels per inch, vivid colors and great viewing angles. LG has challenged the perception, based on comments by Steve Jobs back at the iPhone 4 launch, that anything over around 300 pixels per inch is wasted on the human eye. LG's head of smartphone planning, Dr. Ramchan Woo, cites differences between between the visibility of lines per inch and pixels per inch, saying that to get a true representation of 300 lines per inch — the maximum the eye can see — you need around double the pixels density.
The step from 1080p to QHD (that's "Quad HD," by the way, not to be confused with the other qHD) is perhaps less noticeable than the jump from 720 to 1080, but regardless, LG's got an extremely impressive display. And with a screen to body proportion of 76.4%, there's very little of the front face that's not taken up by the screen.
Indeed, the G3's screen seems to benefit from its sheer size as much as its otherworldly resolution. For us, the most striking thing about the G3 was just how much screen we were able to hold, relatively comfortably, in one hand.
Needless to say, though, the G3 is a big phone, just as its predecessor was. It's as tall as the lofty Sony Xperia Z2 and a little bit wider, even with its almost nonexistent horizontal bezels. The curve of the back panel, however, makes for a comfortable fit, and LG's done some serious work making the phone more hand-friendly. The back panel, furnished in the company's custom "metallic skin" material is designed to improve grip and be almost impervious to fingerprints. The unique back panel design created by bonding a polycarbonate mold with a special film coating, and the in-hand feel is significantly better than LG's last flagship.
The new built-in keyboard app also allows you to shrink it down to a more comfortable size when one-handing the phone.
There are five colors available — Metallic Black, Silk White, Moon Violet, Burgundy Red and Shine Gold.
Around the back is LG's signature rear button setup — one of the reasons this phone's bezels are so ridiculously small — consisting of a central power button sandwiched between volume keys. In our admittedly limited time with the phone we've found its buttons more pronounced and thus a little easier to press, but it's still a significant change of pace compared to most Android smartphones. And if you're not used to the way LG does buttons, it'll take a bit of getting used to.
On the inside, the G3 features a familiar hardware setup. There's a 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor running the show. The version with the 16GB of storage comes with 2GB of RAM, while the 32GB version packs 3GB of RAM. LG says the software is optimized to run just fine with 2GB; the extra gigabyte on the more expensive version is gravy.
There's also a 3,000mAh removable battery, same as the G2 on paper, though as ever there's more to longevity than numbers. LG says it's worked hard to tweak the G3's hardware and software to ensure battery life doesn't suffer even with the super-high-res screen. Timings of the display driver and CPU have been optimized, the company says, to cut down on wasted energy. In some markets, the G3 will also offer wireless charging capabilities built into the phone.
When it comes to imaging, LG continues to focus on optical image stabilization (OIS) as a point of differentiation. The G3 sports a 13-megapixel camera — an updated, improved sensor compared to the G2 — with upgraded OIS, dubbed "OIS+," and new laser-powered autofocus. The former should cut down on motion-blurred shots, and allow the shutter to remain open for longer in order to capture clearer images. The latter should help to speed up autofocus times, which LG says its cut down to 276ms compared to 300 or more on competing phones. The laser autofocus sends out infrared lasers in a cone pattern immediately after the camera app is loaded; the camera can fall back on the usual contrast-based detection. Photos from the G3 should also benefit from the Snapdragon 801's faster image signal processor compared to the older Snapdragon 800.
LG's also revamped its front-facing camera. The 2.1-megapixel front-facing shooter has been branded as a "selfie camera," and with larger pixels on the front-facing camera, paired with an f/2.0 aperture, the aim is that you'll get better-looking photos of yourself in low light situations, where most selfies are taken. Gesture-based controls have also found their way into the mix — first open your palm on screen, the make a fist, and the front camera will take a photo three seconds later.
And software simplification is a big goal for LG's goal with the G3, as evidenced by the pared-back camera UI that doesn't clutter the screen with buttons.
The G2 was one of the better Android cameraphones of 2013, so our hopes are high for the G3.
LG's software experience has been significantly redesigned too. It's more angular, with what LG calls "mature" colors. It feels like the opposite of what we've seen, color-wise, from older LG devices, not to mention many Samsung products. With its toned-back, more geometric UI it feels like a more professional software experience than the G2. Subtle animation flourishes and use of mainly rectangular and circular widgets. Certain apps have also received their own signature colors, which is designed to give each their own individual style.
That's all running atop the latest Android 4.4.2 KitKat.
With the launch of a new flagship smartphone comes the inevitable wave of new accessories. The first LG's shown today is the Quick Circle case, similar to the old QuickWindow case, only now that window is — you guessed it — a circle. With the Quick Circle case fitted to your G3, you can access a wheel of app shortcut options, including the camera app, music, settings and fitness tracking. The principle is the same as the old rectangular setup (as well as Samsung's S-View and HTC's Dot View), but the circular layout adds a touch of style that was arguably missing before.
G2 owners will be right at home on the new LG G3. And while a simple spec-by-spec comparison might give the impression of only incremental upgrades outside of the display, the device itself tells a different story. In particular, LG's new UI strikes us as a dramatic improvement on the software of the G2, which was a common point of criticism for that device.
As we've seen from other devices of late, many smaller changes can add up to a device that's meaningfully improved as a whole. And we're looking forward to spending more time with the G3 to see what it's really about, besides that headline-grabbing display. Stay tuned.
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