We update our thoughts on LG's 2014 flagship — the G3
The G3 is LG's biggest smartphone launch to date, launched at events around the world just over two months ago, and arriving shortly thereafter on major carriers around the world, including the big four in the U.S. As rivals focused on metal unbodies and waterproof credentials, LG differentiated itself with an enormous 5.5-inch QHD (Quad HD) display, an updated software design language and frickin' lasers on the back.
But it's time to go beyond the initial launch hype and reflect on how the LG G3 has held up in day-to-day use. All five AC editors have had the chance to use the G3 over the past couple of months, and we've brought our thoughts together into a definitive roundtable feature. Read on to find out what we think of the G3, two months on ...
LG G3 Size and display
1. Let's start with the basics. The LG G3, with its 5.5-inch display, is a sizeable phone. How easily have you been able to hold and use it?
Alex Dobie: As I've said before, the LG G3 is the smallest big phone I've used. It can get away with packing an enormous display because there's very little of the front face that isn't taken up by it. There's no shortage of 5 to 5.2-inch phones that aren't as ergonomic as the G3, and on the whole it's surprising how easy it is to hold given its size. The curved back and extremely thin edges also help out here, as the parts of the G3 you're actually holding onto are extremely hand-friendly.
Phil Nickinson: This phone is 5.5 inches? OK, yeah, it is. It's big. I have to wonder if having the buttons on the back of the phone isn't what really makes that possible, though. Your hand knows where to go. It has something to hold onto. And you're not readjusting to find a top button, or hit the volume rocker.
Whatever LG did and whatever sorcery they used, it works.
Jerry Hildenbrand: LG has managed to take a phone that is too big for me and is made of a slippery hard plastic and turn it into something that is easy to hold anyway. Maybe it's the small bezels, or maybe the back buttons, or maybe it's because someone spent some time figuring out how to make just the right shapes in just the right places. Whatever they did and whatever sorcery they used, it works.
Richard Devine: It's big, but it doesn't feel 5.5-inches big. The G3 carries on right where the G2 left off when it comes to form factor, and those skinny bezels round front and the buttons on the back mean it's barely taller or wider than a Galaxy S5. There's no one-handing going on, after all, the screen is huge. But it's so ergonomic, with the gentle curve on the back, and the rear buttons are in just the right place for easy pressing. It isn't particularly heavy and while it might be a little wide, I'm perfectly happy with it.
Andrew Martonik: Looking at the 5.5-inch number to determine how well you'll be able to handle the LG G3 just doesn't do this phone justice. It feels dramatically smaller than any other device with a screen this large, and in my hand I really only notice the width, not the height. It introduces some usability issues when trying to manage the phone and touch all four corners, even with my large hands. LG has done a great job making the phone as easy to use as possible despite the screen size, but I still wish it had kept the screen size closer to 5 inches.
2. Aside from the screen size, the G3's enormous resolution is perhaps its most prominent hardware feature. How have you found the display? Is 1440p on a handheld device worth it?
Alex: It is... sometimes. The G3 has a super-sharp, great-looking display, and yet I'm left wondering whether 1080p might have been a better choice. The Adreno 330 GPU would have an easier time handling the lower resolution, battery life would likely be improved (though that's not to say it's bad as-is), and the occasional frame rate stutters would likely be eliminated. I can see why LG went all-out and pushed for 2K in this device, but if I were designing it I'd have chosen the same display size, only at 1080p.
Phil: I think I'd probably be OK with a 1080p display on something the size of the G3. That'd still leave you with a pixel density of about 400 dpi, which should still be more than good enough for the vast majority of folks out there. If you gain that back in performance or battery life, so much the better. I don't think I'd turn down a QHD device at this point, and they're only going to get better as that screen resolution matures. But neither am I completely convinced that it's necessary in a smartphone-sized device.
Jerry: Reading this document on the G3 makes it worth it. I've finally seen some of the sharpness/shading issues where text against a certain color or background looks weird, but for regular text in a regular view, the G3 screen is extremely sharp and I can read longer while using it. The next time you see someone telling you that anything higher than 1080p has no benefit, be sure to read it on a G3.
For other purposes, I don't see much of a difference. People throw numbers and color charts around, but my eyes can't discern any real difference between the G3 and the display on the HTC One unless I pull it in close and try to find a difference. Performance is acceptable — which was my biggest worry — and the G3 stutters no more and no less than the Galaxy S5 while pushing all those pixels. The benefit of the QHD screen for text — especially non-Latin text — far outweighs any of the drawbacks.
2K video looks amazing, but in day-to-day use 'QHD' isn't as noticeable.
Richard: When you watch some of the pre-loaded 1440p video content on the G3, you think, "wow." But then you go back to doing everyday phone things and honestly it's questionable whether you can tell you're holding such a monstrous screen. It's absolutely stunning to look at, but you do get a couple of issues with frame rates from time to time which maybe, just maybe wouldn't occur with a 1080p display. Battery life doesn't seem to be taking a hit – I'm easily getting through the day, every day – which is good to see, but until we're seeing content that really shows off a display like this, looking great on a spec sheet is possibly the biggest difference.
Andrew: I can say that the screen looks great, but whether or not it's actually "worth" the drawback in performance is debatable. The LG G3's display doesn't look noticeably better than what you'd get on another leading device with a 1080p resolution, and if LG had kept the resolution down we may not see some of the software jitters we see here. I would have preferred LG took the approach that Samsung did between the S4 and S5 — improve brightness, contrast and outdoor visibility while keeping the same resolution.
Buttons, and wear and tear
3. What about the G3's back buttons? Are you a convert, or would a more traditional button setup have been better?
Alex: It's one of those things that sounds crazy until you try it. But given what LG's done in other areas — slimming down the edges of the chassis, and dedicating as much of the front as possible to the gigantic screen, it makes sense. The buttons are easy to reach whether you're left or right-handed, and the rougher texture makes them easier to tell apart than the smoother buttons of the G2.
As for double-tapping to wake, having used the HTC One M8 before I got to the G3, I had already trained my brain to use Motion Launch. So getting to grips with KnockOn was an easy transition.
Phil: Sold. Period. It was surprisingly useful on the LG G2, and it remains useful today. Part of that is also because LG has the excellent Knock On (and Knock Code) feature, which means you don't even have to use the power button all that often. So it's not just the buttons on their own that make the great experience — it's those two things together.
Jerry: The back buttons are one of the best things any OEM has ever done to a phone. They are positioned just where my finger needs them to be, and I adapted almost instantly. The only issue I've found with the back buttons is using your phone while doing yard work or anything that gets your hands a little dirty can smear the camera outer lens. But you probably shouldn't be using your $700 smartphone while your hands are covered with mulch or manure.
Back buttons sound crazy, but they work.
Richard: The rear buttons converted me on the G2 so since day 1 on the G3 I'm glad LG retained them. With Knock On and Knock Code to turn on the display without the use of the power button, you don't need to reach for them quite as often as you would on another device. But the rear buttons are somehow — be it due to witchcraft or just careful research — positioned in just the right spot once again. The phone has increased in size over the G2 and yet the rear buttons are just as comfortable to use. After you get over the initial learning curve, it just becomes second nature.
I honestly think this is how it should be done now.
Andrew: I used the LG G2 for several weeks when it first came out, have given it a second go-around for a few weeks with the G3, and still can't get ahold of using the back buttons. While it may not be a noticeable inconvenience every time I pick up the phone, if I were to add up the seconds that are wasted every time I have to pick up the phone off a table to change the volume (or use the software slider in the notification bar instead) or awkwardly fumble on the back to hit the power key, I've lost minutes of productivity because LG decided to move the buttons. And for what? Slightly smaller bezels? Not worth it.
4. Some of us have been using the G3 longer than others, but how has your device held up to daily wear and tear so far?
Alex: I've used two G3s over the past couple of months — the first was a Korean model that's now in the hands of Richard Devine. Around a month in I swapped that for a European G3, so neither device has seen extended use yet. That said, I've noticed only very minor signs of wear on the Euro G3 I'm holding as I write this. I'm seeing a few small scratches on the battery door, as well as a small, barely noticeable mark on the autofocus laser (which doesn't affect its operation, by the way.) Given that the back panel is removable and easily replaceable, I'm pretty relaxed about the wear I've picked up so far.
Phil: I'm about a month into the G3 now, first with a Korean device, then AT&T, and now on Verizon. I think this Verizon one might be a little creaky in the battery door, but that's probably a difference in manufacturing and not anything the carrier has done. And I've managed to keep from mucking up the display so far, and the metalesque plastic on the back looks as good as it does the day I got it. I've decided I'm down on the feeling of it, though. It didn't bother me at first, but the more I hold the plastic, the less I enjoy it.
Jerry: No issues here. The G3 that Mobile Nations bought for me to use has been dropped, tossed in the center console of my Jeep, and slipped into my pocket so it can bang against the steel tube frame of my wheelchair and it's no worse for wear. It's certainly not indestructible, and serious abuse will break things, but I have no concerns about the construction or materials as far as durability goes.
Aside from a little battery door creakiness, the G3's plastic chassis has held up well.
Richard: The Korean G3 I've been using is our original review unit, so it's the oldest of any that the AC staff has around. It's been dropped a couple of times and been in pockets with keys but it's largely survived unscathed. There are a couple of scratches on the battery door and a couple of small dings around the edge of the phone, but otherwise it's all good. The display hasn't picked up any noticeable scratches, nor has the camera. The laser autofocus isn't perhaps as tough but it's still working just fine with a couple of scratches over it.
The battery door is a little creaky but only when you're pushing inwards from the edges of the phone. That's not a normal thing to do, but since it's removable you have to accept that eventually you'll hear a bit of that.
Andrew: After using my G3 for a few weeks now without or any sort of protection, I can say it's held up extremely well. I haven't subjected it to any full-on drops to the ground, thankfully, but it's taken its fair share of bumps, knocks and small drops onto the table that any other phone does. The coated hard plastic on the G3 certainly looks better than the G2, and that hasn't resulted in any loss of durability.
Camera and software
5. What are your impressions of the G3's optically-stabilized, laser-toting camera setup?
Alex: Overall, the LG G3's camera is probably one of the best on an Android smartphone right now, managing a rare combination of image quality in daylight and low-light situations. The latter it seems it owes to its optical stabilization, which allows the shutter to remain open for longer without hand motion affecting the image. (That said, OIS won't help you if your subject is moving.) It doesn't reach the dizzy heights of the Samsung Galaxy S5 in daylight, but it thoroughly outperforms that phone indoors or in twilight photos. What's more, the laser autofocus seems to be more than a gimmick, as the G3 focuses more quickly and reliably than most Android competitors.
Phil: I've always been in the "Ultrapixel has its place" camp in my other daily driver, the HTC One M8, but I've gotta say it's nice having a camera that I just don't have to worry about. I consistently get really good pictures out of the G3. That's not to say my kids aren't still occasionally blurry — they're fast, and even with a DSLR I have to take more than one shot of them. But I get much more enjoyable use out of the G3 camera. Period.
Jerry: The G3 can take some great pictures, but the one place it's lacking is where I would use it most — when the light is low and everything fun is happening. Whether it's my dogs doing something stupid in the evenings, or a friend doing something stupid in the evenings, things are grainy and it struggles to freeze motion. When hanging out by the fire pit, the M8 is still the way to go here. I do have to say that the G3 has the best overall camera on any phone I've used, but my specific use cases are just tough to capture. You would be surprised at how many pictures posted to the front page of Android Central were taken with the G3.
Richard: Like the G2 before it, the G3 takes pretty fantastic pictures. Honestly, that's all I really care about. However bright or dark it is, I've always been able to take good-looking photos. It's maybe not quite as strong in the best conditions as the Galaxy S5, but it's so much better everywhere else. It's certainly one of the better cameras you'll find on an Android phone — it's reliable enough and takes great pictures almost all of the time. You can't ask for much more than that.
Andrew: The G3 is likely the best smartphone camera that I've ever used, as it really checks all of the boxes. It offers OIS for night and HDR shots, along with fast focusing, high resolution and quick processing. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been displeased with the results this camera produced, even while simply pointing and shooting with no additional work. It unfortunately doesn't quite offer the manual control and tweaks that you'd find on other phones, but I've found very few cases where I needed to make any tweaks.
6. Previous LG software designs have been a little... chaotic, to say the least. How do you like the company's latest smartphone UI?
Alex: The G3's software is a step in the right direction, but there's still some work to do. You could argue that LG's Android UI couldn't really have gotten much worse than what shipped on the G2. Nevertheless, it's clear there's steadier hand on the software design rudder this time around. Everything's just a bit flatter and more muted, and you're no longer drowning in mismatched, multicolored icons and graphics.
That said, LG has some work to do on software performance, an area where it's lagging behind the likes of Samsung and HTC.
Phil: I've been using a third-party launcher for a long time now, so manufacturer UIs bother me far less than they used to. And LG has continued to get better with every iteration — it's just taken them long enough to get to the point they're at now. The quick settings in the navigation area are just fine (though, seriously, the U.S. carriers need to stop making life difficult for us), and the lock screen is excellent.
Keep going, LG. Your software looks better, but it is still a bit busy for me.
Jerry: Keep going, LG. Your software looks better, but it is still a bit busy for me. Home screens are easy enough to make usable, but G Screens and lock screens and notification shades and the mess that is your settings page(s) still make me want to root your phone. And for the love of all things holy: be that OEM who will drop the ridiculous NFC icon from my status bar. I'm no software designer. I'm just a user — one who wants you to keep paring things down and making my experience better.
Richard: I appreciate the big improvements LG has made over the G2. Flat seems to be the hot-ticket design choice right now and it works quite nicely on the G3. I'd go so far as to say I actually like the stock launcher, if for nothing else besides its 5x5 grid above the dock. Nothing frustrates me more in a launcher on a large screen than wasted space (looking straight at you Galaxy S5), since I'm mainly a one home screen guy.
But while the looks are much improved, there's still some work to do in performance. When turning off some of LGs stock home screen features actually improves scrolling, there's an issue to be addressed with frame rate stutters.
All the whiz-bang doodads detract from what is mostly an attractive and cohesively-designed interface.
Andrew: LG has come a long way with its software since the G2, but still has more cutting to do if it wants have a sleek and refined interface its customers can rave about. There's still too much unnecessary cruft, from the notification toggles to the random pop-up features and gestures. All of the extra whiz-bang doodads — that nobody really wants or uses — detract from what is mostly an attractive and cohesively-designed interface.
Features and performance
7. Despite paring back some areas of the G3's software, LG continues to add new features, like Smart Notice and Smart Bulletin. Have you found these useful, or are they needless gimmicks?
Alex: Smart Notice is a nice idea, but it seems like it doesn't have enough data at its disposal to be really useful. When it comes to predictive search, Google Now is hard to beat, and it's going to take more than a widget that constantly tells you to bring an umbrella (or rain boots!) to change that. It also doesn't help that the widget suffers from chronic lag when animating outwards to show you its various cards. As for Smart Bulletin, I can take or leave it. The LG Health panel is a useful addition assuming you actually use the app. But the panel telling you about new G3 features needs to turn into something useful after I've already explored all the G3's features. In any case, at least both are easy to disable.
Phil: I don't even know those features are there. Out of sight, out of mind.
Jerry: Dammit, Phil stole my answer. There's nothing there that I want or need. Thanks for letting me delete the widget and pretending that you never built it.
Features like Smart Notice seem to negatively affect performance in the launcher
Richard: We've actually broken out most of the new features for their own how-to posts, and for some of the people, some of the time they're going to be pretty useful. But personally speaking they're all turned off, aside from Smart Bulletin since it's the only way to get into LG Health. I'm using that to track my daily steps — accuracy unknown, sure — and it baffles me why there's no shortcut to it in the app drawer.
It also needs to be mentioned that features like Smart Notice seem to negatively affect performance in the launcher.
Andrew: I haven't touched Smart Notice or Smart Bulletin since I first powered the phone on. Maybe it comes from the fact that I'm a more seasoned Android user and don't need those features, but I feel if they were truly useful I would've found a way to work them into my usage of the G3.
8. What about performance and battery life — how has the LG G3 been getting you through the day? Have you been taking advantage of the removable battery or wireless charging?
Alex: I'm getting up to 16 hours of moderate to heavy use, and 4.5 hours of screen-on time on this European G3, and that's enough for me. It's also comparable to what I'm getting out of the HTC One M8, which also seems to hit the same sweet spot in terms of battery life. (Though with recent updates the M8 seems to have pulled ahead a little.) The removable battery is a bonus, of course, and if you're willing to fork out to import one you can get hold of an extra battery and official charger for the G3, as I've done.
What's more useful though is the wireless charging that's built into the European G3 I'm using, which means the phone can sit on a charger when I'm working, and when I go anywhere it's usually fully topped-up.
Phil: It all depends on network, of course, and I think I was getting slightly better battery life out of the AT&T model than I am Verizon's. But that's generally par for the course where I live. Even so, on Verizon I'm easily getting through the day, usually not hitting 30 percent or so until late into the evening. A good 15 hours is not uncommon, and that's plenty long for me — particularly since you can swap in a fresh battery if need be.
The G2 gets better mileage, but the G3's battery life is still decent.
Jerry: My G2 gets better battery life. My wife's car also gets better gas mileage than my car. I certainly wish LG had went with their "bendable" embedded battery to give more time between charges, but I can't complain too much. I unplug the phone in the morning, and it never dies before I plug it back in at night. Since I use the AT&T model, wireless charging may be just a dream. I'll know more when my eBay purchases ship.
Richard: Considering that I've been using a Korean model in the UK, battery life has been just fine. There hasn't been a situation where I've struggled to get through the day; most of the time not going below 25%. I haven't felt the need to swap in a fresh battery at all, though that might change heading into IFA 2014[(/ifa) in the next few weeks. I don't have wireless charging on my G3, but honestly, I haven't needed it. So long as it lasts until I go to bed, I'm happy. And most of the time the G3 is well within those boundaries.
Andrew: I used the LG G3 on Sprint for a number of weeks, and was impressed with the battery life, though it wasn't the stellar performer I found the G2 (on Verizon) to be. With the G3 I can make it through an entire day without issue, hitting somewhere around 16-18 hours if necessary. I never went to bed plugging it in with anything less than 15 percent battery on any given day, though — that's plenty of extra wiggle room.
How we'd change it
9. No phone is perfect. What would you change about the LG G3, and what lessons should LG learn for its next flagship smartphone?
Alex: LG should stick to the road it's embarked on with its software design, further paring things back and staying focused on a simple yet consistent design language. Premium materials would be nice, and of course we've complained that the back of the G3 is only pretending to be metal. But I'm not sure whether I'd change that if it meant losing wireless charging. For me, that's a powerful convenience factor.
Beyond that, LG needs to up its performance game. Faster hardware will help, but so to will not over-stretching the hardware when it comes to the display resolution. What I wouldn't change are the dimensions — the G3 is a fantastic size for a 5.5-inch-screened smartphone, and pushing things any further could create usability problems.
Phil: I've got few complaints for LG. Like just about every manufacturer, it's following the too-many-features trend, and so be it. I don't need the health stuff. I don't need Smart Notice and Smart Bulletin. And I have zero desire to defocus images after I shoot them. And that's fine. I don't have to use those features. I'd also like to see a slightly smaller high-end device, but I get why LG (and the other manufacturers) has to rise with that tide, even if I don't necessarily like it.
I'll be the unpopular once again and say don't worry about a removable battery, and skip the expandable storage — it's just more trouble than it's worth.
Jerry: 64GB and 128GB models, and no removable back. Do it LG. Someone has to do it, and since you don't have your own brand of SD cards to sell, I think it should be you. I won't even cry about the software if you give people what we all have been asking for. Give us real storage, bigger batteries, and a smaller and better built chassis.
The G3 is probably about as big as you can get away with for a mainstream smartphone.
Richard: Keep on keeping on with the software development. The G3 is a big step up from the G2, sure, but if LG is going to add new features let's at least have new features that don't harm the performance of the device. I'd also like this to be the end of the yearly size increases. We have the G Pro and G Flex line of giant phones from LG, so I'd be super happy to keep the "G" series where it is, or even go a little smaller.
All in all, the G3 is still my favorite phone of 2014, and having jumped to it directly from using the G2 I'm happy with most of the decisions LG's made. Refine the G3 some more for next years effort, and I'll be happy all over again.
Andrew: I think LG has moved in the right direction with interface improvements and hardware look-and-feel, but it needs to work some more on software performance. Whether it comes from internal spec improvements that can handle the overhead of a QHD screen, or just more development time with the software itself, I don't want the next LG flagship to have this much lag and skip through daily use. I also hope this is the last time LG bumps up the screen size on its flagship G device. I'm already stretching too far on the G3, and I don't think making the screen larger provides any benefit at this point.
LG G3 owners, how have you been getting on with the phone? Share your thoughts in the comments below.