Metal or plastic? Ultrapixels or lasers? QHD or 1080p? It's time to choose between two of the hottest Android phones out there
This is one of the big questions we find ourselves being asked by smartphone buyers — which is better, the LG G3 or the HTC One M8? Both of these high-end Android phones have captured the imagination of enthusiasts and technology fans since their announcement, and now both are widely available to buy in the U.S. So there's no avoiding the issue any longer — the Android Central editors are going to have to choose between the G3 and the M8.
Join us as we break things down and make our decisions ...
Physical hardware and build quality
Q: Both of these devices are physically remarkable. The G3's sheer size lets it pack a 5.5-inch screen, but the HTC One M8 boasts the boasts a uniquely premium metal frame. Superficially speaking, whose design do you prefer?
Alex Dobie: LG's done a fantastic job creating a 5.5-inch phone that's just as holdable and pocketable as its 5-inch competitors. But it's really tough to beat the curved metal unibody of the M8, tall and slippery though it may be. While LG's content imitating premium materials with its "metallic," rear, HTC has the real deal, and the in-hand feels is unlike any other smartphone.
There are disadvantages, of course. You're never going to get wireless charging in a metal-backed phone, and HTC's solid unibody precludes any possibility of swapping your battery. But the M8's fantastic metal exterior more than makes up for this.
This is almost like having to pick a favorite child.
Phil Nickinson: This is almost like having to pick a favorite child. (And to sleep at night, I'd need to throw the Moto X into the mix.) For a phone of its size, the LG G3 wins out on in-hand feel. I've got small hands, so big phones have never really been my thing. But the difference between the G3 and the M8 is completely obvious. The G3 simply is easier and more comfortable hold. The M8 might look a little nicer — and I'm not convinced most civilians would be able to tell the difference between the M8's aluminum and the G3's plastic metal at a glance — but the G3 simply is easier to hang onto, full stop. The buttons on the back are still (surprisingly) easy to use. (Though HTC was right to "borrow" the Knock-On feature.
The One M8 looks fantastic when sitting on a table, but the rounded body presents usability issues.
Andrew Martonik: While the One M8 looks pretty — okay, absolutely — fantastic when it's sitting on a table, usability suffers somewhat with how smooth and rounded the entire body of the phone is. There's not a whole lot to grip onto, and when you add in the fact that the M8 is notably taller than the M7 and the power button is still on the top, it's a recipe for unfortunate drops.
LG has done it again with the G3 when it comes to packing a gigantic screen into a phone that doesn't feel that big. Make no mistake though, this is still a huge phone. The metal-looking plastic treatment is in a different class compared to the glossy stuff covering the G2, which looks better and definitely helps you hold onto the thing. I still haven't gotten over the back buttons from a usability standpoint, but I think the G3 has the advantage here in terms of all-things-considered user experience and looks.
Jerry Hildenbrand: Am I allowed to prefer the HTC One M7? I am going to have to pick the G3 here. Both phones look very similar from the back, but once in your hand the G3 just feels better. It's not the size, because both phones are a little "long-feeling" but it's the shape — especially at the very edge of the phone. There seems to be more meat to grab onto there, and I don't get the feeling that I'm going to drop the G3 like I have whenever I hold the M8.
I don't think the G3 has the "perfect" design. I would have preferred a good soft-touch plastic over the faux metal thing LG has going on, and I wish the speaker placement was different, because the way I hold my phone covers the cutout on the back of the phone. But since I have to choose, I'll have to choose the G3 in this one.
Display and audio
Q: The LG G3 is famed for being among the first "Quad HD" handsets to hit the market, while the M8 sticks to a 1080p display resolution. What are your thoughts on 1440p smartphone displays? Is it worth it on the G3? Or does HTC's BoomSound setup contribute to a more immersive experience?
The G3's display size, not it's resolution, is what makes it great.
Alex: I've said before that the G3's display size, not it's resolution, is what makes it great in my opinion. Though the 5.5-inch 1440p panel is impressive, and in some instances you can tell the difference compared to 1080p, I can't help thinking the G3 might've been a better phone overall with a lower-res screen. The occasional frame rate hiccups I'm seeing likely wouldn't affect a 1080p device, and battery life would surely be improved too. Then there's the fact that the G3's colors aren't quite as vibrant as many 1080p IPS LCDs, including the HTC One M8.
The M8's screen, on the other hand, seems less compromised. It's plenty big at 5 inches, it displays colors that are bright and vivid but not excessively over-saturated, and runs just fine on a Snapdragon 801. I guess what' I'm really after is this kind of quality in something that's as easy to hold as the G3.
Phil: Ask me whether I want more pixels than my eye can actually discern, or whether I want sound to sound better, I'll give you the same answer every time. Nothing beats BoomSound. It changes the way you experience videos and games on a device. I'd gladly trade pixel density — especially if the alternative means going back to a mere 1080p display — if that made it possible to sneak in those excellent front-facing speakers.
The trick would be in not increasing the overall footprint of the phone. But physical limitations are what they are, at least if you want the sound quality HTC was seeking in this current iteration.
Andrew: The LG G3's screen looks great, but I never found the 1080p displays in other devices (including the G2) to be lacking in any way. I notice the occasional slowdown on the G3, and it has to be at least partially related to the immense number of pixels the GPU is pushing around. I think LG could've stuck to 1080p and still offered a fantastic viewing experience, while at the same time keeping performance up.
I think if the choice is between a crazy-high-density display and high-end front-facing speakers, the speakers have to win out … but then I would ask you whether or not taking up the real estate with those speakers is worth it, either.
A QHD display at 5.5-inches is amazing for reading.
Jerry: Most of the time, I don't see a lot of difference between a good 1080p display and the QHD display on the G3. Of course, every eye is different but it's my opinion that 1080p smartphone displays aren't ready to be put out to pasture just yet. There is one area where I see a big — and meaningful — difference.
A QHD display at 5.5-inches is amazing for reading.
I've not experienced any of the "sharpening" issues some complain about, and when I snuggle under the covers each night and crack open whichever eBook I'm reading at the moment (I'm trying to get through Finnegan's Wake again at the moment) that QHD display just does it for me. A 1080p display is great for reading. The G3's QHD display is downright incredible.
Q: The G3 and M8 have wildly different button layouts. Do you like yours on the top and the side, or on the back?
Alex: When I first saw the LG G2's rear buttons, my initial reaction was to assume it was a gimmick, and that LG was being different for the sake of being different. I didn't spend much time with the G2, but within an hour of using its successor, the G3, something just clicked, and back buttons started making sense. They're easy to reach, located in a natural place for left and right-handed users, and they free up space on the sides of the device. It's one of those features that sounds crazy until you try it.
Within an hour of using the LG G3, back buttons just made sense.
I'm not opposed to more traditional button layouts, but the power button on the M8, situated way up on the top edge of the device, is one of the more difficult to reach. Fortunately both the G3 and the M8 have ways of powering themselves on without the use of a power button. HTC calls it Motion Launch; on the G3 it's KnockOn.
Phil: It's insane. It'll never work. Buttons on the back of the phone?
But you know what? It works. And it works very well. Part of that is because of LG's Knock On (and Knock Code), which means you don't have to use the power button nearly as often. And, in fact, tapping the display to wake it will spoil you for just about every other device afterward.
Moving the volume rocker back there along with it works fine, too. And it's important to remember that there's some added functionality — they serve as shortcuts to Q Memo and the camera.
KnockOn is good, but it'll never work 100 percent of the time.
Andrew: I may be forever scarred from trying to use the horribly-designed Verizon LG G2 back buttons, but I still don't get the appeal here. Sure, it lets LG make the bezels on the G3 just that much slimmer, but I still find it to be an unnecessary usability hinderance. Put the power and volume buttons on the side, make the screen 5.3-inches instead, and you'll never have a single hassle turning the phone on and off. KnockOn is good, but it'll never work 100 percent of the time. KnockOff is even more bothersome since you need a blank spot on your homescreen or to reach up to the status bar. LG, please put the buttons back where they belong. (And get off my lawn while you're at it.)
Jerry: I said it with the G2, and the LG Flex, and I'll say it again — buttons on the back are tha bomb. They take a bit of getting used to, but once your brain and muscle memory is dialed in everything seems much more natural. My index finger feels at home perched on the buttons, which means adjusting the volume or using the quick shortcuts is easy for me.
Having said that, when using a more traditional button placement scheme, I still prefer the power button up top. When i want to turn the screen on or off, I know where to do it from and being waaay up there on the M8 means I'm not always bumping it like I do when they are placed on the side.
Cameras and image quality
Q: Let's talk about lasers and Ultrapixels. These are two handsets with very different approaches to smartphone photography. (And different Gallery and sharing experiences backing them up.) Which one have you preferred to use?
The G3's camera isn't perfect, but in my view it's more balanced than the M8's.
Alex: The M8's camera excels at fast exposures, as well as low-light and indoor photography. In daylight, however, that 4-megapixel ceiling starts to become an issue, as does the M8's relatively narrow dynamic range, and its tendency to capture more visible noise than I'd like. The G3's camera isn't perfect, but in my view it is much more balanced. It's great in daylight, with an auto HDR mode which engages in shots with very bright areas. And the laser-assisted autofocus and OIS+ stabilization means it also delivers good-looking low-light shots, and is quicker to focus than just about any phone camera I've used.
HTC has an excellent software suite backing up its cameras — Zoe and video highlights are polished and well-executed. But until the image quality improves, I'm inclined to leave the M8 behind if I know I'm going to be taking photos.
Phil: I like to think I can get a decent shot out of most smartphone cameras. And I've mostly been happy with the result of the HTC One M8, provided that I've taken the time (or had the time) to compose the shot. And that's not always possible. And I still love the idea of Zoes, though HTC managed to make a mess out of them in Sense 6, first by sticking the Zoe toggle an extra level down, and then by making them more confusing by making them even more like traditional video. (Which they always were, but whatever.) And HTC never managed to easily explain video highlights. (And where the hell is the Zoe app?)
I'm just more consistent with the LG G3 camera. The app isn't the prettiest in the world, but it's plenty functional. (Odd that Photo Spheres — er, VR Panorama — disappeared, though.) And a higher resolution just gives options that a 4MP image doesn't.
Andrew: The One M8 has a great camera on its own, and most people who pick one up and snap a few pics will be happy. That is, until they try the G3 and compare the photos.
The G3 has all the resolution you'll need, along with OIS+ and laser autofocus.
The One M8 over-processes the crap out of pictures to make up for its lack of pixels and dynamic range, still has trouble managing exposure and really falls behind in daylight situations compared to its competitors. The G3 has all the resolution you'll need, along with OIS, and while the camera app takes a little getting used to it's perfectly functional.
Jerry: The G3 has a better camera, both on paper and during real-world use. But it's not the better camera for me.
The M8 takes pictures faster, and the shots in dim light are better. They aren't perfect, but chances are you'll be able to whip out the M8 and grab a "good enough" picture in a dark room. I spend most of my daylight hours inside working, and spend my playtime in places like restaurants or bars or clubs where the light is low.
The G3 does a better job in these conditions than most other phones, but it's not nearly as good at it as the M8 is.
Q: We're dealing with two of the fastest Android phones out there right now, both running Snapdragon 801 processors with plenty of RAM. Which have you found the fastest in day-to-day use? And perhaps more importantly, how have the G3 and M8 fared in terms of battery life?
Alex: The HTC One M8 is pretty much the quickest smartphone I've used to date. HTC has done an amazing job not just smoothing out animations and screen transitions, but delivering lightning-fast touch responses — a big part of what makes a phone feel fast.
Over on the G3, things aren't quite so buttery. Though apps load quickly, and certain animations are as fast as on any Android phone, there's a tendency to drop frames here and there that you just don't see on the M8. LG's flagship isn't slow by any means, but it's clear the HTC One is the speedier device.
As far as battery life goes, I've gotten about the same from both phones — around 16 hours of moderate-to-heavy use, hopping between Wifi and LTE. The M8 seems to give me a little more screen-on time than the G3 — though this is hard to judge as Sense has no way to directly track this stuff. For me, though, convenience factors like the removable battery and wireless charging probably make the G3 a winner on battery life, even though the performance isn't perfect all-round.
The HTC One M8 is simply faster than the LG G3. Period.
Phil: I don't care why. I don't care how. I don't care what runtime is being used, or whether one's on a slightly different base version of Android than another. I don't care that one has nearly a full 3 gigabytes of RAM. The HTC One M8 is simply faster than the LG G3. Period.
Maybe it's because the M8 is pushing fewer pixels. Maybe the software is just better. All I know is it's faster. And at the end of the day, that's all that matters.
Andrew: When it comes to software and app performance on a daily basis, nothing can seem to top the One M8 right now — the thing just flies. Whether you're jumping between a few recent apps, playing a game or just browsing the web, you're really hard pressed to find a slowdown on the M8. Battery life seems strong — and most importantly, consistent — to get me an entire day's use without hitting the 15 percent mark when I go to bed.
The G3 is plenty smooth, but when you compare it to the M8 you can see there's some catching up to do.
The G3, on the other hand, tends to struggle more regularly. On my Sprint G3 I notice sluggishness particularly when closing and switching apps, as I assume the system and software just can't keep up with pushing that 1440p display. Most of the experience is plenty smooth, and I think a lot of people will be happy with it, but when you compare it to the M8 you can see that the G3 has catching up to do. I also haven't had the greatest luck with battery life on the G3 as it seems to be inconsistent from day-to-day, but I have a feeling using this Sprint model and bumping between 3G and LTE so often isn't helping.
Jerry: The M8 is faster. But then again, the M8 is faster than most every other KitKat phone. As much as I dislike the design choices in the exterior of the M8, the software optimization that was done just blows the rest away when it comes to raw speed while navigating through your homescreens or opening applications.
The G3 isn't slow, but it has a stutter every now and then, and it clearly doesn't open applications as fast as the M8. I'm in the midst of torture-testing my G3 battery, but so far I have nothing to complain about. Once I get past 12 hours on a charge, I know the battery life is good enough for me.
Q: HTC Sense 6 and the G3's LG UI couldn't be further apart in terms of visual style, and the two software suites offer a divergent array of features, too. Who has done the best job when it comes to smartphone software?
Alex: LG has made huge advances since the G2, a device which shipped with a schizophrenic, multicolored UI less than a year ago. On the G3 the whole interface seems just a little better thought-out, with greater internal consistency and a less cartoonish appearance. That said, there's still work to be done, and parts that don't quite fit into the flattened, geometric whole.
HTC Sense is clearly the product of a company with design in its DNA.
HTC Sense, on the other hand, is clearly the product of a company with design in its DNA. Not only is it fast, but all the individual limbs feel like they're part of a cohesive whole. Whether it's the BlinkFeed home screen reader, more basic applications like the dialer and messages apps, or the feature-packed Gallery app, everything is consistently well-designed. And for that reason I'm giving this one to HTC.
Phil: LG's come a long way in the years I've been using its phones. But Sense is still better. That said, I use a third-party launcher on all my phones, so that's a wash. But Sense has a more cohesive design. It feels more natural. And, yes, it's just faster to use.
LG made a point of having a sleeker and more unified software experience on the G3, and the results definitely show.
Andrew: I think LG made a point to have a sleeker and more unified software experience on the G3, and the results definitely show. Not only did it ditch the on-screen menu key and some of the crazy flashy animations, but it also gave everything a clean coat of paint. Sadly there are still far too many useless features here that just keep popping up and getting in my way, and LG still needs to exercise some more restraint on its devices going forward.
When it comes to non-Nexus devices, HTC still takes the cake in terms of its software experience. Not only is performance fantastic (as we talked about above), but everything looks consistent and acts just the way you expect it to. This feels like a real operating system, not just something tacked on top of AOSP, and it just keeps getting better with each iteration.
Jerry: Hey LG! You know how you pared things way back for this version of your OS? Keep doing that for the next one.
I've been using LG phones since LG started selling Android phones. Their UI was the worst, and it's not just me that thinks so. What they delivered on the G3 is fine, and the consumer side of me thinks it's decent.
That same consumer side of me thinks that Sense 6 is better.
The bottom line
Q: Here's the big question: If you could use only one of these phones for the next year, which would it be? And what's the deciding factor?
Alex: This is a really tough call, but I have to fall back on the device I think provides the most enjoyable experience out of the box, and that's the HTC One M8. HTC has the best software, the fastest performance, a great-looking screen and unmatched audio capabilities. Is it a little slippery? Sure, but that's something you adjust to with time, and silver and gold variants are a little less slick than the smoother gunmetal grey M8. Beyond that, the Ultrapixel camera is this phone's only real area of weakness. It's probably the least impressive camera of the current crop of flagships, but the fact that I'm willing to put up with that should underscore how awesome the rest of the experience is. In my view it's the better of the two despite its camera, not because of it.
On the LG side of the fence, the occasional software stutters are the G3's main weakness — one the manufacturer could have solved by using a standard 1080p panel, or waiting on the more powerful Snapdragon 805 processor, which is better equipped to handle a QHD display. (In fact, an S805-powered G3 is available in Korea right now, but LG says it won't release this model internationally.)
I'm a big fan of the G3, and I think it's very nearly the best Android phone out there; for the moment, HTC pips it to the post.
Both are really, really good phones, each with its particular flaws. But I have to pick one ...
Phil: And that's the question, isn't it? Which phone. The LG G3, or the HTC One M8? Both are really, really good phones, each with its particular flaws. But I have to pick one.
For me, I'd stick with the HTC One M8. And a big reason for that is one that we haven't really mentioned here yet, in addition to the ones we did discuss. HTC has come a long way in regards to software updates. We can argue all day that full-blown system updates aren't as important as they once were (and that's true). But if we had to chose between a phone that has a relatively quick — and also important, transparent — update process and one that, well, doesn't, HTC's going to win every time.
And so it wins for me here. I'd go with the M8.
Andrew: I think I have to go with the G3 here. The G3's performance skips are annoying sometimes but can be overcome, and the display and camera are both top notch. The software improvements coming from the G2 make this no issue at all to use on a daily basis, and its shape and materials make it easy to hold and use.
As much as I love the look of the M8 and its software, the shape and style of the phone just make it too difficult to hold onto and use every day. The camera also comes up short for me, which is really a disappointment for someone who takes as many pictures as I do.
Jerry: No question, the G3. I don't have to feel like I'm going to drop it every time I take it out of my pocket, which is important but not the deciding factor for me. That would be those bezels.
If I have to use a phone this big, I want as much of it to be screen as possible.
What I want is a phone the size of the Moto X, with a screen as good as the G3, and BoomSound like the M7 and M8. But I can settle for just the 5.5-inch screen in the 5-inch body.
Whether you choose the HTC One M8 or the LG G3, chances are you're going to be perfectly happy with your purchase. Both are among the very best Android handsets you can buy right now, and as we've seen in our roundtable the choice between them can be boiled down to what you want out of a smartphone — the slick software and metal chassis of the M8, or the more capable camera and enormous display of the LG G3.
Hopefully you now have a slightly better idea which device is a better fit for you. If you want dive deeper, be sure to check out our reviews of both devices:
- HTC One M8 review
- LG G3 review