LG G3

30th Jul 2014 | 10:34

LG G3

Super screen, metallic skin - has LG leapt to the top of the pile?

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

A great handset that's more phablet than phone - and it's only slightly let down by lackluster design.

Like:

Great screen; Good camera in bright light; Improved interface;

Dislike:

Lightweight chassis isn't premium enough; QHD doesn't wow; Battery life is lower than expected;

Introduction and key features

Ratings in depth

LG G3 review
LG G3 reviewLG G3 review
Usability 4/5LG G3 review

With the LG G3, we're seeing a brand release a phone ahead of time in order to grab a foothold in an industry that could be spiralling away from its grasp.

It's an odd thing to say considering we're talking about a manufacturer that launched one of the critically acclaimed phones of 2013, with the LG G2 impressing far more than most expected.

But that was months ago, and LG has realised that with Samsung, Sony and HTC all bringing out far superior models it can't wait until later in the year to catch up, so it's tried to race to the front of the pack with a previously-unseen step forward in screen technology.

If you need more evidence that this is a phone that LG has accelerated to launch, check out the changes it's made: removable battery, microSD slot, metallic frame and new, mature interface; in short, everything that was wrong with last year's model in the eyes of many.

So with that in mind, is the LG G3 the perfect smartphone?

Key features

There are a number of key features that LG is touting as new and improved this year with the G3, but none sticks out as prominently as the QHD screen. Some might think that this is four times the pixel count of an HD screen, and you'd be right to a degree.

But only if you're talking about 720p screens – if you're comparing the G3 to something like the Galaxy S5, that packs in two million pixels to the G3's 3.6 million. It's a lot sharper, sure, but anyone thinking it's going to be mindblowing will be disappointed.

LG G3 review

The big question here with the screen is: why do it? The official reason LG told me was it had done some research and had realised that Steve Jobs was wrong.

While it agreed he was right there was a limit to what the human eye can see in terms of sharpness, LG reckons that the way sight works means the Retina display isn't the top end. That's obvious anyway; the display on the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8 is significantly sharper than that on the iPhone 5S, so there is more headroom.

But apparently there's another level still to attack, and that's just what it's done with the QHD screen. Where Samsung's offering 440ppi sharpness, the G3 has 538ppi, which is equivalent to high end glossy art books, which LG used as the benchmark of sharpness to aim at.

Dr RamChan Woo, head of smartphone planning for LG, told me that the idea was you need pixels to fill in the space between lines, to make something that sorts out the 'dead space', which is why it went for the upper limit to make everything look premium.

Now, here's the quandary: the screen is brilliant, no question. Internet browsing, looking at pictures, watching high-end video, is all awesome. But that's the exact same feeling I had with the G2, which also had a simply stunning screen.

It feels like the QHD screen is great to look at because LG knows how to make an amazing display, rather that offering a next level of sharpness that blows me away. I didn't feel that I was looking at something superior to the G2 in terms of screen quality, and with the larger heft and hit on battery life, I believe LG has gone too early with the technology just to make an impact.

Or possibly its not even early. Perhaps we just don't need QHD screens in our phones. The display isn't without problems either: tilt it left or right and the brightness drops off sharply, which makes sense when you consider how many pixels are packed in there.

It's unfair to criticise the QHD screen on the G3 – there's no doubt all high end smartphones will be using this technology in a year or so. But as a headline spec, it doesn't seem to add a huge amount to the G3, which is a shame as I was hoping to be looking at the next generation of picture quality on a phone.

New interface

When it came to listing the criticisms of the LG G2, the biggest problem was the interface. It was so cluttered that if you had the remote activated and received a message you had to scroll down to see it.

Compare that to the HTC One M8, and you've got nothing but the missive to check. On top of that, the G2 went for a really garish and cartoony look too, meaning it was hard to evangelise on a phone that was otherwise brilliant.

LG G3 review

The new interface on the LG G3 is a big improvement. Gone is the skeumorphism in favour of a new flat tile look. The icons are redesigned. The different applications have their own colour scheme for easy recognition and the colour palette is more muted than before.

It's a much more fluid system that shows LG has grown up, taking the problems of before and making it into a more intuitive way of navigating through the handset.

LG has definitely taken touches from HTC, Samsung and Apple with the new interface. The home screen features a separate section for the pedometer and tips videos (where Samsung's pointless magazine option is on the Galaxy S5), the colours are very similar to HTC's on the M8 and the flatter design owes more than a tip of the hat to Apple.

The interface is still a little cluttered, but overall it's a tick for LG updating something that sorely needed a new look.

Metallic shell

As mentioned the other big problem with the G2 was the fact it had a really glossy plastic shell. The phone was well packaged, but still didn't offer the same premium quality as the HTC One, iPhone or Sony Xperia Z1.

So with the LG G3, the South Korean brand has gone for the best of both worlds. It's created a 'metallic skin' that supposedly looks and feels premium, but offers the lower weight and added connectivity benefits of polycarbonate.

LG G3 review

The problem is, LG hasn't really managed this lofty goal. The G3 certainly looks the business, bringing a more iconic look of brushed metal and some cool colours (black, silver and gold) to make it stand out on the shelves, which makes sense given it's mostly screen otherwise.

But the second you pick it up, the plastic nature jars with the look of the phone, which is a disappointment. It actually feels cheaper than the G2 thanks to using a removable back, which lowers the tightness of the packaging and makes it feel more hollow.

The upside of this is you've got a removable battery and microSD slot, both of which are a big win for a certain section of the customer base. That said, there are better ways of doing this, as you can easily have a slot for a microSD card without needing to remove the back.

LG G3 review

And I know a few people disagree, but a unibody phone feels better in the hand and a portable battery pack is much more useful than being able to swap in a new battery - it's easier to charge, for one, and 98% of users will never swap the battery in and out anyway, so why bother when an integrated unit can offer more capacity and better design?

So again, LG has stepped forward with the G3 – but it's still not quite got all the pieces together when it comes to design.

Simple camera with laser autofocus

The 13MP camera on the LG G3 is also another big talking point, both in terms of the new look to the interface and the additional technology on board.

I'll start with the latter point: the laser auto focus, which is designed to make it the fastest-focusing smartphone on the market. It seems to be true at times, but I'm not sure shaving another 100 milliseconds off makes that much of a difference when boot-up speed is more important..

It's possibly a bit unfair to say that the extra speed isn't warranted – if the system worked perfectly, chances are you'd take 10-20 more high quality pictures that capture the moment compared to the competition, but without being able to fully test the system it's hard to comment.

The laser works by sending out a conical infra-red signal (using technology nabbed from a robo-vacuum cleaner from LG's home appliances division) and absorbs information from the surroundings to create an instant and clear picture for the camera to use.

This means it doesn't have to look for contrast shifts like before, and offers a sharper image.

The interface is really scaled back too: it's nothing more than a back button, a menu icon and the viewfinder. Tap the screen and it focuses and takes the picture, designed to be simple and effective.

LG G3 review

It also doesn't let you focus to check the shot composition before taking the photo, which would be nice – but then again, tap that menu icon and you get all you need in terms of shutter, options and video recording.

The G3 is all about simplification, and this kind of technology really works. It's a little too scaled back for the camera, but it's the right idea.

The front 2.1MP camera is now cringingly called the 'selfie' camera – it seems that dreaded word is here to stay, at least for a few years. The lens is a wider angle, so you can get more friends into the photo (or more actors at the Oscars) and features clever gesture recognition to take the photo.

Hold your hand out, make a fist and it'll start the G3 self-portrait timer. It's a clever system and it works, which is great for those moments when you can't use both hands and don't want to tap the screen.

Another cool feature is the ability to have a front-facing flash, although it's not an LED light. Instead, part of the screen goes white, which illuminates faces and takes better pictures. LG has even white balanced this screen to correct skin tone imperfections – and it really gives some nice front facing snaps.

Design

LG, as I've mentioned, was keen to tout a number of features of the new design that make the LG G3 a real upgrade over the G2. One of the big elements, and something that was seen a number of times in the leaks leading up to the launch was the metallic skin that now adorns the new phone.

Considering the all-plastic unibody of the G2 was one of the main issues I had with a phone that was pretty close to 5 stars, the leaks showing a shiny metal body to the G3 got me pretty excited. We're all friends here - I'm OK admitting that to you.

But then when the phone was displayed for the first time, it was a plastic shell painted to look like a brushed metal case. LG was almost apologetic about this, saying it wanted to deliver a metal phone that felt as premium as possible, but the mechanics simply didn't allow for it.

LG G3 review

The result is somewhere between the two, as LG has created a special film that takes away the plastic feel somewhat while still looking the part in a world where consumers are crying out for a high-end design.

And to look at it on a table or on the shop shelf, it's a great-looking phone. And LG has done something else that I was crying out for: made the backplate removable, allowing you to swap the battery and add in a microSD card.

I'm not convinced that the world needs to be able to remove a battery in a phone, but I always think a microSD card is a good option to have. Despite internal storage being a better thing in terms of phone function, the LG G3 comes in only 16GB and 32GB options and most will buy the former, which doesn't give a huge amount of room for all the larger apps on offer these days.

LG G3 review

Anyway, the fact that the battery is removable might be a big win for some, but it comes at the cost of feel in the hand, as the LG G3 doesn't feel as nicely packaged as the G2, which is the design sacrifice necessary when you add in a backplate like the one here.

The result is that despite being made of a more refined material, the LG G3 actually feels cheaper in the hand than the G2. Not by much, but enough for me to long for this metallic plastic to be used on the older version.

And then there's the issue of the screen. Not the actual display itself, which I've already said is excellent – but the size of it.

The term 'smartphone' is constantly evolving; where once we thought anything over 4 inches in terms of display size was enormous, it's now tiny. So we're now seeing phones with a 5-inch screen as a normal option at the high end, and I get the feeling that's the limit of what's acceptable.

LG G3 review

Actually, perhaps that's a little harsh, as the LG G3's screen size isn't overly cumbersome, thanks in part to packing really thin bezels around the side, which means a large amount of the front of the phone is dominated by the display.

But 5.5-inches is just too large to be considered a smartphone – we're definitely at the bottom end of phablet territory here. This means it's not as fluid to navigate around the screen with one hand, and combined with the more angular corners it's not a great experience when using the G3 day after day.

I do like the rear buttons though. The principle gets burned into your muscle memory much faster than you'd expect, to the point where I keep tapping the camera on other handsets I review to turn off the screen.

LG G3 review

And LG's upgrades here, making the power button more rounded and the volume keys ridged, means it's even easier to operate without looking. If you're thinking this is something that's a reason not to buy the phone, then disregard it – it's actually a really neat feature and one that I'm surprised hasn't been copied yet.

In summary, LG has both improved the design of its flagship phone and taken a couple of steps backwards. The G3 certainly looks more premium, and offers the removable battery and microSD slot some people believe they simply cannot live without.

LG G3 review

But in making the backplate a separate piece, the tight packaging has been negated, and as such I found holding it less pleasant than I did with the G2.

If you're going to make a phone look metallic, then it has to have the same pleasant weight seen on the excellent HTC One M8, where this is more like the Samsung Galaxy S5 in feel, albeit with a coat of paint and no weirdly dimpled back.

True, the new design is much less drawn to fingerprints than the predecessor, but that doesn't change the fact that those who don't want a phablet will see the G3 as a touch too large.

Interface and performance

LG's theme for the G3 is 'Smart is the new Simple' and one of the key factors in this is the all-new interface it's put together for the new handset.

One of my big criticisms of the LG G2 was that the interface was simply awful: cartoon-like, hard to understand, cluttered and simply not up to the standard the HTC One M8 and friends offer.

So it's great to see that the brand has gone back to the drawing board and made something that's more fitting with a top-end handset. The garish colours are replaced with more muted 'mature' hues, meaning out goes the bright yellow and purple to be replaced with softer greens and autumnal burnt reds.

LG G3 review

Each core app, such as contacts and messaging, has its own colour to help you discern where you are in the phone – if that was a confusing problem for you – and the notifications bar has been stripped right back to simply pack a row of quick settings and the stuff you want to know about.

By default you do have a brightness bar and the option to control volumes (which is useful when you're using the phone in landscape) but these can be toggled on or off, depending on your preference, which allows for a very clean notifications zone.

If you think of it as somewhere between Samsung's new TouchWiz and native Android 4.4, you'll be pretty close. It's not as close to standard Android as some would have you believe, as the notifications area and menu systems are different, but the ethos is there and it's very similar.

The interface is visually a triumph for LG, a new look that brings a freshness that sends a statement that the South Korean brand is finally looking to make the step up to top-tier manufacturer.

To that end, there have been a couple of extra features added in to help with day to day living – these include helpful video tips that alter throughout the lifetime of the phone (so start-up tips in the first few weeks, app tutorials for the programs you're not using a bit later on and then telling you about new LG products as the G3 nears the end of life).

LG G3 review

The idea is clever, but one you'll not really use that often. The same can be said of Smart Notice, a constant label that hangs beneath the weather widget on the home screen.

This is meant to be the companion in your phone, allowing you to see the truth behind the weather by prompting you when you'll need an umbrella or offering to save a contact that you call multiple times but isn't in your phone book.

The thing is more often it tells you when there's a new video to watch, or adding helpfully that when it's foggy outside 'it's very foggy'. The idea is cool, but it's more annoying than helpful, at least in the first month of ownership.

I also got a number of shipping forecast-style updates when in New York. Helpful.

So, onto the performance of the LG G3; as you can guess with the Snapdragon 801 CPU on board and up to 3GB of RAM (if you buy the 32GB iteration of the phone) this handset performs well on standard benchmarks.

However, in day to day use it's not great. There's a definite lag under the finger that's simply not present when using the HTC One M8 or iPhone 5S, and it's quickly noticeable.

In side by side tests opening and closing apps was markedly slower on the LG G3, and while we're talking nanosecond differences it does all add up. I definitely felt the G3 wasn't as slick as other handsets on trial, and the problem didn't resolve itself between getting the European version of the software and the pre-production Korean handset.

It's not deal-breaking, but I'm confused as to why a firm that prides itself so much on engineering would let something like this slip through. There were also few freezes here and there, but nothing that you won't see on most other smartphones.

The benchmark GeekBench 3 results could give a clue as to why - the LG G3 doesn't perform as well as the rest of the competition, which could be partly down to the extra pixels needing to be driven. It's surprising, given LG usually bosses these tests, but Geekbench is designed to replicate real life use as much as possible, and the results tally with the way I found using the phone.

LG G3 review

App compatibility is still an issue as well: some of the top apps simply aren't there, such as Real Racing 3, making it hard to properly test some elements of the phone. These will probably come in time, but be warned that if you're using the LG G3 from launch you won't be overly happy with some of the limitations.

Knock On / Knock Code

LG's proprietary way of unlocking the phone is back for a second round – and it's as good as it was before.

The notion is simple: you tap the screen twice when turned off to unlock the phone (if you've not got lockscreen security set up) and can then tap the notification bar twice in quick succession, or any empty area on the home screen, to shut it down again.

It worked really well on the LG G2 to the point where, like the rear buttons, I often tried the same trick on other handsets. Others are coming on board now, like the Sony Xperia Z2 or the HTC One M8, and of course it was Nokia's idea in the first place to invent the technique.

LG G3 review

But none do it as well as LG, and it's a real boon.

And that's where the brand reached a little too far in my opinion by adding in Knock Code. It's a clever system where you can simply tap the right quadrants of the screen with the screen turned off and it works the same as an unlock code or pattern.

The issue I had was that it didn't register 80% of the time. This was often down to the fact you pick the phone up holding a portion of the screen, which seems to register as an early tap to add into the code.

This means the screen still lights up, but prompts you once again to enter the code. If you must have security then it's OK, but tapping the display twice to wake it and entering the pattern is a little simpler.

That said, if you opt for the simplest pattern first and really try at it, you'll get some joy more often than not, and when it works Knock Code is second only to the iPhone's TouchID in terms of a simple way to open the phone.

Battery

Battery life on the LG G3 was an area I was really interested in checking out, as you'll have noted in the hands on review of the handset.

With its 3000mAh battery, the power pack on the G3 is certainly big enough, but it has to fire all those extra pixels, which could limit things. But then again, it's also got the ultra-efficient Snapdragon 801 CPU that even made an HTC phone last through the day without giving up the ghost.

Well, let me let you wait no longer: the battery life is great. It's not quite as impressive as other LG phones, but given the extra power that's needed as well as other brightness controls, it's a stellar effort and one that will easily see you through a day or so of medium to hard use.

LG has worked all its magic to get the power efficiency of the G3 to the maximum possible, and you won't see a lot of the stuff that's going on under the hood in day to day use.

LG G3 review

It all depends on what you're doing. The frame rate of the display will slow down if not needed, as will the clock speed of the 2.5GHz quad-core CPU, and the LCD controls themselves also adapt to your usage, and it all works well together.

The result is that I never really noticed the phone getting overly warm either, which usually hints at strong power efficiency. However, what's interesting here is that the LG G3 performed very badly in our video rundown test, coming it lower than even the HTC One (2013) which was one of the worst at running video at a higher brightness.

So while the day to day use isn't terrible, clearly firing all those pixels is causing the G3 to melt a little even with full HD video. This only matters if you're constantly using the screen to look at myriad things on the phone, and even then the G3 is intelligent enough to slow power use down when jumping between apps.

The graph below shows the G3 to have poor battery when it comes to using the screen in our looped 90 mins HD video, with a lot more battery life lost than the competition, proving that firing the pixels isn't a treat for the phone - although when you're not watching video or internet browsing it's a lot more robust.

LG G3 review

It's interesting to note that LG doesn't seem to have the same Ultra/Extreme power saving mode as seen on the HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5 – I've not been convinced of their need to be a headline feature, but if you're in a pinch these modes can turn the phone down to the minimum power drain possible.

It's not needed, but such is the synergy between what Samsung and LG do with their flagship phones I'd have expected to see it there.

It's also great to see the LG G3 coming with wireless charging out of the box, although not all models will have this feature. It's frustrating that it's not a standard feature on more handsets, as it would help with the proliferation of the method of charging a phone.

LG says this wireless charging is based on the Qi standard, and while it seems to be a little confused over which charging pads it uses, it's ace to see it there from the start.

Overall, battery life is good enough on the LG G3, and as something that most people look for in a new smartphone, this is a real recommendation.

LG G3 review

There's a small, wistful, part of me that almost wishes that the QHD screen wasn't added into the G3 – which I appreciate borders on the hypocritical given it's something we've been looking forward to for a long while in a phone.

But given LG's ability to eke the most out of the battery, this could have been a record breaking phone, especially if the battery had been sealed in. The LG G2 had an battery that was morphed around the internal components, so if we could have feasibly had an even larger capacity on a phone that didn't draw as much power, meaning you genuinely wouldn't have to charge more than once every two days.

It's not fair to criticise a brand for pushing the boundaries of technology in everyday devices, but it perhaps hints that longer battery life would have been a better selling point than the first QHD display.

The essentials

One of the big selling points of the LG G3 is the fact the company thinks it's sorted the onboard keyboard, making it into something more useable and better than the wealth of third party options out there.

It's certainly taken some dramatic leaps forward, as the keyboard is both resizable and able to learn from your typing action, meaning it becomes more accurate the more you use it.

LG G3 review

The resizing option is pretty good, although increasing the height of the keys does limit the space you can see what you're actually typing, which isn't great when you're trying to enter text into fields on the web browser.

Similarly shrinking it doesn't do a lot for trying to improve the accuracy, no matter how much I used it. One of the other elements that LG has brought in is the next word prediction, but it's not really got the idea well.

For instance, if you're trying to type 'can't' but accidentally enter 'vant' then it will still go with that option, rather than working out succinctly what you're after.

I always use the test of whether the keyboard makes me want to install Swiftkey Keyboard, and sadly with the LG that was the case after a couple of weeks' use.

The ability to change the layout to your own choices slightly is a big boon though – having the comma key instead of settings is a real win.

But given so many good aftermarket options are so good, I can't say the new keyboard is really a selling point; HTC's One M8 is still the only phone I've not bothered to upgrade the typing experience on.

The call quality on the LG G3 is pretty good though, as it seemed to offer really good connection throughout. It also comes with all the bells and whistles you'd hope, such as being able to message straight from the call if you so need.

LG G3 review

The one issue I did note is that the LG G3 sometimes struggled to get a signal where other phones managed it just fine – it wasn't that the signal was weak, or the reception from the phone poor, it just was stuck searching to find any reception, meaning a restart or putting it in and out of airplane mode to sort.

However, it was decent at flipping in and out of Wi-Fi and 4G – while it doesn't have the download booster of the Samsung Galaxy S5, when it gets a fast connection it didn't let it go.

The internet browsing, as a result, was super slick and speedy whether using the onboard browser or Chrome – the latter isn't obvious, but now that Google's managed to get its mobile internet app up to speed I can't see why you'd use LG's option.

LG G3 review

It's not that it's bad, but it harks back to an older era where the clever notions were from the manufacturers and Google's Chrome offered nothing more than a desktop sync – but that advantage has been eroded now.

Camera

The camera on the LG G3 is a pretty good affair, despite being largely similar in spec to the LG G2. This means the same 13MP sensor, enhanced optical image stabilisation (OIS+) and the same efforts to overly-disguise noisy photos by smoothing them with software algorithms.

But on the software side, LG has stripped things right back to make one of the most streamlined UIs for a phone yet.

Turn on the camera and you'll be greeted with just a back button and small set of dots to signify more features, should you want them. Simply tap the screen to focus where you want, and the phone takes the shot quickly.

LG G3 review

If you want to just take speedy snaps, this is a great method (and the camera is activated by holding the down volume button in standby mode, and can be used as a shutter button too.

If you want a few more options (and I do when taking a photo) then intriguingly the G3 doesn't have much more to play with. You can toggle the HDR mode on or off (it's on by default), enter dual capture, panorama or 'Magic Focus' which is the same re-focus feature that's become popular with all high-end phones.

There's no way to change the ISO settings, exposure or contrast… it's a camera with minimal interaction. It's not a bad thing, but I would like to see a touch more control, even if it's buried down through the menus.

Nokia, Samsung and even HTC have done a great job in starting the education process of how to get great snaps by playing with settings, but it seems LG is more interested in doing the same as Apple and not getting in the way of your pictures.

The actual picture quality is pretty good, with well-lit scenes giving really clear, sharp and well-defined snaps. In lower light the G3 is good, if not as fast at taking snaps, although that image smoothing easily goes over the top – like the One M8, if you're thinking of zooming in or cropping your photos, some will look a bit muddy on the G3.

But the general pictures gained from day to day photography are up there with the best on the LG G3, and it's a real recommendation from me.

The autofocus needs a mention here again – the laser shooting out a conical beam to check out the room leads to blistering autofocus, and does notably out-do the Samsung Galaxy S5 in terms of going from a standing start and snapping the picture..

LG G3 review

The S5 struggles to wake from sleep mode as fast as the G3, and the speed of the shutter is so impressive with the latter – check out the snaps below to see.

The other big change is the front facing camera (and I refuse to use the S-word that LG has named it with) by increasing the angle of the snap, so you can fit more in. You can also open and close your hand to start the countdown, which means if you've framed the photo well you won't knock it out of shot by tapping the screen.

The beauty slider is present too, meaning the photo is smoothed out to make a weird soft-focus on your face (especially weird for men with beards, as they end up looking like a sooty smudge).

I do like the addition of the 'flash' on the front. As I mentioned, this sees the front camera image shrink down and the surrounding area go a skin-friendly white tone, meaning in darker scenes I got much better pics.

Camera samples

LG G3 review

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LG G3 review

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LG G3 review

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LG G3 review

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LG G3 review

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LG G3 review

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LG G3 review

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LG G3 review

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LG G3 review

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LG G3 review

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LG G3 review

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Media

Media on the LG G3 is predictably excellent for a number of reasons: the screen and audio experience being two of them.

The QHD screen is something that has to be seen to be believed – the criticisms of it earlier aren't that it's a bad screen (quite the opposite, it's stunning) but more that the effect isn't that much better than a Full HD screen.

It is better though, and even average movies look a touch sharper than they would do otherwise – plus you've got a much bigger display to look at.

LG G3 review

For instance, I was browsing through some video files I had on a spare SD card, and came across one that was shot in QHD resolution. Well, that was what I thought when watching it back… it was actually a 720p file when I checked it out, which was amazing given the flawless detail on offer.

The preloaded stuff from LG is obviously the most amazing thing, and nobody that I showed off the starry night scenes to wasn't gobsmacked by the detail on show. However, it was the same reaction that I saw with the G2, and with the G3 you'll need to be ready to put up with that larger screen.

LG G3 review

I do wish the Video player was still a separate app, as it's still in there (as the option to use it comes up when you start a video for the first time) as rooting the Gallery isn't that much fun.

Music

LG G3 review

.The music player on the LG G3 is both simple and sophisticated at the same time. It can handle really high quality audio (LG has to rewrite some of the core code of Android to facilitate this last year) and the new phone has a built in amplifier to make music sound louder and clearer with less distortion.

This means if you're properly into your tunes, then 50MB FLAC files will be noted with a small 'Hi-Fi' icon next to them, and sound really rather nice. But even the tunes you've ripped in low quality from a CD sound OK – nothing amazing, but team the LG G3 with a decent pair of headphones and you've got a brilliant sound system.

There's not a lot more to say about the music player though, as like with many high end smartphones it's more out of the way than in your face.

You can control the tunes from the notifications bar, or the dedicated widget on the home screen. The Android 4.4 trick of having full screen album art on the lockscreen is there too – it looks awesome and it annoys me it's on every top Android phone bar the HTC One M8.

The speaker on the rear of the phone isn't as good as the competition though. I've come to adore front facing speakers on both the One M8 and Sony Xperia Z2, and to not have it here is a failure. It's loud, that's for sure, and the internal amplification means it doesn't distort too much, but it's only OK.

The competition

The LG G3 is entering a really rather packed smartphone market, and these are the big phones you'll probably be considering over the South Korean's big hitter – take a look to see how it stacks up against the best the competition has to offer.

Samsung Galaxy S5

Samsung Galaxy S5

Samsung's had a little bit of a swing and a miss with the Galaxy S5, as while it's a great phone with a lot of power, it still pushes too hard on the gimmicks with a low-quality chassis compared to the rest.

The screen quality is high thanks to the Super AMOLED on show, but I'd say LG still shades it with the higher resolution, if not the brightness or contrast.

In terms of design the LG G3 is ahead, especially when it comes to looks, and the brushed metal effect doesn't feel too bad in the hand – plus there's no faux chrome.

LG's simplicity trumps Samsung's efforts with things like the heart rate monitor – I get the feeling Samsung is going nail the health market in the future, although not with this phone. The S5 is also waterproof, which is much less of a gimmick, and something it's interesting LG opted not to do.

HTC One M8

HTC One M8

The best phone on the market doesn't have anything to worry about from LG – but it's not miles and miles ahead.

The metal construction, mature overlay and focus on the key elements of sound and general user friendliness abound with this powerhouse of the phone world, albeit not a status that's matched by sales.

That's not to say the LG isn't without charm and plus points: the battery life is superior and the pictures that it spits out are of slightly higher quality.

The design doesn't hold a candle to HTC, and the user interface isn't as powerful, but if you value power and specs over a more balanced phone, the LG G3 isn't a bad choice.

iPhone 5S

iPhone 5S

The difference between the iPhone and the G3 is stark – one is compact, the other massive. LG reckons that the Retina display has had its time in the sun, and it has found the ultimate screen resolution – I can see Apple changing that with the iPhone 6.

The iPhone probably has a more robust camera that's a little simpler to use and handle, and the app selection is improved. But everything from a faster OS to a batter screen and improved audio experience swings things in LG's favour – I'll remind you that the iPhone 6 is coming in September this year, so if you're deciding between the 5S and the G3 perhaps it's best to wait a few months.

Sony Xperia Z2

Sony Xperia Z2

It's a tricky one to decide whether to recommend the Sony over the G3, as both are rather large handsets with the same powerful innards.

The screen quality on the Z2 is appreciably better than Sony's efforts in 2013, and the user interface matches LG's in terms of simplicity.

The cameras go toe to toe as well, although Sony's odd predilection for noise in lower light snaps is still a conundrum I'm trying to work out – the company drafted its camera team to improve the sensor, so to have that miss is odd.

In terms of design the Z2 is definitely superior – it's slightly more compact in the hand (although it is tall) and the glass / aluminium casing feels really nice too.

This is a tricky one to call – I'd suggest trying both out if you're torn.

Verdict

The LG G3 is a phone that shows the South Korean brand knew it needed something better than the G2 to compete with the best Samsung, Sony and HTC have to offer, which is why it arrived less than a year after the G2.

LG G3 review

It's supremely powerful and addresses nearly all the issues I had with its predecessor – so has LG suddenly created the ultimate smartphone?

We liked

The screen on the LG G3, when used properly to display high-resolution content, is immense… LG knew that, and has been rightly making a big deal about it.

The overall design of the phone is vastly improved too, with the faux-metal cover not necessarily feeling great but certainly looks the part when laid on a table.

The camera is powerful too, leading to some great snaps and not letting me down when I wanted to just capture the moment here and there. The size of the phone makes some shots slightly harder, but overall it's a good sensor to pack on there.

I really like the new interface LG has created – it's clean, flat and really shows a maturity from a brand that erred far too much on the side of 'fun' rather than making me feel like I had a phone that was worthy of a significant chunk of change each month.

The battery life is also really impressive – sure, it only matches the competition, but given it has so much more to do with the QHD screen it's a revelation really.

We disliked

So how can a phone that's improved in nearly every area have any flaws? Well, there are a few areas where LG has made compromises that haven't quite worked – and dropped the ball in others.

For instance, the lag in the interface is really irritating – that beat between launching apps and jumping back to the home screen is annoying.

The fact that it's not optimised for some apps isn't cool either – I'm not sure whether it's the screen (although they should scale) or some internal jiggery-pokery… but it's a flaw, no doubt.

LG G3 review

The QHD screen is also a drawback – I know what you're going to say, so let me explain. Yes, it looks great in perfect conditions, but a good smartphone is about balance. There's no point having technology for the sake of it, and that's what the QHD screen feels like right now.

Internet browsing, watching videos and generally using apps looks a bit better, but nothing massive. If you weren't looking for it, you'd just think it was a decent screen, and I've had the same feeling from the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5, the LG G2 and the HTC One M8.

Without the screen, which does lose brightness when viewed from anything other than straight on, the battery would last longer, the lag might have been removed and the LG G3 could be made to sit in the palm better.

I'm all for advancement, but the screen on the G3 feels like a headline spec rather than something that enriches a great phone.

The camera needs to perform much better in low light too - it's too heavy on the smudges as the software tries to cover up a slight inability to perform in the dark. We've all been there.

Verdict

The LG G3 is a great smartphone – like its predecessor, if you're after power and precision, perhaps over design and form, then this is a winner.

The camera and battery combo is sure to win some hearts, and the improved user interface both will attract new users and give relief to those that were put off by the clutter on the G2.

However, I think something was lost in design in making the backplate removable – I feel that unibody designs just feel better in the hand thanks to being more solid, and I miss that from the G2.

The plastic / metal doesn't feel great in the hand either, and the dimensions are very much small phablet than big smartphone, which you'll need to take into consideration if you're thinking of buying the LG G3.

If that doesn't bother you then the G3 is a really impressive, very accomplished smartphone that drops the gimmicks to create one of the most powerful and impressive handsets you can buy right now.

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