Just when we thought all of the year’s best Android phones had been unveiled, the LG G3 goes into battle with the HTC, Samsung and Sony flagships. The choice gets ever harder…
The first half of 2014 has been incredible for high-end smartphones. We’ve seen a fallen giant re-emerge in the form of HTC’s One (M8), a typically strong effort from Samsung with its Galaxy S5, and a polished, noteworthy third-placed runner in the shape of the Sony Xperia Z2.
Just one of those would ordinarily be enough to keep us content – but three of them in six months was like Christmas coming early.
Perhaps we thought that, after such a wonderful return to form from HTC, there were no more surprises in store. Perhaps we imagined that no other manufacturer would bother to compete in a year with such a strong line-up.
Then we saw the LG G3, and we realised we were wrong about everything.
The G3 is the most technologically advanced smartphone on the market. It’s a wonderful piece of kit and rivals any device out there for sheer power, and for the gadgetry contained within its casing.
As we see so often, though, it is the implementation that is more important than the technology itself.
Fortunately, LG has learned from past mistakes, taken criticism on board, and managed to create the slickest, most polished, most usable device in its history.
Heads were initially turned with the announcement that the G3 would boast an “QHD” display. QHD is short for “quad-HD”, meaning the G3’s display has four times as many pixels as a standard 720p HD screen: 1,440 x 2,560 of them.
That’s a lot of pixels. Even 2014’s other flagships can only offer up 1,080p Full HD displays, which have almost half the pixel count of the G3.
It goes without saying, then, that the G3’s display is outstanding. It delivers an exceptional level of sharpness that is simply unrivalled.
For the most part though, the difference is barely noticeable. If you’re flicking around your home screens, composing an SMS or browsing Twitter, then you probably won’t notice much of a difference between QHD and the 1,080p Full HD resolution of other top-end devices.
To ensure that such a massively advanced display doesn’t ruin battery life, LG has given the G3 a sizeable 3,000mAh battery. It claims the 20 per cent extra power consumption brought on by the display is offset by a 20 per cent larger-than-average battery. In our time using the device, we didn’t notice any accelerated drain.
Still, some people might have preferred extra battery life over the pixel boost, which at times is indistinguishable.
The QHD is noticeable, however, when watching videos and playing games. Movies pop with a real crispness. It offers possibly the best cinematic experience on a mobile device, while in-game graphics are remarkably detailed in their rendering. Of course, both of these pursuits are greatly enhanced by the G3’s huge display.
At 5.5 inches, it’s the largest of the current generation of flagships phones – 0.2 inches larger than the previous biggest, the Xperia Z2, and a whole 0.5 inches more than the One M8.
There’s no way the G3 could achieve such a clear picture on such a large display without QHD technology behind it. In fact, despite being 10 per cent larger than the One M8, it packs in almost 100 more pixels per inch, totalling an astonishing 534ppi, compared to 441ppi on the One M8.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about that 5.5-inch display is just how small a body LG has crammed it into. It may be a phablet-sized screen, but the G3 is no phablet. To draw another comparison with the One M8, the G3 is actually 0.1mm shorter – despite a whole half an inch of extra display. It’s also 0.5mm thinner than the One M8, and it’s only 1.2mm wider than the Xperia Z2.
The G3 would be worlds apart from the competition aesthetically, if it weren’t for one small, niggling factor. When we were first treated to preview images of the handset, we were so excited to see what looked like a handset finally ready to challenge the One M8 in terms of build quality. It looked as if another major handset had taken that extra step and crafted a brushed aluminium chassis, and it looked great.
Unfortunately, it looked a little too good. The LG G3’s rear casing is simply plastic with a brushed metal look to it. Of course, as far as plastic handsets go, it’s about as attractive as you could conceive, but it feels like a cut corner, and you’ll notice the difference as soon as you pick it up.
The larger screen could be problematic for some people as well. A grown man with large hands will be able to operate the G3 one-handed with a little dexterity, but it’ll be a stretch. Your average woman, or a young person, will almost certainly be forced to operate it two-handed.
There is an option to enable one-handed operation to help with tasks such as dialling or texting, but it’s rather limited.
One handy customisable feature is the pre-loaded keyboard. We type on our smartphones more than anything else, yet few manufacturers bother to make noticeable changes to the stock Android setup.
Here, you can change the size of the G3’s typing area, choose the level and aggression of the autocorrect, and even choose what functions are performed by two shortcut buttons either side of the space bar.
Dragging your thumb left or right across the space bar allows you to move the cursor without having to fiddle around in the main body text, and it even has swipe-to-type functionality, although it’s not particularly good.
Despite these neat features, the LG keyboard is still a hard sell, as most seasoned Android users will already have an equally well-featured keyboard downloaded from the Google Play app store.
LG has done an excellent job of not forcing its user interface upon the user. As the G3 uses soft keys, you can edit the order and number of home touch buttons too, so you’re not confined to a preset set-up.Camera
Unfortunately, this level of detail ends with the camera. For whatever reason, there’s next-to-no options for tinkering with the various settings of what is an excellent snapper.
The lens is 13-megapixels, as we’ve seen on so many high-end smartphones, but it is the laser autofocus that really stands out. Photos are taken quicker than the blink of an eye.
You can programme in a trigger word such as “cheese” or “smile” to activate a timer. Or, if you’re taking a selfie, you can clench your free, open palm into a fist in view of the lens to initiate a countdown.
The knock-to-wake feature, wherein a locked screen can be activated via a quick double-tap, was a greatly appreciated feature on the One M8. LG has taken this idea one step further and implemented what it calls Knock Code. With the screen divided into four small sections, you can input a code of three or more taps that function as a password. You can even tap out this code on a locked, blank display and it will automatically unlock the device and take you to your home screen. It’s a great time saver, and works with unerring consistency.
Smart Notice is another unique feature of the G3 that has the potential to greatly improve your daily use of it. As the name implies, it exists to issue important reminders, without you having to actually suggest them.
For example, it will check the weather forecast every day to see if you need to take an umbrella or wrap-up warm. If you miss a phone call and don’t acknowledge it, it will remind you to call the person back. It also monitors your calendar and schedule for important events to keep you informed, without you having to lift a finger.
One of the most interesting features is Dual Window, which enables split-screen multitasking. The screen is dissected horizontally to allow for two apps to run simultaneously, one on top of the other. You can even adjust the size of each window.
It’s a niche feature, granted, but you never know when you might need to use it – for example, if you want to reference a text message while composing an email.
With the strength of smartphone competition today, it is conscientious additions like the above features that help distinguish technologically similar Android handsets from another. The G3 looks the part, too, even if the plastic build isn’t exactly in keeping with its overall premium feel.
Only minor detractions stop the LG G3 from being the perfect smartphone – but as there’s no such thing as a perfect smartphone just yet, the G3 is still a wonderful piece of kit. It has outstanding features, hardware and form to boot. If you’re looking for the best possible Android device on the market, you would be foolish not to seriously consider the G3.