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LG G3 Review: QHD High Res Android Power
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Date: Jun 26, 2014
Section:Mobile
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Intro and Specifications
LG is probably getting a little tired of scraping for brand recognition versus big names like Samsung, Apple and yes, even Google.  However, the company is also likely taking solace in the fact that their smartphone sales figures are heading for an all-time high in 2014, with an estimated 60 million units projected to be sold this year.  Part of that success probably comes from private label sales of devices like the LG-made Google Nexus 5, though the LG G2 certainly sold its fair share as well. So, at the end of the day, LG is sort of the "sleeper" of smartphone makers and as a major OEM display manufacturer, they've got the chops to compete with the best of breed in the race for superphone dominance.

LG's third iteration of their popular "G" line of flagship smartphones, simply dubbed the LG G3, is the culmination of all of the innovation the company has developed in previous devices to date, including its signature rear button layout, along with cutting-edge IPS display technology that only a first tier manufacturer can muster.  In fact, the G3's 5.5-inch QHD display drives a resolution of 2560X1440 with a pixel density of 538 PPI, one of the highest density smartphone displays to hit the market to date.  With high-end, flagship smartphones, the display is a major-league part of the experience. 

Does LG's G3 break out and deliver?  Let's take a look in our hands-on demo and then put it through its paces...


LG G3 Android Flagship
Specifications & Features
  • Display: 5.5-inch Quad HD IPS (2560 x 1440, 538ppi)
  • Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 801 Quad-Core processor up to 2.5 GHz
  • 13MP OIS+ (Optical Image Stabilizer Plus) camera with Laser Auto Focus
  • Polished metallic skin and "Floating Arc" form factor
  • Memory: 32GB eMMC ROM / 3GB DDR 3 RAM / microSD slot (128GB)
  • Camera: Rear 13.0MP with OIS+ and Laser Auto Focus, Dual LED Flash / Front 2.1MP
  • Battery: 3,000mAh (removable)
  • Operating System: Android™ 4.4.2 KitKat
  • Size: 146.3 X 74.6 X 8.95mm
  • Weight: 149.8g
  • Network: LTE / HSPA+ 21 Mbps / CDMA
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE (APT-x), NFC,
  • SlimPort, A-GPS/Glonass, USB 2.0
  • Color: Metallic Black, Silk White, Shine Gold
  • Redesigned graphic user interface (GUI): "Simple is the New Smart" concept of the LG G3
  • Other: 1 Watt Speaker with Boost Amp, Smart Notice, Smart Keyboard, Knock Code™

Running down the G3's spec list, we're looking at a feature-complete assortment of the latest technologies in the handset space, including Qualcomm's powerful quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor at 2.5GHz.  This is the same SoC found in Samsung's Galaxy S5 and the HTC One M8 and LG has backed it up with a healthy 3GB of RAM on the 32GB device we tested, no doubt to help with buffering for rendering images across the G3's super high res 2560X1440 display. 

Also on board is 802.11ac WiFi connectivity and a large 3000mAh battery to support that 5.5-inch high res display, but perhaps more notable is the phone's 13MP high resolution camera with optical image stabilization and laser auto-focus.



What's interesting about the camera is that LG boasts exceptionally fast auto-focus times afforded by the G3's laser targeting system.  Essentially, the rear-mounted laser paints the subject in the shot to allow the phone to determine depth and range.  In theory it sounds like a great idea and in practice we found it to work impressively well, but more on this later.

For now, let's take a closer look at the build quality and design aesthetics of the LG G3...
 
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Design and Build Quality
The LG G3 definitely has a premium look and feel to it, and it maintains good serviceability with a plastic removable backing. The shape of the device is what LG refers to as a "floating arch."  This shape does trim the phone down somewhat compared to other 5.5-inch and larger devices and it also affords slightly better "pocketability." 



This contoured shape also cradles better in your hand with more surface contact area intrinsic to the G3's shape.  Though the G3's smooth backing has a slick feel, the shape of the device lets you keep a better grip on it.  Our G3's removable plastic cover has a pewter color (LG calls this "Metallic Black" but there are white and gold versions too), and brushed aluminum look to it.  Interestingly, this metallic painted skin has a better feel in the hand and minimizes fingerprints really well, compared to many other flagship smartphone designs on the market currently that employ a similar plastic backing.



Our demo unit was a Korean model, so don't mind the unfamiliar logo.  The G3 will be available soon on all of the majors networks including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.  On the rear of the device you can see the power and volume rocker button assembly LG pioneered with the LG G2.  With the G3, however, this setup is a bit more refined, offering even easier control with a slightly less prominent bump out but larger button surface area overall.  If you're skeptical of the G3's unconventional volume and power button layout, don't be. After spending a day or so with it, it begins to feel like home and ultimately works just as well.  Though it's personal preference, I had no problem making the transition from the dozens of devices I've used with edge-mounted button and rocker controls.  Coupled with LG's screen "Knock-On" technology, some might even argue that it's a touch more convenient, actually.



Popping the back cover off the G3, you'll find a dual-tray, combination microSIM and microSD card slot. The G3 supports up to an additional 128GB of storage via microSD, over and above its existing on-board storage.  The G3's 3000mAh battery is quite large but the added weight doesn't bring a tangible difference to the product, versus say a 5-inch device with a smaller battery, like the Nexus 5, for example.



The key differentiator with LG's new G3 flagship Android phone is of course its 5.5-inch IPS display with a native resolution of 2560X2440.  Pictures and video can't do it justice, you have to see the level of sharpness and detail in person to appreciate it.  That said, versus the dozens of smartphones on the market with 1080p displays, it's questionable whether or not the extra screen resolution offers a significant advantage. Text does look super crisp and viewing UHD content (pics or video) looks fantastic.  However, other than LG's high res app icons, which do have a bit more pop, there really aren't any Android apps that take advantage of this much screen resolution, with the exception of web browsing.  At 2560X1440 res, you can get a lot more of a page on screen but text can be really tight and if you're not blessed with 20/20 (fortunately, I am), you may find yourself turning up text zoom settings in the browser control panel.

Conversely, the G3 is built with a very trim bezel assembly and more than many other smartphones on the market, this device feels and looks like it's just all screen area.  The G3 has a very "spacious" feel overall.  Finally, viewing angles on the G3 are solid, colors are vibrant with good contrast and a balanced default screen temperature setup as well. However, the G3's display could be a bit brighter and outdoor viewing in sunny settings can challenge the G3.
 
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Software, Apps and Experience
LG has followed the UI trend these days with the G3 and has flattened out the look in many areas.  Fortunately, one of the UI design changes are translucent Home, Back and Menu buttons that are present across the bottom of the screen and are much less obtrusive in a lot of applications, when they're not needed.


In other applications, like the phone dialer, where contrast is needed, they are rendered over a flat color background. This compromise works pretty well and with the G3's larger 5.5-inch display we don't miss our favorite placement of on-bezel buttons so much.



Again, the flat look and high contrast of the G3's menus really allows you to quickly identify settings and controls easily.  LG has done a nice job of lightly skinning Android KitKat with simple controls that afford fewer screen taps for the most commonly used features of the device. Incidentally, LG has maintained their unique suite of QSlide functionality that allows you to overlay apps like the browser, phone dialer, messaging and video apps in small windows on the screen, with the ability to change their transparency level via a slider.  Check out our video demo on the first page to see this in action, as we were unable to grab screen shots of this feature directly.



 

Swiping from the left of the home screen brings up the G3's Smart Tips app for getting the most out of the phone's key features, as well as the LG Health app.  LG Health has basic pedometer functionality, along with tracking and graphing of your activity data, as measured toward your fitness goals.  The app also taps into Google Maps to track your workout routes for running, biking, etc.  And again, with the weather app you can see LG's "Simple is The New Smart," motto with the G3's UI coming through, with a flat clean look that gets the job done elegantly without a lot of chrome or glitz.

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Web Browsing, General CPU Performance
Our first two benchmarks are what you can consider "general purpose" compute performance as well as web browsing metrics.  SunSpider is a JavaScript based test and Rightware's Browsermark measures a browser’s performance in JavaScript and HTML rendering in APIs like WebGL, HTML5 and CSS3/3D.

SunSpider 
General Compute - Javascript Processing Benchmark



Here the G3 is near the top of the heap versus the competition with only a small variance between it and the the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.  All told, a strong showing and the extra gigabyte of RAM and additional software optimizations are probably what powers both the G3 and the Note 3 past the Galaxy S5 in this test.

Rightware Browsermark
Web Browsing Performance

    

The same can be said for BrowserMark, where the G3 takes the second slot right behind the iPhone 5S.  In general, web apps and browsing on the G3 are snappy and responsive and the metrics show that here.

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CPU, System, User Experience Benchmarks
AnTuTu’s latest benchmark returns a number of scores—too many to graph so we’re including a look at all the numbers in a table.  This test measures subsystem performance in various areas like Database IO, Storage IO, CPU (Int. and Float), GPU (3D), and RAM (speed).

AnTuTu and Mobile XPRTBenchmarks
General System, CPU and User Experiential Performance


AnTuTu benchmark – click to enlarge

The G3 makes a more middle-of-the-pack showing here, falling behind the Galaxy S5 and Note 3 in some cases, as well as the HTC One M8. Notice the slower RAM speed and ops numbers here.  It looks as if LG opted for a slightly slower memory interface speed in exchange for that extra 1GB of RAM on board.

The MobileXPRT benchmark runs through a variety of tests to evaluate the responsiveness of a device along with its ability to handle many everyday workloads.  With this test, please note: lower individual test scores equal faster complete times in the top group of tests in this grid, but a higher "Overall Score" numbers indicates better performance.  In the User Experience test group, higher numbers overall indicate better performance/results.


Mobile XPRT Benchmark Tests - Click to enlarge

MobileXPRT paints a similar picture as AnTuTu, though the G3 is not far behind its rivals the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8.  It was pretty much nip and tuck the whole way.

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Graphics and Gaming Performance
GFXBench has been one of our standard graphics performance benchmarks for a while. Recently, the company updated its software to version 3.0. With this new version, the old tests are no longer available to run for comparison. Still, we were able to round up a handful of phones to give you a feel for how the LG G3 stacks up.

GFXBench and 3DMark Ice Storm
Android Gaming Benchmarks





Here the LG G3 offered strong performance in this gaming-centric benchmark run.  The device took top spot in terms of overall available graphics fill rate and kept pace with the Galaxy S5 in the more standard T Rex game play test run.  Interestingly, LG's own G Flex and the HTC One M8 were able to outpace both the G3 and GS5 in this test but by smallish margins.

3DMark Ice Storm
Cutting-Edge 3D Rendering and Mobile Graphics Benchmark 

We've come to place a lot of stock in Futuremark's latest mobile 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Ice Storm. The test scores device performance in a number of areas, from pure polygon and shader processing to physics calculations.  Futuremark is also very good about policing benchmark results in their database, looking for manufacturers trying to gain an edge by "optimizing" for the benchmark.



Here, the G3 falls back into the middle of the pack, with both the HTC One M8 and Galaxy S5 taking the lead over LG's latest flagship.  One caveat we would offer here is that, again, the G3 device we've tested is a very early Korean unit that wasn't built for the US carrier market and likely still has a bit of tweaking and optimization to be done.  LG could likely close this gap with a future firmware update that could affect any number of configuration settings from core graphics drivers to memory clock speed.

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Camera And Battery Life Performance
LG's camera app also follows the same "Simple is The New Smart" UI concept LG has been flag-waving for the G3.  In fact, camera controls and settings have been trimmed down quite a bit and some level of functionality isn't available like exposure settings, for example.  Power users may miss some of these setup options but mainstream users looking to just point and shoot will be more than satisfied with performance in the stock setup.



An HDR mode is available for the G3, as are Panorama and Dual Shot modes.  Dual shot employs both the 2.1MP front and rear camera simultaneously.  Similar to the GS5 and HTC One M8, the G3 also has a "Magic Focus" setting for the camera that combines multiple shots into a single image and allows selective refocusing of foreground and background objects in an image.  In practice it works pretty well, about as good as what Samsung has achieved with the Galaxy S5, maybe a touch better.  However, it doesn't quite measure up to the bokeh effects HTC's Duo Camera depth sensor can achieve with the One M8.

  

 

Regardless, still shots with the LG G3 were extremely fast to snap and easy to setup with the camera's laser auto-focus system.  The device was definitely very responsive, though it's hard to say if it's noticeably faster than say a newer device like the GS5.  We would offer that it's at least as fast and responsive as any smartphone camera to date, perhaps even a touch faster, just in terms of general "feel."  However, what's impressive is that you can pull excellent shots from this phone with very little setup and effort. Low light performance as well, with stills, is exceptional. Finally, the G3's UHD video setting also grabs fantastically sharp footage, though lighting responsiveness here isn't quite as good as the G3 is in still shot mode.

Battery Life Stress Test 
Heavy Load Stress Testing With AnTuTu Tester

The battery within the GS3 is a removable and user-accessible 3000mAh cell that's about as big as you can find these days in a 5.5-inch device.  In addition, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 processor and associated battery saver software, allows the chip to power down significantly when idle and absolutely sip power.  That said, powering the G3's 5.5-inch 2560X1440 display, even at 50 percent brightness can take its toll.

In the following AnTuTu Battery Test, we'll be looking at a worst case test condition that ramps CPU usage up to 100 percent with the display set to 50 percent brightness. It's tough on any smartphone power delivery subsystem but all devices are on a level playing field in this test.



Here, unfortunately, the G3 comes in dead last versus many of the flagship Android phones on the market.  The G3 wasn't outlasted by a huge margin but it's a significant enough delta.  In general use, we found the device could hang on to a charge long enough for a full day of calling, browsing and texting but it was definitely pulling down the juice, especially if you keep that high res screen lit brightly.  It's a concern but not a huge one in our opinion. You just might find yourself being more mindful of settings and power management with the G3 in certain scenarios or use cases.

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Performance Summary And Conclusion

Performance Analysis:

The LG G3 offered up solid performance in many of our benchmark metrics, though it did trail a couple of other high-end smartphones on the market currently by small margins, when it came to graphics performance and memory-intensive tasks.  However, in other areas, the G3's extra gigabyte of RAM offered it a bit more breathing room to perform and more buffering while rendering for its high res 2560X1440 display.  Overall the device felt responsive and snappy, with only the occasional stitch noticeable here and there as the device caught up with rendering at its native QHD resolution.

The LG G3, With QSlide Apps In Action

If you're a high res pixel snob, you would absolutely love the new LG G3.  Its 2560X1440 display with 538ppi pixel density is about as tight as it gets currently and images are crisp like well done toast at a Sunday brunch.  What I personally really like about the G3 is its QSlide app functionality (pictured above) and the ability to take advantage of the G3's large 5.5-inch display and 2560X1440 resolution with multiple apps simultaneously.  There's tangible utility here with the ability to browse the web for a phone contact, while the dialer is still up on the screen, for just one example, though there are many more use cases for this obviously.

The other standout feature of the G3 is its build quality and design.  This smartphone, of all the big flagship devices on the market today, feels spacious and looks like it's all screen with its thin bezel and chassis area optimization.  It's a big screen smartphone at 5.5-inches that feels more like a standard 5-inch device and LG did an excellent job balancing style and build material quality with weight and cost.

Further, the G3's camera setup is about is idiot-proof as it gets, with the ability to capture great stills on the fly, quickly and with little setup.  If you're a real shutterbug, you might miss a few extra settings but then again, you probably have a DSLR for serious work too.

You might be keeping an eye on the G3's battery level more often but in reality, that's our only notable word of caution on this device and it's by no means a deal-breaker.

LG is still setting retail MSRPs for the device currently with the major carriers (again, all of them), but you can find the G3 unlocked currently on Amazon if you're itching for it sooner than later.

All told the LG G3 is definitely worthy of the "superphone" ranks and should be on your short list of devices, if you want it all and like living life in high resolution. 

   
  • Big, beautiful 5.5" QHD Display
  • Solid general performance
  • Great camera performance with no fiddling
  • Innovative UI features like QSlide and Split Screen
  • Thin bezel, tight design for a 5.5-inch device
  • Slightly slower overall performance vs other Snapdragon 801 designs
  • Occasional stutters rendering 2560 res
  • Softer overall battery life


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