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

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 reviewThe
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 reviewThe
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 reviewIt might look similar, but the feel in the hand is very differentThe
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 reviewThe battery and back cover are both removableAnd
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 reviewIt
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.

Tech Tweakerz’s verdict

“A great handset that’s more phablet than phone – and it’s only slightly let down by lackluster design.”

For

  • Great screen
  • Good camera in bright light
  • Improved interface
Against

  • Lightweight chassis isn’t premium enough
  • QHD doesn’t wow
  • Battery life is lower than expected

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