When the LG G2 smartphone launched, it was one of the most promising smartphones we’d seen from LG for years.
With a clever design and some exciting world-first features – including high-res music capabilities – it was a worthy rival to all the big names in the market, and in many cases, capable of beating them too.
Just less than nine months later, the launch of the G3 has been surrounded by all the leaks, hype and excitement of a bonafide flagship smartphone.
But going from no expectations to high ones is no easy task; with valiant five-star efforts from the likes of the HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z2 to challenge the G3, can LG do it again? The answer is absolutely.
The display on the LG G3 is one of its headline features, and really is something to put on your to-see list. The 5.5in screen (up from 5.2in on its predecessor) that dominates the front of the G3 is what LG calls a Quad HD screen.
It offers four times higher resolution than that of standard HD and 1.8 times more than Full HD.
That means a resolution of 2560 x 1440 and a whopping 538ppi. We’re aware of Steve Jobs’ argument that the human eye can’t see any difference in screens over 300ppi. After seeing the G3 display, we’d have to say we disagree.
You might not see a whole lot of extra detail when flicking through the OS or browsing the internet, but load up a Full HD movie clip or graphics-heavy game, and that all changes.
Its neutral, well-balanced colour palette makes the HTC One M8’s display look rather artificially vibrant. Colour gradients look much smoother too.
Motion is spot on and, while blacks don’t quite reach the murky depths of the HTC, whites do better at punching through in darker scenes to create an impressive sense of contrast.
The real win here, though, is the level of fine detail the G3 musters up. The moss on rocks and the brickwork on buildings is mottled and textured, blades of grass are individually etched and there’s a real sense of near and far to scenery – often harder to get a sense of on smaller screens.
Switching over from HD clips to Eastenders in standard definition on BBC iPlayer, and while pictures do look far crisper than on the HTC One M8 and skin tones much more realistic, it does look occasionally washed out in comparison. We’d still take it over the HTC for its sharper picture, though.
Viewing angles are good, not losing any vibrancy of colour or deepness of blacks when viewed off axis. But our one niggle with this screen has to be its brightness level.
When viewed next to the HTC One M8 or the Sony Xperia Z2, its screen is noticeably dimmer, and we find ourselves having to have the brightness turned up pretty high as a result – a well-known battery drainer.
Even then, it can still be tricky to see what’s going on when viewing in bright sunlight.
To go along with its “simple is the new smart” tagline, the LG G3 features a minimalist design. With a brushed metallic-look back panel (that had us fooled as being the real deal for a while), there are no buttons to blemish its front or sides.
The back has the rear-button controls we saw making their debut on the LG G2.
These have been tweaked slightly from the originals to improve their usability. The volume buttons are now larger and with a textured feel so they’re easier to find, while the plastic power button has been ditched in favour of a circular metal design.
It’s also next-to bezel-free on the left and right, with the screen stretching to the very edge of the handset and making it seem much less ‘phablet’ than other 5.5in phones we’ve seen.
Let’s be clear here – this is still a big phone. But at 74.6mm across, it’s only around 4mm wider than the G2, giving you the benefits of a larger screen without the need for much more pocket real estate.
It’s also complemented by a gently curved back panel, which has been researched to find the ideal radius for maximum ‘gripability’.
We still find it difficult to use purely one handed, though, having to really stretch our thumb to reach the other side of the screen.
There are enough software tweaks to help make a lot of things easier, such as adjustable keyboards and menus (more on that later), but those taking the jump from an iPhone 5s, for example, will certainly need time to adapt.
Unlike with the G2, the back panel of the G3 is removable to reveal a 3000mAh battery and microSD card slot. This means the G3 offers expandable storage up to 128GB (though it is futureproofed up to 2TB once it becomes available).
Its unexpandable nature was one of our biggest complaints with the G2 – particularly when we wanted to fill it up with megabyte-chomping high-res music – so we’re glad LG has addressed it.
LG’s user interface has had an overhaul to match simplicity message of simplicity. It does away with fancy transitions and icon drop-shadowing in favour of a flatter, no-fuss design.
Colours are much more low-key too, bright and in-your-face primary hues are replaced with a more muted and mature colour palette.
Icons are squared off and less cartoonish than on the G2 – and bear more than a passing resemblance to those in vanilla Android 4.4 – while text is kept light and crisp for ultimate readability.
It’s a big win for the G3 and a huge step forward from the G2, which we often felt was cluttered and overdone. We particularly like the new stripped-back notification bar, which looks and works better than ever. But the whole experience feels much more intuitive and well thought out.
It might not quite top the HTC One M8’s Android experience for us, but it comes pretty close.
While the 2K display takes the limelight this year, last year’s headline feature of high-resolution music support returns in the LG G3.
Unfortunately, its lacklustre performance comes along with it.
Listen to a regular WAV file and, while the tone and balance of the music is enjoyable and listenable, that rather unexciting audio performance that we noted in the G2 is present again. It’s all a bit too smooth and a bit too rounded for our liking.
We switch to high-res FLAC files (easily identifiable by their “HiFi” label in the list), and the G3 picks out stacks of fine detail that you just won’t hear on a WAV file.
It offers insight into a track that we’re not used to hearing on smartphones. Vocals are focused, instruments are full of texture and sound clarity is superb.
We might still wish for a bit more drive here too – you’ll certainly get a livelier, punchier performance from something like the Sony Xperia Z2 – but we still applaud LG for doing its bit to push high-res music into the mainstream, even if it’s been only partially successful in its execution here.
You will get a pair of bundled earbuds – the QuadBeat 2 – and while they look promisingly well made, you won’t want to use them for long.
They tip the well-balanced sound into bass-heavy territory, and at the cost of clarity and detail throughout the rest of the frequency range. We’d therefore suggest giving them a wide berth.
Back to the good stuff, and the 13MP camera on the LG G3 is very good. LG has spent some time on upgrading the camera from the G2, and it’s been wholly successful.
The headline here is its laser autofocus – technology that LG has borrowed from its robot vac division and the same thing that police use in their speed guns.
The crux of it is that it'll take just 0.276 seconds to focus on an object, which – when you think the human eye blinks at 0.3 seconds – is pretty fast.
Even better, the G3 allows you tap on the focus area to both focus and take the photo in one, saving time and allowing you to take picture after picture with no wait.
And it's all kept steady and crisp thanks to enhanced optical image stabilisation.
The automatic multi-point focus jumps into action as soon as we point the camera at a target, but far from getting spooked if that target moves out of frame, the G3 refocuses on the next object with barely a delay.
Those extra milliseconds may not matter most of the time, but for a confetti shot at a wedding, for example, every millisecond counts.
The G2’s numerous modes and filters have been seriously stripped back.
LG has left just the four main modes that it believes people use most – an auto mode, a panorama mode, a dual-screen mode and its new “Magic Focus” mode that allows you to change the focus of the shot after the fact – though results aren’t always as dramatic or impressive as those on the likes of the HTC One M8 or the Samsung Galaxy S5.
Fans of manual tweaking will find themselves left wanting, with only an HDR mode to toggle, and no ISO or exposure settings in sight.
While this will probably suit the majority of users, those looking for more extensive features will need to look elsewhere.
So how does it perform? Compared with images taken on the G2, pictures are cleaner and sharper, with higher levels of detail and a better handling of contrast.
Colours are nicely balanced and largely true to life, with crisp edges and little noticeable noise.
As ever you’ll get the best results in good light, but low light snaps fare pretty well too.
It’s not quite as quick to focus in these conditions as it grasps onto all the light it can in order to focus correctly, but the results are worth it – only the HTC One M8 pips it when light gets really low.
When it starts to struggle, the dual LED flash does a good job of keeping skin tones natural and not bleaching out colours.
As much as it makes us cringe to write it, LG has declared the G3 as “the ultimate selfie cam”; its 2.1MP wide angle lens letting you squeeze all your friends in.
There are also features such as gesture-based photo taking, so you don’t have to worry about pressing the shutter button, while the front-facing “flash” utilises the screen’s brightness to light up your face in darker situations.
More after the break
LG didn’t want to forget video either, and has included the ability for 4K filming – as seen on the G Pro 2. However, its decision to leave out a native 2K option is a bit of a headscratcher.
LG has also focused its efforts on improving video sound, with the ability to assess the ambient noise levels and choose the best settings for its environment.
We tested the video sound out on the G3 versus the Xperia Z2 and found the LG to be much clearer and louder, with all the fast focusing features of the stills camera translating into its pin-sharp video performance too.
Smart features had, for a while, become synonymous with features that aren’t very smart at all, actually, let alone really that helpful or useful day-to-day.
LG has done well not to overcomplicate its smart features, to keep in line with its simplistic approach, and we have found a number of them truly useful in our time with the G3.
Smart Notice is a recommendation feature built into the phone, which doesn’t aim to replace current services, such as Google Now, but complement them.
This means offering tips and suggestions based on user information – such as reminding you to return calls or add contacts, suggesting you turn on battery saving mode when power is low and offering up suggestions on what apps and files you might want to delete based on those you haven’t used recently.
It kept us dry a fair few times in our changeable English weather too, notifying us when we might want to take an umbrella with us or when it was likely to be dry. The best bit? The suggestions were actually correct.
The lowly keyboard has been given some attention in the G3, since LG felt it was something that is often overlooked, despite being one of the most key parts of the user experience.
This means access to much more customisation, such as the ability to increase or decrease the height of the keyboard and what you want on it, UI tweaks so you are moving your fingers around the screen less, and the ability to memorise where you tend to hit keys, which LG says will help to reduce input errors by more than 75 per cent.
We didn’t find the need to change the keyboard size ourselves, but we’re sure there will be plenty out there who will.
Instead we liked the smaller touches, such as the ability to be able to scroll your finger along the space bar to have the cursor scroll through the letters of the previous word. It made quick work of correcting errors as we typed.
We found the swiping up to accept an autocorrect word once it’s suggested less intuitive, but are prepared to accept that would become natural with extended use.
Finally, LG has thought a lot about security. Alongside Content Lock, which allows you to lock down personal information with a separate password, and Kill Switch, which allows you to remote lock and remote wipe your phone should you lose it, Knock Code offers a new way to unlock your phone, while protecting it too.
Building on the G2’s Knock On feature, which woke the screen from standby by tapping the screen, Knock Code effectively cuts out the lock screen and allows you to create a pattern of between two and eight taps in place of a numerical PIN, entering it straight from the standby screen.
LG says this allows for over 84,000 combinations, making it much more secure than a regular PIN code.
We stuck tried various combinations and lengths and found it to be very responsive, and the ability to be able to enter it wherever on the screen you want is a nice touch too.
We’d recommend you give it ago, but if you don’t think it’s for you, there’s still the option of a regular pin, password, pattern or facial recognition to unlock your phone instead.
Performance and battery life
Our test handset is the 16GB, 2GB RAM version and we have found it to be smooth and lag free throughout, handling HD video clips and graphic heavy gaming without a stutter.
There’s plenty of processor grunt in the quad-core Snapdragon 801 to handle multitasking too, as well as ensuring app and page loads were super quick.
Calls are also carried out hiccup-free, with both parties sounding clear and no dropped calls in our testing period.
With a bigger, better screen (not to mention brightness notched up to often near the top) we had expected the battery life to take a hit from the G2, but it’s not hugely noticeable.
With heavy use, we find we can be caught short towards the end of the day, but that’s no new story for smartphone owners of this ilk.
If you don’t have a commute to work that you’ll spend with your face in your phone, you’re likely to fare much better.
Following any big predecessor is always a daunting task for any product, but the LG G3 has done it like a pro.
Fixing most of our complaints with the G2, LG has produced a bigger, better version of its already excellent predecessor.
Its size won’t be for everyone, and we do wish LG would take a closer look at the audio side of things, but there’s no denying that its high-res capabilities, mixed in with a stunning video performance, great design and superb user experience make it a very tempting choice.
It can’t fail to get the full five stars.