LG G3 review: LG’s best phone ever and one of the year’s finest

June 18, 2014
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At a glance

LG's best phone ever and one of the year's finest

PROS
  • Design is attractive and sturdy
  • Screen is simply spectacular
  • Handling is surprisingly easy
  • Top of the line specifications
  • Laser focusing system is indeed fast
  • G UI brings refined interface
CONS
  • Still a large device overall
  • General users may not notice 2K difference
  • Poor low light performance
  • G UI still somewhat cluttered and bloated
  • Smart Notice, in particular, not very useful
9.0
With its best in class display, incredible camera, and refined software, LG has succeeded in creating one of the best smartphones of 2014. For these reasons, the LG G3 receives our Editors’ Choice award.¬†

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Getting the opportunity to manufacture the Google Nexus 4 smartphone propelled LG into the limelight in the Android world, and the company has been bringing its A-game ever since.

Last year, LG decided to shake things up by doing away with the traditional button layout we were all used to, by relocating the power button and volume rocker on the back. This certainly took a little getting used to, but it made the LG G2 stand out in an overcrowded smartphone market.

You might like: The best LG G3 cases

Now, LG is upping the ante again, as the first mainstream manufacturer to offer a smartphone that breaks the Full HD barrier. But is that all the G3 has to offer? We find out, in this comprehensive review of the LG G3!

Design

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Beauty is more than skin deep on the LG G3. We have to take a moment to either applaud or criticize¬†LG for completely tricking us with regards to the build material of the G3. Every leaked render hinted at a metal body design, but in reality, it ended up being plastic. That said, the G3’s brushed metal look is one of the many attractive aspects of this device, and quite honestly, it’s something that LG has managed to get away with.

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Of course, you can’t talk about the LG G3 without mentioning the screen, but before diving into the quality of the display, the thin bezels around it¬†deserve a special mention. You pretty much get nothing but the screen up front, allowing for a¬†device that is large, but as compact as¬†possible at the same time.

LG’s¬†now signature button layout returns on¬†the G3, meaning¬†there is literally nothing around the sides of the phone. The headphone jack and the microUSB charging port are both on the bottom, while the Korean edition of the smartphone, which we used in this review, also features an antenna that comes out of the top corner.

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I remember having some reservations when I first saw the circular and oval-shaped buttons in the press renders. But when I finally got my hands on the device, not only did the buttons look a lot more refined, they also felt great. The buttons are very meaty, and have a very satisfying click to them that’s better than what you got¬†on¬†the LG G2. Integrated into the button layout is the camera unit, flanked by the flash diode and the new laser focusing system.

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The removable back cover is made from a high quality polycarbonate material, that, as mentioned before, has been given¬†a brushed finish. It’s almost as if LG tried¬†to get¬†the best of two¬†worlds, with the brushed texture¬†removing the issue of fingerprints, without the drawbacks of metal, like increased weight or¬†signal attenuation. It must be said, however, that the material¬†is still quite susceptible to the occasional scratch or ding.

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Eliminating the side buttons in favor of a thinner body, putting a curve to the back, and minimizing the bezels to their absolute thinnest make for¬†a device that is surprisingly easy to handle. Even with its large screen, reaching across to the other side of the display is almost shockingly easy. With an overall size that is smaller than any other device with a 5.5-inch display (it’s actually comparable to other current flagships),¬†the ease of handling is one of the G3’s marquee features.

Display

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Of course, the other marquee feature of this smartphone is its display. Coming in at 5.5 inches, this behemoth of a screen may be surprisingly easy to handle, but its resolution of 2560 x 1440, resulting in a whopping pixel density of 534 ppi, makes for an experience unlike any other.

But¬†the higher resolution doesn’t necessarily mean that this screen is leaps and bounds better than 1080p displays, even if the bump is noticeable at¬†close examination.

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As a master maker of panels, LG came up with a high quality IPS screen with pleasing color reproduction that keeps it from being over-saturated, while staying really easy on the eyes. Some extra processing happens behind the scenes, as LG throttles the screen refresh rate in certain situations to save battery life.

While in theory this feature shouldn’t affect the viewing experience, I did end up noticing it while scrolling through my Google Play Music playlists, Reddit lists, and in other places¬†where the text ended up looking somewhat less than perfect. That said, the great battery life of the LG G3 makes this small issue bearable.

In the end, you have a display that is almost one of a kind, and a great performer as well.

Performance

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As with almost every high-end smartphone currently available, the LG G3 is powered by the reigning king of processing packages, the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, clocked at 2.5GHz, backed by the Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM. This is a processing package that we’re very familiar with by now, and there’s no question about its power and capability.

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Long periods of time playing “Injustice” brought few issues, and the only place I noticed a slowdown was in the Recent Apps screen, which has more to do with how the screen is structured, as opposed to the actual loading times. Browsing Google Now and websites was¬†also a breeze, as was using GPS and navigation, which was a big issue I had with¬†the LG G2.

Across several sessions of benchmarking using the latest version of AnTuTu, the LG G3 obtained an average score of  29760, which is behind other current flagships. However, our own experience using the device does not reflect the gap in the benchmark scores, as the G3 was on par with every other phone out there in terms of performance.

Generally maintaining good speeds on a large, high-resolution display is a notable performance in its own, and the LG G3 does not disappoint, in either work or play.

Hardware

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While most of the flagship devices released last year tended to go overboard in terms of extra features packed in, this year’s crop marks a return to the fundamentals, and the LG G3 is no exception.

The biggest change from its predecessor is the removable back cover that gives access to a microSD card slot and a removable battery. While only the Korean version of the phone comes with a telescopic  TV antenna, you do get everything else you’d expect in terms of hardware, including an IR blaster for TV control.

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Luckily, I was able to access LTE networks on AT&T using this international version, but of course, we can expect the LG G3 to be available from all the major network carriers in the US. Call quality was also a bright spot here, as it was very clear at either end of the call; in some instances, I actually found myself having to turn down the volume of the phone speaker, because it got too loud. The same can be said for the rear facing speaker, which does get very loud, despite coming out the small grill speakers on the back, but overall the sound is not rich at all.

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And finally, the replaceable battery of the LG G3 features a capacity of 3,000 mAh, which is pretty standard, considering the overall size of the phone. While the higher resolution of the display could have meant trouble, that was actually far from the truth, as the battery life was simply fantastic. I managed to get past the 12 hour mark with plenty of battery life left, after a day that included long spurts of gaming, plenty of music listening, and camera usage.

Camera

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When it comes to the camera, it’s safe to say that LG has brought everything it¬†possibly could¬†to its¬†latest and greatest phone. The¬†13MP rear shooter features¬†OIS+, which is a software-enhanced version of the optical image stabilization technology¬†on the G2. The LG G3 also comes with a 2.1 MP front-facing camera.

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Getting into the camera app, it’s¬†striking that it starts out with one of the most minimalistic interfaces we’ve ever seen, with the ability to focus and take a shot with just one tap. Hitting the lone menu button gives you access to various settings and options, but there has been a clean up here as well. Where a slew of different modes were once available, you now have just a few key ones, including Panorama, Magic Focus, and Dual. Dual shot works the way you’d expect, giving you a picture in picture photo, while the¬†panorama mode is familiar and pretty simple to use.

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Auto mode is what you’ll probably end up using the most. Even though you won‚Äôt be able to make that many changes to the settings, the camera¬†does a¬†good job, especially when you consider you‚Äôre trusting the phone to pick the best settings on its own.

The laser-assisted¬†focusing system, the marquee feature of this camera, lets¬†it go from standby, to focused, to capture, really fast,¬†further adding to the camera’s ability to capture shots fast and hassle-free.¬†lg g3 aa (20 of 22)

Compared to competitors released this year, taking pictures with the G3¬†proved to be one of the most enjoyable experiences. All you need to do is tap the subject and you‚Äôre good to go in seconds, and it‚Äôs great to see that picture quality holds up. For a more in-depth walkthrough, you can check out the camera shootout video below, which¬†shows that it’s possible to take¬†consistently great photos with the LG G3, with¬†the only issues arising¬†in low-lighting conditions.

Pictures are generally nice and detailed, but the noise reduction algorithm is a bit too aggressive, resulting in exaggerated softness in some scenes. Color reproduction isn’t bad at all, though many photos show¬†a slightly warm tone, which is something I personally like, but others may take issue with.

When it comes to low light performance, the noise really makes itself prevalent, so using the flash will be necessary from time to time.

The optical stabilization helped with video, which was quite good — 4K recording was easy and went along without incidents, though it’s possible to overload the processor with too much movement, an example of which you‚Äôll see in the video.

Saying that a smartphone has the best camera out there is highly subjective and probably controversial, but we can pretty safely say that this is the best camera experience that LG has ever achieved.

Software

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It is not only the outside of the LG G3 that is more refined than ever before. There are some big changes making its way to the software experience as well, which has been streamlined to have a flatter look all around, and to downplay the elements that used to clutter the interface.

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In general, traces of previous Optimus UI iterations are still found, but the redesigned notification dropdown and a much better laid out settings menu look great. Previous LG features like the Q Slide apps return here, but are now hidden behind a shade activated by a quick settings button, and even the brightness and volume sliders can be hidden for an even cleaner notifications menu.

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Customization has always been LG’s forte over other OEM interfaces, and the tradition¬†continues on the G3, with details¬†like the customizable¬†softkey layout.

We always thought LG was trying too hard with its interface, really shoving¬†its abilities in your face, but this time around, they’re mostly easy on the eyes and actually helpful. The call and text popups, for instance, are¬†very useful.

The biggest additions come in the Smart software suite, whose elements range from quite useful, to only somewhat interesting. The Smart Keyboard brings the ability to resize the keyboard for easier typing. The Smart Cleaner scans for temporary files that can be deleted to save space and offers suggestions to remove applications you haven’t used in a while. This could certainly be useful, but it was not something we could test out, as unused apps are only flagged for deletion after a month of disuse.

And finally, there is Smart Notice, which amounted to little more than a nicely worded weather report, right under an already functional weather widget. There is potential here, but this feature has to offer a lot more before it can be considered compelling. You can find out more about the Smart software features in the video below.

The bottom line is that, like with all major aspects of this phone, LG has clearly achieved the best version of its software with the LG G3.

Specifications

Display5.5-inch display with 2560 x 1440 resolution
Processor2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 CPU
RAM2GB or 3GB w/ 32GB model
Storage16GB or 32GB, microSD with expansion
Camera13MP rear cam with OIS and laser auto focus, 2.1MP front cam
Battery3000 mAh removable
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.0, NFC, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, USB v2.0, Slim Port
Networks4G LTE support
SoftwareAndroid 4.4 KitKat with LG UI
Dimensions146.3 x74.6 x 9.1 mm,
151 grams

Gallery

Other videos

Pricing and final thoughts

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We aren’t exactly sure how much the unlocked version of the LG G3 will cost, but we expect the phone to come all the big carriers in the US for their premium on-contract prices. Essentially, this will put the LG G3 against every major flagship smartphone that launched this year. While we will be doing full comparisons between these smartphones, a large screen on a more or less compact body, the higher resolution display, and a good camera package make the LG G3 very hard to resist.

And so, there you have it, the LG G3! As I’ve said over the course of this review, it’s not hard to see that the G3 is¬†the best that LG has to offer. A high resolution screen might not make for an ultimately different experience compared to¬†1080p devices, but there is so much more about¬†this smartphone that makes¬†it a compelling choice.Editor's-Choice-4.5-stars

That is why¬†the LG G3 is the first smartphone¬†to receive¬†our newly minted Editors’ Choice distinction, which we reserve for the leading¬†devices in every class.

You get a good camera that is faster than most shooters in its class. The performance is at the top, and, despite the crisp screen, battery life is actually above average.

And there is also a pretty great suite of first-party accessories on the way. If there was ever a time to buy into the LG ecosystem, this great smartphone certainly deserves the title of flagship to light your way. Whether it outshines the other flagships certainly depends on you and your specific needs, but the LG G3 tries to offer more than the rest, and succeeds in doing so in many ways.

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