Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The LG G3: In All It's Glory


It's times like these that remind me why I enjoy reviewing these devices so much. Some are good, some are bad, some are just so-so. But every now and again, I am honored by an opportunity with something that I consider to be a masterful work of craftsmanship. This is somewhat of a spoiler alert as to how this review will read, but I am always going to be completely honest with you. This phone came very, very, very close to replacing my own device. If I had the funds, it would become my own.

LG has come a long way over the years. I once owned a feature phone of theirs called the LG Voyager 2. It was a decent piece of hardware, for not being a full fledged smartphone. But it wasn't the top of its class by any means. Fast forward to 2013 and LG released the LG G2. A smartphone which had some true innovation and won awards such as smartphone of the year from Stuff Magazine or PC Advisor. They implemented rear mounted buttons for power and volume. Many hardware improvements for functionality and speed. A huge upgrade on camera from previous versions of LG phones. They really hit the mark with it. And now we have the LG G3, a top contender in the 2014 smartphone line up. Let me show you what LG has in store for you.


The Hardware
Beginning with the biggest upgrade of all, the screen is now 5.5 inches with a 2560x1440 (2K) resolution. Just as a reminder, last year's G2 model was 5.2 inches and 1080p. Today, there are very few mainstream televisions with a resolution that high. The 2K concept is just beginning to take off, and LG has the honor of being the first to do this with a smartphone in the US. Being that the screen is so nice, clear and crisp, it justifiably takes up the majority of the front of this phone. There are no hardware buttons at the bottom nor a speaker, that's found on the back. At the top, there is a slim silver speaker for phone calls and a 2.1 MP front facing camera. Both sides are completely void of any buttons or slots. And that's because the buttons are located on the back of the phone again, just like last year's big brother that first introduced that design feature. They have changed a little bit this year though. The button is silver and round, and the volume buttons are recessed. Which are still located above and below the power button, just below the camera. 

The edges of the phone are gracefully curved. The curves continue around to the back of the device allowing it to mold into the palm of your hand. The material design of the back cover mocks brushed metal, but alas, it is truly a thin and light plastic material. The back is removable which means you can get to the battery and LG can hide the SIM card and SD card slots underneath. There is very little bezel on either side of the screen, which helps makes this 5.5 inch phone feel smaller than similar competitors. The bottom bezel on the front matches the color of the phone itself, and has the "LG" logo in the center.


The phone itself is 5.76 inches tall, 2.94 inches wide, and just 4 tenths of an inch thick. It's closest competitor would be the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 which is 5.95 inches tall, 3.12 inches wide, and just over 3 tenths of an inch thick. The Note 3 does, however, have a 5.7 inch screen which is 2 tenths larger diagonally than the G3. The G3 also weighs in at 149.8 grams while the Note 3 is 168 grams.

Moving towards the inside of this phone, the internal components are leading a charge. At the time of it's release in May this year, the top of the line processor was the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, which is a quad core and LG has it's dial "turned up to 11." The storage capacity is a bit modest at 32GB even though several manufacturers are making them available with upwards of 64GB. Also, only 24GB of actual usable memory of the OS and the G3 tweaks and apps are installed out of the box. None the less, LG does support a micro SD card up to 2TB (terabytes) of expandable storage. That will hold plenty of music, movies, or pictures. But don't expect to be able to install applications on the SD card since the LG G3 does come with Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat installed which prevents it for arguable security purposes. to go along with the top of the line processor and humongous extra memory, LG put a whopping 3GB of RAM in this bad boy. In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the HTC One M8 only have 2GB of RAM.


When it comes to power, the G3 is packed with it. The 3,000 mAh battery is very hefty and has no problem at all getting you through a full day's time. Even with the high quality, 5.5 inch screen to suck it up, the juice on this thing doesn't seem to ever run out. During the first three days of review, I pushed it to the limits and I got 14, 17, and 14 hours of battery life with only 5-15% remaining. I thought that was respectable at first. I mean this thing has a big screen and I very high resolution to work with here. But then I turned on the battery saver mode. Now, I couldn't seem to kill this battery to save my life. The next week went pretty much like this:
      • 14 hours and 11 minutes with 38% remaining
        • Estimated 16 hours and 34 minutes left
      • 16 hours and 53 minutes with 28% remaining
        • Estimated 10 hours and 23 minutes left
      • 15 hours and 58 minutes with 54% remaining
        • Estimated 13 hours and 41 minutes left
      • 16 hours and 19 minutes with 31 % remaining
        • Estimated 11 hours and 31 minutes left
      • 16 hours and 15 minutes with 34% remaining
        • Estimated 7 hours and 34 minutes left
With the battery saving mode turned on, I did not miss any notifications due to low data usage or even data being turned off. Also, using the estimates remaining on the battery and the time used, I could have gotten an average of 23 hours and 20 minutes of battery life from each charge. Amazing!!!


The Camera
The LG G3 comes with a fine quality 13MP camera on the back and a 2.1MP on the front. The back camera is accompanied by a Dual LED flash, OIS (Optical Image Stabilization), and a Laser Auto Focus. OIS helps to reduce blur when you are capturing pics of moving objects. The Laser Auto Focus reduces the time necessary for the camera to focus on the subject, and it does this before you take the pic. Therefore, the capture is almost instantaneous. Here are three pictures I took in rapid succession. The first was a bit unfocused near the top. The the second and third pic was very clear. So even with these advancements, not every shot will be perfect on the first go.



Here are some additional shots. The clarity is very good. And the MP mean you can enlarge them nicely too. More than sufficient for sharing on social media. And I'd be willing to bet they would great printed for a 4x6 or 5x7 size photo album.




The 2.1MP front facing camera is nothing to shake a stick at either. My family and I have lots of fun capturing selfies as we travel. It doesn't have the flash, Laser Auto Focus or OIS, but this camera still captured some of the best we've seen thus far from a front shooter. This is a sample of the 2.1MP front facing camera on the LG G3.


Lastly, I wanted to share the slight disappointment in the low light shooting range. After dusk in the back yard, we were testing out the brand new swing set. These are all taken with the flash on. The flash off was too dark to make out any details at all. There is a great deal of grainy texture, pixelation, and distortion. You can make out the images, but nothing close to daylight photos. Posting to social media quality only. Nothing really more than that.



One unexpected, less than perfect, part of the G3 experience was the call quality. Sound from the rear speaker was fine tuned and loud, but spoken words heard through the earpiece were crackly and echoed as if yelling in a concrete tunnel. Not soft at all as I originally expected. This, however, shouldn't deter you from the G3. Besides, even though it's a phone, how often do we actually catch ourselves using it like one?

The Software
Out of the box, the G3 comes with Android KitKat 4.4.2 installed. It's only been bested by 4.4.3 or 4.4.4 (both Kit Kat iterations) which only exist on some Google Nexus devices and a few Motorola ones too. Android has come a long way over the years, but a jump from 4.4.2 to 4.4.4 would only bring a few bug fixes for the most part. As part of Android KitKat (truly since Android Ice Cream Sandwich) LG has adopted on-screen buttons, and unlike the LG G2, they didn't mandate which buttons you can have and use. LG allows you to choose as few as 3 or as many as 5 different buttons that you can rearrange and use for navigation: Home, Back, Recent (are stock options), along with Notification shade pull down, and Quick Memo.



Of course, as most OEMs do, LG throws in a few of their own intricate applications and settings to try to spice up the user experience. I only want to highlight a few of the newest ones.

  1. Dual Window allows a user to open two separate applications at one time and use them both independently. Read an email and watch Youtube. Reply to a text without closing your web browser.
  2. Guest Mode will allow you to share the phone with a friend, but restricts that friend from seeing only the apps you want them to see such as the phone dialer. You can assign which notifications still come through as well so you don't miss that important call or text.
  3. Smart Cleaning: this concept is actually very debatable. At the click of a single button, Smart Cleaning will close all your applications and empty out the RAM as much as possible. This is in an effort to conserve battery and stop any possible lag experienced from a potentially bogged down operating system. The problem with this concept is that Android by itself already does a very good job with application and data management. It determines what's needed or being used and only kills the non-relevant applications. So in essence, when you hit the Smart Cleaning button, you're fighting against the OS which is trying to do the same thing, but better.
  4. One handed operation: another debatable concept. One handed operation would be perceived as the ability to reach and use the phone at it's fullest potential but only with one hand since the screen is on the larger side. If your attempting to carry something and type with the other, this comes in pretty handy. (sorry about that pun there.) However, LG only sees fit to need to move the on-handed process to 3 things: the keyboard, the dialer, and the lockscreen. This would not make it any easier to pull down the notification shade or pick the app shortcut in the top far corner on the homescreen.
The user experience on this phone is brilliant. It flows like a river and didn't slow down one bit. Touch response time was minimal and the animations and app switching was fluid without delay. This can definitely be attributed to the plentiful 3GB of RAM and the minimal (but noticeable) changes and additions within the iconography and settings.


Price and Availability
The G3 is available on all major US carriers. But not at the same prices and not all in the same colors.

  • Verizon has the G3 for $199.99 with a 2 year contract or $599.99 full price. It's available in Metallic Black or Silk White.
  • AT&T has the G3 for $199.99 with a 2 year contract or $579.99 full price. It's available in Metallic Black or Silk White.
  • T-Mobile has the G3 for full price only at $598.99. They no longer have 2 year contracts. It's available in Metallic Black or Silk White.
  • Sprint has the G3 for $99.99 with a 2 year contract or $599.99 full price. It's available in Metallic Black or Shine Gold. (Only carrier with the Gold version).

Accessories
The LG G3 does not come with wireless charging in the US. However, you can buy a Circle Case to add that feature. The Circle Case replaces the back battery cover and has a flap that flips over the front with a circular window over the screen. The phone knows when this case is being used and even when it's closed. In the closed position, notifications, the clock face, and some apps appear in that window. You can even answer calls quickly without opening the Circle Case. The down side is you have to use this case for wireless charging. Although the version of the G3 released in the western part of the world has wireless charging built into the stock battery cover.

Final Impressions
Last year I waited for 7 months to get my hands on the Motorola Moto X. Through the rumors and the exclusives on AT&T, I had already fallen in love with the form factor and the software highlights. Not until I felt the LG G3 in my hands, did I feel that maybe my Moto X relationship had run its course. The LG G3 made my question my sincerity to my beloved Moto X. Alas, it was only a review unit. I knew our time was short, but I will never forget it. I know, it's only a phone.

But the LG G3 truly is that nice of a device. The Quad HD (QHD) display is Bee-You-Tee-Ful! The 3,000 mAh battery to power this bad boy feels like it would last forever. I was never reaching for a charger or worried about going out to eat before I got home to give it a sip of juice. Even though it is a big 5.5 inch screen, the hardware footprint is smaller than most its size. This made it very easy to hold and still use with one hand. Two hands were still necessary for some cases like notifications, but that's why LG built in the button that pulls it down for you. The placement of the buttons on the back of the phone are a brilliant touch. they solved a problem you didn't know you had, until you had the buttons on the back to point out the problem that exists with side buttons. Not to forget the high quality photos you snap with the rear facing, Laser auto Focus, 13MP camera. I'm going to frame some of these puppies or make some QHD wallpapers.

The LG G3 has become my new "recommended" phone for Android and iPhone fans alike. And I stand by that. What do you think? Does the G3 rival the competitive One M8 or Galaxy S5? What were your favorite features of the LG G3?

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