Review: Updated: LG G3

Update September 16, 2014: If you’re looking for a phone with a large display, and it doesn’t matter what platform you’re on, the iPhone 6 Plus was announced last week and will become available September 19, 2014.

How does it stack up to the LG G3? Well, since we’re primarily concerned with size here, we’re looking at two 5.5-inch displays. But all displays are not created to be equal, and this is where the LG G3 really shines. It has an insane 2560 x 1440 resolution, while the iPhone 6 Plus has a paltry 1920 x 1080 display by comparison. It’s not terrible, but not razor sharp as the G3.

Also, the LG G3 has more megapixels in terms of its camera. Both cameras have image stabilization, but the iPhone 6 Plus has phase detection autofocus, which could potentially be better than the LG G3’s laser AF system. We’re waiting for the iPhone 6 Plus to become available to put this to the test.

Pricing is a huge consideration, too. You can have the LG G3 on contract for just $199, whereas the iPhone 6 Plus starts at $299 for 16GB and has no memory expansion. The LG G3 will support microSD cards up to 128GB.

Stay tuned for more as the iPhone 6 comes out and we compare it head-to-head with the LG G3.

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.

So with that in mind, is the LG G3 the perfect smartphone?

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.

The 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.

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.

The 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.

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.

It might look similar, but the feel in the hand is very different

The 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.

The battery and back cover are both removable

And 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.

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.

It 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.