Large and in charge, LG's G3 ups the stakes in the Android screen wars.
By my calculations today marks the 1000th Gadgets on the Go post, with the as Apple's first iPhone hit US shelves and Android was still on the drawing board. Smartphones have come a long way in a short time and triggered a personal tech revolution which belonged in the realm of science fiction only a few years ago.
LG's 5.5-inch G3 smartphone continues to break new ground, pushing past the 5-inch barrier which would have seen it dubbed a phablet not so long ago. It follows on from last year's 5.2-inch G2 and is pretty much the upgrade you'd expect – bumping up most items on the spec sheet while also updating to Android 4.4.2.
Since last year we've also seen the release of the 5.9-inch LG G Pro 2 and 6-inch LG G Flex, which are well and truly in phablet territory. The unorthodox curved LG G Flex was unveiled at CES in Las Vegas in January, basically a flexible version of the G Pro 2 seemingly designed to cash in on the popularity of curved televisions on the show floor.
Available for $799 outright, or cheaper directly from Telstra, the G3's big selling point is a Quad HD 2560x1440 IPS LED display, pushing well past the 1920x1080 Full HD display found on Android rivals like Samsung's Galaxy S5 and HTC's One M8. The resolution boost translates into a phenomenal pixel density of 538 pixels per inch – 25 percent sharper than its Android competitors and twice as sharp as the iPhone's lauded Retina display.
Of course there's little content to take advantage of those extra pixels, but the G3's IPS LED screen is also significantly whiter and brighter than the Galaxy S5's Super AMOLED display. Combined with the sharper screen, the LG G3 is easier on the eyes when reading text. That said, Samsung still has the advantage when it comes to overall image quality. The G3 offers slightly narrower viewing angles and the colours are a little flat. You can adjust the colour under the Accessibility options but it's not very precise, designed more for assisting vision-impaired users than those chasing colour accuracy.
Once you get outside, the LG's brighter screen helps a little to combat glare, but unfortunately the high-gloss display is so reflective that you can still struggle once the sun comes out from behind a cloud. You'd expect those extra pixels to put a serious dent in the battery life but LG has managed to rein in power consumption without overly aggressive power-saving features and the phone should make it through the average day unless you really punish it.
Looking past the screen, the G3's spec sheet doesn't offer any major surprises but certainly helps LG keep pace with Android superphone rivals;
- 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor
- 2GB DDR3 RAM
- 16GB onboard storage, microSD slot
- LTE micro-SIM - 700 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600 FD , 2300 TD bands
- Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5GHz), NFC, A-GPS/Glonass
- USB 2.0, SlimPort
- removeable 3000 mAh battery
- 8.9mm thick, 149gm
- wireless charging ($69 optional charge plate)
The G3 retains the same basic look as the G2 – more reminiscent of an elegant and sophisticated HTC aluminum chassis than a brash plastic Samsung offering – although when you pick it up you realise that the G3 does have a plastic back with only a thin metallic strip around the edge. One advantage of this is that the G3 features a removable battery like the Galaxy S5, but also a micro-SD card slot like the One M8.
Despite the generous 5.5-inch screen, the G3 handset is barely larger than the 5.1-inch Galaxy S5 and sits comfortably in your hand thanks to an extra thin bezel and slightly curved edges. Unfortunately those gains are often lost due to the fact that the G3 lacks physical buttons and thus sacrifices screen real estate to display virtual buttons. The upside is that you can reconfigure these buttons to suit your needs.
There's no point in running your fingers around the edges of the G3 looking for the power or volume buttons as, once again, LG has relegated them to the back of the handset below the camera where they sit under your index finger. Such a significant departure from traditional smartphone design might be too radical for some people to tolerate, although it does slowly grow on you. A slight redesign of the rear buttons makes it easier to distinguish the power button from the volume buttons above and below it. Accidentally locking the phone when reaching for the volume buttons was a major frustration with last year's model.
When the G2 hit the shelves it was one of the most powerful Android handsets around, blowing the Galaxy S4 out of the water, and the new LG G3 bumps up the powerplant from a 2.26GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 to a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 – still with Adreno 330 graphics. While it's more than enough grunt to keep Android running smoothly even with resource-hungry apps, it no longer has the drop on the competition and the Galaxy S5 sneaks ahead on benchmarks.
Where the G3 does excel is the camera. The 13-megapixel sensor falls slightly short of the 16-megapixel Galaxy S5 and you'll notice the difference in some shots if you've got an eye for detail - thanks in part to the Samsung's slightl larger sensor. But the G3's laser focus is faster, helping you capture difficult shots and improving low-light performance. When you're shooting video, LG also offers the advantage of Optical Image Stabilisation which does a better job of compensating for camera shake than Samsung's Digital Image Stabilisation.
Thankfully LG hasn't gone too overboard modifying Android, unlike Samsung's chirpy TouchWiz Android skin which feels like it was designed by a committee of Korean school girls. Most of the software advances highlighted by LG on the G3 were already available on earlier models like the G2 and G Pro 2. Smart Notice is perhaps the most notable addition, which aims to replicate the content-aware notifications of Google Now but isn't as fully-featured. You also have to come to terms with the fact that Samsung tends to have first dibs on some new Android apps.
So what's the verdict? If you're chasing screen real estate and resolution above all else then the LG G3 is certainly going to catch your eye. A larger screen without much extra bulk is an impressive achievement, although there are few situations where you can put all those pixels to good use. The combination of the removable battery, microSD slot and wireless charging will also seal the deal for some Android fans. LG's G3 sits somewhere between the elegant HTC M8 and the brash Samsung Galaxy S5, perhaps offering the best of both worlds.