Review: LG G3: Is Display Magic Enough?
Releasing a great tech product can be a bit of a mixed blessing. Yes, the initial acclaim (and the sales that follow) can be very gratifying, but as time passes, the question looms on the horizon: now, can you do something like that again? It is a question that many companies struggle to answer. And after the praise earned by the innovative LG G2 (the compact form factor, the power button on the back concept), it is LG’s turn to try to answer it. And it attempts to do so with the LG G3.
A Hardware Monster
The G3 represents the first time since the release of the Optimus 2X that LG has actually managed to trump the troika of Sony, Samsung and HTC in the hardware department. The Optimus 2X, for those who know not their tech history, was the first smartphone to sport a dual core processor. Well, the G3 is the first flagship Android device from a major player to come with a quad HD display – while the One M8, the Xperia Z2 and the Galaxy S5 had stuck to the full HD displays of 1920 x 1080 resolution, the G3 goes a step further and sports a 2560 x 1440 resolution 5.5-inch display, which translates into a staggering pixel density of 534 ppi.
And if the display is the trumpcard, the rest of the hardware is hardly a liability. The G3 is powered by a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5 GHz, backed up by 2GB RAM and 16GB onboard storage, which unlike the G2, can be expanded using a memory card. Connectivity wise, you have the works here again: Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, 4G (LTE), NFC and Infra red. There are twin cameras on the device, a 13.0-megapixel one on the rear and a 2.1-megapixel one on the front. And yes, there is a dual LED flash and an infrared sensor on the back to aid in the much-talked-about Laser Autofocus feature. Any way you look at it, this is one of the most well-stacked smartphones out there.
Looks smart too
And all this comes in a package that does not look too bad either. Just as in the G2, LG has managed to out some very good hardware into a remarkably compact form factor. The front is all about the 5.5 inch display, which extends almost from one side to the other, with the bezels almost being shaven off to nothingness. The LG logo is bang below the display, while above it is the 2.1-megapixel camera.
In spite of having a significantly larger display (5.5-inch against 5.2), the G3 is as slim (8.9 mm) and weighs only marginally more than the G2 (149 grammes against 143). Yes, it is definitely a larger phone in terms of both length and width as compared to the G2 – 146.3 x 74.6 mm against 138.5 x 70.9 mm – but rather astoundingly, it is still lighter and smaller in length than the Xperia Z2 and the HTC One M8, both of which have smaller displays. On the Samsung Galaxy S5 of the current run of flagships from big brands is lighter and less long. And this is once again due to the fact that by placing the power/display button on the back along with the volume rocker, LG has just made the phone appear more compact by having absolutely plain sides. Speaking of the button on the back, it is more spherical now rather than the horizontal one on the G2, and lies between the volume up and down buttons in a kind of gently concave slope. The back itself has a brushed finish, which looks better in black than in white, and can be mistaken for metal from a distance.
However, unlike the design of the G2, which straightaway grabbed attention, the G3 does tend to come across as a slightly less classy affair. Is it because of the chrome band running along the sides or the or is it due to the fact that the phone itself is on the wider side? We are not too sure to be honest. What we do know is that the G3, while more than reasonably smart, did not turn heads the way the G2 did or the way in which the likes of the M8 and Z2 do.
Hello, new UI
Apart from the quad HD display, perhaps the biggest change between the G2 and the G3 is the UI. Like most other major smartphone manufacturers, LG too places its own layer over Android – and this time, the phone actually ships with the near latest version of Android (KitKat). But while in the past, LG’s touches to the interface had seemed a bit on the loud, too colourful side, the UI on the G3 is quite the opposite. This is LG trying to be controlled and classy, with a slightly flatter look. And to a large extent, it actually works. The homescreens look less cluttered and the subtle blue and green colours in the backdrop are far easier on the eye than the scream-out-loud eye candy that the G2 had served up. The notification bar is also less cluttered.
Like HTC and Google, LG has also decided to use the left-most screen for something other than the usual shortcuts and apps. In its case, it is a section devoted to Health (tracking your activity) and tips about the phone. The former is a good idea and well presented, the latter we are not too sure about. It actually makes half of the display seem like a promotional area, which is not a very good idea in our opinion. There are some other neat touches also like the option to run two apps next to each other, and of course, LG’s option to let some apps ‘float’ across others remains intact. Multi-taskers are so going to love this device. Finally, there is a twist to the tap to unlock code – you can even specify a tapping patten with which to unlock the device from the lock screen. It is a bit erratic, but for most of the time, it works quite well.
A star performer!
With all this onboard, it would be a wonder if the LG G3 did not perform well. And it does – high-definition games play beautifully, watching video is a joy and that large display was made for Web browsing and checking social networks. But – and there is a but here – the problem is that we could not see a discernible jump in performance from the G2 to the G3. The quad HD display is indeed a differentiator but until one really gets used to it, the difference between it and a full HD display of the type seen in the G2 and the other Android flagships is not as major as some would have us believe. Battery life is a notch lower than the G2, but we think that the display is to blame for that – careful handling will see you get through a day, which is honestly better than what we got from the Oppo Find 7, the only other quad HD display phone we have ever used.
We also have to confess that we felt a little let down by the 13.0-megapixel camera on the G3. Yes, the laser assisted autofocus was fast but overall picture quality seemed to suffer, especially in long shots and in low light conditions. Colours seemed a bit dull, although detail was good. When it came to close-ups, however, the camera was on par with the best we have seen, even in relative low light conditions. And while on the camera, a quick note about the front camera – it is a definite improvement from the G2 in terms of quality, and qualifies for the ‘selfie’ camera tag. Sound quality was good on speakers and on call, although nothing really to shake the hegemony that HTC has built with those front facing speakers. And using the phone still takes some getting used to, thanks to the placement of the button on the back – the fact that the G3 is wider than than the G2 does not help matters.
All in all, the G3 performs brilliantly more often than not (we did detect a slight lag sometimes while switching to image editing mode, but those were aberrations), but then comes the big question: does it put enough between it and its predecessor? Well, to an extent it does, with the neater interface and that bigger, better display, but when it comes to most routine tasks and heck, even high-end ones, one would be hard pressed to tell the difference in performance between the two.
Conclusion: Worth a buy?
We will be candid – the LG G3 ticks most boxes when it comes to Android flagships. The areas where it does seem to flounder a bit (battery life, size) are not solely its own – with bigger phones and bigger displays comes lower battery life and greater hand stress (thank you, Spiderman!). The problem is that unlike the G2, which pretty much caught us unawares with its power button on the back and sleek exterior, it really does not do enough to make us think that it is a substantial step forward.
Yes, the display is awesome and so is the hardware but there are no routine apps or games designed to make the most of them – a classic Android quandary. The only place where you do see a significant difference in performance is in the benchmark tests and those, alas, are of little use to the general user. There are not even the bells and whistles like the dust and water resistance elements of the Galaxy S5 and the Xperia Z2, or the sheer design excellence of the One M8. The quad HD display is a point of distinction but without apps to make the most of it, it frankly does not look a massive upgrade from the full HD displays being seen on other Android flagships. It is a challenge that all Android flagships face – the need for software that makes the most of the hardware on them. Until they do do, all flagships will seem more like spec updates rather than experiential ones.
Then there is the matter of its price. While the G3’s price tag of Rs 47,990 would have been greeted with a philosophical shrug of the shoulders a couple of months ago, as it is not too distant from the launch prices of the likes of the Galaxy S5, the Xperia Z2 and the HTC One M8; in the era of the Xiaomi Mi 3 and the significantly less expensive HTC One E8, it suddenly starts looking extravagant. Indeed, the G2 itself remains phenomenal value for money, especially with its price having come down to Rs 31,000 in some stores.
If one wants to get all classical, one can say that the G3 is akin to LG’s Ancient Mariner.
It is great.
But it comes with an albatross around its neck.