Editor’s note: This review is part of our series on the top 10 smartphones released this year. The series was designed to explore how business users can be productive with these devices, and how they can take advantage of the devices’ features during the workday.
LG has steadily increased its stature as an Android OEM over the past few years and is now considered one of the top Android phone manufacturers. Its flagship model last year, the G2, was a great piece of hardware what was unfortunately saddled with LG’s garish Android UI. It also built the ITBusiness.ca office favourite Nexus 5 for Google, which is basically a G2 with a few hardware compromises to lower the cost, running stock Android. Now, with its new flagship smartphone, the LG G3, it is hoping to move to the front of the Android pack.
With a lot of Android phones now sharing the same internal hardware (for example all four current Android flagships, including the G3, use the same Snapdragon 801 SoC), phone manufacturers have to differentiate in other ways. With the G3, LG decided to focus on the screen and camera. The G3 is the first Quad HD (not be confused with 4K/Ultra HD) phone available in North America, being equipped with a large 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 display. The G3 also has a new laser autofocus system that LG claims helps its camera focus on a subject faster than the blink of an eye.
After using the G3 for a few weeks, these features do make the G3 stand out as one of the best Android phones available. We also think it is one of the top smartphones for business use, for every type of user, from solo professional to SMB to enterprise.
|LG G3 SPECIFICATIONS
|5.5” IPS LCD @ 2560 x 1440 (534 ppi)
|2.45 GHz Snapdragon 801 (MSM 8974AC)
|32 GB, with microSD expansion slot
|3,000 mAh (Removable)
|13 MP Sony IMX135 Exmor RS sensor, f/2.4, 29 mm with IR Laser Auto Focus, OIS+ and Dual LED flash. 4K Video.
|700/850/1700/1900/2600 MHz (Cat. 4 LTE up to 150 Mbps)
|Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, IrLED, microUSB 2.0
|Build Materials & Colour
|‘Metallic Black’ Plastic
|Dimensions & Weight
|146.3 x 74.6 x 8.9 mm (5.76 x 2.94 x 0.35 in), 149 g (5.26 oz)
|LG OS (Android 4.4.2)
The G3 is a very attractive phone that at first glance looks to be made from metal. The back has a nice satin gunmetal-grey brushed metal finish that is actually plastic. While this may disappoint some, you’ll be pleased to know that the overall fit and finish of the phone is to a very high standard despite the plastic construction. Also, there are quite a few benefits to the G3 being made from plastic – it allows for a removable back, improves cellular reception, and allows for features like wireless charging (that is an optional feature of the G3). On the top of the phone, you’ll find the IR port for the G3’s universal remote feature, and on the bottom there is the USB and headphone port. Unlike some of its competition (Galaxy S5, Xperia Z2), the G3 does not have any kind of water or dust resistance.
Along with the attractive finish the other unique feature of the G3 you’ll notice is that the power and volume buttons are located on the back of the phone underneath the camera lens. By moving them to the back, LG has been able to make the G3 as compact as possible, despite its large screen, since there are no button mechanisms on the side taking up space that would make the phone wider. While it does seem a little strange to have these controls on the phone’s back, once you get used to their placement using them feels very natural.
When you flip it to the front, you can see the extremely thin bezels surrounding the 5.5-inch screen. The LG G3 is the first phablet that doesn’t feel like a tablet, despite its screen size. In addition to the compact dimensions, the G3 also has a few other design features that help it feel a lot smaller than it is. The back of the phone has gentle curve, what LG calls “floating arc” design, that makes it very comfortable to hold, and it is also very light for its size, at 149 grams. You can also see that there are no hardware buttons on the front – like the Nexus 5 the G3 uses onscreen controls for Android navigation.
The removable back allows the G3 to have a replaceable 3,000 mAh battery and a microSD slot, which is great for business users on the go all day. Even though battery life on Android phones has improved substantially over the past few years, power-users can still kill a phone’s battery by mid-afternoon, and sometimes it is just faster to swap in a spare battery rather than plug it in and charge it.
The internal hardware specifications of the G3 are very similar to all the other current Android flagships. It uses Qualcomm’s latest and greatest SoC (system on a chip), the Snapdragon 801, that combines a 2.45 GHz Krait 400 CPU with a 578 MHz Adreno 330 GPU. While on paper the Snapdragon 801 is not substantially faster than the SoC that powered many of last year’s top Android phones (including the G2), it does make the G3 seem just a little snappier and smoother than its predecessor.
It also has 3GB of RAM, which adds a little bit of performance to the phone when using applications that use a lot of memory, or when using multiple apps simultaneously (as you’ll read later, the G3 can have up to four applications running on the same screen). The G3 has 32 GB of storage, which is a decent amount, especially since many competing phones have only 16 GB for the same price, and if you need more the G3 has a microSD slot.
|Overall System: AnTuTu X
|CPU: Geekbench 3 Pro Multi-Core
|GPU: 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
Above you can see some benchmark test results comparing the G3’s performance with the Samsung Galaxy S5, Google Nexus 5 and iPhone 5S. The overall system test, Antutu (that isn’t available for iOS), shows that the G3 is on par with the S5, and noticeably faster than the Nexus 5. For pure CPU performance, the G3 does fall behind both the S5 and older Nexus 5, but not by much, and its GPU performance is second only to the S5. Keep in mind that while the Galaxy S5 and G3 do share the same SoC, there are other considerations that can determine a phone’s overall performance, and the bigger higher-resolution screen on the G3 probably does have some impact. One aspect of the G3’s performance we were not able to formally test is its battery life, but from our experience it, and from reading other reviews online, it is not as good as its competition. Still, you should have no problem getting a full working day’s worth of use out of the G3, just don’t expect it to last into the night on a single charge.
Of course, the star of the show is the G3’s 5.5inch WQHD 2560 x 1440 screen. It has a super crisp 534 PPI, which makes it by far the sharpest screen available on any smartphone. It is an IPS LCD, so it has excellent viewing angles, and more accurate natural looking colours, unlike the oversaturated hues found on the Super AMOLED screens that Samsung’s phones use (though admittedly on the Galaxy S5 this has been toned down a lot).
However, when holding the screen 12-inches or more from you and viewing standard content, it is hard to see any difference between the G3’s screen and its lower-resolution competition — the jump from 1080p to the G3’s 1440p is not as noticeable as when phone screens went from 720p to 1080p. Despite that, there are still some use cases where having the extra resolution can come in handy. One example would be that you can see more of a spreadsheet on the G3’s higher-resolution screen at the same zoom level as a 1080p screen (of course, the text will be pretty tiny). Another advantage is that if your business depends on showing high-quality images or videos to clients on a mobile device, the G3’s big screen and high-resolution will showcase anything you show on it.
A couple of other disadvantages of the G3’s screen is firstly that it is not as bright as the screens on some of its competition. While this is not a big issue when using the phone indoors, the G3’s screen just isn’t bright enough when you crank it up to be easily readable in when it is sunny outside. Secondly the Quad HD screen is a bit of a battery hog and also generates more heat than the 1080p screens in other phones. This means as mentioned previously that the G3’s battery life is not as good as its competitions, and the back of the phone can get pretty warm when running a demanding application for an extended period that keeps the screen on, like playing a game.
The G3’s camera does not have the highest megapixel count (though 13 is still quite high) when compared to the 16 MP that the Samsung Galaxy S5 has, let alone the 20.7 MP of the Sony Xperia Z2, but it is important to note that MP’s are not everything. Just look at the iPhone 5S – it takes some of the best smartphone pictures, yet its sensor is just 8 MP. In order to improve the photographic performance of the G3, LG has added two unique features, rather than just simply pumping up the MP’s. These really help make the G3 have one of the best cameras of any Android phone.
The first is Laser Autofocus. This is the G3’s headlining camera feature, and while by naming it LASER Autofocus one imagines a visible beam shooting out of the back of the G3, it is actually an Infrared rangefinder system that sends out an extremely focused IR laser beam at what you are focusing on. It then measures the time from emission to reflection back to a sensor on the phone to accurately gauge the distance to the subject. With this system LG claims the G3 can focus in 276 ms, which is faster than the blink of an eye. In practice, we did find that the G3 focused faster than any other phone we’ve tested.
The second feature is OIS+ (Optical Image Stabilization Plus), which is an improved version of the OIS found on the LG G2, which was one of the first phones to feature image stabilization. OIS mechanically, rather than digitally, stabilizes the lens as you are shooting to prevent camera shake. The system on the G2 stabilized on the x and y-axis, and now with the OIS+ system on the G3, the camera is stabilizes motion along the z-axis too. The practical application of this feature is that you’ll be able to capture sharp images in lighting conditions that would usually set the camera to a shutter speed that would be too slow to take a clear picture. The other area that OIS helps immensely with is video, and the OIS+ on the G3 does help it shoot great looking and steady videos.
The camera mode UI on the G3 is minimal and free of a lot of the superfluous modes and settings camera apps have on other Android phones. In fact, the most basic mode has almost no interface at all and you simply tap on the screen where you want to focus, and it takes a shot almost instantaneously thanks to the G3’s lighting fast-focusing. There are only four camera modes – Auto, Panorama, Dual (a picture-in-picture mode using the front camera) and Magic Focus.
In Auto mode we found that the G3 takes a good picture 95 per cent of the time, even in varying conditions, thanks to the fast focusing and OIS+. The Panorama is pretty much self-explanatory and works as well as on any other phone, and the Magic Focus takes multiple images and combines them so you can refocus the image to create a ‘taken with a DSLR’ looking picture that has an out of focus background.
For business users needing a reliable mobile imaging device, the simplification of the camera UI in combination with an Auto mode that works as advertised means you can take great pictures every time with a minimal amount of fuss. However, we do think that it wouldn’t have hurt to add some level of manual control, even if the settings were buried in the menus for advanced users. Also, while the G3 does take great pictures most of the time, it does have an older sensor and a narrower aperture (f/2.4) than some of its rivals, so its performance in low light is not class leading (but is by no means bad).
On the video side, the G3 records good quality 1080p AND 4K video, and the OIS+ helps keep things steady even if you are moving around to keep your subject in focus. LG has also paid attention to video audio capture, something other phone manufacturer’s neglect, by having microphones that automatically adjust levels depending on the recording environments noise levels.
LG’s previous Android phones had a bit of a reputation for being excellent hardware running a garish unrefined UI. Recognizing that its software’s appearance was one of its weak points, LG went back to the drawing board with the G3 and came up with a new, simplified UI built on top of Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat that has a refined, flat, minimal appearance. It looks a little like HTC’s Sense UI mixed with stock Android and uses a toned down colour palette for all the icons and menus to give it a unique appearance.
Along with the UI overhaul, the G3 has some unique software features that help differentiate it from other Android phones. For example, Smart Notice works a little like Google Now by giving you contextually aware notifications. Unlike Google Now though, these are more device specific, so, so for example, it will remind you to turn on power-saver mode if the battery drops below 30 per cent, or remind you to call back a missed call.
The G3 has a split-screen mode called Dual Window that allows you to run two applications at the same time, and there are 10 applications that support it, including Gmail, Chrome and Google Maps. It is a pity that the included ThinkFree Office document viewing application does not support this mode, since for business users, we can see how it would be useful to reference a spreadsheet as you are composing an email without having to task switch. Maybe LG will update Dual Window mode in the future to support more apps.
The G3 also has select apps that have what LG calls QSlide mode. These applications can be minimized to become moveable and resizable floating windows above whatever you are looking at on the phone. The QSlide apps are the LG Browser, Calculator, Calendar, LG E-mail, File Manager, Messaging, Phone and Video Player, and you can have two open at the same time. This means that along with Dual Window mode you can potentially have four applications open on the G3 at the same time, which power business users are sure to appreciate. However, we do think the G3’s 5.5-inch screen is a little small to make using four apps at once practical.
While the security of Android has improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years, it is still true to say that it is not as secure of a mobile OS as the more locked down iOS and BlackBerry 10, so, especially for business users, having a security application on your phone is a must. The G3 comes with McAfee Security pre-installed that has specific features that only work with LG phones and comes with 5-years of free service. McAfee Security protects your phone against malware and can back-up your phone securely. It also has remote lock and wipe, and allows you to track the phones location on a web portal if it is lost or stolen. It even goes one step further, by including a ‘Kill Switch’ feature that blocks factory resets to try and bypass the security lock, rendering the phone unusable to thieves.
While the McAfee security app is great for Professional and SMB users who don’t have an existing solution, what about enterprise users who have already have a solution to secure and manage their devices? Well, the G3 comes with LG Gate, which is a set of enterprise security and management features similar to what Samsung offers with Knox. LG Gate can use Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) to enforce security policies like password enforcement and application restrictions and also adds FIPS 140-2 government-grade encryption. LG Gate also integrates with leading MDM (mobile device management) tools like Mobile Iron and Airwatch, which further extend the manageability of the G3. For companies that have a BYOD policy that requires employees to buy a phone that is compatible with their choice of MDM, LG Gate makes the G3 an excellent choice of device.
The LG G3 is one of the best Android phones you can buy today, and for business users, both SMB and enterprise, it would be a great choice. The G3 is well designed, has powerful hardware under the hood, and has a gorgeous crisp 5.5-inch WQHD screen. What’s more, despite the screen’s size, it never feels like a big phone when in use. It also has an excellent camera, with some unique technologies that do help you take a good photo with a minimal amount of fuss nearly every time you use it. On the software side, the G3 has a refined, attractive UI that runs on top of Android Kit Kat, and also includes a number of software features that enhance its business usability. There are only a couple of issues that detract from the G3’s appeal – the screen is not as bright as it could be, which impacts outdoor readability, and its battery life is a little less than the competitions’.
The LG G3 is available now in Canada from Bell, MTS, Rogers, SaskTel and Videotron. At Rogers, the phone starts at $80 on contract and at Bell or Videotron is $100 on contract. Purchasing the device off contract will cost $600-$700.