Is the LG G3 the phone to beat this year? A review

·Editor. You may tweet her at @aloraguerrero.

Specs of the LG G3 (Prices: P31,990 - 16GB + 2GB RAM, P35,990 - 32GB + 3GB RAM):
* 2.5Ghz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset
* Adreno 330 GPU
* 2GB/3GB RAM
* 16GB/32GB internal storage
* microSD card slot (up to 128GB)
* 5.5-inch Quad HD IPS-LCD display (1,440 x 2,560 resolution)
* 13-megapixel rear camera with laser autofocus and dual-LED flash
* 2.1-megapixel front camera
* 3,000mAh battery
* Android KitKat 4.4.2

(UPDATED) In the Philippines, the LG G3 16GB + 2GB RAM and 32GB + 3GB RAM variants will set you back P31,990 and P35,990, respectively. Is the Korean giant's latest Android KitKat flagship phone the one to beat this year?

Design

From a design perspective, the LG G3 carries forth the ergonomic tradition set by its predecessor. The rear panel is curved towards the sides; the corners, as well as the top and bottom edges, are subtly rounded off; and all physical buttons are located around the back, close to where your index finger normally settles when gripping the device. As with the LG G2, it may take some time getting used to the layout. Thankfully, with LG's software tricks, you'll rarely run your fingers on the back cover to press a button.

Speaking of the rear, it's still made of plastic, although the shiny, brushed-metal finish now gives the impression that the casing is made of, um, metal. It's not as sensitive to fingerprints and scratches as other surfaces, too.

LG G3
LG G3

LG's decision to stick with plastic construction pays off big-time. By going with a faux-metal plastic frame that looks and feels as though it was carved out of a single block of aluminum, it has kept the device fairly light, weighing just 149 grams, and retained the premium elements that make the HTC One appealing. Of course, having a non-metal back also translates to less heat when the LG G3 is processing heavy tasks.

To address some of the limitations of the international G2 variant, LG has opted for a removable back cover that hides the G3's user-accessible battery and microSIM and microSD expansion slots.

But the LG G3 is as much about following in the G2's footsteps and improving on an aesthetic that has garnered favorable reviews from critics as it is about reducing the bezels to an absolute minimum. That has showcased the phone's stunning Quad HD display while keeping it to a manageable size.

 

The 5.5-inch LG G3 looks roughly the same size as the 5-inch Xiaomi even though it has a bigger screen.
The 5.5-inch LG G3 looks roughly the same size as the 5-inch Xiaomi even though it has a bigger screen.

That the company has managed to fit a sizable 5.5-inch panel into a moderately proportioned body, which shares roughly the same dimensions as the 5-inch Xiaomi Mi 3, is previously unheard of in mobiles and nothing short of astonishing. Consequently, it is easier to operate one-handed than some five-inchers in our possession. With the LG G3, the Koreans have done the improbable: quash the notion of a phone-slash-tablet.

Tech companies, take note: This is the ideal size of a big-screen smartphone. Put simply, the G3 is as beautiful as it is pragmatic, and we can't think of any changes we'd make to the hardware.

Screen

The first thing that should be said about the LG G3 is that it's the only widely available smartphone to feature a Quad HD LCD display, meaning it has four times the resolution of 720p panels. (Note: The QHD OPPO Find 7 isn't sold in as many countries.) A resolution of 1,440 x 2,560 on a 5.5-inch real estate graced by third-gen Gorilla Glass gives the handset a pixel density of 534 dots per inch, or twice the number of most smartphones.

You simply can't ignore that ludicrous screen density, which is significantly higher than the LG G2's 424ppi, the Samsung Galaxy S5's 432ppi, and the HTC One's 441ppi, not to mention more than the naked eye can handle.

If it sounds a bit overkill, it is. Then again, this is LG's latest hero device we're talking about, so we can't really fault LG for raising the bar even further. Never mind that the extra pixels make little to no difference on the display quality.

 

LG G3
LG G3

Not that it matters, though, as the quality of the screen itself, as you'd expect from a company with a long pedigree in manufacturing televisions, is top-notch. For the third consecutive year, LG has wowed us with another flagship phone with a winning display. Not only does it boast the sharpest visuals of any device we've tested to date, it also delivers excellent color balance, contrast, and viewing angles.

As for putting the panel to good use, sadly, there are not a lot of opportunities for the LG G3 to showcase its killer feature. For obvious reasons, there's still a dearth of ultra-high-def content for handsets. For example, the YouTube app doesn't support resolutions higher than 1080p.

In the meantime, there's always the option of shooting 4K videos with the main camera. A good number of devices are capable of going beyond full-HD, but very few can do justice to 4K footage the same way this LG can.

As much as it is about next-gen tech, the G3 proves that industry players are ready to move on from the prevailing 1080p standard, that 2K is the next buzzword you'll be hearing with greater frequency in the coming months. It's difficult to imagine the likes of Samsung, Sony, and HTC failing to see the writing on the wall and not following suit with a bunch of future-proof releases a year from today. Here's hoping a wealth of content will be ready by then.

Cameras

We've already established that the LG G3 improves on its predecessor's hardware and resolution. But what about the main and secondary cameras? Well, if you're hoping for a major spec bump, this is not the section to read; both cameras bear the same optical image stabilization technology plus the same number of megapixels found in the previous model: 13 megapixels around the back and 2.1 megapixels on the front. There isn't a serious gain in terms of picture quality, either.

Not that it's a bad thing, especially since the G2 has proven itself to be a capable camera phone, particularly when it comes to taking night shots. The LG G3 is no different.

The real good news, though, comes in the form of a laser-guided auto-focus system, a first for a camera phone, and a white/amber dual-LED flash that's similar to the one on the Apple iPhone 5s and HTC One (M8) and is supposed to help the rear-facer capture colors and skin tones with greater fidelity in areas where light is sparse.

And while having a sensor that emits a cone of red laser dots to measure depth during photo-taking doesn't necessarily make for an excellent photograph, it does lead to a slightly shorter shutter lag, which is the time it takes from when you press the shutter key to when the picture is taken. However, despite the improved auto-focus speed, the G3 doesn't leave the competition in the dust.

Still, the sensor is quick enough to be considered among the fastest out there. If anything, its quoted auto-focus time of 276 milliseconds is a bit better than the 300 milliseconds it takes the Samsung Galaxy S5 to zero in on a particular subject.

The LG G3's native camera app comes with a load of features to keep you shutterbugging along, like the ability to snap a selfie by simply balling your first or saying "Cheese!" or "Kimchi!" (not "Kim Chiu!"), record slow-motion video, and manually adjust focus and depth of field.

LG G3 screenshot
LG G3 screenshot

Software

LG, more so than ever before, asserts a bigger influence on the rest of the user experience—and we couldn't be happier. As we hinted in our G2 review, we like where the company's software team is headed, and the G3's heavily modified, Android KitKat-based interface improves on every aspect of the previous version. Its KnockOn feature, which wakes the phone or puts it to sleep by tapping on the display twice, still works as advertised, but has now been expanded into a security solution that recognizes user-specific tap patterns. Pure genius.

Also, split-screen multitasking has been refined and now works with our favorite third-party apps. Obviously, there's more, but the gist should be clear: This LG-exclusive take on Android is right up there with the industry's finest.

Performance

Hero devices typically arrive bearing the finest specs available at the time of their release, and the LG G3 is no exception. Our 16GB test unit packs 2GB of RAM and is built around the same Qualcomm chipset that powers the leading phones on shelves now: the quad-core Snapdragon 801 clocked at 2.5GHz.

The more expensive 32GB variant carries an extra 1GB of RAM (3GB total). In terms of wireless connectivity, there's dual-band WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, DLNA, and an IR blaster, along with support for Globe Telecom's and Smart Communications' LTE bands.

Now that we've gotten the specs out of the way, let's evaluate the phone's performance. You'd think that sporting a Quad HD display would have a significant effect on its speed and responsiveness. Nope, that's not the case here. In reality, the LG G3 is every bit as slick as anything on the market today, and the most widely used benchmarking suites on the Play store seem to agree.

Despite its superfluous screen, our G3 has cranked out impressive numbers on AnTuTu Benchmark (33,428), Quadrant Standard (24,001), 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited (15,928), Vellamo Chrome Browser (2,723), Vellamo Multicore (1,760), and Vellamo Metal (1,523), even beating scores posted by current releases like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Nexus 5.

Battery

Don't expect marathon-like stamina on LG's newest flagship phone, though its 3,000mAh cell seems to be holding up well to the rigors of performing bread-and-butter smartphone tasks. On average, the LG G3 lasts a day and a half with reasonably constant use, as opposed to two full days of uptime on the G2.

In our anecdotal battery-rundown test, which entails putting an HD video on loop while WiFi is switched on and brightness is set to 50 percent, the G3 held on for 7 hours and 48 minutes, whereas the latter managed an impressive 12 hours plus 10 minutes of continuous playback.

But before you grab your virtual pitchfork, consider that the LG G3 needs to light up a bigger display with a super-sharp resolution. Frankly, we're surprised it can get past the first day without needing a recharge. Smartphones tend to have a one-and-done battery life, so in that regard, at least the G3's general-purpose endurance is more than satisfactory.

Verdict

The local mobile landscape is teeming with giants from household names and pseudo-startups from China, all of which are insisting that they have the best and most advanced product on the market right now. However, no other phone maker has gone the extra mile quite like LG did.

With the G3, the Koreans stopped short of throwing in the kitchen sink; it's as delightful as smartphones get, with its compelling design, Quad HD display, industry-first laser auto-focus sensor, and uncompromising performance. It's a serious improvement over last year's G2 in all but one aspect.

The LG G3, as a whole is the classic definition of a flagship phone, but with a price tag that's typically associated with the newest iPhone, it may be a tougher sell for retail customers. Those whose carrier contracts are up should have no problem picking it up, though. If price is a non-issue, this is the best phone money can buy at this point.

Got reviews of a gadget we haven't tested yet? Tweet us at @aloraguerrero.

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