For the most part, the G3’s power is comparable to any other high-end Android phone in 2014. It’s fast and strong, with a spec sheet that reads like overkill (again) on paper. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s omnipresent Snapdragon 801 SoC, complete with a 2.5 GHz quad-core Krait 400 GPU and the long reliable Adreno 330 GPU. My unit also came with 32 GB of storage and a hefty 3 GB of RAM, though a 16 GB/2 GB RAM model is also available and is said to behave similarly to the beefier version.
The G3 is a beast, as it should be, at “real world” tasks. Browsing the web, checking emails, and streaming music provide very little resistance to the Snapdragon 801, and more intense games like Real Racing 3 and Riptide GP2 zip along reliably. Simultaneously streaming a YouTube video and messaging a friend with the phone’s “Dual Window” feature is surprisingly pain-free as well. There isn’t likely to be one app in the Google Play store that’ll prove too much for this phone anytime soon.
But being able to handle anything you throw at it doesn’t make a device top-of-the-line these days. There’s just something a little bit off about how long it takes to scroll through menus or open up apps here, at least relatively speaking. It’s never outright slow, but I sometimes noticed a faint delay when going through my app drawer, or had to wait a few seconds longer than usual for my Twitter feed to load — little things that keep the G3 behind the more instant gratification of the Galaxy S5 or One (M8).
Naturally, that delay only got worse with more intense usage over a longer period of time. When I tried to type in a document with several apps left open, for instance, the phone was slow to raise its keyboard and developed significant input lag. The device is also prone to some slight overheating, with its back warming up within minutes of loading a game and getting steadily hotter the longer I played.
These things are disappointing, but not major enough to be considered dealbreakers. The uptick in power for Android phones has spoiled us in recent months. The G3 will still be beyond serviceable for most people’s needs; it’s just not as consistent as a few of its competitors. The phone’s uber pixel dense display seems to be the most likely culprit here — satisfying that massive grouping of pixels is a tall task for any device, especially with the brightness up, even if it comes with a bonus gig of RAM.
Thankfully, the G3 nails the more peripheral aspects of its performance to help make up for this: Call quality is clear and consistent, the built-in speaker is surprisingly capable, Internet speeds yield no complaints, and the 32 GB of included storage is sizable and expandable through microSD.
Google has tightened its vise grip over its manufacturing partners over the past couple of years, slowly but surely convincing them to cut back on proprietary features and pushing a more homogenized Android experience. The G3 falls in line with its take on Android 4.4 KitKat, which features the kind of “flat” look that’s been en vogue since iOS 7 was revealed, but more or less works like any stock Android device.
It puts Google’s excellent suite of apps front and center instead of its own; it pushes the same set of gestures and buttons you’d use on a Nexus phone and doesn’t really try to displace Google Now from the heart of the OS. Anyone who has used an Android device in the past should be able to pick up and use the G3 without much hassle, which is really all you can ask for from this kind of skin. It’s familiar and functional.
What’s important here is that LG has shown some restraint. Many of the first-party tricks and gimmicks that stuffed up the G2 are still around, but they’re tucked away in a city of settings menus, never forcing their existence down your throat. There’s nothing wrong with the QMemo note-taking app or the QSlide set of floating mini-apps, for instance, but there’s nothing especially vital or necessary about them either. LG seems to get this, and is confident enough to let its creations hang out in the background until you want them. That is a refreshing change of pace, and the G3 is better for it.
That said, many of the additions here are genuinely useful. The aforementioned Dual Window works like a charm most of the time, and makes great use of the phone’s supersized display. LG Health is a simplistic yet effective health monitor that lets you track your workout progress and looks slick while doing so. QRemote turns the G3 into a nifty TV clicker. Smart Screen is a handy tool that keeps the phone from automatically going to sleep when your face is still in front of the screen. A number of gesture controls and shortcuts allow you to do things like open the camera app from sleep by pressing the volume rocker, or silence a call by flipping the phone on its front. And the Knock Code device lock system, which lets you create a custom tapping pattern to unlock the phone, is still a secure alternative to traditional pin codes. The only downside here is that there are a ton of settings menus to accommodate all of this, which can make finding everything a slight pain.
The two most hyped additions here are LG’s Smart Keyboard and its Smart Notice virtual assistant, but neither of them is all that worthwhile. The big trick with the former is that you can adjust the keyboard’s height, which sounds like a good idea until you realize the problem with smartphone keys has always been that they’re too thin, not too short. Outside of that, it’s not doing anything that Google Keyboard or other third-party alternatives haven’t already done better. The latter, meanwhile, is meant to complement Google Now, but is a little too far out of the way for its own good. It’ll remind you to return a missed call or give you a weather alert every now and then, but those are things that don’t really require an additional program on the home screen. It’s just kind of there.
Whatever the case, all of this looks clean and friendly under the UI’s flattened redesign. There’s the usual carrier bloatware to deal with, but all in all, this is really close to ideal for an Android skin. It gives you the added utility that has always been this OS’s hallmark, but it also allows you to simplify or clutter things up as much as you’d like.
If you couldn’t tell by now, LG is going all in with this phone, and that carries over to the 13-megapixel main camera too. In this case, it’s putting its faith in a laser. More specifically, the rear shooter is equipped with an infrared laser-guided autofocus system that, according to LG, effectively puts a shot into focus as you capture it. And indeed, the AF system is lightning quick, which is great. The time between taking a photo and seeing it on the G3 is amongst the shortest on the market.
The problem here is similar to the one with the G3’s ultra-dense display: This wasn’t really an issue that needed solving in the first place. The Galaxy S5, One (M8), and others can focus photos in a few hundred milliseconds already, so for as much of a technical achievement it may be, the laser-guided system doesn’t make the G3 noticeably better than what’s come before. It doesn’t hurt, but it isn’t worth the hype either.
As for general photo quality, the G3’s camera performs admirably. It isn’t consistent enough to be on Nokia’s or Apple’s level, but it does a superb job at toning down the noise in most shots, it captures moving targets well, and holds its own in low-light situations. There’ll be images that skimp out on the finer details from time to time, but all in all, this camera is still comparable to those on the other top Android phones out there.
All of this is helped by LG’s camera UI, which is supremely minimalistic by default. It presents you with one button (back) upon booting up, and allows you to tap anywhere on that 5.5-inch display to snap a pic — a Moto-esque approach that’s as straightforward as possible and takes good advantage of that unique AF setup. There are more traditional settings and modes to play with once you touch the screen, but not many. Ease of use triumphs over utility here, but the camera itself is more than capable enough for the whole thing to work.
The main camera, that is. Over on the front of the G3 lies a 2.1-megapixel shooter that takes the kind of blotchy, washed out pics you’d expect from a camera of such power. It does have a couple of cute ideas for taking self-portraits — holding up a fist or saying one of a few keywords like “cheese” will start a timer — but those don’t make the pics themselves look any better.
The story of the G3’s battery is more or less rehashes the one of its performance: It works tirelessly to feed that monstrous 1440p display, but it can only do so much before being swallowed whole. Again, the huge 3,000 mAh pack here is better than average, and it’s plenty capable of getting you through a workday with ordinary use. But again, it still has to power too many pixels for its own good, and it suffers next to its competition as a result.
Casual web browsing, calling, and video viewing usually had me reaching for a charger somewhere within 9-10 hours, which is fine, but less than the standard set by the Galaxy S5 or a specialist like the Motorola Droid Ultra. Going to max brightness usually lost me a percentage point every 90 seconds. And when I turned the Wi-Fi on, booted up some games, multitasked apps, and generally did things that more actively utilized those hungry pixels, I would lose roughly 20% of my charge in less than an hour. That isn’t surprising, but still a bit too fast.
There are more concrete positives: It can last for days with the display off in standby mode, it recharges quicker than most other devices once it’s plugged in, a familiar battery saving mode limits the phone’s functionality but is handy in a pinch, and of course the whole thing is replaceable if worse comes to worst. In general, though, the song remains the same: The G3 can lift the heaviest weight in the gym, but it gets pretty red-faced as it does so. It’s good, but not top-tier good.