Probably the main talking point, other than that 13-megapixel sensor, is the infrared laser focus system. This is something of a first on any camera, according to LG, and it's a technology the firm originally developed to keep its robot vacuum cleaners from banging into walls. The conical laser can apparently focus the camera in just 220ms, blowing the competition (the GS5 and HTC One, for example) away. Those handsets take up to 300ms to focus, the company claims. That extra 80ms counts, we guess. In practical terms, while the camera definitely does focus and take pictures quickly, if no one had told us about this new feature, we most likely wouldn't have noticed too much of a difference. It's definitely quick, though, and that's what counts.
As for the pictures themselves? Pretty impressive. There are, however, a few lighting situations that seem to cause it trouble. Sometimes when the sun is in shot, or at dusk, pictures can look a little washed out. Other times, the camera performed quite well, especially in lower light conditions. Taking photos around London as the sun went down, I was impressed by how low the noise was and how well colors were reproduced. Even at night, the G3 can pull off some good shots, provided you have a steady hand. The OIS also seems to help when taking candid shots, where you've gone from pocket to photo relatively quickly (and probably shakily), especially when using the screen as a shutter button.
The selfie camera around the front is different story. LG gave it larger pixels to help it under low-light conditions (where most selfies are taken, according to its research) but the result is a soft image that appears cartoonish at times, especially if you jack up the "beauty" filter. There's a "flash," too -- but in reality it just shrinks the preview and projects a bright screen to light up your face. It's nice that LG cares about selfies so much, but the flash doesn't work well. If video's more your thing, you can shoot up to 4K (if you have something to view it on.) Interestingly, there's no native/2K option, though, which might have made more sense.
Performance and battery life
Given that LG has kept things light on the software front, there's not a lot of bloatware going on. The main concern for both performance and battery life is probably that display. The first thing I noticed was the smallest amount of delay when flicking through menus. Everything opens quickly, and the scrolling is plenty smooth, but there's just the tiniest of moments between moving your finger and the menu following along. It's hard to tell if this has to do with the power needed to keep that display updated, or if it's just the result of all the software and hardware elements combined. Either way, it's the first time I've noticed anything like this with a box-fresh phone. To be clear, this is minor, but it's something I noticed all the same.
There are a few other things we must mention at this point, too. The handset we were given is actually a Korean carrier model. That means there are likely some software tweaks that won't be present on the official US/European models. It also means I was unable to test the LTE. As such, most of the performance and battery life observations are likely to be very close to, but perhaps not exactly what you can expect once the G3 goes official over here later this month.
| ||LG G3 ||HTC One (2014) ||LG G Pro 2 |
|Quadrant 2.0 ||25,548 ||25,548 ||18,349 |
|Vellamo 2.0 ||1,405 ||1,804 ||1,672 |
|3DMark IS Unlimited ||16,662 ||20,612 ||17,241 |
|SunSpider 1.0.2 (ms) ||918 ||782 ||727 |
|GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan Offscreen (fps) ||N/A ||11.2 ||8.7 |
|CF-Bench ||24,667 ||40,223 ||36,840 |
|SunSpider: Lower scores are better; results compiled on Chrome. HTC One benchmarked on Android 4.4.2 |
With that caveat out of the way (and the benchmarks in), I can confirm it generally performs like a boss. During my usual routine tests of gaming (both casual and a bit of Real Racing), browsing and everyday business use, the G3 held up just as well as the HTC One and Galaxy S5. That is to say, its ample processor and RAM capacity mean it can handle pretty much anything you throw at it.
As for the less tangible aspects of usage (those that can't be measured in numbers), it's still good news. While I don't have a huge dislike of Samsung's TouchWiz interface, LG's much cleaner UI reminds you how old-fashioned and dated the interface Galaxy users have to endure can feel. The near-stock experience is appreciated, and if LG ever makes a Nexus/Google Play version of the G3, I'd suggest it's only really an issue for the Android purist.
Battery life was an area of particular concern. With so many pixels to take care of, the processor has some extra lifting to do. Add to this the fact that the screen is LCD (i.e., backlit) and not OLED (which only lights the required area), and you might think it's a recipe for disaster. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the G3 can easily go a whole day (and often a bit more) without needing a top-up. This is without LTE running, but still with the moderate to heavy usage that being an Engadget editor requires. As for the more formal battery test, the 3,000mAh cell managed a reasonable 10 hours. We'll be sure to repeat this test once we get a model with local LTE support.
LG says that to compensate for the demands of the display, it did some serious thinking about power consumption, making savings wherever it could. Whatever it did, it seems to have worked. If you're a power user, or just like to be on the safe side, that cell is removable, meaning you can carry a spare if you like. The only downside is how long it takes to charge over USB. To be fair, the phone does tell you as much when you plug it in, so you can't say you weren't warned.
With the paint still wet on both the Galaxy S5 and the HTC One (M8), those two would seem like the likeliest rivals for your affection. Along with the G Pro 2, perhaps. The problem is, LG's being tight-lipped about the official US price for the G3, which makes comparisons difficult. One UK retailer has pegged it at £500, and the Korean version can be bought right now for about $800 and up if you're really impatient, but I would't put much stock in those prices, as things could well change (we'll update this review if they do). Pricing issues aside, the LG G3 might not have the depth-perceiving camera of the HTC One, or the heart rate monitor of the GS5, but it beats them both on a far more important (and future-proofing) feature -- that display. Much of the rest will come down to design and software preference -- and of course that price.
I'll admit, when I first laid hands on the G3, I wasn't sure. I wanted it to be metal (as it appeared to be), but it wasn't. I wanted it to be a bit smaller and more like the Nexus 5, but it wasn't. I didn't think I'd like the rear placement of the buttons, and I don't. But, like two cops with different ideologies forced to work together on a crime, before long, these perceived negatives turned out to be charming qualities. The smooth, curved lines of the G3 make it feel like a much smaller phone. Those rear buttons mostly just need some muscle memory to get used to. And that metallic skin: It might not be metal, but it sure looks better than the G2 (or any Galaxy phone). That just leaves the positives. The display might not be quite as impressive as I'd hoped, but it's still shines given the right content.
The camera is a great workhorse and will really turn out some good images, even under low light. All told, there's little to complain about, save for the fact that our test unit was a Korean-specific model (I'd like to test the LTE and see how the battery holds out). So, when we finally do know the price, we can make a better call, but assuming LG doesn't do something crazy, this should be one of the best Android phones you can buy right now.
Daniel Orren and Edgar Alvarez contributed to this review.