LG G3 review: The perfect flagship phone for early adopters

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CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 stars Outstanding
  • Overall: 8.7
  • Design: 9.0
  • Features: 9.0
  • Performance: 8.0

Average User Rating

5 stars 1 user review
Review Date:

The Good The LG G3 has a great camera, a brilliantly sharp display, a snappy quad-core processor, and a flat UI that makes Android 4.4 look good. LG's flagship has also improved on the previous model -- the new G3 comes with a removable battery and microSD card slot, both things the G2 lacked.

The Bad The new QHD display with its 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution is quite a power-hog, so the phone will barely last you a day without a charge.

The Bottom Line Possessing the right blend of features and design, the G3 finally gives LG the right phone with which to challenge Korean rival Samsung.

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LG has always played second fiddle to Samsung in the smartphone market, especially in Korea, but it looks like its latest flagship, the G3, could cause a major upset. Early reports from Korea show the G3 selling like hot cakes, outdoing Samsung's Galaxy S5 by three times in the initial launch period.

It's not hard to see why. Unlike the Galaxy S5, which shows a more conservative approach in its design, LG's G3 goes bold with a new high-resolution "QHD" (2,560x1,440-pixel resolution) display, as well as adding a laser-guided autofocus for the camera.

That's not to mention the other design changes that address the issues of the previous flagship, such as the addition of a microSD card slot and removable battery. With a cleaner, toned-down redesign of the UI (it's running a reskinned Android 4.4 KitKat), the LG G3 has what it takes to be a top-ranked flagship smartphone for 2014.

The G3 is set to debut globally soon in the UK, US, and Australia. In the UK, the phone will be available on July 1 with a likely price of £490. In Australia, the 16GB version of the phone will go for AU$799, and in Singapore, the 16GB model will retail for S$868 without contract, while the 32GB will go for a slight markup of S$928.

In Australia, LG has said the G3 will go on sale "the first Monday of August" -- August 4 -- and will be mostly available in black with limited stock of the white version in some retailers. When local review units become available, we'll conduct some speed and call quality testing.

Design

Sporting the same rounded corners and slim bezel as the G2, the LG G3 keeps the same buttons on the rear as well. Instead of the glossy plastic found on the G2, though, LG has given the G3 a metallic-looking back.

LG says the rear cover is mostly plastic (to allow wireless charging to work), but it added a metal film to give it that shiny, polished look. The result is a very premium finish, and Samsung should pay attention here. While the dimpled rear cover of the S5 was a marked improvement over the glossy finish of the S4, the G3's back cover conveys a more luxurious feel that you normally get from metal phones such as the HTC One M8 or the Apple iPhone 5S.

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Aloysius Low/CNET

Unlike the LG G Flex, though, its surface has no healing capabilities, so if you accidentally scratch the rear, you'll have to live with the battle scars.

As mentioned earlier, the power button and volume rocker are all found on the back. LG has done this for a few phones now, and while it takes some getting used to, it's actually a pretty good tweak. The keys have a textured pattern that differentiates them from the rear cover. It's also easy to reach the buttons when holding the phone with one hand. There's no need to stretch your fingers to power off the device (especially if it's on the top).

The 13-megapixel camera is located right above the rear buttons, and on the left is the laser autofocus feature, which uses an infrared laser beam to measure the distance between the camera and the intended subject of your picture. On the right is the dual-LED flash.

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Aloysius Low/CNET

The best part of the G3, however, has to be that there simply aren't any buttons. Unlike the S5, which has a physical home button, the G3 uses onscreen keys instead. This means that the 5.5-inch, 2,560x1,440-pixel-resolution screen grabs all of your attention, and the superthin bezel enhances that experience, making the phone appear to be "all screen."

The G3's display has an eye-popping 538 pixels per inch (ppi), while the iPhone 5S stops at 326ppi. That's 65 percent more pixels than Apple's handset, by the way. But does this really matter? In short, no. You'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a normal full-HD display and the QHD of the G3. The only time you could really see the difference would be if you were to put a drop of water on the screen and take a close-up shot.

I did that with the Oppo Find 7, which has a 5.5-inch 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution display, and compared it with an Oppo Find 7a, which is a Find 7 with a 1080p screen. Thus, the difference in this shot is similar to what you'd see between an LG G3 and a regular full-HD phone -- barely perceptible to the naked eye.

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On the right is the Oppo Find 7a's display: at 100 percent crop, you can see the pixels. You can barely make them out on the Find 7 on the left, and the Find 7 is the G3 equivalent here with a 2,560x1,440-pixel display. Aloysius Low/CNET

But as CNET editor Andrew Hoyle found in his in-depth look at the G3's display, the G3's QHD screen has more natural color tones than the S5's screen (which has a warmer color cast). In the end, though, having a 1440p display is more about bragging rights for marketing than any actual visual improvement.

Located above the display is a 2.1-megapixel camera for taking selfies. (LG has also included a few features to make that process easier, but more on that later in the review.) LG has borrowed a page from Apple's book of tricks: the 3.5mm audio jack is located at the bottom of the phone, next to the Micro-USB jack.

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Aloysius Low/CNET

Overall, I found the build quality to be pretty solid; the phone is easy to grip. The 8.9mm-thick phone sits comfortably in the palm, but because of the width of its 5.5-inch display, it's often easier to to type with both hands.

Software features

The G3 comes with a redesigned Android 4.4 user interface (UI) that's very clean and flat. This new look is very familiar -- I've seen similar UIs from Asus and HTC, but that's not to say that LG's efforts are copies. According to LG, the G3's UI has been tweaked to keep things simple; instead of adding more features with each iteration, LG has decided to pare it down somewhat.

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The new UI is clean and flat. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

For example, instead of having 16 camera modes, LG checked its data and got rid of the modes that were used less than 1 percent of the time, leaving just four of the more frequently selected ones.

To enhance the user experience, LG has added a Smart Notice box that gives advice on what's happening around you as well as reminders to return calls. I like the weather tip -- it lets me know when to expect rain, so I can pack an umbrella when I leave the office. This is really useful for me as someone who lives in a tropical country with a very fickle weather.

Like Samsung's S5, the G3 now has a built-in fitness tracker, called LG Health. It tracks your steps, as well as keeping a record of your other activities such as jogging or cycling.

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LG G3 (32GB)

Part Number: G3
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