Asian mobile insiders say LG's G3 will give Samsung a run for its money

Insiders from smart cities in Asia tell CNET they see a serious challenger to Samsung in LG's new flagship.

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The LG G3 could be a game changer. Nate Ralph/CNET

Singapore and Hong Kong are ideal places to do canary tests on mobile phones. Both countries sell mobile phones unlocked, and have huge mobile penetration rates upwards of 150 percent -- that's at least 1.5 phones per resident.

Throw in smartphone penetration rates upwards of 87 percent for both countries, fast 4G networks and a highly mobile-centric culture which can afford pretty much any phone they desire -- whatever goes on in the Singapore and Hong Kong mobile scene is pretty much indicative of what's going to happen in the rest of the world (if the rest of the world had freedom of choice without carriers trying to tie you down with locked devices).

The mobile insiders I know, however, are a different breed to your usual customers -- they aren't buying a cellphone for themselves, but more interested in finding out how well a phone will do in the marketplace.

They look at the marketing done by smartphone vendors; identify highly marketable, game changing features; evaluate telco support; and also determine the all important pricing and profitability of new phones. They view the market as a whole in hard-nosed dollars and cents, and they bet with their own money. And it looks like the smart money might be on LG's latest offering.

When the LG G2 was announced in July 2013 in Singapore, nobody gave two hoots. Insiders weren't too concerned, and LG was treated like a pariah with minimal stock commitments. The G3 looks like it will be a different story entirely. "The G2 was announced softer than the sound of a pin dropping," said a manager of a mobile store. "Now the G3 has proper marketing!"

It's no secret that LG's new phones are great value for money. One can buy an 32GB LG G2 for S$600 ($480, £285, AU$518) in Singapore -- incredible value considering that the 16GB Samsung Galaxy S4 sells for S$848 ($678, £403, AU$729).

Likewise, the 32GB LG G3 will retail for S$928 ($740, £440, AU$799) contract free, which would again make it significantly cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S5 at S$1068 (S$854, £508, AU$918).

The G3 is ticking all the right boxes on spec sheets as well. "When we heard about the leaks about the G3 specifications from Korea, we weren't sure whether those were engineered leaks or the real deal," said an LG distributor. "However, the Laser autofocus will be a killer feature as most customers are dead serious about the camera speed. If it really works as advertised it would be killer."

To no one's surprise, the real fight is between the G3 and the S5. Most insiders were mildly surprised that the S5 sales weren't earth shattering, but since they had been following the Galaxy S II's rise from nothing, nobody got a heart attack.

"The G2 only got traction in December (2013) and it was all the way up from there! Then came the G Pro 2, which had a great response. I think the G3 will gain LG even more market share at the expense of someone, " a wireless carrier executive said. "The G3 may get more traction than the Galaxy S5!"

"The G3 may get more traction than the Galaxy S5!"

Most insiders believe that the G3 will definitely gain market share for LG at Samsung's expense (and Apple, to a lesser extent). But the jury is still out as to whether the G3 could take the smartphone crown from Samsung. Samsung's aggressive marketing, the popularity of the Galaxy Note 3 and its first mover status has indeed earned it a large market base.

However, Singapore and Hong Kong are notoriously brand agnostic -- iOS market share dropped from a peak of 72 percent in January 2012 to 37 percent in May 2014 -- and it's still dropping, while Android smartphone sales rose from 19 percent to 58 percent in the same time frame.

"The thinner bezel looks great. The size of the phone didn't widen, that's good. Advanced buyers, paper shoppers and spec maniacs like things like that. The crazy hi-res screen is nice, but it's hard to sell quality, but it'll help if it's not too expensive to build," said a mobile phone distributor. "The metal film back will help first impressions for sure! At least they won't get struck with HTC envy."

It's certainly impressive that LG managed to keep the phone weight size in check while enlarging the screen, and the metallic back was a great compromise -- it looks great while keeping weight down and reception compromises to a minimum.

While the insiders deliberate about the number of containers they will commit to, I'll consider the G3 as a worthy replacement for my current G2 -- even if it's just for the laser focus camera.

 

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