LG G3 S review: A smaller flagship phone stuffed with low-end tech

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CNET Editors' Rating

2.5 stars OK
  • Overall: 5.7
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 5.0
  • Performance: 4.0
Review Date:

The Good The LG G3 S has the same attractive styling as its big brother, its camera can take good shots and the laser-assisted autofocus is quick to lock on to your subject.

The Bad Its processor puts in a very poor performance, its screen resolution doesn't impress, it comes with a pitiful amount of storage and it's running on an old version of Android KitKat.

The Bottom Line The LG G3 S may come with the same name and physical design as its flagship brother, but the similarities are only skin deep. The G3 S's specs have been watered down in every way, making this little more than a low-end phone in a high-end body with a mid-range price.

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If you like the look of the LG G3 (and who wouldn't? The camera uses lasers!) but your wallet is less keen, then meet the LG G3 S, also known as the LG G3 Beat, or the LG G3 Mini.

As we've seen with phones like the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini and the HTC One Mini 2, the G3 S takes the design and name of the flagship but shrinks it down into a slightly more manageable package.

Note the emphasis on slightly there -- the G3 S is a 5-inch phone, barely reducing the size of the 5.5-inch G3. It hardly qualifies as a mini phone, and with a weedy 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 8-megapixel camera and 720p screen, it doesn't match its big brother in anything other than design.

Still, it looks pretty neat, it uses the same attractive Android interface and keeps the laser-assisted autofocus from the the G3.

LG hasn't given an official price for the G3 S yet, but early pre-order prices from shops in the UK put it at around £226 ($360, AU$410) which isn't too bad. Keep your eyes peeled for official pricing and regional availability.

Design

Don't be fooled into thinking the S in the G3 S name stands for "small". At 5 inches, it might be slightly smaller than its 5.5-inch big brother, but in no way can a 5-inch phone get away with being called mini. It measures 138mm long and 70mm wide, which is only marginally smaller than the Galaxy S5. It's more comfortable to use in one hand than the standard G3, but if you're after something much more palm-sized, check out the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, or Samsung Galaxy Alpha.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Design-wise, it's identical to the standard G3. It has the buttonless front and curved plastic back panel that has the same brushed effect. It's not a bad-looking phone, although up close, that back panel is unmistakably plastic rather than a more premium metal -- which isn't helped by the scratchy sound it makes when you run your nails over it. The curve to the back at least feels good to wrap your hand around. Like the G3 and G2 before it, the volume and power buttons are on the back, rather than the side.

LG reckons it's more comfortable this way as it's where your index finger will naturally sit. I'm personally not all that keen on this change -- I really don't believe that volume button placement was a problem that needed fixing to begin with -- but you'd probably get used to their location after using it for a few weeks.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The plastic back panel is removable and provides access to the battery, the SIM card slot and the microSD card slot. You'll absolutely need to use a microSD card as the phone comes with a pitiful 8GB of built in storage. I'd expect such a low amount on a bottom-end phone, but not here. You'll quickly fill that up with apps and games and if you want to store music and video locally, I highly suggest grabbing a card to pop in. Although you can install apps to the SD card, not all apps can do this, so don't rely on being able to put your favourite games on the card.

Display

The 5-inch display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, giving a pixel density of 294 pixels per inch, which isn't particularly impressive. Particularly not when you compare it to the G3's 2,560x1,440-pixel (538ppi) display. It's lower than the iPhone 6's 326ppi, the 312ppi of the Galaxy Alpha and the 319ppi of the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact.

While it's disappointing on paper, in practice, the difference is less marked. Icons and text are at least adequately sharp and side by side against phones like the Galaxy Alpha it's pretty much impossible to tell the difference. Against full HD (1,920x1,080p) displays or indeed the G3's 2K display, the G3 S definitely packs a less impressive punch.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

High definition images and video are perfectly watchable, but don't have quite the same level of clarity you'd find on higher definition screens. It's bright though, easily countering our overhead office lights and it has quite rich colours so Netflix and YouTube videos at least look good. For the money, it's far from a bad screen, but I would have liked to see LG pack in more pixels.

Android software

The G3 S arrives with Android 4.4.2 KitKat on board, which is a couple of versions out of date behind the latest 4.4.4 KitKat. That's a shame, but given the cheaper price tag, it's a little more forgivable. As it did with the G3, LG has heavily skinned the G3 S's interface.

The interface has the same underlying structure as any other Android phone -- multiple homescreens are available for you to fill up with apps and apps you don't want on the homescreens are stored in the app tray. LG has made a lot of tweaks to the look of Android, with its own fonts, app icons and colour schemes.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You can customise many things like the homescreen transition, the layout of the navigation buttons and even the way the screen fades to black when you turn it on to standby mode. The settings menu, while vast, is separated into four tabs, which makes it slightly easier to find the tool you're after. Even so, with so much to tweak, it's not the easiest phone to get to grips with.

The G3 S's interface looks almost identical to the G3's software, but you won't find features like LG Health (which tracks your exercise) or Smart Tips (which aims to give you tips on how better to use features or highlights tools you may not know the phone has). Neither are exactly big losses. You do at least get the remote control tool, which uses the infra-red sensor on the top of the phone.

Processor and battery performance

The phone is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, backed up by only 1GB of RAM, which is about what I'd expect to find in bottom-end phones costing much less than the G3 S. The new 5-inch Motorola Moto G has the same processor in fact and can be picked up for £144 ($180).

Unsurprisingly, it didn't exactly blow me away with its benchmark results. It achieved 1,299 on the Geekbench benchmark test and 8,273 on the Quadrant test, putting it far below the regular G3 (3,651 Geekbench, 23,103 Quadrant), the Galaxy Alpha (23,729 Quadrant) and the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (3,677 Geekbench, 21,077 Quadrant). It also came in a little under the 2014 Moto G's score of 8,849 on the Quadrant test.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 4.73 oz
  • Diagonal Size 5.0 in
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