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If you like everything about the LG G3 except its high price tag, feast your eyes on the $350 LG G3 Vigor. Lighter and cheaper than its big brother, the G3, the phone has the same styling and some of the same features of the high-end phone at a lower cost.
The Vigor is the latest in LG's G3 line, which includes the flagship G3 and the G3 S . Side by side, the Vigor and G3 S look identical, and indeed the two phones have nearly the same specs. CNET editor Andrew Hoyle reviewed the G3 S, and while he took issue with the low-resolution screen and limited storage on that phone, those two features didn't bother me as much with the Vigor. Instead, I was disappointed by the phone's short battery life and occasionally sluggish performance.
You can get the Vigor from Sprint for $29 with a new two-year service agreement, or $0 down and $13 per month for 24 months without a contract. If you want to buy it outright off-contract, it costs $312. On AT&T, the Vigor is $334.99 all-in, $49 with a new two-year contract, or $13.96 per month for 24 months with the AT&T Next program.
Smaller and lighter than the LG G3, the Vigor nicely combines a compact body with an expansive screen. The size is pleasing, big enough to feel substantial, yet small enough to carry around in most pockets or bags.
Both the models are the same size -- 5.42 inches (13.76mm) tall, 2.74 inches (6.90 mm) wide and weighing 4.7 ounces (133.24 grams) -- though the Sprint version is just a hair thicker at 0.41 inch deep, versus 0.39 inch for the AT&T model. Sprint gets two color choices, burgundy red and black, while the AT&T Vigor comes only in white.
Like the G3 and G3 S, the Vigor's power buttons and volume rocker are on the back, right below the camera lens. That design takes some getting used to coming from other smartphones, but the button placement is especially handy when you're on a call, since it feels natural to adjust the in-call volume. I like that the volume-up and -down buttons have a different texture than the power/lock button, which makes it easy to feel and use them without actually looking at them.
The phone has a glass front, a slim metal band around the edges and a polycarbonate battery door. It's curved on the back, and rocks gently if you tap the screen while it rests on a flat surface, which is a bit annoying. Behind the back cover, you'll find the battery, Micro-SIM and microSD card slots, which are stacked on top of each other, away from the battery. That means you can swap out the microSD card without turning off the phone.
The Vigor features a 5-inch 1,280x720 pixel IPS display. That's a step down from the G3's 2,560x1,440-pixel quad-HD resolution, but I have no complaints about how the screen looks; it's sharp and bright, with bright, yet natural colors. It's great for playing games, reading text and looking at HD photos. It's easily readable in bright sunlight and the ambient light sensor works quickly to pump up the brightness when you're in the sun, so you can still see the screen.
Running Android 4.4 KitKat, the Vigor sports all the features you'd expect with modern Android smartphone and then some. You get access to all of Google's services, such as Maps, Gmail, Calendar, and the Play store. Then, there are LG's special features: Knock Code, QSlide, QuickMemo+ and Smart Cleaning.
Knock Code lets you tap the screen in a pattern to unlock the device, and you can tap the screen to turn it on as well with Knock On. QSlide opens an app in a separate adjustable window that floats on top other apps on the screen, so that you can send a text message while browsing your app drawer. It only works with a few system apps, including the phone dialer and calculator. QuickMemo+ takes a screenshot and then lets you add text and drawings to the image. It's a quirky feature that launches when you up and right from the bottom of the screen. Finally, Smart Cleaning removes apps and files you no longer use, helping free up storage space quickly.
One other intriguing feature is the IR blaster, which lets you control your TV from your phone. There's a remote app built-in, which helps you change the channel or adjust the volume on most TV models.
LG gives you some freedom to customize the look and feel of the Vigor's home screen and keyboard with themes and custom fonts. There's only one theme preinstalled on the phone; you can download more from LG's SmartWorld portal. You can also change the animations you see when you swipe between home screens, including accordion, domino and carousel effects. Lastly, you can edit the onscreen buttons, moving around the home and back buttons, and adding shortcuts to QSlide, QuickMemo+ or notifications.
With the AT&T Vigor, you get the Softcard Wallet app (previously called ISIS) preinstalled, as well as several carrier apps, such as AT&T DriveMode, Navigator, Locker and Mobile TV. Also included are car service app Uber, the Yellow Pages app and Beats Music. You can uninstall most of these apps if you want to free up space, which is a plus.
On the Sprint model, there are several carrier apps, including Sprint Money, Sprint Music Plus, Sprint TV & Movies and Sprint Zone. However, not all of these are actually apps that live on the phone, but instead shortcuts to their Google Play store pages. Luckily, you can delete most of these shortcuts to remove clutter from your app drawer.
Situated on the back of the Vigor, just above the buttons, is the phone's 8-megapixel camera rear camera, which has a laser-assisted autofocus. The camera app takes a few seconds to open, which can slow you down if you're trying to capture a quick moment. However, once the app is running, it's quick to autofocus on the scene, so you can start shooting.
The Sprint Vigor has a minimal view enabled by default, meaning when you open the camera, you don't see any onscreen controls and you tap the screen to focus and capture a photo. You can bring up the shutter button and other settings by tapping the three dots in the corner. With the AT&T Vigor, the camera has the onscreen controls in view by default.
The photos I took with the Vigor were vibrant and bright, and the laser-assisted focus did a great job of capturing clear shots. Still, the camera isn't perfect, and I had trouble picking up fine details in some close-up shots. Check out the test shots below and click any of them to enlarge.
The rear camera shoots video in 1080p resolution, and the clips I recorded looked remarkably sharp and steady. The picture quality was a bit better than in still shots and the audio came through clear, without any distortion. You can take still images while recording, which can be useful, but I noticed those pictures didn't look particularly sharp.
There's also a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, which, while missing the laser-autofocus, has its own features. One is the real-time Beauty Shot mode that softens the light to make blemishes and other skin imperfections less noticeable. There's also a countdown timer that you can activate by moving your open hand into the shot and then making a fist to start the timer. Photos I shot with the front-facing lens were just mediocre, though they were usually well-lit and in focus.
Calls on the Vigor were fine, though there were some minor differences between the Sprint and AT&T models. During my test calls, on my end my calling partner's voice sounded steady and clear on both speakerphone and using the earpiece. However, he said that my voice was occasionally harsh and distorted. He never complained of any background noise, even when I was standing next to a busy street.
While both phones dropped words at times, and voices weren't always natural-sounding, the Sprint version performed slightly better, with clearer calls overall.
Inside, the Vigor has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 1.2 GHz quad-core CPU and 1GB of RAM. Those specs don't sound impressive compared to the LG G3 , but I didn't have much to complain about with this phone's performance. Occasionally, I noticed some lag, but most it was quick to open apps, and powerful enough for even graphics-intensive games.
The phone has 8GB of internal storage, which, while not an ample amount of space, is plenty for photos and apps. You can add an extra 32GB with a microSD card, using the slot behind the battery cover.
The Vigor's weak spot is its battery life. It has a 2,540mAh removable battery that promises up to 23 hours of talk time for the Sprint variant and 17.5 hours for AT&T. However, in my testing, both phones drained their batteries quickly, even when I wasn't using the phone for hours at a time. I found myself needing to charge the phone every night and occasionally top off the battery during the day.
In CNET's video battery test, the phone lasted 9 hours and 12 minutes before shutting off.
The Vigor supports LTE data, running on AT&T's 4G network and Sprint's Spark LTE spectrum. In my testing on both LTE networks in San Francisco, I noticed both phones were snappy at loading websites and downloading apps. Using Speedtest to test the data speeds, the AT&T model got an average download speed of 21.91Mbps, and the Sprint version fetched 11.72Mbps. Of course, speeds and coverage vary by location, so you might get different results where you are.
According to FCC radiation measurements, the phone has two different head SAR ratings depending on the carrier. On AT&T it has a SAR level of 1.07W/kg and on Sprint, it has a 0.72W/kg rating.
The LG G3 Vigor nicely combines premium, must-have features with a wallet-friendly price tag. The phone is well built and it's comfortable to hold, giving it an expensive feel. Likewise, the design, which is close to the LG G3, makes it unique and I'd be proud to show this phone off.
Though the processor is a bit underpowered and the camera could be better, the Vigor makes up for that with abundant helpful software features and solid performance. For all of those reasons, I recommend the LG Vigor, especially if you don't want to spend too much on a smartphone, yet still want something impressive.
However, if you're willing and able to put out a bit more money, you should go for the LG G3, which is the top of the line for LG. On both Sprint and AT&T, it costs around $25 per month for 24 months without a contract.