LG G3: The Prettiest Smartphone You Can Buy

The race for bigger, sharper screens, it seems, is never-ending. Whether the device in question fits in your pocket or hangs on your wall, manufacturers just keep cramming pixels in, even well past the point where our eyes can supposedly tell the difference.
The LG G3 is just the latest embodiment of this trend. It's the first smartphone to boast a Quad HD display, which somehow stuffs more pixels than are on your average laptop into a 5.5-inch screen. The rated resolution is 2,560 x 1,440, or 538 pixels per inch (ppi). To put that in perspective, the supposedly "retina" iPhone 5S has a pixel density of 326 ppi.

So the LG G3 isn't just sharp — it's absurdly sharp, at least in theory. However, escalating pixel densities bring with them complication, mainly performance and battery life. After all, the processor will need to work harder, and consume more power, to drive an ultra-high-res display.
LG does a good job addressing those issues. The processor is a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, pretty much the top-of-the-line, as today's flagship phones go. There's also a hefty 3,000 milliamp-hour (mAh) battery, with more juice than the Samsung Galaxy S5 (2,800 mAh) or HTC One M8 (2,600 mAh). Finally, the screen is optimized to merely sip power, turning down the refresh rate when displaying a static image.
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    Someone Order Extra Pixels?

    Although other phones have boasted ultra-high-res displays, the LG G3 is the first mainstream smartphone with a Quad HD display, with 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. It'll come to the U.S. in the summer.
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    Beautiful Display

    The 5.5-inch screen has only marginally better quality than the full HD displays on most flagship phones, but it does make a difference: You'll only be able to see individual pixels if you put your eye right up to the screen.
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    Knock Code

    You can use a knock code, a secret pattern of taps, to unlock the phone instead of a PIN.
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    Rear Buttons

    Like the LG G2, the G3 has rear controls for volume and power. They're a little awkward, and you sometimes tap the camera instead of the on button.
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    We reviewed the Korean version of the LG G3, which was loaded with bloatware.
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    The Korean G3 also had an antenna, used for mobile digital TV.
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    Proprietary Apps

    The G3 includes LG's own Health app as well as usability tips for the phone itself -- not the worst idea ever.
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    Slim and Lightweight

    Although it's larger than the 5-inch HTC One M8, the LG G3 is lighter.
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    Top View

    The top of the phone has a microphone and infrared port.
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    Bottom View

    The bottom has the headphone jack and microUSB port.
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    Right Side

    With the controls on the back, there isn't much on either side.
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    Left Side

    Nothing here either, although we would have appreciated a dedicated camera shutter.
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  • That's smart design, but is it worth it? Is the G3's Quad HD display just an on-paper brag, or will it set a new standard for smartphone displays? And even if it's great, does the phone have enough other features, conveniences and raw cool to hold its own against the flagships from Samsung, HTC, Apple and others?

    Going Quad

    To answer those questions, I took a look at the Korean version of the G3 that LG provided toMashable. The phone isn't on sale in the U.S. just yet, so it wasn't equipped with a SIM card, and it had some weird quirks, such as loads of bloatware and an antenna for mobile digital TV. But the hardware — especially the display — is essentially what American customers will get.
    The screen is certainly fantastic. 
    The LG G3 has the best smartphone display I've seen: It's sharp, but it's also bright and has great color.
    The LG G3 has the best smartphone display I've seen: It's sharp, but it's also bright and has great color. The colors don't pop quite as much as on some of the better SuperAMOLED screens I've seen (such as on the just-announced Samsung Galaxy Tab S), but the sharpness is off the charts.
    Comparing the G3's display to the one on the HTC One M8 (my current favorite Android phone), I felt the LG's was just as sharp, and a few details — such as drop shadows in Evernote — stood out slightly more. And even though colors weren't as vivid as on the HTC, the G3 had more natural skin tones.
    Contrast was superb. Black text on white background — one of the most essential things a smartphone, or any display, needs to get right — really stood out. The ultra-sharp characters nearly jumped off the screen, and I couldn't discern individual pixels, no matter how close I put my eye to the screen.
    LG G3 vs. HTC One M8 vs. iPhone 5C

    While difficult to see in this photo, the 538 ppi LG G3 renders text slightly sharper than the 441 ppi HTC One M8, center, and the 326 ppi iPhone 5C, right. Contrast is also impressive. (Click to examine closer.)
    So the LG G3's Quad HD display is more than just hype. But only a bit. There's nothing wrong with the HTC One M8's screen — or the Samsung Galaxy S5's or the iPhone 5S's for that matter. They're still mighty sharp, and can display great images, just not quite as sharply or as impressively as the LG G3.

    Real smartphones have curves

    Although I really like the HTC One M8, one thing that bothers me about it is its bulk. At 5.64 ounces, it's definitely on the heavy side for a 5-inch phone. The 5.26-ounce LG G3 is only slightly lighter, but you're getting a lot more screen at 5.5 inches. Overall, its weight matches its size very nicely.
    Remember, though, this isn't actually LG's "phablet"; the G3 is the company's flagship smartphone. With it, LG has essentially leveled-up the size of mainstream phones, daring its competitors to follow along. The G3 is almost as big as the current Samsung Galaxy Note, and is actually 0.2 inches bigger than the first Note, which is considered the first real phablet.
    LG G3 design

    Credit to LG's designers: The G3 doesn't feel as big as it is. I didn't find it much harder to use than the 5-inch HTC One or 5.1-inch Samsung Galaxy S5. Then again, people with small hands might have more trouble, particularly if you like to operate your phone with one hand.
    The brushed exterior of the backside is gorgeous. It's also very stain- and fingerprint-resistant; after I used the phone for days, it still looked brand new. The curved back, definitely the norm for Android phones these days, feels elegant and welcoming to the hand.
    Like the G2, the G3 puts the power and volume buttons in the back, just below the camera. I'm not a fan of this design choice: It's hard to get used to, and since most people these days have more than one device, you'll probably need to consciously remind yourself where the buttons are every time you need them.
    Second, because of the buttons' close proximity to the camera, you'll inevitably swipe and push the lens now and then, which could be bad news for your photos if your hands are dirty.

    Fast focusing

    The 13-megapixel rear camera on the LG G3 is excellent. LG improved the focus time by introducing what it calls "laser autofocus," the same kind of optical radar tech that police use to catch speeders. The camera locks on extremely fast, even if you don't tap the screen, which I'd say gives it an edge over the Samsung Galaxy S5, which also has fast autofocus.
    LG also offers a "magic focus" mode that allows you to change the focus of a frame after you shoot it. It's pretty cool, but you need to engage the mode in advance, so it doesn't work on just any photo. Plus, you need to decide what you want to focus on right after you snap. Those limitations make the feature inferior to the innovative Duo Camera on the HTC One M8, which lets you do the same trick on any photo, anytime.
    I was also dismayed that the G3 offers no way to engage the camera from the lock screen. To me, this is a fundamental part of the smartphone experience these days. Fast autofocus is nice, but typically when you want a smartphone photo, you just want one. Being able to quick-draw is essential more often than not.
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      Outdoor, Perspective

      In bright sunlight, the LG G3 can capture impressive detail, such as the imperfections and textures of the many buildings in this shot.
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      Exposure Challenge

      The G3 did okay with this shot, which combines a bright background with branches in the shade, although some detail is lost in the leaves on the right.
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      'All in Focus'

      Taken in the camera's "magic focus" mode, which puts everything in focus, with decent -- if not perfect -- results (note some fuzzy edges in the plants in the foreground).
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      Slow Shutter

      It wasn't in direct sunlight, but the car here was moving a little too fast for the G3's shutter in this light.
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      Face Shot

      The G3 was very good at capturing natural skin tones without a flash.
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      Low Light

      The camera did well capturing good color even when lighting was substandard.
    • Photo quality was great, however, and the 13-megapixel photos look fantastic on the Quad HD display. The camera did a good job of bringing out details in low light, although shutter speed was sometimes an issue: Even photos of fast-moving objects (e.g. cars) taken in broad daylight looked a bit blurry.


      There's no fingerprint scanner on the LG G3; I suspect this is because it's waiting for the technology to advance enough so it can be integrated into the screen. Instead, LG provides a different, yet novel, way to unlock the phone: a knock code. Just tap the lock screen in a way that's known only to you, and it'll let you in.
      I honestly don't know if a knock code is inherently more or less secure than a PIN, but I'll say this: It doesn't really save you any time. Whether your fingers dance across a number pad or tap quadrants of the display, it's pretty much the same to me. But better to introduce a novelty than a fingerprint sensor that barely works, like Samsung did with the Galaxy S5.
      LG also provides a few other proprietary tricks, such as its Health app, which includes a step counter; this is something the Galaxy S5 also does, and Apple (sort of) does with its M7 coprocessor. It's not much to write home about, but it shows that the G3 will be capable of supporting the mobile-health platforms that everyone thinks we'll be using in the next few years.

      Pixel candy

      The LG G3 is a gorgeous phone. The design is outstanding, and the Quad HD display is impressive, even superior (albeit only slightly) to other supposedly ultra-sharp mobile screens. I'd go as far as saying that the G3 is the prettiest Android smartphone you can buy.
      As superficial as it sounds, those good looks count for a lot. A smartphone is one of the most personal products you own, and above all else, you want something you feel good about using. The LG G3 may not have all the conveniences of its competitors, but its good looks and brilliant screen add up to a mesmerizing package that you'll have trouble putting down.

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