LG G3: One of the Best Smartphones Just Got Better - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

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LG G3: One of the Best Smartphones Just Got Better

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LG G3 Lock Screen, Smart Notice, Rear Key LG G3 Lock Screen, Smart Notice, Rear Key
Blade II, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, all sequels that were as good as the first and some even argue that they were better. That's a rare feat to pull off in any endeavor, especially in mobile tech where we often see incremental changes that leave a lot to be desired. LG just launched their follow up to the popular G2, the LG G3 and there's no denying that this sequel is definitely better than the first!



LG G3 Overview

LG got a lot right with the G2 but there were still some things that were off the mark. Clearly the software overlay they were using was “heavily inspired” by what Samsung has done with Touchwiz but on steroids. Except for a couple items like multi-window and Quick Remote, their operating system enhancements were way over the top with huge icons and cartoon-like colors. While I wasn't bothered too terribly by it, the whole ordeal made the phone feel unrefined. It felt like a “My First…” Play-Skool toy. Then there was the fixed battery and no expandable memory option. The device had great battery life but if you're a heavy user, that's of little consolation when you're running on fumes and have to find the nearest outlet instead of just popping in a fresh battery. With the G3, LG clearly listened to it customers and put out a phone with a very refined user interface, a removable battery and expandable memory. That doesn't come without some trade-offs though! More on that later.


One of the features that LG is pushing the hardest in its advertising for this phone is the gorgeous screen. It is a 5.5” QHD monster with very little bezel and it is stunning! For the #'s folks out there, Quad HD 2560x1440 at 538 pixels per inch which ups the ante on its nearest competitor the Samsung Galaxy S5 which comes in at standard HD 1920x1080 at 432 pixels per inch. is Now, how stunning this QHD display is to you depends on what you're going to be upgrading from. There have already been phones on the market with full HD screens (1920x1080) and the difference between them and LG's panel is hard to tell as the eye can only see so many pixels (or the lack thereof) but if you're coming from an older phone that was 720p HD or lower, your eyes are in for a treat.



LG G3 Hardware, Fit & Finish

Love it, or hate it. That was pretty much the response by many consumers to the placement of the power button and volume rockers on the rear of the phone when LG released the G2 last year. For me, it was love at first use. When I'd first heard about the design I was decidedly skeptical but in real world use, I thought they knocked it out the park! For the G3 you get pretty much the same design although on the AT&T demo unit I had, the buttons were more recessed than on the G2 I'd previously tested. The good news is that refining the design doesn't take away from accessibility for me. The volume rocker is textured so you can feel it right away and the power button is smooth and rounded so you know when you're hitting that as opposed to the up or down volume buttons. The bad news is that for those of you with very petite hands, it could be a bit of a stretch to get to the controls. For testing purposes, I let my children (18 & 15) test it out. Both have hands smaller than mine and had no trouble getting to the controls without adjusting their grip. Speaking of adjusting one's grip to get to what's on the back, because of what's on the back you'll want to make sure you have a good grip on the phone. It's slick! The removable back cover sports a slippery to the touch, brushed aluminum look but unlike the G2 which had a reassuring heft, the G3 is a plastic affair. Don't get me wrong, the build quality feels top notch but as a matter of personal preference, I tend to like weighter devices like the HTC One M8 or my current daily driver the Note 3. That said, it is very much not a deal breaker as the tradeoff from the G2 is that you now have a removable back cover atop a user replaceable 3000mAh battery and microSD slot with a capacity up to 2TB. You will also find the SIM card under the microSD tray as well. The 1 watt speaker is also in the rear of the phone and is rather loud, thanks to the 1.5 watt boost amp feature. It's not quite what the marketing material purport but then, like I tell my kids, they're trying to sell you something. The sound is clear with no distortion, but they say that boost amp feature produces “deep bass.” Ummm, no. The sound the phone produces is quite full enough considering the size of the speaker, making listening to Tribe Called Quest, Zap Mama and some De La Soul at my desk a pleasant experience. I  will say that the mids and lows, though not “felt” are still present in the tracks which is what makes the audio sound fairly robust for its size and things really get bright when you play music genres with elements that tend to be on teh brighter side of the audio spectrum like EDM and classical music.


I'm still in love with the minimalist design aesthetic that having those buttons on the rear affords this line of devices! The bezels and edges are clean with no buttons or rockers, the bottom edge of the phone is where you'll find the USB charge port and the headphone jack. The top of the phone is where you'll find the second microphone and the IR port. One note on the IR port: it's small. Real small. In my own testing, with about a half dozen Samsung TVs at the office and my own Toshiba HDTV at home, you had to be pointing that thing dead on, straight at the IR port on the TV or the “clicks” wouldn't register. I haven't had that issue with the Note 3 or the M8. With those devices you could point in the general direction of the TV you're trying to control (in some cases you could even be pointing at the ceiling) and they worked just fine. I know it seems like a small thing, but I have three children and from time to time, remotes get “misplaced” and having a phone that can double as a very capable universal remote becomes a joy- while I have the kids stop down everything going on in their lives at that moment until they locate my doggone remote!!



LG G3: It Has “Frickin' Lasers”

The other selling point from LG is the uber, laser-guided camera. That's right, it has frickin' lasers. LG built in a 13 megapixel with optical image stabilization (the good kind of stabilization), laser autofocus, LED flash and a couple ways to shoot images: with on-screen controls visible, you tap the camera icon, with on-screen controls turned off by tapping the three dots in the upper-right hand corner of the screen, you can just tap the area of the picture you want to focus on and it will focus and take the picture. Back to that laser though. What you're actually getting is an infrared laser rangefinder which helps the camera determine distance and based on the info it gathers, focus more quickly. According to information I've read on the subject, the benefit you get from this rangefinder is greatest indoors in low-light conditions at close distances to the thing you're taking a picture of; somewhere around two feet from the subject. To put it in the simplest terms possible: there's a module on the back of the phone which throws out an eye friendly laser and when the light from that laser reflects off objects and bounces back at the phone, the module reads the distance and the camera focuses accordingly. The problem though is that in my experience I haven't found that the laser auto-focus (LaserAF) makes a perceptible difference with images of fast moving subjects or low light indoors pictures. They come out about the same as the images I take with the Note 3. Now the phone has just been released so it could be that the technology will improve, thus improving the images, as software updates are released and the algorithm that helps in that whole bouncing laser process is improved. I will say this though, this is one of the best smartphone cameras I've used. It takes incredible pictures of moving objects with very few blurry images captured with the camera on automatic settings. Being a dad, I've taken (or attempted to) plenty of pictures of my children at their sporting events and for the most part find that out of a dozen or so photos there will be a few that were blurry. This is across many mobile products I've reviewed but I have to say that I've been consistently impressed with the G3's ability to capture action photos.


What doesn't need improvement is a pretty awesome front-facing camera! It's a 2.1 megapixel camera but what makes it pretty awesome is the software. LG uses the screen itself as a fill light to soften up your selfies so that the images are as beautiful as you'd like them to be. You'll see this when you open up the camera and switch to the front camera (you can do that by touching the camera icon with the arrows around it, or by swiping to the side), you're greeted by this bright, puce colored screen that surrounds your image in the camera. It takes really nice images but that isn't the best feature of the front facing camera software. It also allows you to minimize those blurry selfies by keeping you from having to hit the button on the camera by using a gesture to fire off the shot. You just hold your hand up in front of the camera and, once it recognizes it, you make a fist. The software then gives you a three second countdown and voila! Selfie!!



More On The Software

As I stated previously, LG really did a number when it came to upping the ante on the previous generation G2. Matter of fact, I wouldn't even say they upped the ante because they took their chips and moved to a completely different table where the user interface is concerned. The design elements on the G3 don't seem as juvenile as the G2's were and from the mundane to the critically important most of the software improvements seem well thought out.


Knock On was a feature that many people seemed to like and LG has taken it further with the G3 in the form of Knock Code which allows you to tap the screen of your sleeping device, using a 3 to 8 point pattern, anywhere on the display. You can go into the phone's “Lock Screen” menu and configure it so that knocking on any of four different quadrants of the screen from three to eight times wakes the device and takes you right to the home screen. LG says that the feature provides for around 86k different knock unlock combinations. Having set up the feature on my demo phone and used it exclusively, I can say that it works well and is consistent. Knock On, which only allowed you to tap on the center of the screen was good but finicky. Definitely an improvement here with Knock On. For those of you who have photos and videos on your device that you don't necessarily want the world (or anyone you allow to check out your phone) to see, LG has also included something new, Content Lock. Set a PIN or Pattern lock and you can choose where to “Lock” content so that it can only be seen by you. You go into the Gallery app and you'll have the option to see all of your photos or your locked photos. If you choose “locked photos” you'll then be greeted by the lock screen you chose, PIN or Pattern and then you're good to go. I'm a big fan of not having any media on your phone that you would consider “compromising” but I can understand how some people might have need for a feature like this. The only downside is that you can only lock one piece of media at a time.


Smart Notice is LG's Google Now-like contextual information service. The good news is that, unlike Samsung, LG has kept quick access to Google Now from the Home soft button a part of their interface and added their own contextual info to another area of the phone. Smart Notice places cards on your home screen as the phone learns your use habits, among other things. With this contextual service, you'll get emergency weather notifications, battery notifications that ask if you want to switch to battery saver if you're running low on juice, call back reminders and suggestions for making your device run faster after you've had it for a while. It looks nice enough and the information is presented in a novel way that I haven't found to be a nuisance. If I had this phone for a longer period of time, I could see keeping it active and not wanting to scratch my eyes out every time a notification popped up.


One feature that will be interesting to see how much of a difference it makes for the everyday user is Smart Cleaning. So many of us download an app, only to use it once or twice and never again. Well, that app and its associated files are then taking up unnecessary space on your phone and that's where Smart Cleaning comes in. From time to time you'll get a notification of apps that you haven't used in a while and be asked if you want to uninstall those apps and clean up any residual files. Anyone who has owned an Android phone or laptop (heck, just about any computing device) knows that after a while things get a little slow. LG hopes that Smart Cleaning will help the average user keep their device nice and peppy. I haven't had the phone long enough to really test that so I can't really speak to the feature's effectiveness but those geeky enough to know about reimaging their computers or wiping their phones and restoring them back to factory know that getting those old files and apps off your device definitely improves performance.



Everyone's A Fitness Fanatic

You would think that everyone's a fitness fanatic these days with all the talk of wearables and companion apps. Google getting into the fitness/health tracking game, Apple reportedly bringing a service to market, Samsung's inclusion of a heart rate monitor on the S5, and now LG's G3 has LG Health. It should be noted that the manufacturer does in fact have fitness wearables in the form of a fitness wristband, the Lifeband Touch, and pulse sensing Heartrate Earphones but nearest I can tell, they don't work with the LG Health app which means you're going to be entering everything manually. They do work with the LG Fitness app though, so there's that. I'd like to be able to see the ability to add the meals you eat to the app so that you get a more accurate picture of your actual exercise efficacy but for now you'll have to settle with being able to track your runs, walk, cycling, hiking via GPS and Google Maps. The LG Health app records these as “Tracks.” If you're out casually exercising, this is definitely better than nothing and will give you a good idea of how far you're moving and an estimate of calories burned based on the profile information you enter into the phone (age, weight and height).




LG G3 Wrap Up

Overall, this phone is one of the best out this year. So far. That said, it isn't without some issues like battery life. The trade-off for that Quad HD screen is a hit to the battery life but I have to say that in my use this wasn't a major issue as I was able to get through the day on a charge. The screen is so bright that I generally kept it around 50% so your mileage may vary if you like it brighter. Also, if you're not the type to want to use the LG Health app you'll have to go into the settings menu and turn it off because the only way to get to it is if it is integrated into your home screens. If you're looking for a device to upgrade to, this phone should definitely be at the top of your list!



Full disclosure: AT&T provided me with this review unit for the purpose of this article.


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