LG G3 (AT&T) review: a killer phone with a whole lot of pixels
Many of LG’s very best smartphones over the years have been easily forgettable, not visually stimulating, and overwhelmingly mundane. We’d also call them under appreciated, as many of them were firsts for the industry.
The Optimus 2X, for instance, won a Guinness World Record for being the first dual-core smartphone. The Optimus LTE, if my memory serves me correctly, was the first smartphone with a 720p display. The Optimus 3D was the very first glasses-free 3D smartphone. And so on.
LG has a ton of smartphone firsts under its belt and, surprisingly, the G3 isn’t one, unless you count the laser auto-focus. But we’d hardly count that as a groundbreaking or industry-changing feature.
Instead of racing to be first with a QHD display this time around, LG took much more care when creating the LG G3, and it’s evident from all aspects of the phone.
We already concluded back in June that the G3 is a fantastic smartphone – one of the best of the year so far. But now that it’s available through a U.S. provider, is it still worth a look? You’ll find our thoughts on the matter below!
LG G3 Review Video
Specs & Hardware
The G3’s QHD True HD IPS+ display is gorgeous. With 538 pixels per inch, the panel is unbelievably sharp – the absolute sharpest you will find on a smartphone today. However, the color accuracy and lower-than-normal brightness have been pain points for the display.
Out of the box, it does appear a bit washed-out; contrast seems comparatively low. However, it was discovered that this can be adjusted to your liking in the accessibility settings. (For the record, the color adjustment is incredibly sensitive. If any at all, we recommend tiny adjustments.)
Brightness, on the other hand, is an actual issue, as this panel does not get nearly as bright as competing smartphone displays. It shouldn’t be a major cause for concern for most, but it did make shooting photos in broad daylight more troublesome than usual.
Finding content for the display is … another story entirely. It will come eventually, but honestly, a QHD smartphone is ahead of its time and you won’t find many practical uses for the display, potentially ever, lest you count drooling over the sheer number of pixels. In that case, it’s totally practical.
As Michael noted quite succinctly, what you should actually be paying attention to on the G3 is everything else – the design of the phone, the camera, the engineering prowess of LG and how it managed to squeeze a 5.5-inch display in such a reasonably-sized device.
From the outside, there aren’t many differences between the South Korean model we first reviewed and this AT&T model: the Olleh/LTE-A branding just below the rear-mounted volume rocker has been swapped for the AT&T logo, and the LG logo to the right of the rear speaker has been replaced with a G3 emblem.
Other than that, the appearance of this model is effectively unaltered. We consider that a good thing. While we would have liked a more resilient finish on the back of the G3, its design is topnotch. The wing-like design, as Michael so aptly called it, aids in making the phone feel smaller than it actually is, and leaves it easier to grip (though it is still a tad slippery). The balance and weight distribution of the phone is damn near perfect, and you won’t find a better screen-to-bezel ratio on a phone right now – something worth noting on a device with a 5.5-inch display. The handset feels more like the Nexus 5 (with a 5-inch display) than the Oppo Find 7a, which has the same size display as the G3.
Most of the insides are the same, as well. It’s powered by the same SoC as most 2014 flagships: the Snapdragon 801 with a 2.5GHz quad-core Krait 400 CPU and Adreno 330 GPU. We were happy to learn the AT&T variant also comes with 32GB of inbuilt storage and 3GB RAM, not 2GB. Of course, it also has a microSD card slot for up to an additional 128GB of storage space, a removable 3,000mAh battery, 13-megapixel OIS camera, WiFi 802.11 ac, NFC, and Bluetooth LE.
Everything from the original LG G3 is still there … except one thing: Qi wireless charging. AT&T supports the PMA standard and Qi has been removed from this variant. If you want to charge your AT&T LG G3 wirelessly, you will need to purchase a QuickCircle Folio with PMA support from AT&T’s website for $60. And research tells us you cannot simply swap out the battery door to get Qi charging back. It’s gone, and that’s one thing we’re not exactly happy about.
On the flip side, save for wireless charging and proper band support for AT&T here in the States, there are no major hardware changes – that’s a very, very good thing.
Just as before, we’re super pleased with the G3’s hardware. Visually, it’s an attractive phone and it comes with all the best specifications. In hardware, from top to bottom, the LG G3 is about as good as it gets. And to no surprise, we feel it’d be just as great with a 1080p display. As gorgeous as QHD is on a phone (ALL THE PIXELS!), it should not be the sole reason you buy this model.
Just like before, this G3 comes running Android 4.4.2 beneath the LG UI.
Previously called the Optimus UI, software used to be the low point of the LG experience. The software was, first and foremost, overdone and hideous. Excessive animations stretched across all corners of the system, settings were a jumbled mess, and, like Samsung’s TouchWiz, it came packed with a ton of frivolous features.
The UI got a nice upgrade with the G Flex last year, receiving a Tron-esque neon appearance. This new iteration is an extension of that. It isn’t that LG just culled all those rarely-used features, but instead simplified things, toned-down some of the animations, and flattened a lot of the UI. Much like HTC’s Sense 6 UI, the new LG UI has various color themes for different parts of the interface.
Frankly, it’s a pleasure to use and look at, and best of all, LG puts those extra pixels and screen real estate to good use by allowing up to six folders (and the application drawer button) in the static dock on the home screen.
The settings application is still a little cumbersome, due to a combination of an overwhelming number of things to tweak and superfluous tabs. Like before, the application is divided into four categories: Network, Sound, Display, and General. Each tab has a horde of different things to tweak.
For instance, if you want to rearrange the soft navigation buttons or change the background color of the navigation bar, there’s a setting for that. You can change the system font type and size; and if there aren’t enough to choose from already, you can download some additional typefaces from LG’s content store. You can personalize the screen-off effect, animation style, and even the lock screen style. LG hasn’t really removed any features, but it’s made progress in making things easier to find and navigate – if only marginally.
Undoubtedly the worst part of the LG UI is the task switching menu. It loosely resembles the one found in Sense 6, but it’s far more cluttered and busy. And dismissing applications is done by swiping left or right, not up. It’s just odd and often quite slow to load.
Inside that menu, however, is a button which we’ve found ourselves using a good bit – Dual Window. It’s LG’s split-screen mode which allows users to run two applications simultaneously in the foreground. We like the direction and premise of Dual Window, but can’t help but feel it’s poorly optimized. Only a few system applications are compatible: Browser, Messaging, Email, Gallery, Chrome, YouTube, Maps, Hangouts, Gmail, File Manager, and AT&T Locker. Some third-party support would be nice and make Dual Window useful for things beyond simply web browsing while letting a YouTube video play in the background.
Of course, this being the AT&T model, carrier bloat is present. AT&T is unapologetic about the amount of bloat it pre-installs on phones, and the G3 is no exception. After the initial setup, I counted at least 22 non-standard applications pre-installed. And, no, these applications cannot be uninstalled. Long-pressing and dragging an icon to the designated Remove area up top only disables the application, though it isn’t exactly clear about what it’s doing. Don’t be fooled, these applications are still on the phone and taking up space.
AT&T, for whatever reason, also chose to remove the persistent sliders for brightness and volume in the notification shade. Unlike on the South Korean edition, those sliders are not available at all times. We’ve intermittently seen the volume slider appear in the shade during things like watching videos or on a phone call, but you’re otherwise left to adjust sounds and brightness through the quick setting toggles in the notification shade. This helps reduce the clutter up there, but also makes accessing brightness and sound settings more cumbersome – especially considering where the volume buttons are located.
Fortunately, everything else is still intact.
The LG UI is finally a solid balance of simplicity and user-customizability. Things like the customizable navigation buttons and Knock Code give it just enough personality to separate it from the rest, and somehow LG manages to pack a ton of options and features into its software without bogging anything down or making the UI difficult to navigate and tweak.
Most of Michael’s sentiments on the South Korean G3’s camera abilities hold true for this AT&T edition. The viewfinder software is barebones. By default, there is no soft shutter key; simply tap to focus and shoot. This is meant to show off the speed and accuracy of the laser auto-focus, which we can attest to being very accurate and fast. Tapping the settings button in the upper left corner reveals all the settings, a shutter key, and video recording button.
Still, the available functions and features have been heavily reduced to just four shooting modes: auto, Magic Focus (a software refocusing feature), panorama, and dual shot. Even the most intricate settings are limited to shooting resolution, voice shutter, self-timer, HDR, and a grid.
The still-shot quality of the G3’s camera isn’t exactly the best we’ve seen. In even the most ideal shooting scenarios, the camera is hit or miss – more often erring on the side of miss. It’s extremely quick to overexpose and, like before, it likes to add an extra dose of saturation to images, which is par for the course in smartphone imagery these days. And despite OIS, low-light imagery is not all that great. It’s often dark, filled with noise, and fuzzy – not what we would have expected out of a camera with hardware stabilization.
The amount of detail does allow for some room to crop in post, and the HDR mode did well at bringing out some detail in darker parts of a shot, though in our use we noticed the typical HDR halo effect quite often. We’re not totally enamored by the G3’s imaging prowess, but we don’t hate it either. It resides exactly between Amazeballs and Kill it with fire!
Unlike with low light stills, OIS does aid in keeping videos smooth, though we noticed some stutters in quick pans. However, colors were more true to life than with stills, and the camera wasn’t quite as prone to overexposing. Focus lock-on was quick, auto-exposure adjustment was also snappy, and the audio quality was right down the middle of the road – tinny and a little distorted, but not horrible.
Of late, some OEMs have opted for higher-resolution front cameras, and it’s unfortunate LG passed on that idea with the G3, especially considering how the rest of the phone is fitted with all the best-spec hardware available. Still, the front-facing camera, at 2.1 megapixels, gets the job done decently well. It, too, was quick to overexpose, but it’s sufficient enough for the standard derp-faced selfie or video call.
The Snapdragon 801 manages to keep the G3 purring along smoothly, despite the 1440p display. Of course, pushing so many pixels does affect the peak performance. Synthetic benchmark scores reflect just that. The G3 didn’t provide the highest scores we’ve seen in 3D Mark, Geekbench 3, or SunSpider.
However, day to day performance has been great. We haven’t experienced any serious slowdowns or notable instances of lag (that is, if you don’t count the hesitation when opening the task switching menu, but we chalk that up to that particular page being so excessive). Opening applications, scrolling, pinch-zooming, and gaming are all as smooth and quick as you could hope for.
Speaking of gaming, the G3 had no issues loading up and playing intense games like the new Modern Combat 5, though it did tend to get rather warm after a few minutes of gameplay. And through that gameplay, the battery life would drop very quickly.
On the topic of battery life, the G3’s stamina is quite good. We were easily able to last an entire day on a single charge. Syncing countless social accounts, three Gmail accounts, and reddit, being glued to heavy gaming, web browsing, and YouTube videos, and exchanging some messages with friends, we managed to last upwards of 15 hours with approximately four hours of screen-on time.
At the time of this writing, on a day of moderate usage, the phone has been unplugged for seven hours and seven minutes with one hour and 23 minutes of screen-on time, and it has 71 percent charge remaining. The estimated time left is 17 hours and four minutes.
We found these estimates to be a little optimistic, but as long as you keep the brightness down and don’t go crazy with gaming, you should have no trouble lasting most of the estimated time remaining.
Last time, we omitted call quality and network performance due to the device being optimized for the South Korean market. We’re happy to report call quality has been impressive. The earpiece speaker is plenty loud with a crisp, sharp sound. We had no trouble hearing callers, even in noisy areas, and callers reported no trouble hearing us either. The speakerphone, despite being powered by a 1W speaker with a dedicated amp, is also quite loud. That said, it isn’t a noteworthy feature of the phone. It’s rear-firing and actually quite tinny. If the phone is facing away from you, it has some kick to it, but you’ll need to use the ol’ cup-your-hand trick to bring that sound around front.
Network speeds have been awesome. Even in a weak HSPA+ coverage area, we mustered speeds upwards of 5Mbps down and 1Mbps up. Peak downlink speeds were over 40Mbps and our peak uplink speed was over 16Mbps.
+ Solid, top-notch hardware
+ Quality design and minimal bezel
+ Insanely high-resolution display
+ Clean, useful software
– AT&T bloat is excessive
– Camera offers only average low-light performance
– Does not support Qi like other G3 models
Pricing and Availability
The LG G3 is currently available through AT&T for $199.99 with a two-year agreement, $579.99 sans contract, or or $24.17 per month with AT&T Next. It comes in two color options: Silk White and Metallic Black.
In all, AT&T’s version of the LG G3 is just as great as the original. AT&T did make some changes along the way – most of which we’re not happy about. Dropping Qi for PMA was uncalled for, and removing the sliders for brightness and sound in the notification shade makes no sense.
Still, all the core features and highlights of this phone are present: the display is simply fantastic, despite claims of low brightness and low saturation and contrast; the battery life is impressive; all the specifications are top-notch; and LG’s software is, dare I say, a pleasure to use.
So is it worth it? Totally. If you’re after the best phone money can buy, the LG G3 should be among your top picks on AT&T’s network. Its price is hard to argue with, and you’re going to get one of the most well-rounded experiences in any of the phones on the market today.