Not every smartphone has to be over the top to be great. Motorola and Nokia both taught us that valuable (and wallet-friendly) lesson last year. The Moto G and Lumia 520 are two of the most memorable smartphones of 2013, despite coming with modest specifications and selling for a small fraction of the going price for comparable entry-level smartphones. In light of such competitively priced models, those other, more expensive entry-level devices were quickly forgotten.
That said, LG is no stranger to the entry-level market. The question is, can the South Korean handset maker still compete in the mid-range space with any level of legitimacy? Can LG take from the likes of its competitors’ budget-friendly smartphones? And is LG’s entry-level Lucid 3 on Verizon Wireless a strong option worth your hard-earned cash?
We’ve spent seven days tinkering with the Lucid 3, putting it through some rigorous testing. Here are our thoughts.
Specs & Hardware
The hardware of the LG Lucid 3 is about as unexciting as it gets these days. The design is easily forgettable and strikes us one we’ve seen in dozens of low-end and mid-range devices dozens of times now.
Like the G2 from LG, its backside is made entirely of a patterned plastic, which wraps around the edges and butts up against silver plastic trim. The front is fitted with two capacitive navigation buttons – Back and Menu – on either side of the physical Home button, which just so happens to double as a notification LED, like on the larger, high-end LG G Pro.
Despite how much we like the idea of the notification LED and home button combination, we actually don’t enjoy the physical button here. There is very little tactile feedback and very little travel. More often than not, we would press on the button and stare as we waited to be taken to the Home screen, only to realize we hadn’t fully depressed the button.
None of this is to say the phone isn’t built well. It may not be constructed of prime materials, but the hardware is tight – there is no noticeable squeaking when gripping the phone. And it feels relatively substantial (albeit somewhat slimy and slick) for its size. It weighs 123.9g and it measures 131.6mm tall, 66mm wide, and 9.9mm thick. By comparison, that makes it thinner and lighter than the Moto X and Moto G.
To be concise, from the outside, this phone is nothing special. It isn’t meant to be, and if you’re worried about some minor detail like this, the Lucid 3 likely isn’t the phone for you.
On the inside, this phone is really no more impressive than its predecessor – the only notable upgrade being the CPU – going from a 1.2GHz dual-core Krait CPU to an undisclosed quad-core CPU with the same clock speed. It comes with just 1GB RAM, 8GB fixed storage with a microSD card slot for up to 64GB extra, a 2,440mAh removable battery, and a 5-megapixel rear camera.
Admittedly, the display is the worst feature of this phone. It would be fitting on a mid-ranger from 2012, but it’s definitely out of place on any phone from 2014. Diagonally, it measures 4.7 inches and bears an underwhelming qHD (quarter-HD) resolution of 960 by 540 pixels.
By itself, the colors seem fairly vibrant, but beside a display like the S-LCD3 panel on the One M8, the Lucid 3’s display appears faded. Contrast is passable, but the black levels are milky – not inky like we prefer – and viewing angles are just okay. Pixelation is visible on text, the corners of icons, and in saturated colors.
The display won’t blow anyone way, but it will do the job just fine for those whom this phone is targeting. It just seems out of place in 2014. Frankly, that also sums up how we feel about the rest of the hardware on the Lucid 3. It’s not horrible, but it could be better and would certainly be more fitting a year or two ago, before the standards – even for low-end and budget phones – were significantly raised.
The Lucid 3’s software is, at the very least, a redeeming factor.
It ships with Android 4.4.2 (KitKat) beneath LG’s typical, heavily customized UI, which means you’re going to see the sliding bar of quick settings toggles in the notification shade, a customized Settings application, and things like one-handed operation and gesture controls. You’ll also see LG’s small selection of themes, the ability to change fonts, and LG’s icons, folders, widgets, and lock screen.
The software is, for the most part, the same as what you will find on LG’s flagship models, such as the G2. QSlide applications – or free-floating mini apps for calculator, the dialer, videos, calendar, email, messaging, notes, and a file manager – are present, as is Guest Mode and the KnockOn feature, with custom pattern knock sequences.
What you won’t find on the Lucid 3 are what we’ll call the G2’s “special” features, such as Slide Aside, Remote Control (due to the lack of IR), Text Link, Audio Zoom, Clip Tray, or Capture Plus. Basically, it’s like a “lite” version of LG’s skin, which is understandable considering the specs, capabilities, and target demographic of this phone.
Of course, it also comes with an EasyHome mode, which puts the dialer, contacts, Chrome, and other important applications front and center in an impossibly easy-to-use manner.
As expected, Verizon also has a say in what software comes preinstalled on the phone. Out of the box, you will see some Amazon apps as well as a handful of Verizon apps: Appstore, Audible, IMDb, Kindle, Amazon, Amazon MP3, Caller Name ID, Cloud, Games, Isis Wallet, Mobile Hotspot, My Verizon Mobile, NFL Mobile, Setup Wizard, Accessories, VZ Protect, Voice Mail, VZ Navigator, and Verizon Tones. That’s a total of 19 non-LG and non-Google applications preloaded on a device that ships with just 8GB of internal storage, which could be a problem for some. We were met with an insufficient storage popup during our initial setup process.
In all, you get nearly the full effect of LG’s software on the Lucid 3 without over-encumbering the entry-level phone, which we suppose can be counted as a win. And the fact that it ships with KitKat is a nice touch to boot.
The camera on the Lucid 3 is not the mid-ranger’s strong suit. It’s fitted with a 5-megapixel camera which we wouldn’t recommend to anyone who wants to take photos for anything other than for the occasional Facebook or Instagram.
The interface itself is straightforward and uncluttered. It comes with six shooting modes: Normal, HDR, Panorama, Continuous (burst) shot, Time Catch Shot, and Sports. And the other settings are fairly basic. You can manually adjust exposure, change the output resolution, adjust ISO, toggle volume key shutter, tweak white balance, and set one of three color modes. There’s a shot timer, the ability to trigger a shutter with the word “cheese,” and our favorite, manual focus.
Pictures, by default, are set to capture at 3 megapixels to get the 16:9 aspect ratio. You can set it to 5 megapixels, but you will capture images at 4:3.
The resulting images are … disappointing, unfortunately. The color reproduction is fairly accurate, and there are no issues with white balance or contrast, but the detail simply isn’t there. Every picture we’ve taken has a soft focus and lacks any serious detail; indoor photos look more like oil paintings; and even bright, outdoor shots come littered with noise and artifacts.
The camera will suffice for occasional stills, but if what you’re after is a decent photography experience, this phone probably isn’t the best option.
Video capture was slightly more impressive, albeit very jittery and seemingly not stabilized at all. The contrast was a bit low and details are scarce, but the colors are just as vibrant. There was some noticeable stuttering in quick pans, as well as some latency in adjusting for exposure. There was also no ability to adjust focus on the fly in video capture mode. The audio, however, was decent.
Oh, and the front-facing camera? It’s a VGA camera, which means images will come at a staggering resolution of 640 by 480 pixels. We suggest managing your expectations for this front shooter.
Day-to-day tasks, such as web and social browsing, snapping photos, messaging, and emailing are no trouble for the 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, but we didn’t have to try too hard to conjure noticeable lag, stutters, and other performance hiccups.
Sometimes the app drawer would take a few seconds to load; the phone would hesitate before returning home at times; and thanks to the lower-than-usual RAM, task switching would often result in most recent applications having to reload entirely.
We’re glad the Lucid 3 comes with KitKat on board, however, since Project Svelte has lowered Android’s minimum system requirements. But we have a feeling LG’s custom skin (or possibly the mystery CPU model) is the culprit for some of the performance problems. We also have to consider that this phone was not built for hardcore power users, but it’s instead geared more towards basic users and first-time smartphone buyers who have few needs.
Gaming isn’t so bad on the Lucid 3 either, likely due to the qHD display. We were able to play Asphalt 8 without a hitch, though the much lighter game Roid Rage caused several framerate drops which made gameplay difficult, if not impossible. We suggest sticking to lighter, more casual games with this particular handset.
The theme of this review continues into the call quality discussion. While the earpiece speaker on the Lucid 3 was plenty loud, providing enough volume to hear callers just fine in a noisy coffee shop (coffee grinders, conversations, and music as a helpful background noise metric), we were told on several occasions that we sounded muddy and choppy, and also that the end of some of our words were being cut off.
Data speeds, on the other hand, were quite impressive. The average downlink speed in the Charlotte metro area was 11.7Mbps while the average uplink was 7.5Mbps. Our recorded data speeds peaked at 24Mbps down and 17.70Mbps up.
Thanks to the modest clock speed of the CPU and resolution of the display, stamina on the Lucid 3 was actually not all that bad. Through heavier days, we still managed to last on a single charge with no problem. Through particularly heavy spurts of usage, we could see visible dips in battery percentage, but we never had to plug the phone in to last well into the evening or night. Standby time was also impressive. The 2,440mAh battery is also removable, and if you have trouble lasting into the later hours of the night, LG has included a fairly simple Power Saver mode, which kicks in at 30% remaining.
+ Above average battery life
+ Affordable both on- or off-contract
+ Built reasonably well
+ Comes running the latest version of Android KitKat
– Poor camera experience, especially indoor
– Inconsistent performance, sporadic load times
– Subpar call quality
– Poor, low-res display
Pricing and Availability
The LG Lucid 3 launched on Verizon Wireless in April. It’s currently free with a two-year agreement, $12.49 per month for 24 months through Verizon EDGE, or $299 no-contract.
After one week with the Lucid 3, we’re still scratching our heads wondering why this phone exists.
Okay, we know why it exists: LG wanted a more affordable offering on Verizon, and what better way to do that than through its existing Lucid brand?
The thing is, the Lucid 3 is straight out of 2012 on almost all fronts – CPU, display, RAM, camera, software, pricing, etc. It’s not that the Lucid 3 is a bad phone. Rather, with devices like the Moto G and Lumia 520 available, it’s difficult for us to recommend a more expensive smartphone with worse build quality, specifications, and performance.
Is the Lucid 3 a fair option for returning basic smartphone users or first-time smartphone buyers? Sure, most will likely be happy with it, especially for no money down with a two-year agreement. We simply feel like there are far better options available, like the Moto X on Verzion, which is also free on-contract, or the G2, which is just $50 with a two-year agreement.