If Samsung represents one extreme in the move to add new bells and whistles to smartphones, LG seems to be aiming for the other end of the spectrum.
In its Galaxy S line of phones, Samsung has taken the kitchen-sink approach each year by adding a host of new features, from new ways to shoot photos to new hardware elements like pulse monitors.
But too often, the add-ons have been either poorly conceived or partly developed.
LG takes the opposite approach. With its new flagship smartphone, the G3, the company focuses on only a handful of new features, most of which are subtle improvements rather than flashy advances.
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I like the idea, but I think LG may have carried things too far. The G3 is a good phone, but it’s not exciting.
Like many other Android flagship phones these days, the G3 touts a jumbo-sized screen, a long-lived battery and a fast quad-core processor.
But unlike those phones, the G3’s interface is relatively unmodified from standard Android. And its tweaks — like its three-page home screen that flips like pages in a book — are fairly subtle.
LG has sought to distinguish the G3 not through its interface or the size of its screen but through the resolution of its display. It’s one of the first phones to have more than 500 pixels per inch.
By contrast, Apple’s iPhones, which tout a “Retina” display, have a resolution of about 326 pixels per inch, while the HTC One has a resolution of 440 pixels. LG calls the G3’s 538 pixel resolution “Quad HD,” noting that it has about four times the number of pixels as a 720p HD display.
The screen is certainly beautiful and vibrant. But the difference in pixel resolution is subtle at best, even if you are comparing the G3 with the iPhone 5S. And it’s likely to be imperceptible if you are comparing it with an ultrahigh resolution Android phone like the HTC One.
The other key feature LG touts is the laser-based autofocus system for its camera.
The company says the system, more commonly found in high-end DSLR cameras, is a first for a smartphone. It is supposed to focus much faster than a typical smartphone and perform better in lowlight situations.
In my tests, I found the speed improvement marginal at best. In most cases, the time it took for my iPhone to focus and shoot wasn’t noticeably longer than the time it took the G3.
The G3’s camera did do a better job at quickly shifting focus from an object in the distance to one extremely close up. But that’s not a situation I experience frequently.
That said, the G3’s 13-megapixel camera is very good for a smartphone. The pictures it took were generally clear and sharp, even when I zoomed close in to examine particular details.
The other big feature that LG promotes about the G3 is its design. The company worked to make the G3 easy to use with one hand, despite its 5.5-inch screen.
It has a slightly rounded back to contour to a user’s hand, and its only physical buttons — which turn on the device and adjust its volume — are on the back, where they can be pressed with a finger of the hand holding it.
But even here, the G3 doesn’t really stand out. It looks a lot like the HTC One. The plastic-bodied G3 is lighter than the One, which has a metal case, but the difference isn’t huge.
The G3 does have some other new, though modest, features. One is an on-screen keyboard that suggests words as users type. To select a word, which is displayed in a box immediately above the keyboard, a user just swipes up.
I found the keyboard, similar to one that will be included in the new version of Apple’s iOS operating system, a bit difficult to work with. I had to swipe in the exact right place to select the word I wanted. If I didn’t, the keyboard would register that I hit a key and display the corresponding letter instead.
One other new feature is the ability to take photos with the front camera by making a gesture, rather than by touching a button.
If you wave your hand in front of the camera and then make a fist, it will start a countdown to take a picture. It’s a neat idea for taking better selfies, but the CamMe app will let you do the same thing on the iPhone.
The G3 is a nice phone and worth consideration if you are looking at the Galaxy S5 or the HTC One. Just don’t expect to be wowed by it.