Hands on: The first things you notice about the LG G3

Guys, I have a confession to make: As much of an Android geek as I am, specs alone just don't excite me anymore.

Truth be told, I've been that way for a while. It ties into something I call the "So what?" era of Android phones: Plain and simple, we've reached the point where advances in technology -- more pixels, more cores, more everything! -- often mean more for marketing than for the daily lives of real users. Benchmarks are fine, but I'm far more interested in overall user experience and what makes a phone stand out in the real world.

That's why I have so many questions about LG's upcoming new flagship, the LG G3. The G3 has tons of stuff that sounds impressive on paper, but I want to know how much it'll all matter in day-to-day life -- and what kind of user experience it'll add up to create.

LG G3 Hands On

The G3 won't be out in the U.S. for a while, but I'm in the midst of playing around with a Korean version of the phone. I'll be waiting to do a full review until I have a U.S.-specific model in hand; this version of the G3 has some significant differences in terms of both hardware and software -- it isn't even designed to run on U.S. mobile networks -- and so I want to reserve my review for a device I can fully use and that'll be the same as what we'll actually get here in the States.

That said, certain core parts of the G3 experience will be constant across the board -- so while we wait for the phone to land on our shores, I thought I'd share some broad initial impressions.

Without further ado, here are the first things I've noticed while using the LG G3:

1. The size

Most Android manufacturers seem to think bigger must mean better, and LG is no exception: The G3 packs a whopping 5.5-in. display -- the same size panel used on 2012's Samsung Galaxy Note II, which was considered a plus-sized (or "phablet," if you must) device at the time.

That said, LG's done some crafty engineering here, and the G3 manages to pack in that gigantic display without feeling too cumbersome or unmanageable. That's largely because of the phone's nearly bezel-free front -- the phone's face is taken up almost entirely by the screen -- and its curved back, which slopes downward at the edges and helps make the body seem less hefty.

[UPDATE: Just how big is the G3? Some visual perspective]

Don't kid yourself, though: The G3 is one seriously big boy. It's almost as long as the unusually tall HTC One (M8) and a decent bit wider, too. That makes it a little awkward to hold and use, which may be a turn-off for some folks, but as smartphones keep growing in size, slightly-too-large-for-comfort is becoming an increasingly familiar form for many of us. Though I personally tend to prefer a smaller smartphone for day-to-day use, I've been surprised with how easily I've adapted to the G3's size.

LG G3 vs HTC One M8

I'll share more detailed thoughts on the phone's form once I've had a chance to use it out and about in the world (without proper cellular connectivity, my experience with the device so far has largely been limited to the home and office).

2. The display

You've heard about the G3's 2560-x-1440 Quad HD display, right? Well, I'm happy to tell you that the screen looks absolutely stunning, and especially with the minimal bezels on the phone's face, it immediately jumps out at you and serves as a worthy focal point of the device.

That said, I'm still not entirely convinced that the super-high resolution makes any meaningful real-world difference compared to the 1080p panels on other high-end phones. It looks great, no doubt -- but in typical use, as I suspected might be the case, I haven't found that it strikes me as anything that's meaningfully beyond what I've seen on other great-looking (but non-Quad-HD) smartphone displays.

[UPDATE: Quad HD vs. 1080p: A real-world display comparison]

That doesn't take anything away from the fact that it's a fantastic screen. It just means the whole Quad HD element of it, while impressive from a technological standpoint, may not be as big of a deal in practical terms as LG wants us to think it is.

That's my initial impression, anyway. More thoughts and comparisons to come.

3. The design

LG has traded the glossy and smudgy plastic of its previous flagship for a far more attractive faux-metal (but still plastic) finish on the G3, and let me tell you: This new look is a major leap forward.

LG G3

The G3 may not match the premium nature of a real metal phone like HTC's One (M8), but it's an attractive and sleek-looking device that doesn't come across as gaudy or cheap. The phone still feels plastic, but as we've seen with the Moto X, plastic doesn't have to be bad if it's done well.

It's all about finding the proper balance between look and feel -- and with the G3, LG seems to have gotten it right.

4. The buttons

Yup, LG's sticking with the buttons on the back -- power and volume both, leaving nothing but smooth surfaces along the G3's sides.

The rear-button setup still takes a little getting used to, and I suspect it's still going to be a love-it-or-hate-it sort of thing, but LG has clearly refined its approach with this phone. Given the G3's size and the buttons' shape and placement -- factors that have evolved from the company's past rear-button attempts -- the unusual positioning actually feels rather natural this go-round (and it helps to maintain the device's ultra-sleek profile, too).

Oh yeah -- and speaking of buttons, LG's giving us the full set of standard on-screen Android buttons with the G3 (and even in the proper standard order -- imagine that!). Needless to say, that makes a huge difference in making the phone more natural and pleasant to use.

5. The software

Aaand speaking of being more natural and pleasant to use, LG has noticeably scaled things back with its take on the Android operating system on the G3. The user interface is flatter, less cartoony, and less visually overwhelming than LG's past efforts.

LG G3 Display

The G3's software still has its fair share of issues -- and LG still has a ways to go if it wants to catch up to the Android manufacturers that are really nailing it with top-notch software experiences -- but this device is definitely a step in the right direction.

(The details of that are something I'll save for my full review, once I've spent more time with the phone and am looking at the finalized software made specifically for the U.S. models.)

And beyond all of that, there's plenty more to explore on the G3 -- everything from software features to battery life, camera performance (how 'bout those lasers?), and most important, how it all comes together. For now, I'll say this: All in all, the G3 makes a good first impression, and I'm eager to get to know it inside and out.

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So stay tuned: My full LG G3 review is right around the corner, and I'll have more G3-related thoughts and comparisons to share with you in the time between now and then.

UPDATE: LG G3 deep-dive review: Third time's (almost) the charm

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