LG G3 deep-dive review: A phone with great specs, but real-world issues

The LG G3 Android phone has some impressive qualities -- but when you use it, you discover some interesting surprises.

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The software

The G3 runs custom LG software based on Google's Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system. LG has not yet made any promises as to if or when it'll upgrade the phone to this fall's upcoming Android "L" release. Given how significant of an upgrade that release is expected to be and how poor of a track record LG has when it comes to upgrade delivery, that's certainly something to keep in mind.

LG G3
The LG G3's software is an improvement from the past, but it still packs too many overlapping elements into the device.

Visually speaking, the G3's software is a definite improvement from what LG has created in the past, with a flatter and more subdued design. It's more palatable than Samsung's take on Android but significantly less user-friendly than Google's stock configuration or HTC's Sense UI.

The real problem with the G3's software is that LG just tries to do way too much. Features and options are great when they exist for a reason. But there's a limit -- when you pack too many overlapping and unnecessary elements into a device, it starts to hurt the user experience (not to mention the system's performance, as I alluded to earlier).

Case in point: The G3 has three -- yes, three -- built-in methods of multitasking: You can press the on-screen Recent Apps key to jump to any recently opened app (and within that screen, you can choose from three different methods of viewing the icons); you can use LG's Dual Window mode to open a limited selection of apps in split windows on the screen; or you can use LG's QSlide feature to open a limited selection of apps in movable windows on top of other content.

The phone's notification panel, meanwhile, is cluttered up with half a screen's worth of links, sliders and settings -- including two near-identical wrench icons that take you to different places.

And instead of just opening Android's excellent Google Now intelligent assistant, as it does on most phones, swiping up from the G3's Home button presents you with three choices: Voice Mate, an embarrassingly inferior replica of Android's native Voice Search functionality (which is also present on the device); QuickMemo+ (a note-taking app); and Google Now.

LG G3
Instead of just offering Google Now, the LG G3 gives you three "swipe-up" choices.

LG is even trying to create its own version of Google Now with something it calls Smart Notice. The system promises to act as a personal assistant and deliver contextual cards to your home screen. In my time with the phone, it's provided tips about using the phone, info about the day's weather and notices about missed calls. LG says it can also provide info like birthday notifications and memo reminders. Why anyone would need that when the vastly superior Google Now is also on the system is beyond me.

All in all, it's just a bloated and overwhelming mess. The good news is that if you're reasonably tech-savvy and willing to take the time to dig through the phone's labyrinth of options, you can disable enough of the redundant elements and bad design decisions to make the phone pleasant to use. But the vast majority of consumers aren't going to do that -- and out of the box, the G3's software just doesn't provide a great user experience.

To its credit, LG has added a few legitimately useful touches to the OS. Like on past LG devices, you can double-tap the screen to turn it on or off (and unlike on past devices, that gesture now works consistently well). The G3 also has a new security option called Knock Code, which is a specific pattern you can set and then input anywhere on the display while the screen is off to unlock the device.

Another handy shortcut is the ability to long-press the phone's volume-down button to quickly launch the camera or -- slightly less useful -- to long-press the volume-up button to launch LG's note-taking app. (You can disable those shortcuts if you want but can't remap them to other apps.)

The G3 also has a limited-use guest mode in which you can create a separate environment where only certain apps (and no settings) can be accessed. It's a bit confusing to configure, but I can envision several circumstances where it'd be quite useful -- like for a mom who wants to let kids play specific games on her phone without being able to get on the Internet or mess anything up.

Beyond that, there's a plethora of gestures, options and settings baked into the G3 that you'll probably never use. And the carriers have really larded the phone up with bloatware of their own, too: I counted nine added apps on the T-Mobile model and a ridiculous 22 items on Sprint's device. Some of them can be easily uninstalled while others cannot.

Bottom line

The G3 boasts no shortage of compelling qualities. The device has a big, beautiful display in a sleek and nicely designed body. It has decent battery life, expandable storage and some genuinely useful features like a tap-to-wake option and limited-use guest mode.

At the same time, however, the phone's software is bloated and convoluted -- and while you can hide or disable many of the UI-related sins, the out-of-the-box experience leaves something to be desired. Equally important, that overly ambitious foundation is likely to blame for choppy performance throughout the system.

The G3's camera quality is also hit and miss, and LG's history with upgrades doesn't inspire confidence when it comes to the phone's odds of getting the upcoming Android "L" release in a timely manner. With other manufacturers now making speedy ongoing upgrades a priority, future support is something important to consider.

No device is perfect, though -- and if you can deal with its downsides, the G3 is a really good phone with a lot to offer. Maybe by the time the G4 rolls around, we'll see the really great phone LG is so close to creating.

This article, LG G3 deep-dive review: A phone with great specs, but real-world issues, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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