Nobody does hardware innovation quite like LG right now. The company won the GSMA's Innovation Award for a good reason: When it comes to critical parts like sharp screens, long-lasting batteries, and exterior materials, LG is pushing all the boundaries. That level of nonstop innovation makes the LG G3 ($199 with contract) America's most advanced smartphone and our Editors' Choice.
That doesn't mean it's the phone I would buy. I haven't seen this much difference between my rational and emotional responses to a phone since the first Galaxy Note, which I was ready to throw out a window. I got that one wrong, though, and I learn from my mistakes.
Physical Design and Screen
At 5.76 by 2.94 by .35 inches (HWD) and 5.3 ounces, the G3 is just on the border between a phone and a phablet. It's very well-built, with almost no bezel around the screen and a slim, curved, metal-and-plastic back (in black or white) that feels like a more premium material than you get on the S5—it's almost up to the HTC One M8's level. The back is so sleek that you'll be surprised it's removable. Unlike the Galaxy S5, the LG G3 looks and feels expensive.
LG has refined its oddly placed rear-mounted Power and Volume buttons, which are much larger and more usable than they were on the LG G2. You can also wake your phone up either by tapping on the screen or setting up a Knock Code, a password-like pattern of taps. The headphone jack and USB port are on the bottom. LG uses a standard micro USB connector to charge, unlike the Samsung Galaxy S5 with its larger micro USB 3 connector.
Whether you find this phone comfortable will be down to your hand size. It's the widest flagship smartphone on the market, and I found the G3 uncomfortable to hold and use with one hand. I showed it to several other analysts with larger hands, though, and they didn't have the same complaint. I wouldn't be making a big deal about this if LG was marketing this as a phablet—nobody except this guy expects to hold a Galaxy Note 3 in one hand—but the company isn't doing that.
The G3's flagship feature is its 5.5-inch, 2,560-by-1,440 screen—the highest resolution you'll see anywhere. At 538ppi, it can represent text to an incredibly tiny level of detail. I'm a 40-year-old with glasses, though: I actually found it less appealing than the Samsung Galaxy S5's 1080p screen. At first glance, I couldn't see how the screen improved photos, and I found the S5's bolder text in Web fonts more readable than the G3's.
When I handed the G3 to our analysts Eugene Kim (under 30) and Jim Fisher (our photography expert), though, they pointed out things I'd missed. Eugene's sharp, younger eyes really appreciated the more delicate serifs in the G3's text, while Jim picked out details in photographs that didn't show up on the S5's screen.
As an IPS LCD, its colors are significantly cooler than the hyped-up tones on Samsung's Galaxy S5. That makes them close to what you'd get when, say, printing a photo, but images can look pale and bloodless compared with the punchy S5. Once again, that's down to taste: I love the S5's look, but photo expert Fisher greatly prefers the G3's LCD. The screen is very nicely visible outdoors.
Call Quality, Networking, and Battery
The G3 isn't the best phone for calling, but that isn't because of call quality—it's because of its width. After 15 minutes holding it up to my head, my hand hurt. The earpiece and speakerphone are quite good, though: The earpiece has decent volume and the speakerphone is plenty loud enough to use outdoors. The Galaxy S5 has superior voice-transmit quality through the phone's mic, though. I got some "computery" audio artifacts in our noise cancellation test, and a call made through the speakerphone came out echoey and hollow.
In terms of 4G, the G3 is future-proof, AT&T-wise. It's the first phone whose spec sheet officially supports Band 29, some new LTE spectrum AT&T bought from Qualcomm which will speed up LTE downloads next year. So if you want ideal AT&T 4G LTE, this is your phone. If you go to Canada, you'll be happy to see that the G3 supports that country's fastest networks, and AT&T has an LTE roaming agreement there. The phone also has the usual 802.11 a/b/n/ac Wi-Fi, GPS, and NFC. Wi-Fi performance wasn't up to the S5's standards: At 25, 50 and 75 feet from a Meraki router, I got consistently faster speeds on the Samsung device.
LG has its own battery alchemy department, and its 3,000mAh removable battery is the best in the business. I had to stop our talk time test after 20 hours, with 20 percent remaining (LG's software helpfully suggested that would be 4 hours, 16 minutes.) That beat the S5, which clocked in at 19 hours. Concerned for the effect of the super-HD screen on battery life, I also ran a video test with the screen on full brightness. I got almost exactly seven hours; turn that down to half brightness, and you'll have more like 10 or 11. That's very good battery life considering this monster screen.