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First Impressions: The LG G3 on AT&T with Laser Focus and a QHD Screen!

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I don't think many people realize just how far ahead of the curve the LG G2 was. Utilizing a Qualcomm 800 series quad-core processor and including the largest battery available in a non-phablet phone, it carved out a unique niche in the smartphone market opposite the Galaxy S4 and HTC's One M7. In many respects, the One M8 and Galaxy S5 are only just now catching up to the G2.

So if the G2 was so cutting edge, what does LG do for a follow up?

The G3 is now in our studio for review, and it makes a bold first impression. The screen size has increased from the 5.2" diagonal on the G2 to 5.5" on the G3. This pushes the phone into the same territory as the Galaxy Note 2 and the Optimus G Pro, yet LG has done an incredible job of minimizing bulk. The head, chin, and side bezels are terrifically small, and this allows the G3 to feel more like a flagship phone than a mini-tablet. It is a decidedly large device, and somewhat difficult to use one handed if you have smaller hands, but it's an impressive feat of engineering.

Of course size isn't everything, and LG has not only made the screen larger, but has built in a higher resolution LCD. Dubbed "Quad HD" the screen is four times the resolution of 720p. That's 2560 x 1440 pixels on screen providing sharp text and fine detail in photos. It's actually becoming difficult to see further improvement from 1080p screens. The pixel pitch is getting small enough that differences are subtle when viewed from arms length. This will likely improve however once more apps and videos are using that resolution.

Thankfully performance hasn't suffered tremendously from the additional pixels. The newer Qualcomm 801 processor is doing an admirable job of driving a higher than HD resolution display. LG has also simplified the design and animations of their skin running on top of Android, likely to aid in performance issues. You'll still see the occasional stutter or lag in scrolling or menus, but it's par for the course in terms of Android UI performance, and still manages to feel snappier than the Galaxy S5 at times.

The camera sensor hasn't changed much from the G2, it's still a 13MP 1/3" sensor paired with hardware optical image stabilization. What is new is LG's Laser Focusing system. While it sounds like an advertising gimmick, it really does improve the photo and video experience on the G3. It's a very sure-footed system, which locks on accurately and no longer pulses or breathes through the focus. The G2 was notorious for losing focus while shooting video, the G3 maintains an ironclad grip on your subject after you lock on. Thanks to this new auto-focus and a simplified camera app, the G3 now stands as one of the best smaller sensor cameras available on a phone. There's really nowhere left for LG to improve this camera experience until they move up to a larger image sensor like Nokia and Sony.

See samples from the LG G3 shooting HD video.
See samples from the LG G3 shooting UHD / 4K video.

And with all this new, more powerful hardware, LG has also returned to removable back plates. Unlike the sealed G2, the battery is user-accessible and you wont need pin tools to swap a MicroSD or SIM card. The 3000mAh battery is easily able to provide two day run time with moderate use, and the base model G3 comes with an expansive 32GB of storage. Phones with only 16GB are starting to feel a bit claustrophobic seeing how big some apps can be, so starting off with twice that much storage with the ability to slot in up to 128GB via MicroSD is definitely appreciated on a phone which can shoot huge UHD video files.

Network performance has been solid. Living in an area where AT&T recently upgraded their LTE towers, I'm seeing solid connectivity and fast data speeds. Happy to see the G3 competing against Samsung and Nokia in network performance, as I haven't always felt past LG phones had the most powerful radios and antennas.

Lastly, the new back plate's brushed design and texture are shiny, but thankfully not glossy. However LG has treated the rear, it does a phenomenal job of not getting smudgy or grimy while being handled. It's a nice consideration which should help keep the phone looking premium longer than previous LG smudge magnets.

It's an incredible effort on LG's part. As the smartphone market matures, it'll become more and more difficult for manufacturers to differentiate their flagship devices. LG has emerged from the shadows of Samsung, Apple, and HTC with boundary pushing hardware and crafting unique experiences which can't be found on competitor's devices. There will be some ergonomic issues for folks who prefer smaller screens, but those looking for a premier bleeding edge handset should definitely check one out.

The G3 is currently available for $99 on a two year contract or for $579 unlocked. We'll have more coverage on the G3 as we use it. Hit the related video to see the LG G3 in action with a full hardware tour, and a walk around LG's new software UI!

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