When it comes to tech and gadgets, Marketing departments are faced with the prospect of explaining and selling complex equipment via soundbites and highlights.
Whilst the challenge is understandable, there are often annoying consequences for those who have a greater knowledge of what makes a particular model ‘good’.
Take digital cameras for example, where it was the humble megapixel that got picked out by the marketing bods. Most people won’t understand the difference between two competing models, but they will see that if one has 10 megapixels and the other 8 megapixels that the 10 is better. Nevermind that the real answer isn’t so simple. Consequently, we now have cameras pushing 40 megapixels whilst other, perhaps more important functions remain undervalued.
Recently I wrote that getting a new smartphone is a pretty boring experience. The leaps between phone generations of a few years back were huge, but it’s all gotten a bit samey and a two year old phone won’t seem so different to a brand new one (apart from all the scratches and headphone socket fluff). So what is it that is acting as the megapixel to tempt you away from your current phone?
I was lucky enough to be given a couple of hours with LG’s latest flagship model, the G3, to tackle that very question and the beginnings of the answer is obvious before you even switch it on!
This phone is big. This is not a criticism, just a statement. A large slab of plastic with a huge 5.5” screen on the front. Whilst it’s nudging it’s way into small tablet territory, I must admit it’s pretty comfortable in the hand and, because I’m not a wearer of skinny jeans, it slips into my pocket just as comfortably as my Nexus 4. A tiny bezel round the screen, cleverly tapered edges and the physical buttons being moved to the back of the phone help make the form much more ergonomic than it might appear to be in photos.
Okay, so size is definitely one potential draw. As our phones replace our computers in many situations and we’re spending longer and longer staring at them, it’s perhaps of no surprise that many people want a bigger screen to look at.
We also want a better screen and it’s here that the marketing department seems to have latched on. The sharpness of the screen is now a serious battle ground and big resolutions and massive dots-per-inch (DPI) are now the numbers by which we differentiate between models, even if we don’t really know what it all means.
LG have certainly taken it to the competition as the G3’s screen is ‘Quad-HD’, which basically means it has twice the resolution of your typical high-definition television. Incredible for something that you put in your pocket, rather than the corner of the room, but necessary? That’s another question.
There are some short videos provided on the G3 which show off the potential of this resolution and if all videos looked like this, I’d be half-tempted to retract my ‘boring smartphone’ post now and admit some excitement. Videos shot on the camera also look very impressive. You’ll see more and more televisions coming onto the market this year advertising that they’re capable of 4K video playback. Well, there’s not much in the way of 4K movie and TV content at the moment, but you’ll be able to make your own with the LG G3 and again, the phone’s own super high resolution screen makes it practically pop out of the screen at you with no naff 3D trickery required.
Under the hood the LG is pumping the latest generation of processor and enough memory to make the odd laptop PC jealous. This all adds up to a very smooth experience. Navigating around the Android operating system is slick and responsive and you won’t find a single app on Google Play that will make it break a sweat.
It doesn’t seem to have gone unnoticed at LG that their phone is, well huge. They’ve clearly spent some time aiming to minimise some of the compromises and maximise some of the advantages that have arisen.
For example, for some reason, one-handed-operation is still important to a lot of people. Personally, I’m quite happy to hold a phone in one hand and operate it with the other, but for those whose other hand is a bit busy, LG have come up with a few tricks.
I rather like the smaller dialler, which is shrunken down into the left or right hand side of the screen enabling you to call someone by dialling with your thumb. Less successful is the keyboard, which again is shrunken down and can be pushed into the bottom left or right of the screen for keen thumb typists. I couldn’t really get to grips with it, but I will admit to some fussiness when it comes to phone keyboards.
So with the compromises dealt with, what about taking advantage of all that screen real-estate?
The most significant feature LG has bolted onto Android is called dual-Window, which allows you to have two apps open on screen at the same time. Now it does depend on what apps you’re into whether this is useful or not - but I quite liked the experience of watching a video, or scanning a social network whilst chatting away on WhatsApp. Definitely a plus. It’s worth noting that surfing the web looks great too, although some mobile sites now look massive and it’s worth clicking through to the desktop version most times.
The big screen also makes for an excellent camera viewfinder. Of course the marketing bods have checked in and made the sure the pixel count is high. 13MP to be exact and I found the camera to take relatively natural shots, but perhaps a little bit dark in places relative to the light that seemed to be available at the time of shooting. It’s quick to start up, so you can be ready to take a shot hopefully long before the moment has passed. My only real criticism is that those tapered thin edges that make the phone feel less bulky, also make it rather hard to hold horizontally with confidence. A few times I worried I would drop it whilst trying to capture a good photo.
So, the LG G3 is an impressive smartphone. Certainly one of the best I’ve tried so far this year. But does it cure my want for a more exciting smartphone to come out? Well, not quite, but it will more than do for some. That amazing screen is . . . well amazing, when it’s showing those demo videos. It’s a sign of what’s to come, but it’s ahead of its time right now and there aren’t really any apps that take advantage. In normal operation, the screen looks no different to a normal ‘HD’ resolution smartphone. Maybe they will come, but perhaps you’ll be onto a phone with an even higher resolution by then. That’s the way things are going and fast.
The same is true for the processing power. On paper it’s incredible - but none of the most popular apps come close to needing this kind of grunt and again, the general experience of the phone is not far ahead of a decent phone from last year. It could be, but I’m not sure how many app developers will spend the money pushing this kind of computing power when you’ll only want to spend £1.99 on their efforts (or get it for free if you watch an ad or two).
For a typical owner, their favourite social networking apps, games and media will work on a much cheaper phone (running last year’s cutting edge) and still look fantastic. For those who get a kick out of owning a flagship, cutting edge device, this is definitely one to consider and I think you’ll love owning it. It is impressive.
For me, I’d struggle to justify the investment and I still can’t shake that feeling that with smartphones, this year’s cutting edge still remains very similar to last season’s cutting edge, just with a few extra numbers dropped into the specification for good marketing.
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