Software: Improvements All Around
LG has put a big emphasis on cleaning up the software experience for the G3, and although the skin atop Android 4.4 is still relatively feature- and design-heavy, the difference between this and the G2 is noticeable and refreshing.
Overall, LG has used a flat, pastel and modern style that integrates well with the stock Android experience, but differs enough to give the G3 its own feel. I really like what LG has done with the software design, completely ditching the childish and amateurish looks of the past in favour of a more professional, pleasing style.
In fact the design of the G3’s skin is good enough to become one of my favourites, still behind the consistently beautiful stock Android, but up there with the One M8’s Sense 6.0 UI. Meanwhile, it trounces the improved-but-still-lacking TouchWiz on the Galaxy S5, and the boring Xperia Z2 user experience.
Many of the basic Android experiences on the LG G3 are things you will have seen before if you’re familiar with Android. The homescreen layout is a 5x5 grid for apps and widgets, denser than other flagships, while the lockscreen looks nice and displays the time plus a few notifications.
Speaking of notifications, the notification pane keeps some of the features of the G2, such as sliding panel of quick settings and sliders for both brightness and volume, but does so in a more visually pleasing way. Again, nothing innovative here, but it gets the job done in a simple, effective fashion.
The standard smartphone applications are a return to simple interfaces without the clutter of pointless features. I’m definitely a fan of expanding on the feature set of stock Android if the new features are actually useful and don’t overwhelm the UI. Unfortunately though, LG has been an offender of adding pointless crap to the software in the past, so it’s great to see a return to the way things should be with the G3.
Most of the interesting and useful features found in the G3 are found in separate applications or settings. In keeping with LG’s philosophy for the G3, it’s entirely possible to ignore these features if you don’t want to use them, as they’re integrated in such a way that doesn’t clutter or overcomplicate the software experience.
QuickMemo+ is LG’s main note-taking application, and it’s packed with all the necessary features such as text and drawing input, as well as the ability to insert images, audio and more. The app itself could be taken to the next level if LG included some way to sync the memos with an online cloud service like Evernote; instead they’re only available locally on the handset.
One of the reasons to use QuickMemo+ is that it’s integrated throughout the OS. You can launch the application by holding down the volume up button on the back when the device is locked (volume down launches the camera), giving you quick access to a digital notepad. In the notification drawer you can also find a QuickMemo+ button, which captures a screenshot ready for annotation.
Quick Remote makes use of the infrared LED along the top of handset, allowing you to control your home theatre devices. The app has a simple interface that collects remotes by rooms, and you have the ability to add remotes from a list of manufacturers, or create a universal remote through learning remote codes from the physical remote. A button in the notification pane also lets you slot a mini remote into the pull down menu, which can be very useful for quick channel or volume changes.
Several multitasking and productivity features have made the transition from the G2, including Dual Window, for using two apps on the display at once; and QSlide, for putting a mini app on the display in a floating window. Both features are effective, and their implementations are essentially the same as what LG included in the G2.
On the homescreen, LG has included a pane to the far left known as Smart Bulletin. In this panel you’ll find two panes, one for LG Health, and one for Smart Tips. I find the inclusion of Smart Tips unusual because after using the phone for a few months you should be familiar with the features of your phone, and won’t need the tips anymore. That said, you can remove the pane in the settings menu (or remove Smart Bulletin entirely).
You’ll need to keep Smart Bulletin if you want to use LG Health, though, as strangely there’s no app shortcut in the app drawer. The app itself is a basic health tracker that supports step counting and GPS tracking from walking, bike riding, running, etc., but you won’t find a food calorie counter like Samsung’s S Health has. I can see LG Health being useful for casual fitness tracking, but there are better apps in the Play Store for more serious health enthusiasts.
Smart Notice is LG’s take on Google Now (despite Google Now being included on the handset), showing handy information through the main weather/clock widget on the homescreen. There’s not a huge range of things Smart Notice will display, but I find the weather information to be particularly useful: if it’s going to rain or be windy later in the day, Smart Notice will tell me to take an umbrella or coat when I leave the house.
It’ll also show you LG Health information, some app information and missed call data. It’d be great if Google Now was integrated into Smart Notice, although I don’t think Google allows it to be integrated into third-party apps.
Knock Code is one of my favourite features in the G3’s software stack, allowing you to unlock the handset by tapping on the screen in a certain pattern. The best thing about Knock Code is that it functions when the display is turned off, not only giving you a method of turning the G3 on without using the back buttons, but also securing the device in a novel way. It’s also reliable, rarely failing if I enter my code correctly.
Like with the G2, LG allows you to alter the on-screen navigation buttons. In the settings menu there are options for changing the arrangement and number of buttons: you can have up to five buttons, including the traditional back, home and recent apps, as well as a button to open the notification pane, load QuickMemo, open QSlide apps or use Dual Window.
Personally I keep the default arrangement, but if you’re a heavy multi-tasker being able to add in some of the other buttons could come in handy.
Other settings included in the G3’s software that add to stock Android include Smart Screen (keeps the display on when you’re looking at it), Smart Cleaning (to free up internal storage space), One-Handed Operation (if you can’t manage the large display), Quiet Mode (to mute the phone at night), and a basic Guest Mode.
Finally, as I come to the end of a massive software offering, it’s time to talk about the keyboard. LG has labelled their keyboard as “Smart Keyboard”, and it’s one of the most versatile I’ve seen included with a smartphone. By default the layout is fantastic and easy to use, but there are plenty of settings to play with to optimize the typing experience.
The only complaint I have with the keyboard is that the auto-correction isn’t enabled by default, but when you head into the settings to fix this, also consider altering the height of the keyboard and its layout (if you want to make minor alterations). The prediction engine powering the G3’s keyboard also appears to be really solid, allowing you to type fast without worrying about errors.