Performance: Hampered By Resolution?

It's no surprise to find another high-end smartphone powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 SoC, which, like its predecessors, has proven to be extremely popular. In the LG G3 you'll find the MSM8974AC, which is the highest-end SoC Qualcomm currently provides, clocked at up to 2.45 GHz across four Krait 400 CPU cores.

Also on the Snapdragon 801's die is an Adreno 330 GPU clocked at 578 MHz, a 32-bit dual-channel LPDDR3 memory controller providing 14.9 GB/s of bandwidth, a Hexagon QDSP6V5A DSP, LTE/HSPA+/2G cellular radios, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 and IZAT Gen8B GPS+GLONASS. I've covered the SoC in greater detail in my HTC One M8 review, so head over there if you're after more details.

The LG G3 is one of the first smartphones I've come across to have two SKUs with different internal NAND capacities as well as different amounts of RAM. The 16 GB G3 comes with 2 GB of RAM, while the 32 GB model I have on hand for review has 3 GB of RAM. In general use I'd be surprised if there was significant performance difference between the two models, unless you are a heavy multi-tasker.

Also found in the LG G3 is an NFC chip, separate to the SoC, and a microSD card slot supporting up to 128 GB cards. The microSD slot is situated directly above the micro-SIM slot in a stacked package like we've seen on other handsets with removable back covers.

Comparing the internals of the G3 to G2 reveals a few differences, but nothing ground-breaking; typical for a 2014 flagship release.

Specs LG G3 LG G2
SoC Snapdragon 801 MSM8974AC Snapdragon 800 MSM8974
CPU 4x Krait 400 @ 2.45 GHz 4x Krait 400 @ 2.26 GHz
GPU Adreno 330 @ 578 MHz Adreno 330 @ 450 MHz
Memory 2 or 3 GB dual-channel
LPDDR3 @ 933 MHz
2 GB dual-channel
LPDDR3 @ 800 MHz
Storage 16/32 GB internal + microSD 16/32 GB internal
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.0
LTE Category 4
Other NFC, Infrared LED, MHL, GPS, HSPA+, 2G
Display 5.5" 1440p True-HD IPS+ LCD 5.2" 1080p True-HD IPS+ LCD
Battery 11.4 Wh (3,000 mAh)
Camera 13 MP 1/3.06" sensor with f/2.4 lens, OIS
Video Up to 2160p/30 (4K Ultra HD) Up to 1080p/60

As you'd expect, performance around the operating system is great. Loading applications is fast, navigating the UI is smooth despite the boost in resolution, and the Snapdragon 801 is no slouch when it comes to web browsing. Occasionally the heavy LG skin would cause application and OS screens to load slightly slower than their counterparts on competing devices, but it's not even close to being a laggy experience.

I noticed the G3 was particularly quick at multi-tasking and switching between applications, faster than the Sony Xperia Z2 which also comes with 3 GB of RAM. I'd say this comes down to some LG-specific optimizations and very fast NAND, which makes pulling app data from the internal storage a speedy proposition.

With every flagship Android smartphone using the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC, there's barely a difference between them when it comes to CPU performance. The LG G2 came loaded with a Snapdragon 800 SoC, clocked slightly lower (2.3 GHz vs 2.5 GHz) across its Krait 400 CPU cores, so it's not surprising to see there's only a 15% advantage to the G3.

The G3 again performs very well in Vellamo, falling into the bracket of other Snapdragon 801 SoCs. It's worth mentioning that the G3 doesn't cheat in benchmarks either, ditching the nasty practice since the release of the G2.

GPU benchmarks are where things start to get interesting, because the Adreno 330 has to power a 2560 x 1440 display instead of the usual 1080p display used in all the other flagships.

3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark is run off-screen, so it's no surprise to see the G3 perform in the bracket of Snapdragon 800 and 801 devices. A similar situation can be seen below with GFXBench's offscreen benchmarks, with the G3 performing as expected.

In onscreen benchmarks, this is where we see the performance hit attributed to the 1440p display. On average the G3 recorded 32% lower frame rates than a 1080p handset that also has the Adreno 330, which is actually respectable considering there are 1.78x more pixels to render to; if benchmark performance mapped directly to changes in resolution, we'd be expecting a 44% drop.

Still, a 32% drop could be significant when playing high-end 3D games on the G3. In the T-Rex benchmark in particular we see performance drop from 27 FPS to 20 FPS, which is the difference between a near-playable frame rate and completely unplayable.

With that said, I tried a few popular titles available on the Play Store, and I had no trouble running any of them at smooth frame rates. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas couldn't successfully run at maximum settings without being choppy, but other titles like Gameloft's Modern Combat 4 were no match for the Adreno 330.

It seems that while on paper the G3 has a disadvantage, actual real-world titles aren't using the full capabilities of the GPU. Obviously I can't say whether this will change in the future, but at least in 2014 you're not going to see the G3 struggle.

Moving on to NAND performance, and this is where the G3 really excels. The handset outstrips its competitors by quite a margin on both sequential read/write and random read performance, which gives it a clear edge when loading applications and data from the internal storage.

You only get USB 2.0 transfer rates with the LG G3, but nevertheless it performs well enough when transferring content from a PC, although read speeds are fairly low. Ideally I'd like to see USB 3.0 on all high-end handsets as the NAND read/write speeds are above what USB 2.0 can support, but it doesn't seem like the market is ready to transition just yet.

Out of the box the 32 GB LG G3 has 23 GB of free space available to users, which is plenty for apps and data. There's also a microSD card slot in case you need more space, supporting up to 128 GB cards, although as the internal NAND is much faster I'd suggest using it first and foremost.

Like most smartphones I had no trouble using any of the wireless networks in the handset. The international unlocked model supports LTE Category 4 on 700, 800, 900, 1800, 2100, 2300 and 2600 MHz bands, plus HSPA+ on 850, 900, 1900 and 2100 MHz, which is good for most nations but it's always worth checking what your local carrier supports as well as whether there's a carrier-specific version.