The LG-G3, a real user's review

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Caller: I'm trying to reach nine eleven but my phone doesn't have an eleven on it...
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Quick (but real) review

A view of the home screen of the LG L3 android phone, with PIN enabled.

The main selling point of the Buy at Amazon.comLG G3 phone is the screen which takes really most of the real-estate of the phone. The bezel is only 3mm on the side, 13mm at the bottom and 10mm at the top. And it's really bright, brighter than my old Galaxy S2 with its then famous OLED screen. Whether the record 2560x1440 resolution of 538dpi is really useful remains to be seen, but it's certainly nice to look at. It's impossible to tell individual pixels without a strong magnifying glass.

Double tap to wake up: OK. It goes further: with 'tap to unlock' you can have areas you tap multiple times to wake and unlock the phone. Unfortunately it's not allowed if you encrypt your phone, which you should. You have to use a pin (or a password) for that. It's limiting. So, of all the unlocking methods supposedly available between none, swipe, face unlock, knock code and pattern, only pin and password actually work on an encrypted phone.

Button disposition: let me tell it clearly: it's shite. I don't know if it's because of multiple stupid patents or just so they are 'different', but On/Off and the up/down volume buttons are in the middle of the back, so you have to fish for them with your fingertips and you cannot use them when the phone is flat on the table. Even worse, they are right next to the camera lens, which guarantees that you'll put your fingers right on the lens every time. Happy foggy pictures. It also makes it impossible to change the volume while the phone is in your pocket (I had no problem doing that with the Galaxy SII).

The user buttons (home, back and 'current apps') are part of the screen. It takes a little getting used to but it allows some apps to go full screen while hiding those buttons. The menu button is now a long press of the 'current apps' button. Since they are software you can customize them somewhat (disposition and a few more buttons).

About the buttons:

There are a lot of nice looking but ultimately pointless and battery-consuming locking effects, which, again, don't work when you encrypt your phone (which you should, again).

Like on most recent Android devices, mass storage USB connection (UMS) is gone and I hate that. We are left only with the options of plugging the SD card into the PC (with the phone off), using the lousy, buggy and non-scriptable MTP/PTP mode, installing a bluetooth server (extremely slow) or installing a FTP/SSH/HTTP server over wifi (which assumes you have wifi available right then, and that your FTP server exports the right directories, which isn't the case as the external SD card was missing in the 4 I've tried, and that nobody is sniffing your traffic). That sucks but see below for a solution...

So in order to connect the phone to a Linux PC, the best (but far from perfect) way seems to be to use KDE Connect. You need to install the KDE Connect app on the phone, and also $ sudo apt-get install kdeconnect-kde qt5-default qdbus-qt5 on the PC. You then see a [Settings][KDE connect] panel. But be aware that both systems need to be on the same wifi network. So at work it doesn't work (phones are sandboxed on a limited wifi), and at home it's a drag because I can't connect the phone to my data server to... copy data; I need to connect it to the laptop, so the data goes from the server to the PC (over wifi), then back to the router (over wifi), then onto the phone (over wifi). Tell me again what was so wrong about mass storage mode ?!? Another large issue with KDE Connect is that you can copy files from the phone to the PC, but not the opposite. Ack!

Since I'm talking about the wifi, it's very sensitive: I can pick up wifi routers from twice the distance my old Galaxy S2 used to.

The battery is removeble easily so you can carry some spares (Buy at Amazon.comreference LG BL-53YH). Which also means that the phone is not waterproof. At all.

There's a (real, not internet) FM radio, which as usual requires headphones to act as FM antenna.

The external SD card is great as it takes an SDXC, meaning you can cram up to 128Gb into you phone in addition to the 16Gb of internal memory.

With 3 hours of continuous use as music player, video player, GPS and web surfing I found out that the Galaxy S2 battery would be drained at the end of the day. Not so with the G3 which uses only about 15~20% of its stored power. An optional built-in battery saving mode can be activated below 30%.

As a photographer who owns real cameras, I'm never impressed by the cameras in phones, even though they keep improving. But it's still slow to start, slow to focus and slow to trigger. Add to this a weak flash too near the optical axis, too wide a depth of field, too strong noise at mid-ISO... But that's always the case so I can't blame the G3 specifically. The 60/120fps rate of the camera can be useful. There are some gimmicks, like inserting the front camera image inside the main one, or triggering when saying 'cheese' or moving your hand. On the plus side, the focus can be controlled by placing the finger on the screen where you want to focus.

You must register the device to play some Divx videos; fortunately not the free ones... C;-) All the videos (flv, mp4, divx, ogg, mkv...) I've tried played in hardware without needing software emulation. Not all phones can do that.

Often when one buys a device, there's already an update available, but that wasn't the case with the G3, yet. I guess it means that there aren't any bugs, right ? Well, just kidding, there were 3 updates about 10 days after it came out.

I used the provided keyboard only long enough that I could get Swype from the Play Store. By the way, since the screen is large, in landscape there's an option to use a smaller keyboard on the side, which would be great if the other side wasn't simply a blank area covering whatever you have on the screen ! I'll file this under bug.

Since the device is big, there's a 'one handed mode' which shrinks and moves the keyboard/keypad to the side. Since I have big hands, I don't care about that.

As already mentioned, the G3 has a large screen. There's 2 ways to use it that other phones can't: QSlide which allows you to open some apps in a small window on top of others; and split window which opens two apps side by side (which you can also access with a long press of the back button). Why not.

You can reorder the launcher icons (it's not obvious that you can actually slide them).

You can take a screenshot by holding volume down and power at the same time. Since the resolution is huge, so are the screenshots.

The software is fast and responsive... except in one case. I've noticed that when you exit some apps by pressing the home button, it often takes quite a while for the desktop to redraw. Say one or two seconds, but that's still surprising.

As for software, I already mentioned that Swype works well. The G3 comes with a built-in browser and Chrome. I found both to be full of annoying adds when surfing around, so I quickly installed Firefox with Adblock. It crashes regularly but at least I can enjoy my surfing.

2016 update - As a year passed with the phone I noticed increasingly erratic behavior: apps that take 45s to switch, phone running hot even when not in use, random reboots, etc... Then it got worse: it would constantly remount any inserted SD card. A motherboard check failed and I waited a month for a replacement motherboard. In the meanwhile I placed the phone next to vertically on a table and the wind tipped it, it fell flat on the table from 0 height and... the screen broke. Half of it became unusable, so I just changed the phone for a much cheaper Archos 50d Oxygen.

So, let's recap

ProConDon't careDon't know yet...
  • Bright large screen with record resolution and tiny bezel
  • Changeable battery
  • Real FM radio
  • Sensitive antenna
  • MicroSDXC card tested up to 128Gb (don't know above that).
  • Not many LG-specific software or Android customizations
  • Physical button disposition
  • No mass storage USB (UMS)
  • Not water / dust resistant
  • Firefox crashes too often
  • General motherboard problems
  • The camera
  • ...if easy to root
  • ...if easy to install alternative OS
  • ...if possible to mount MTP as a Linux directory.
  • ...if possible to mount the external Android-encrypted SD card onto a Linux PC. LUKS? dm-crypt? (see below)

MTP mount on Linux

Okay, so I mentionned above the lack of mass storage mount option on the Android version held by the G3. There's MTP which is supported by Ubuntu but it only shows in the Dolphin file manager as a long string. You can drag and drop files but you cannot use the command line or any scripts which is a drag if you want to sync lots of large files.

Fortunately there are several ways to mount MTP devices as a normal directory. Unfortunately all of them are buggy. I managed to get jmtpfs to work with a caveat or two:

$ sudo aptitude install jmtpfs mtp-tools
Install jmtpfs
$ mkdir ~/lgg3
Create a mounting point. Then plug in your phone, and unlock it (or it won't give you permission to mount).
$ jmtpfs ~/lgg3
This mounts mtp on ~/lgg3 where you find the internal memory and the SD card as separate directories.
$ ll ~/lgg3
ls: cannot access /home/bleuark/lgg3: Input/output error
...tsk, tsk, tsk... you didn't unlock your device...
$ ll ~/lgg3
drwxr-xr-x 34 bleuark bleuark 0 mars 20 4426936 Internal storage/
drwxr-xr-x 10 bleuark bleuark 0 juin 20 4426940 SD card/
$ fusermount -u ~/lgg3
Use this to unmount before unplugging. Remember or you WILL lose files.

But first when I tried $ jmtpfs ~/lgg3 I would get the message No mtp devices found. It took me a while to figure out the it simply didn't work on the USB3 ports (labeled as SS Super Speed on my machine). Plugging on the USB2 did work but I got the following message:

$ jmtpfs ~/lgg3
Device 0 (VID=1004 and PID=633e) is UNKNOWN.
Please report this VID/PID and the device model to the libmtp development team
Android device detected, assigning default bug flags

This is just a warning that this phone is as yet unknown. It will certainly disappear with later updates of jtmpfs.

Another weird message I received while doing trials is about a missing .mtpz-data file. It works without this file, and you can search for this file on github to get rid of the warning if you wish:

$ jmtpfs ~/lgg3
ignoring libusb_claim_interface() = -6PTP_ERROR_IO: failed to open session, trying again after resetting USB interface
LIBMTP libusb: Attempt to reset device
Unable to open ~/.mtpz-data for reading, MTPZ disabled.Android device detected, assigning default bug flags

SD encryption

When you encrypt the phone, it encrypts the partition and has few drawbacks: having to unlock it through a pin code is the only one I could find. Your files remain accessible through MTP. Now encrypting the SD card works differently. It keeps the partition as is but encrypts all the files found on it. If you put the card in your PC, it recognizes theFAT (or ExFAT) partition, you can list all the files (possible danger and security risk here unless you name all your files "Granma's apple pie recipe 12" or such), but you cannot decrypt them without the appropriate software (which I don't know).

Another caveat is that if you then put a different card in your phone, it will ask you "Do you want to continue the encryption?", which makes it difficult to juggle multiple SD cards between phones: you either encrypt them all or not. In conclusion, I encrypt the phone but don't place critical files on the SD card which I leave unencrypted. I would have prefered a modern filesystem (ext4 or such) on a fully encrypted device easy to mount anywhere with EncFS or LUKS.