It has been full steam ahead for the LG train this year with the release of quite a few significant mobile devices. So far we have seen the G-Flex, G3, G-Watch (as well as G-Watch R) and of course the G-Pad hit our South African shores. Now, just in time for the festive season LG is introducing their mini flagship smartphone the G3 Beat. The Beat joins the mini market which already contains the likes of the Alcatel Onetouch Idol Alpha (see review), Motorola Moto G as well as the Sony Xperia Compact (and many others). But the Beat, with a 5-inch screen, can’t exactly be called a mini even though it is smaller than its big brother the G3. Earlier this year the G3 had everyone abuzz with its sleek style, Quad-HD screen and super thin bezels, will the G3 Beat follow in those illustrious footsteps? We got out hands on one to answer that question…
I say this everytime I review a LG device, but the truth remains that LG is fast becoming the best Android based smartphone manufacturer out there. The company seems to be producing devices that constantly challenge for market share be it at the top flagship level or mid-range/entry smartphone markets. The South African LG events are fantastic and there seems to be a renewed vigour among all of the SA LG staff due to the top quality products they are currently producing.
So it came as no surprise that the “little” G3 Beat easily fits into the already glowing trophy case that is the LG smartphone series. According to Thomas van der Linde (General Manager – Marketing LG Mobile SA) the Beat was designed accommodate the often neglected portion of the market, those who prefer smaller Android smartphones that easily fits into your jeans or bag.
So the Beat is supposed to be a smaller, cheaper version of the G3, but where do they cut costs? Let’s have a look at the specs (using the G3 flagship as comparison):
||LG G3 Beat
||137.7 x 69.6 x 10.3 mm
||146.3 x 74.6 x 8.9 mm
||Android OS, v4.4.2 (KitKat)
||Android OS, v4.4.2 (KitKat)
||5” IPS LCD (720 x 1280) ~ 294 ppi
||5.5” True HD-IPS (1440 x 2560) ~ 534 ppi
||8 MP, laser autofocus, LED flash
||13 MP, phase detection/laser autofocus, optical image stabilization, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
||16GB / 32GB
||MicroSD (up to 64GB)
||MicroSD (up to 128GB)
||2GB / 3GB
||Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 Quad-core 1.2 GHz
||Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 Quad-core 2.5 GHz
||2G, 3G, LTE
||2G, 3G, LTE
From the specs you can clearly see that LG chose to reduce the actual size, processing capability, screen technology and camera. These areas are usually targeted when companies try to cut costs to produce a “mini’ mid-range smartphone. What is surprising is that the G3 Beat’s specs are quite good for a phone that will retail around R 4 999, in fact it is probably the best midrange smartphone (specs-wise) out there. Now the specs make for good reading, let’s see if the actual experience and usage backs that up.
Design and Build
What can I say? The Beat follows the celebrated design of the G3 flagship and a smaller scale but still embodies the features and curves that made the G3 such a hit. The gentle curved back is made out of the same high quality plastic and even though it isn’t as classy as the HTC One M8’s metal rear, it is still a thing of beauty. The same back-button layout of the G-series has been used and in conjunction with the smaller size feels like an extension of your hand.
I must say the 5-inch phone kind of hits the sweet spot for me. Anything larger than 5 inches should be considered as a phablet phone in my opinion .The front still sports the super thin bezel design, even though the screen isn’t the quad-HD whopper found on the flagship. The sides are sleek with only the 3.5mm headphone jack and charging port at the top and bottom. LG hasn’t gone for a waterproof design and that enables them to play with the design and keep the phone nice and sleek.
Display & Sound
LG rocked the industry with the Quad-HD 1440×2560 display on the G3 and I guess it would have been too much to ask to use the same tech in their mid-range offering. Never the less the IPS LCD on the Beat delivers kind of as expected with bright and vibrant colours. You can definitely see the quality difference between the higher end flagship devices but you will only know that should you hold them side by side. The 720×1280 resolution display shows clear colours and holds up quite well in sunlight even from different viewing angles. In my opinion it is just a bit mediocre in terms of detail. We always use the website text test as a guideline and the LG G3 Beat struggles to provide the sharpness when viewing finer text. That said, I don’t think the screen is any worse than the other competitors in the mid-range smartphone market.
The sound on the G3 Beat’s speaker sits at the back and doesn’t get muffled due to the curved design. The actual quality and volume of the Beat isn’t something to write home about. It performs as expected, but doesn’t really blow your socks off. The in-ear audio quality is quite good and the headphones included in the box are actually quite decent, although whilst using them as a hands-free solution the sound becomes a bit dead and unnatural. But I have found that across many devices.
Performance, Call Quality and Battery
At the heart of the Beat (weird sentence) you will find a 1.2GHz quad-core processor which is only paired with 1GB of RAM, which is a bit disappointing. The Android OS relies quite heavily on available memory and adding 1GB more wouldn’t have broken the bank. Unsurprisingly the speed and performance of the Beat is a bit lack lustre if you compare it to other phones in its segment (see Quadrant Test below).
The UI interface experience remained quite smooth throughout testing and only became it abit laggy when I had a lot of apps running in the background, would have had no problem if the memory was bumped up to 2GB. The Beat graphical abilities are adequate running games like Angry Birds with ease, but don’t expect to have a lag free experience (or any experience at all) with more resource hungry games like Infinity Blade.
From a call quality perspective the Beat delivers (as any phone should) and the only dropped calls I had whilst testing was either a Vodacom problem or the pathetic signal I have in my bunker-like ground floor apartment in northern Joburg. Voice quality was clear (a bit different over headphones) and both myself and the person on the other end had no quality issues at all.
The 2540 mAh battery is a bit of a two face. Under heavy usage such as video, taking photos and playing games the battery drains quite quickly, but in standby mode it definitely has above average staying power. With medium to high use I found the Beat to drop to about 15% after 12 hours which will get you through a work day I guess.
Software and UI
The Beat comes with Android 4.4.2 KitKat which is a few versions behind, especially with the immanent 5.0 Lollipop version. Of course the G3 Beat has the same underlying structure as any other Android phone — multiple home screens are available for you to fill up with apps and apps you don’t want on the homescreens are stored in the app tray. LG has made a lot of tweaks to the look of Android, with its own fonts, app icons and colour schemes.
The Beat’s OS is almost a carbon copy of the G3 but it does exclude some features like LG Health (due to certain sensors being left out) and LG Smart Tips which scans your phone to determine which apps, documents and features you don’t use a lot (creates efficiencies). You do however still have the Remote feature which turns your phone into a remote for your TV and other entertainment appliances.
At the back you will find an 8 MP camera which is a step down from the 13 MP shooter you find on the G3 (cost cutting once again). You do however get laser-assisted autofocus which allows you to simultaneously and rapidly focus on a selected object and take a picture. It might not have the best camera in its segment specs wise, but the G3 still takes some decent photos (see below).
The camera app has various scene modes to choose from, including a panorama function, which worked well. Bear in mind though that the sluggish processor takes a surprisingly long time to stitch the panorama together once shot, in which time the camera is unusable.
LG and other companies try to cater for consumers looking for a smaller phone, but I think they have to seriously think about also releasing their flagship phones in two sizes (like Apple has done recently). If I prefer a smaller phone, but still want it packed with the latest hardware and features there isn’t a lot to choose from currently.
Thus it is always difficult to review the midrange smartphone device just because you know the capabilities of their flagship counterparts. So if I am being objective I have say that the LG G3 Beat is quite a good buy when you compare specs, features and experience to its price tag of R 4999. Yes, there might be some performance issues and it might not have the best screen out there, but for that price you will be hard pressed to find anything better.
The design and functionality is top notch and even the camera surprised me a bit taking some good shots for a supposedly inferior shooter. If you are looking for an extremely competitively priced mid-range smartphone the LG G3 Beat should be near the top of your wishlist.
Follow Jaco on Twitter: @Jaco_vdWalt