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Review: LG G3 for Sprint

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The LG G3 runs Android 4.4 KitKat and a brand new version of LG's user interface. Like Samsung and HTC did earlier this year, LG is responding to changes in the competitive landscape to modernize the look and feel of its Android skin. As far as I am concerned, it is much cleaner and more attractive than previous generations. To some eyes, it may more closely resemble Samsung's TouchWiz than it used to, and I'd agree. The entire UI is flatter, the fonts are thinner, and LG has employed more circles throughout the design.

LG has long offered flexible home screen and menu arrangements and the G3 is no exception.

The lock screen can be configured to show a number of different pieces of information if you so wish. It can reveal the clock, clock/weather, as well as shortcuts to select apps, such as the phone, messaging, browser, and camera. The G3 comes with both KnockOn and Knock Code. These tools were created out of necessity. Since the home button is on the back of the phone, there was no way to wake the device without picking it up. With KnockOn, you tap the screen twice to show the lock screen. With Knock Code, you set a unique, tapping pattern to unlock the device. Both tools have been around for a while now and work really well. Only the camera can be opened from the lock screen without entering a password, if one is enabled.

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Home Screen  

The G3 includes five active home screen panels out of the box, but one is reserved for LG-based content, such as the LG Health app. LG calls this Smart Bulletin, but it can be disabled if you want. The remaining home screens can be customized at will, as per normal for Android smartphones.

I've always liked LG's app menu screens. Users can select large or small icons, which either make them easier to see or cram more on to a single panel. Apps can be viewed alphabetically, by date, or in a custom order, but not in a list. Several tools make it a breeze to hide apps from the menu screen or uninstall them altogether.

App Menu  

The notification tray is one area where LG borrowed some inspiration. The new circular icons are pretty and remind me of those in iOS7 and the latest rendition of TouchWiz. The tray offers several toggles for wireless radios and the QMemo tool common to LG handsets. The toggles can be customized, rearranged, and so on. The tray also includes sliders to adjust screen brightness and system volume. These controls leave only about half the screen below them for viewing actual notifications.

In terms of customization, LG and the G3 offer a lot. Users can adjust fonts and font size, wallpapers and themes, swap between Easy mode and standard mode, pick from myriad animations, customize home touch button arrangement, as well as optimize select apps for easier one-handed use. Last, and perhaps most importantly, the volume toggles can be designated as shortcuts for when the phone is locked. For example, a long press of the bottom volume key opens the camera, bypassing the lock screen entirely. Users can select which apps these two buttons open.

The settings tools are rather rote. By default, they are configured in the four-tab setup that I dislike. You can select to view them on a single page, however, which I prefer. The number of settings is lengthy, but LG has done away with some of the hokey 3D buttons are replaced them with modern on/off toggles and check boxes that I find more appealing.

Settings  

The G3 supports multi-window apps, which means you can run two apps side-by-side at the same time. It is off by default; you have to turn it on the system settings to get it working. It's really easy to use and the G3's larger screen and high pixel count mean you can see more content in each of the two apps. For example, I was able to surf the web and read web sites - without resizing them - in one window, while I had YouTube videos playing in the other window.

Last, the G3 includes Sprint iD. Sprint iD, which has been around for several years, lets users download theme packs. The packs often include wallpapers, ringtones, and apps centered on a specific theme or idea. The service functions fine on the G3, but I find the packs also include unwanted third-party apps that can clutter up the phone.

Thanks to the 2.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, the G3 didn't blink when it came time to perform. Everything about the interface and OS was smooth as silk when transitioning between screens and apps. Keep in mind, the huge number of pixels could be a burden to the processor. Even so, the 801 didn't seem fazed at all. It's one fast phone.

Calls and Contacts

LG reskinned the phone app, but the underlying mechanics will be familiar to most seasoned smartphone users. The basic view is that of a dial-pad with tabs running across the top providing access to call history, contacts, favorites and groups. There are also dedicated buttons along the bottom of the dialpad to initiate voice commands or text messages after you type in a number (rather than make a standard voice call.)

The G3 includes LG's most advanced calling features, such as noise suppression, call recording, HD Voice, and gestures that will answer calls when the phone is lifted to your ear or silence calls when the phone is flipped over. I found all these features to work as they should.

The G3 is one of a few phones that supports Wi-Fi calling. The app and service are a bit of a pain to setup. It forces you to enter an e-signature to accept the terms of service, which is going too far in my book. However, once enabled, Wi-Fi calling is added to the phone app itself. The app makes it clear when you're passing a phone call over the cellular network or over your local Wi-Fi network. Call quality over Wi-Fi was markedly better than over Sprint's cellular network. (I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that.) Calls were loud and clear, and there was less distortion in the earpiece.

Calls  

The redesigned contact app is gorgeous. It functions just the same as the stock contact app does, but LG's new skin gives it a modern, clean look that I really, really like. The main contact screen places dialer and messaging shortcuts right in the main screen, which eliminates at least one tap if you want to call someone or message them. It's easy to manage groups, and the contact app has several useful home-screen widgets, too.

Contacts  

Messages

First, a word on the keyboard. It has one of the coolest features I've seen: Users can adjust the size to better suit their thumbs. If you place a priority on speed, feel free to shrink it down so the letters are smaller and closer together. If you have fat thumbs and prefer accuracy, increase the size so the letters are larger and further apart. The tool for adjusting the size is dead simple to use. The keyboard includes a fifth row for numbers, which users can choose to turn on/off, and configurable action keys along the bottom row. Last, the keyboard comes with several different themes, and split-screen mode for landscape typing. Well done, LG.

Keyboard  

Sprint has set the stock Android messaging app as the default for SMS/MMS. I like the skin LG applied to it. It's much cleaner looking than earlier iterations. Since Google now lets Android device owners pick which app they want to use for SMS, you can ditch the stock app if you want and use the Google+ Hangouts instead. Hangouts combines SMS and instant messaging conversations together in one app.

Messaging  

The G3 is the first phone I've seen to include the Sprint Framily Wall app. This app acts as a messaging board for subscribers to Sprint's Framily plans. People who share an account can leave one another notes for all members of the group or for individuals. It can also hook into the calendar for sharing events.

Framily  

Sprint also included Messaging+, a third-party messaging app that can handle SMS/MMS, as well as Facebook messages and Twitter DMs. It's a little clunky, but may consolidate most your messaging into a single app.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter is pre-installed, so you'll have to download them from the Play Store yourself.

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