Lately, LG has been on a roll. Its been nearly two years since the introduction of the Nexus 4 and LG has slowly started to churn out devices that can hold its own against its competitors. Last year, LG created a two fairly well received devices with the LG G2 and Nexus 5. This year, LG has stepped up the bar by releasing the G3. The device has the makings of a flagship, surpassing even its competitors devices with features like a Quad HD display and laser auto focus.
Utilizing this momentum, it was only natural that LG would try and leverage the G3 and create spin-off devices. In the United States, LG has done just this and released the LG G3 Vigor. The device is strikingly identical in looks to the flagship, but has a bit more restraint when it comes to the internal specifications. However, it does carry over the laser auto focus and melds it in what would otherwise be a mid-tier device. But, will good looks, shouldering up on the G3 name, and bringing laser auto focus to a mid-tier device be enough for LG?
The LG G3 Vigor shares the same design as its flagship sibling, the LG G3. I am using an AT&T variant that is only available in Silk White. In the United States, the G3 Vigor is also available from other carriers, with the alternate option of the color black. The front is dominated by a large 5” LCD display with a considerable chin. At the top of the display there is a 1.3MP front-facing camera and a silver speaker grill for the earpiece. On the bottom, there is the aforementioned chin that has a pinstripe design and chrome LG logo.
Like many of LG’s more recent handsets, the volume rocker and power button can be found on the backside. This leaves the handset looking relatively clean, with the sides being devoid of any physical buttons. The back portion of the device also houses a laser sensor, 8MP camera with LED flash, and a speaker grill located toward the bottom. On the top of the device, there is a tiny infrared sensor and microphone. The bottom of the device has a 3.5mm headphone jack, microUSB port, and an additional microphone.
Surprisingly, the G3 Vigor has a brushed pearl white removable back cover that, when removed reveals a 2540mAh battery, microSD slot, and microSIM slot.
The shape of the device is stellar. The arced back feels good in the hand and makes the 5" device feel smaller than it really is. While I enjoyed the overall shape of the LG G3 Vigor, I'm still not convinced on where the volume rocker and power button are positioned. Although the buttons are improved over previous versions, it still seems impractical to use on the fly. But, that is only a small part of the device and like LG G Flex I relied mainly on the tap to wake and on-screen buttons.
The G3 Vigor has 5-inch 720p IPS LCD display. While this isn't the highest resolution display available, we have seen LG tempt these waters before with the LG G Flex. But, in the case of the G Flex, the display was much larger, curved, and the lower resolution display didn't quite work out to well for the size. On the contrary, the 5-inch 720p display works perfectly, providing excellent color reproduction, crisp text, and excellent viewing angles. The display even performed well under sunlight, although like most displays it does suffer from fading when subjected to direct sunlight.
While it could be brighter in the top end, for a majority of viewing scenarios, the display performs well. The only real downside is the absence of an ambient light sensor. Yes, this mid-tier, $334.99 device, does not have the ability to adjust the brightness of the screen automatically. While I don't have any issues with this being a missing feature on a sub-$100 device like the Lumia 635, this does strike me as odd when you are dabbling with a phone, with a price close to $400 when taxes are included.
When you first realize that you don't have an ambient light sensor, it's a bit of a shock. But, you quickly get used to it considering that LG has prepared users for this by including a hot key button on the notification panel that will allow you to change the brightness on the fly. For the first couple of days, this is a great solution and allows you to realize how much you don't need ambient light sensor. But, towards the end of the week, it quickly grows thin. While the controls work well most of the time, there really isn't a substitute for a proper ambient light sensor. This becomes an apparent issue when you quickly change environments or forget to anticipate the lighting conditions of your surroundings. More than once I was greeted by an intense light of the LCD, while I was in a dimly lit area. It is, to say the least, a bit embarrassing. While LG does provide some nice shortcut buttons for on the fly adjustment, it’s not an adequate substitute for a proper ambient light sensor.
Overall the 5-inch display provides accurate colors, clarity, and excellent viewing angles. Since this is my first time using a 720p panel on a 5-inch display and I was pleasantly surprised with the experience. In fact, I didn't even know the specification of the display until I started writing this review and assumed it was 1080p the whole time I was using it. For the most part, I think LG has made the proper decision in choosing a 720p panel. But, the absence of an ambient light sensor mars the experience. While I understand that costs have to be cut in some places for a mid-tier device, the ambient light sensor is not one of those places. If the device doesn't even have the basic necessities, it shouldn't be produced or find another thing to cut from the device. For example, I would have much rather had an ambient light sensor than an IR sensor. While I know this missing feature is not the end of the world, I do think that some things should just not be missing from a phone regardless of the price.
While most will argue that a pure Android experience is the best, manufacturers will often add their signature touch to the Android OS. The LG G3 Vigor is without exception and has a load of customizations that intend to make the users life much easier. The G3 Vigor runs on Android 4.4.2 and during the time of review, it had no available updates. While this is the first time that I am using an LG device that was produced in 2014, the interface is fairly similar to what I saw on the LG G Flex. The pull down notification area acts as a hub for the most commonly used options like: Bluetooth, sound profiles, Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC, etc.
Below the quick access bar, there is another row of icons that give you access to applications that support QSlide. These are apps that can be launched as windows over your existing UI. For example, you can have a movie, browser, and messages, all open on one screen without the need to switch back and forth. While this isn't always the most practical setup, it does work well when you are trying to multitask like watching a movie and texting. The best part about the areas mentioned above is that capability to customize each line to meet your needs. This makes the cluttered notification tray worthwhile since you can set it up.
Diving below the surface, LG has included a couple of neat things here and there, but for the most part, a lot of it functions like a standard Android device. While I think the menu system is monstrous, it's categorized well, giving users the option to fine-tune their device. Although I did like the wealth of options, I think for a first time user, it could be very confusing.
The G3 Vigor is positioned as a mid-tier device. As such, it comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2Ghz quad-core processor and 1GB RAM. Unfortunately, despite having a quad-core processor, the G3 Vigor is not a powerhouse when it comes to performance. While the device feels reasonably snappy during its initial use, that quickly begins to dissipate after the first couple of days. While I won't go as far as saying the device is a slouch, there are times when it would hang up or choke on simple tasks.
For example, the device's limitations become evident when using the standard messaging application. While there should never be an issue opening texts or images, for some reason, the device struggled when a conversation was bombarded with images. The scrolling would become inconsistent and the images would have to load when scrolled to. This would occur every single time. While it's not a complete nuisance, it does stop a bit of progress when you are trying to scroll quickly through a text conversation. I don’t know if this is isolated to the G3 Vigor but I have never experienced this issue with any other Android device in the past.
Despite the small issues here and there, the G3 Vigor is able to power through most if not all daily needs. I was able to surf webpages efficiently, play games, and do other daily tasks.
Just to have some concrete numbers and comparisons, I ran the G3 Vigor through a 3D Mark test and was presented with a pretty surprising number. The benchmark application had the G3 Vigor producing a score of 4692. This is an incredibly low score and probably one of the lowest scores I have seen personally. While the score might be low, this isn't indicative of performance on an overall level. The 3D Mark tests the unit’s graphics capabilities and clearly we can see that the G3 Vigor isn't meant for high-end gaming. Overall, I think the G3 Vigor works reasonably well for most things, but there are times when you can tell the device isn’t speedy and certain moments when it is not responsive, which effects the overall experience.
Although the LG G3 Vigor is a mid-tier device, the crowning element could be the incorporation of the G3's Laser Auto Focus. This was one of the standout features on LG's flagship and is one of the defining features of this device. The G3 Vigor has the Laser Auto Focus that is paired with a modest 8MP camera with flash.
Although I was excited to try out this feature, during its use, I found that the autofocus was quick but not always accurate. This was a huge disappointment considering that accuracy is key when it comes to taking pictures. We all have experienced a moment of taking a perfect picture or video only to discover later that the subject was out of focus; this was often the case with the G3 Vigor. This was more evident when taking pictures or video at night; during night shots the device has issues trying to find the object to focus on. For the most part, the shots during the day were okay, but the night shots, like most phones, left much to be desired.
Beyond focusing issues, the pictures were not always the most accurate or clear. While some images came out fantastic in respect the environment, some did not. For example, the image below is extremely accurate. The colors are spot on, the focus is perfect, and this is all accomplished in a night shot. In contrast, in pictures taken in similar conditions to the one above would appear out of focus, muddy, and there would be a faded quality to the image. Again, this was always a hit and miss with the camera. Sometimes it would excel and other times it would disappoint, definitely not what I was expecting from a camera with Laser Auto Focus.
As a daily Android user, I wasn't expecting much when it came to battery life. My previous daily driver was a Nexus 5 that could barely make it through a whole day. Surprisingly, the G3 Vigor was able to power through a day and a half with moderate use. My daily rituals included a good amount of texting, surfing the web, YouTube, GMail, and a utilizing Google Voice. The 2540mAh provides more than enough battery life for the average user. Bear in mind that this was with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Location service being on. Also I did not have a battery saver mode engaged during my day and half of use. I think I could've probably coasted into the two-day battery range if I disabled the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Location based services.
A majority of my test was performed with the brightness set to 50%. The only time this would be changed was at night when I would reduce the brightness to 20%. But, this would be balanced with the fact that when I was outdoors in bright sunlight, I would up the brightness to 100%.
As mentioned previously, this device does not have the ability to automatically adjust the brightness. Therefore, I had to manually adjust the brightness a lot of the time. Although tedious, not having a LCD that automatically dims and brightens the screen, could have been one of the key reasons I was able to achieve a good amount of battery life.
Perhaps what makes this even more surprising is that the battery is only a tad bit larger than the one in my Nexus 5. But, the combination of a slower processor and no ambient light sensor, must make up some of the difference, which allows this handset to achieve such great battery life. Personally, the battery life was excellent and I think from an Android users perspective, this will be a good all around handset for any user.
Overall, the LG G3 Vigor is a decent Android device. I had high hopes for this "mini" G3, but in the end it was a bit of a let down. While I won't say there was a lot wrong with it, it just didn't perform how I expected. Before I dive into the tidbits, first and foremost, a phone should work when it comes to the essentials like texting and calls. A large part of my phone experience is spent texting. I do it more than anything and that is an important and non-negotiable part of the experience. Whether it's due to the processor, RAM, or just LG's custom Android skin, this did not work flawlessly. My second issue with the device is that it costs $334.99 USD before taxes and does not include an ambient light sensor or an accurate camera. While LG couldn't include a ambient sensor, it did find the resources to add an IR sensor, Laser Auto Focus, and dual microphones. Sure, most of these things are nifty, but for a mid-tier device, it shouldn't be missing any of the essentials. Lastly, although LG included its popular Laser Auto Focus system into the G3 Vigor, I saw very little positives from the system.
While the focus was quick, it often focused on the wrong things and at night the focus was terrible. While I've heard rave reviews of this focusing system on the LG G3, I think the power behind the flagship handset assists the Laser Auto Focus and camera, which is naturally absent from the mid-tier G3 Vigor.
I can't really put my finger on it, but maybe that's what is wrong with the device. It doesn't excel at any one thing. It really is just an overpriced mid-tier device that has a multitude of average features. Worst of all, the stand out pieces of this device fail to excel as they should. Personally, if I had a choice, I would either opt for a Motorola Moto G or maybe a flagship device from last year. While I wanted to like this device, in the end it left me confused. It was frustrating not understanding the choices that LG made in constructing and releasing this handset. It's common that manufacturers will try and profit off the hype of their flagships by creating clones, but in this scenario, LG has failed miserably to capitalize on the G3.