LG's new G3 smartphone: Simpler is better

User simplicity runs from camera updates to new user interface

LG Electronics emphasized a simpler user experience during its unveiling of the new G3 smartphone that could prove to be a lot more than marketing noise.

The company on Tuesday used a tag line of "Simple is the new smart" in describing the G3 device with a 5.5-in. quad HD display that runs on Android 4.4.2 (KitKat).

LG's new smartphone, the G3, has a 5.5-in. screen with quad HD. (Photo: LG)

Sales of the G3 will begin in the summer or later this year with the four major U.S. carriers -- AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. Pricing wasn't announced, but is expected to be competitive with top-of-the-line smartphones like the iPhone 5S or Samsung Galaxy S5, which U.S. carriers typically offer for $200 with a two-year contract.

While Samsung's pitch of greater simplicity for users of the G3 might sound like the latest marketing mumbo jumbo, there is something to the theme, according to IDC analyst Ramon Llamas.

"I think the G3 will be simpler compared to those smartphones that came before," Llamas said. "Features have been expanding in so many different ways that it's hard to keep track of them and harder to use. We've seen a bunch of incremental features, most of what we won't use. Now the pendulum is swinging back and the vendors are dialing it back."

LG said its simplicity theme evolved from consumer research. Some of the changes in the product involve hardware updates over the G2, including a 13-megapixel rear camera with a laser auto focus that helps users quickly capture the best shot even in low light. It's believed to be the a first laser beam used in a smartphone. Image stabilization technology is also upgraded by 20% over the G2 to reduce jitter for better shots the first time.

LG also cut out a step in the photo-taking process for greater user simplicity. Instead of having to focus on a subject with the phone's camera and then pressing the shutter button, users of the G3 can tap on the subject in the display that needs focus, which immediately triggers the shutter. For taking selfies, the user clenches a hand into a fist that is recognized by the G3, which begins an automatic three-second countdown to taking the photo.

The upgraded user interface seems to incorporate the biggest of LG's simplicity features in three areas: security, the keyboard and what LG calls Smart Notice.

Smart Notice works like a personal assistant but seems to go a step further than other devices by providing recommendations based on a user's behaviors, phone usage and location. Users can be reminded of a call declined earlier in case they want to call back. The function also asks if the user wants to delete or uninstall unused files or apps. While LG didn't demonstrate Smart Notice's natural language capability during a live webcast event, LG officials said the phone can track weather and inform a user to "take an umbrella today since it will rain this evening."

Updates to the G3's virtual keyboard include the ability to track and analyze a user's typing habits to reduce input errors by more than 75%, according to Andrew Coughlin, LG's head of user experience in the UK. Various changes also reduce hand and eye movements during typing, he said.

LG's security updates include a kill switch that allows the user to disable the G3 remotely in the event of theft, and to wipe content, including video or photos. A content lock feature also encrypts data to keep files locked in the phone's internal memory or on a separate microSD card, LG said.

The G3 alos uses Knock Code for unlocking the device with a pattern of taps anywhere on the screen, giving users 80,000 different patterns that are hard to steal. LG officials said fingerprint-scanning technology that is used in other new phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the iPhone 5S, is too unreliable.

The user interface has not been a great selling point of LG smartphones in the past, noted Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar WorldPanel. "I'll be curious to see how much the UI has improved," she said.

Milanesi said the G3 seems like a "nice improvement" over the G2, which has been fairly successful mainly because it has lately been priced below high-end smartphones, although it started out at $199 with a two-year contract last year. Some carriers, such as AT&T, are now offering the G2 for free with a two-year contract after discounts. Carriers are selling the unlocked G2 for around $400, compared with more than $600 for some newer unlocked high-end smartphones.

While there was earlier speculation that LG would reveal more details about its upcoming G Watch smartwatch on Tuesday, Coughlin said only that the G Watch, when it arrives later this year, will work with the G3 and other smartphones running Android 4.3 and above.

Whether the simplicity of the G3 becomes a selling point or just a nice sidelight might depend on how well LG markets the device, Llamas said. LG was fifth in total smartphone market share, with 4.3%, in the first quarter of 2014, according to IDC. Samsung was first at 30.8%, followed by Apple at 15.2%, Huawei at 4.7% and Lenovo at 4.4%.

"As impressive as the G3 is, it's still a market heavily in favor of Samsung and Apple and LG's in the thick of it with Huawei and Lenovo," Llamas said. "LG has to make it stand out compared to other devices on the market. It will depend on how much marketing LG is going to put out there on the G3."

Milanesi added that LG's main concern will be selling the device in the competitive high-end smartphone market. "With Huawei stepping up in features and quality, LG will really have to focus on building up its brand, so that they compete on more than just price."

This article, LG's new G3 smartphone: Simpler is better, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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