JR Raphael

5 big questions about the LG G3

May 28, 2014 12:28 PM EDT

Close your eyes for a second these days, and chances are a new Android smartphone will arrive before you reopen 'em -- one that's bigger than the last and with higher-than-ever numbers in All Sorts Of Important-Sounding Technical Measures™.

LG G3The latest device to compete for our attention is LG's G3, announced this week and coming soon to a smartphone vending robot near you. The G3 checks off every high-end spec imaginable, ranging from a 5.5-in. 2560-x-1440 display to a 13-megapixel camera with "Optical Image Stabilizer Plus" technology and a "revolutionary Laser Auto Focus" that can "shoot stunningly sharp images" while simultaneously "stunning your worst enemies" and "cooking hot dogs like nobody's business."

Okay, I may have gotten a little carried away with those last couple of items, but in all seriousness, the G3 has a lot of impressive-sounding qualities -- on paper, at least. As usual, though, what really matters isn't so much the individual components but rather what sort of overall experience they add up to create -- and that's something that'll take several days of real-world use to figure out.

While we're waiting for the G3 to land in our laps, here are five big questions that come to mind after going through the phone's lengthy list of specs and features:

1. Will that crazy-high-res display actually make any meaningful real-world difference?

LG is quick to point out that the G3's screen has "almost two times" the resolution of a 1080p display -- but aside from being great for marketing (and inducing geekgasms among the spec-obsessed crowd), how much does that actually mean on a practical level?

LG G3 Display

I have no doubt that the G3's display will look fantastic -- and at the end of the day, that's what counts the most -- but as for whether the heavily touted 538 pixel-per-inch panel will look meaningfully better than the 441 pixel-per-inch 1080p panel on HTC's One (M8) or the 432 pixel-per-inch 1080p panel on Samsung's Galaxy S5 (just to name a couple of examples), I must admit I'm a little skeptical.

Plain and simple, on a palm-sized display, we're reaching the point where packing in more pixels doesn't seem to make much of a noticeable difference (unless you have superhuman vision, in which case you could be doing far more interesting things than looking at smartphone screens). I'll be pretty surprised if most people can consistently perceive any meaningfully higher quality from the G3's QHD resolution, as it's known -- especially if they aren't primed to expect that in advance -- or if the benefit is more just being able to say that it's there.

But hey, we'll see. As long as the screen looks great in and of itself, we can ultimately forget the comparisons and just celebrate the fact that it's a lovely display, right? At least, until we start thinking about how much more battery life the phone could have offered with all things equal and a 1080p panel in its place.

[UPDATE: Quad HD vs. 1080p: A real-world display comparison]

(LG showed some graphics during its presentation that were meant to demonstrate how noticeable of a difference the higher resolution makes in graphic quality, by the way, but the folks on stage forgot to mention one thing: The demos were being shown on a gigantic banner-sized display, where the differences in resolution would obviously appear pronounced in a way that wouldn't be perceptible on the comparatively tiny screen of a smartphone. D'oh.)

LG G3 Launch Event

2. How much difference will the "Laser Auto Focus" really make?

A freakin' laser in a smartphone's camera? I swear I'm not making this up.

LG says the G3's "Laser Auto Focus" feature uses an actual laser beam to measure the distance between the camera and the subject -- which somehow then allows it to snap into focus in all the right places and capture your photo in "a fraction of the time" most smartphones would take.

Sounds pretty damn cool, right? I'm very curious to see how much it actually matters in the real world, and whether any benefit it provides will be significant enough to be noticeable when taking regular photos.

3. Did LG finally figure out how to do UI design right?

Software's long been a sore point for LG's Android devices. Like Samsung, the company claims it's focusing on simplicity this go-round -- and at first glance, the G3's user interface does appear to be more subdued than LG's past efforts.

But as we saw with Samsung, "better" only means so much -- especially when manufacturers like HTC and Motorola are really nailing it and setting software standards high. I'm eager to live with LG's updated software for a while and get to know its nooks and crannies to see how far it's come -- and whether or not that's far enough.

4. What about future software upgrades?

No way around it: LG has a pretty awful track record when it comes to Android upgrades. The company's made a bit of progress over the past few months, but it's still anything but impressive when it comes to manufacturer rankings.

Right now, it's just hard to know if we can count on LG to provide reasonably timely ongoing upgrades to its phones -- and unlike other manufacturers, the company hasn't made any explicit promises to reassure us it's ready to step up its game. So if you buy a G3, will you be waiting indefinitely in the dark when the next major Android OS release comes along? What about the release after that?

It'd sure be nice to have some assurance that won't be the case, but as of now, all we have is LG's past behavior to guide us -- and for anyone who cares about reliable upgrades, that's not the kind of guide you want.

5. When and for how much can we get it?

All deep questions aside, here's one that should be easy: When's the damn thing going on sale and how much will it cost? For most of the world, that remains unknown.

Officially, LG says we should see a launch sometime this summer. Here in the States, Sprint is currently listing a date of "July 2014" for its G3 launch -- and that's about as specific as it gets. AT&T says only that it'll carry the phone "this year," while T-Mobile and Verizon are sticking with the vague "summer" wording. And no one's talking price.

Android Power TwitterSo all in all, there's plenty of reason to be excited about the LG G3 -- and plenty of reason to hold off on judgment. I'll be spending some quality time living with the phone once we're closer to its U.S. release -- whenever that ends up being -- and will share my detailed thoughts and impressions with you then.

With any luck, we'll have answers to most of these questions by the time we're finished.

UPDATE: Hands on: The first things you notice about the LG G3