Adding an 'S' to a phone name often means it's better than the normal version. The iPhone 5S was a lot better than than iPhone 5, after all. However, the LG G3 S is not – and is not meant to be – as good as the LG G3, the company's top-tier Android for 2014.
This is a cut-down alternative for people not flush enough to spend what some might fork out for a first car on a phone. Almost every element of the LG G3 S takes a hit in this cost-cutting process. This is absolutely a mid-range phone, not a top-end one.
The question here is whether the cuts match the price. At £240 it's loads cheaper than the top Androids, but there's fierce competition at this price.
Funnily enough, one of the best alternatives is last year's LG G2, which is still doing the rounds at a similar price if you shop around. It gets you a lot more phone for your cash. A bargain at launch, it's even better value now.
It's the Moto G 2014 that really shows the LG G3 S up, though. Available for £100 less, it offers just about everything you get here, with a slightly classier interface to sweeten the deal.
LG phones often offer great value. This one doesn't. While it is not a bad phone, wait for a discount unless you really fall in love with that faux-metal look.
The LG G3 S may not have all the top-end specs of the LG G3, but it has copied the look of its bigger sibling wholesale. While all-plastic apart from the glass screen covering, it tries its best to look like a metal phone.
Its curvy back and the lip below the screen both have a metallic finish. As much as they may charm the eye, get one in your hands and they have all the high-end feel of a shop dummy.
The LG G3 didn't exactly wow me with its plastic feel – like all the wrong bits of Samsung design with an extra level of artifice – but at least that phone's ultra-thin screen bezel and thin body made sure it seemed high-end. Here, the thicker body means that while it looks like an expensive phone from a distance, it doesn't really feel like one.
However, I do find handling pretty great for a 5-inch phone. Despite being a little thicker than some, the smooth curve makes it much less of a handful than the Moto G 2014.
Like the LG G3 and LG G Flex, the LG G3 S uses rear buttons instead of ones on the phone's edges. Aside from a little indent to help you prise off the backplate, the sides are completely bare.
I've grown to appreciate the idea of LG's slightly strange rear button strategy, despite being deeply suspicious at first. They make using very large-screen phones simpler, especially the gigantic LG G Flex.
But in a relatively petite phone like the LG G3 S they seem a little unnecessary. The action of the buttons feels a little cheap too, adding extra kindling to the plastic-fantastic fire burning in this phone's heart.
Once you get used to them, though, there are no serious downsides to their use. As the LG G3 S's buttons are recessed a bit, they never ended up firing off in my pocket. Mission success.
Pull the LG G3 S's plastic back off and you'll find that, just like the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy S5, it uses a fairly thin battery cover. It's not Nokia Lumia-grade polycarbonate stuff.
You get just 8GB of internal storage too, which feels very stingy at this price – this should be 16GB territory. There is a microSD slot under the cover to mitigate, but it's a mark against the LG G3 S's value.
LG does offer something on the top to compensate, though: an IR blaster. This company is obsessed with IR blasters like almost no other and you'll even find it on some fairly low-cost phones and tablets from LG.
An IR blaster is used to replicate the commands made by home entertainment remote controls, letting you use the LG G3 S as universal remote. See the little black spot next to the mic hole on the top? That's where the IR transmitter lives.
While we're not sure all that many people use this even when it's on offer, it's a 'good to have' extra.
A 'mini' screen
The LG G3 S has a 5-inch screen, a good 0.5 inches smaller than the LG G3. That's enough to mark it as an LG G3 Mini under another name.
Like other higher-end LG phones, it uses an IPS LCD screen. However, it's a 720p display rather than the 1080p kind you get in the LG G2 and G3.
Much like the Moto G 2014, the difference is noticeable in a screen of this size, and in this particular display I was slightly disappointed by quite how apparent the pixel structure is. It's a way off what you get in the G2 or the supremely pixel-rich G3.
The most annoying – really unforgivable – part of the LG G3 S display is that it does not have an auto-brightness setting. I find this hard enough to stomach in £80 phones, let alone £240 ones. This means whenever you have to manually adjust the brightness to your liking.
It makes a real dent in how easy the phone is to use day-to-day, and leaving it out of a £200-plus phone is frankly ridiculous. Especially when LG has included a much less important IR transmitter in the LG G3 S. In short: what was it thinking?
Other aspects of the screen are rather better. Colour saturation is perfectly fine, with accurate-enough colours offering a fairly natural tone. While black level is just the norm for an LCD - not perfect, not by a long shot - it only becomes noticeable in darkened rooms.
There was a little bit of backlight bleed in my review sample, but this is likely to vary between specific instances of this phone.
As this is an IPS screen, viewing angles are predictably good, if with shifting of colour temperature and reduced contrast depending on the angle.
Light weight frills
The LG G3 S shows some quite strange decisions in the features it does and doesn't offer. The most obvious is one this review has already discussed – there's an IR transmitter but no ambient light sensor.
I had wondered whether this was merely a software bug, but trying a third-party brightness manager, I was told it couldn't find the LG G3 S's light sensor. It really isn't there, apparently.
As with other low-end LG tablets and phones, light weight frills can at times seem to be given priority over the basics.
The 8GB storage looks very stingy at the price, and the processor is one used in several cheaper phones. It's the Snapdragon 400, a 1.2GHz quad-core chip seen in the Moto G 2014 and 2013 – phones that are £100 cheaper while nearly matching the LG G3 S spec-for-spec.
While the LG G3 S has enough power and storage to feel largely non-compromised in daily use, the many little cuts become an issue when you lay them against the price.
In place of truly top-notch value the LG G3 S offers a few extras you don't generally see in phones that try to offer as much phone for as little cash as possible. Some are in the hardware, others in the software. Let's start with one already mentioned: the IR transmitter.
This is the little black spot seen next to the LG G3 S's noise cancellation mic. It fires out signals of the same type as your TV's remote control, letting the phone take on the role of multiple remotes. There's an app to let you set this up pre-installed, too, called QuickRemote.
More importantly, the LG G3 S offers 4G mobile internet and it covers all the bands popular in the UK – 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2600MHz. LG is also producing a number of different variants across the globe to cater for other markets.
The key benefit of 4G is pretty obvious: it's faster than 3G, but can also get you better signal due to the way it's dispersed from signal towers.
Actual 4G speeds you'll get depend largely on your carrier rather than the phone, but if you're yet to make the leap, you can expect fewer buffering screens on Netflix, faster web page loads and all-round swifter downloads with the LG G3 S.
The golden rule at present, though, is to make sure you actually get the data allowance to make the most of it.
Interface, performance and battery life
Interface and performance
As well as having quite a striking, recognisable design, the LG G3 S has a custom interface that's a little different from vanilla Android. It offers more customisation, and a few extra features you don't get in Android as standard.
It works on the base of Android 4.4.2 KitKat – not the very latest version of Android, but at least it's not ancient.
You need to appreciate the extras the software offers, though, because the UI style is not quite as clean or attractive as standard Android. Just like the LG G3's software, it keeps a few slightly fusty elements that the core software has either shed or never had in the first place.
Things like the clear widgets and apps sections in the main apps menu are starting to look quite dated, and totally unnecessary. The widgets that come inbuilt are also that bit too angular and up-tight-looking for my liking.
There is a style going on in the LG G3 S's software. But it's not a particularly stylish one.
However, as you use the phone you'll occasionally trip over features you don't get elsewhere. For example, you can choose how many icons go in the soft key nav bar at the bottom of the screen – from three to five.
You can also run a number of widget-based apps that you can run on top of your home screen. These are called Qslide apps, and include things like a video player, calculator, phone caller and browser.
There's also an optional note-taker button that snap-shots of whatever's onscreen so you can scribble notes on the LG G3 S screen. Without a stylus it's nowhere near as useful as the Galaxy Note 4, but some may appreciate this.
Where most other manufacturers have started trying to pare back features to offer a more streamline experience, the LG G3 S still offers quite a lot of extras. But they're not overt – beginner users can ignore them, rather than being bombarded with them.
I was also reasonably happy with the LG G3 S's performance. No, it's not as fast or responsive as the LG G3, but it's not dramatically slower than the Moto G, a phone that uses the same the Snapdragon 400 processor.
You'll experience the odd wait as interface elements pop-up when navigating through the system, and things are a little slow to load at times. For example, I found that the camera takes a while to kick-in on occasion, and it may mean you miss the odd shot.
Other little bits of slow-down just require a tiny slice of patience. Don't have that? Consider the Nexus 5, a phone with a much faster CPU and more RAM.
In the Geekbench 3 benchmark tool, the LG G3 S comes out with 1170 points. That's exactly what I'd expect from a phone using this CPU and 1GB of RAM, but it's a pretty rubbish result for something that costs a good chunk more than £200.
There are some performance issues for gamers, too. Just like the Moto G, it can handle pretty much any game at a good frame rate, unless you override the graphics settings to get the sort of graphical quality you get from the very top-end phones. In Dead Trigger 2, with graphics set to max, there's a clear cut in the frame rate, making the action appear much less smooth than it would be on the LG G3 or Nexus 5.
As ever, the compromises are there if you look for them. That would be fine if the LG G3 S wasn't as expensive as the Nexus 5.
The LG G3 S's Snapdragon 400 CPU is not an epic powerhouse. This, along with the decent 2540mAh battery, means that the phone offers pretty good stamina.
I found it a breeze to get a good day and a half's use out of the phone between charges.
In our normal video test, where we play a 90 minute 720p MP4 video at full brightness, the LG G3 S lost just 15% battery. That means you'll get 10 hours of video playback off a charge.
Remember, too, that this is at maximum screen brightness. Put it down to 50-60% where it'll be most of the time and you'll get a healthy chunk more.
As with several other mid-range LG phones, battery stamina is pretty good. There's also a standard battery saver mode that can be set to kick in when the battery level hits 30%. It cuts off things like background data to save power.
What I found more unusual, though, was call quality. The LG G3 S's speaker is really rather good, offering strong top volume and excellent treble clarity without sounding harsh. It's pretty great.
The main internal speaker isn't quite as remarkable, though. The LG G3 S has a single speaker on the back: no chance of stereo sound here.
Sound quality is fair, but nothing that breaks out of the smartphone norm. Top volume is not remarkable and the slightly thin tone doesn't have the power to break through too much ambient noise.
The LG G3 S has an 8MP camera with an LED flash. These days, that's very much a mid-range proposition that is not going to turn heads. We're not even all that complementary about some 13MP cameras at this stage.
However, as seen elsewhere in the phone, LG hasn't been able to resist squeezing-in an extra that is actually a little out of place in the G3 S. This time it's laser focusing, something introduced in the LG G3.
What this does is to fire out an infrared beam, which is then reflected back to the LG G3 S. By calculating how long it takes to return the phone can assess how far away the subject is.
It gives the phone a ballpark area in which to use the same focusing system that virtually every camera uses: contrast detection. There's still a little focus back and forth 'seeking', but that's normal for a contrast detect system. The LG G3 S is indeed a bit faster at focusing than the competition, especially when moving between near and far subjects.
The LG G3 S camera is not actually that fast to use though. As noted earlier, on occasion there's a bit of delay as the camera boots-up, and shooting speed is nowhere near as impressive as focusing speed. There's still an almost 2-second wait between photos and there is also what comes across as shutter lag.
Whether it's actual shutter lag or the camera just making some last minute picture setting improvements is largely academic.
With only so-so speed, the LG G3 S's laser focusing system is pretty much wasted.
Image quality is a couple of generations behind the best too, but I was mostly fairly happy with the results.
Colours are reasonably accurate, avoiding the skewed tone I've seen in some lower-end and mid-range phone cameras. Detail is naturally not on-par with the best smartphone cameras, but in daylight you should be able to get some sharp, well-saturated shots.
In lower lighting the difference between the LG G3 S and the LG G3 becomes more apparent. Without optical image stabilisation or terribly aggressive processing (it seems to focus on sharpening more than noise reduction), low-light photos are quite noisy.
It's the sort of noise that would have been the norm a couple of years ago, but has gradually been improved with smarter processing and wider adoption of OIS.
Even these grainy shots aren't too terrible, though. Low on detail? Sure, but the LG G3 S is pretty good at exposing the shots correctly so you can see what's going on without night skies looking blue when they should really be black.
I was a little disappointed with the HDR mode, though. This can be used to solve the dynamic range issues caused when there's a good degree of light variance in a scene – like most phone cameras, the LG G3 S doesn't have great dynamic range. HDR can boost this, but it's a pretty weak example compared to what Samsung plugs into the Galaxy S5.
There are very few extra modes, in fact. Panorama and HDR are your lot. This makes the camera app blissfully simple, but it won't please those who like to filters and dynamic effects. But you can get these pretty easily with third-party apps, and without paying a penny too.
Video capture tops out at 1080p resolution, and is roughly what I'd expect from a lower-mid range phone. You get software stabilisation – where the LG G3 S crops into the image to give it a buffer to smooth-out movement – and in-shoot auto focusing.
It doesn't seem as though the phone uses the laser focus feature during video, though, as focusing was relatively slow compared with stills shooting.
The front camera does not impress either. The LG G3 S uses a 1.3MP front sensor, and in many shots the level of colour noise – where some colours appear to be made up of a fuzzy rainbow patchwork of shades – was really quite terrible.
LG hasn't really made the right decisions with the LG G3 S camera. Laser focus assistance is a bit pointless when you're working with a camera that doesn't really have the chops to produce low-grain photos in conditions where focusing can become an issue (low light scenes). Still a sensible shooting 'brain' choosing the parameters saves it from disaster.
As is often the case with these "mini" flagships though the G3 S misses the mark, with the likes of Motorola and Google's Nexus range offering more enticing propositions.
The LG G3 S offers a few features not seen too often in mid-range phones, such as an IR transmitter for universal remote chops.
Battery life is good too. Despite not having a truly massive battery unit, you should get a comfortable day and a half off a charge.
It looks just like the LG G3. The metal-effect plastic still feels like plastic, but it has a pretty snazzy look.
After the top-value LG G3 and LG G2, the LG G3 S does not seem like that great a deal. It's outclassed by cheaper rivals like the Moto G and you can get better phones like the G2 and Nexus 5 for the same price or a little extra.
The 720p resolution screen is fairly decent, but at the price I'd hope to see a 1080p one. You can notice the difference, easily, at five inches and others have managed to at the price.
Internal storage is very limited. 8GB is very stingy at £200-plus.
The LG G3 S may look like the LG G3, but it offers much poorer value than LG's flagship. Relatively low screen resolution, limited storage, a low-end processor and at-best mid-range camera just don't stack up to the £240 price.
At this point there are just too many great phones in the £200-300 price band for the LG G3 S to be able to compete. As such, the phone feels overpriced.
However, if you fall in love with the LG G3 design, this 'S' version does look and feel fairly similar.