LG has enjoyed plenty of success with its flagship smartphones of late, and the LG G3 S wants to capitalise on this, offering a mini take on flagship design.
In doing so you get a device that, like the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini or the HTC One mini 2, mimics the design of the bigger brother but at a smaller scale. As such the LG G3 S is pretty much identical in design to the G3 and that's no bad thing.
But does this mini model give you the same experience as the G3, or does it find itself floundering in the mid range?
If you've seen the LG G3 then you've pretty much seen the LG G3 S. LG has taken the same principle, squeezing a large screen into a compact body and keeping the bezels to a minimum.
There's the same curved back and the edges are kept free of buttons, with those controls sitting on the back of the phone. About the only external difference from the G3 is the lack of dual-tone flash. Otherwise, the two handsets are identical, except for the size, of course.
The LG G3 S measures 137.7 x 69.6 x 10.3mm and weighs 134g. That's pretty compact for a handset that has a 5-inch display: it's smaller than the closely-matched Moto G second-gen and the design works better here for making that display size manageable.
The plastic back is removable so you can access the battery and switch it out, and to access the card ports. It's finished in LG's "metallic skin" but it's just plastic; there's no sign of metal here.
The build quality is pretty good, however, matching the LG G3. If you can't stretch to the size of the G3 or the price, then this mini-me should keep you happy from a design point of view.
Design aside, the LG G3 S sits firmly in the mid-range. Every aspect of the G3 S has taken a step back from the G3, so it languishes alongside those other mid-range devices we mentioned in the opening text.
It's powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor with 1GB of RAM. There's 8GB of internal storage with support for microSD cards, to give yourself more space for movies, music or whatever else you wish to store.
That hardware configuration is typical of this type of device and the resultant performance at a core level is close to those other devices from Motorola, Samsung and HTC - although at times the LG feels like it is dragging its feet, which we think is likely a software issue.
There's a 2540mAh battery which is pretty capacious, but it is driving a pretty big display. You'd probably expect it to last easily through a day - it's almost the same capacity as the HTC One (M8) - but we found it to be rather mixed in longevity terms.
In light use the battery lasts through the day easily enough, but on busy days it drains faster than we expect, leaving us empty by mid-afternoon. Many devices seem to handle this better and we'd expect a little more endurance from the G3 S when you set it to task on busy days.
There's a single speaker on the rear of the G3 S which is a little tinny in its delivery - certainly, if you want quality audio, you need to be reaching for a set of headphones. We found the call quality to be good, with no problems hearing what people were saying.
However, we did find the reception, overall, to be poor. Using the G3 S over a couple of weeks, it's been a weak performer when it comes to staying connected.
The IPS LCD display on board is typical of this type of device, with a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels (294ppi). Those with keen eyes might notice less apparent sharpness compared to the higher-resolution panels out there, but generally speaking, this is a high enough resolution to keep things looking detailed enough.
Viewing angles are pretty good and colours are nice and vibrant, but blacks are a little weak. We much prefer the HTC One mini 2 display, which we feel is a better performer, but smaller at 4.5-inches.
There's plenty of brightness, but there's no ambient light sensor, which is a downside as the screen won't automatically adjust to lighting conditions in real-time. You can alter the brightness by swiping into the notifications area, so it's only a swipe away, but that's still irksome, especially when moving from indoors to out, or between night and day.
To get around this LG offers a little software option that lets you have it automatically engage "night brightness". The aim is that it dims when you need to dimmer. It's a minor work around, but doesn't escape the fact that the lack of auto-brightness is annoying. It's perhaps a surprising omission, seeing as there is an IR blaster included for controlling your telly. We'd rather have the light sensor, thank you very much.
The LG software treatment
Running Android 4.4 KitKat, LG has given the G3 S's user interface a thorough overhaul compared to stock Android, offering some of the features you get on the LG G3. The design and visual experience is pretty much the same between the two devices.
That means you get lots of customisation options. You can choose how your navigation controls work, for example, as well as having various options for one-handed control - although they are probably unnecessary on this device because the size is mostly manageable.
LG gives the option to uninstall some of the pre-loaded apps, so if you want to free some space or remove some of the duplication and clutter you can do so. Unfortunately this doesn't include the internet browser that's bundled in. Chrome is the better option, so you can't quite remove everything that's more-or-less redundant.
LG's keyboard tries to do everything for you, from predictions to corrections. It's fully customisable so you can change the size, but the response isn't great, so you might find it's not as effective as some more simple keyboards - like the stock Android keyboard that's now very good.
A really clever option for the keyboard is LG's clipboard, meaning you can copy and paste multiple elements, rather than the normal option of doing one at a time. You also get the fancy KnockCode to unlock the phone, although in this case you can only have KnockCode or tap to wake - and we prefer the latter.
Admittedly LG's user interface (UI) isn't our favourite. We think it looks a little dated at times. The colour palette is odd, with strange browns and yellows used. The overall look, we think, isn't as modern as some rivals and overall it can be a little busy, with so much on display and so many options that you'll probably end up ignoring most of them and sticking with the default experience.
The design is a point of personal preference however (and we had the same criticism of the flagship G3), but it feels like the LG G3 S suffers as a result of the heavy UI treatment. It doesn't feel as slick and fast as something like the Moto G and at times that's frustrating. For example, waiting for the screen to wake-up at the end of a call - there's a delay before you can hit the button - or the pause waiting for the camera to open.
The G3 S offers a lot through LG's customisations, but we think it would be better with a slightly lighter touch.
There's an 8-megapixel camera on the rear of the G3 S that comes with LG's laser autofocus system as we saw on the G3. The G3 had a really strong camera and that focusing system is fast once again on the G3 S. However, the actual capture process is a little slow on the G3 S, so it's not quite as impressive as the flagship.
The camera is a good performer however, producing some great shots in good lighting conditions. It can be a little lacking in contrast at times, but that's easily corrected after shooting. The Auto HDR (high dynamic range) mode is welcomed, as it will wrangle a little more out of tricky lighting situations. The single flash here isn't as adept as the dual tone of the G3 (and others), but it works well enough.
The low-light performance is average, with shots showing image noise pretty quickly as the light drops - but that's not uncommon in smartphone cameras.
There's plenty of options and the drop to 8-megapixels (from 13MP) doesn't mean that this is a bad camera: we've had some good results from it and it remains a relative strength of this LG phone.
The front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera offers fancy gesture capture, which might be useful if you invest in a selfie stick as you can capture shots by making a fist using Gesture Shot. The skin-smoothing beauty mode might appeal to some, but the front-facing camera performance is relatively weak overall. Photos are often soft, and it's not very wide angle either.
The LG G3 S offers something of a mixed bag and fails to impress like its flagship bigger brother.
While the S squeezes a 5-inch display into its nicely designed and compact body, we found the user interface to be a little slow in places, and its colour palette looks a little dated. There's no shortage of options, however, and the camera performance is good - but we just think that this smartphone would have fared better if LG stuck to the "simple" premise it set out with.
With Motorola's aggressive pricing, the LG is also more expensive than you might want it to be at £250, but it comes in cheaper than some other options, such as the HTC One mini 2 or Samsung Galaxy S5 mini.
Ultimately, the LG G3 S doesn't feel like the most accomplished handset in its category. With HTC offering great build and Motorola great value, the LG might struggle to make its case.
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