This is the story of my personal journey to find the best phone on the market for use on the farm. Hint – it’s the LG G3. Here’s how I got there.
I started this year with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 that I bought after my Samsung Galaxy Nexus – the previously best phone on Verizon – stopped working in the fall of 2013. While many others didn’t like the Verizon variant of the Galaxy Nexus, I had no problems with it. When it died, the Note 3 had the best specs of any phone at the time so that’s what I bought.
It was horrible. The first thing I noticed was the software. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3, compared to the Galaxy Nexus, was loaded with TouchWiz. TouchWiz is Samsung’s overlay on top of Android designed to make it unlike any other brand of phone – harder to use, uglier to look at and loaded with enough additional features that it’s hard to find them all to turn them off. Compare to the Nexus, there were so many useless carrier apps preinstalled that I learned of an entire community dedicated to the removal of this hard-to-remove bloatware. To make matters worse, very shortly after I bought my Note 3, Verizon started offering a developer edition that would have saved me most of the headaches around software. As it was, I spent days figuring out how to get a custom ROM on my device that resembled the Android I know and love.
The second and more severe problem I had with the Note 3 is one the developer edition wouldn’t have helped me with. While I was traveling for Purple Wave and even at my house, I had pretty good mobile service. However, last May as I started working weekends on the farm, it became clear that the reception on my Note 3 was substantially poorer than that of my Galaxy Nexus. I reviewed the HTC One M8 for Verizon in April, and commented that the reception seemed a little better than my Note 3, and even my Galaxy Nexus, but hadn’t spent enough time on the farm to know just how badly the Note 3 performed.
At first I didn’t know it was Samsung’s fault. I spent harvest barely able to check email in several of my fields. I ordered a replacement Note 3, believing that I might have caused a problem with the software hacking I had done to get rid of the awful TouchWiz experience and all the red apps that came preinstalled. The replacement, with the stock experience, performed exactly as poorly as my Note 3 had. Indeed, as I started paying closer attention, it seemed that the Galaxy S3s that my mother and wife had at the time, as well as the Galaxy S4 that my sister still has, all suffered from a significant problem – Samsung’s current phones simply have poor antennas.
It was so bad that I considered leaving Verizon, wondering if it was some kind of deleterious change in Verizon’s network similar to the bad experience we had in a reduction in quality of the Sprint network in 2012. I decided to assess my options. I wanted to know if it was Verizon’s fault or Samsung’s fault. I ordered a Google Nexus 5 and got an account with Cricket. I also bought a Moto X from eBay to see if it performed differently on Verizon than my Note 3.
I learned that the Google Nexus 5 is an amazing phone. It still boggles my mind that Verizon hasn’t carried the Nexus series after the Galaxy Nexus – it would have made the Android experience so much better for its customers. Unfortunately, Cricket – which piggybacks on the AT&T network – doesn’t seem to have solid coverage on my farm. It was even worse than the Note 3 experience with Verizon. I let my Cricket account expire after the first month, but I kept the Nexus 5 to use around the house, even without the ability to make phone calls, because it’s just that good of a device.
I received the Moto X and immediately noticed a difference. First, the software experience was clean and, unlike Samsung, made me excited to use Android again. Second, the reception was amazing. In the fields where the Samsung phones could barely check email, the Moto X was streaming HBO Go and Netflix to my tablet in my cab without buffering. I was relieved to learn that the problem was Samsung and not Verizon, so I could stay with Verizon and not give up my unlimited data plan.
It was about this point in time that I received the Kyocera Brigadier to review. A rugged phone, I tested it for a couple weeks of fieldwork. It’s antenna performance wasn’t quite as good as the Moto X, but it was substantially better than the Samsung phones’.
I was left with a somewhat significant problem, though, with the Moto X. After using the Note 3, the Moto X has a tiny screen and a tiny battery. The non-removable back meant that the battery wasn’t upgradable, like that of my Note 3, and there weren’t any battery cases on the market. I found myself at the Iowa State Fair in August and, afterwards, spoke with a nice guy at the Verizon booth at the fair who spoke candidly with me about antenna performance in phones, and he promised me that the G3 was easy to root and would get reception nearly as good as the Moto X. I gave my Moto X to my wife and ordered a G3 from eBay.
The LG G3 is slightly smaller than the Note 3, but it’s still a big phone. At 5.5 inches, the quad HD IPS display is gorgeous. The processor was the fastest in any major phone at the time, and the camera is a 13 MP sensor with optical image stabilization and laser focus. To this day, it’s one of the best cameras in a phone on the market, taking fast and reliably accurate pictures. LG made a interesting design choice by putting the power and volume buttons in the center of the back rather than around the edges like most manufacturers. I quickly got used to the button locations, but also to the double-tap to wake feature that lets me wake the phone by tapping the screen.
The G3 hasn’t actually been easy to root as I was promised, until recently, and we’re only just now seeing the ability to install custom version of Android. This means I’ve been stuck with the factory interface. The software on the G3 has been customized by LG, but unlike Samsung, I don’t want to murder LG’s design team. They’ve got a consistent design aesthetic that doesn’t seem to interfere with Android’s functions, and the carrier bloat has been easy to disable or freeze with Titanium Backup.
What makes the LG G3 the best phone for the farm, however, isn’t its speed or its camera. It’s the fact that it has a removable battery. The stock battery life is fine if you’re at a desk and don’t mind charging it throughout the day, but when I’m farming I want a phone on my belt that provides a consistent hotspot for my tablets and streams podcasts to my Bluetooth headset from 6 a.m. until after 10 p.m. – without having to charge it. The Zerolemon 9000 mAh battery for the LG G3 makes it the perfect phone for the farm – or any industrial use where charging is inconvenient and all-day battery life is a must.
While I’ve had the G3, I’ve reviewed the new Moto X and the Droid Turbo. They’re both great phones, but neither has an upgradable battery. The Turbo’s battery is big, but it’s still less than 4000 mAh, which is simply insufficient for a day on the farm. Even after the launch of the Nexus 6, the G3 will remain the only phone with good reception, acceptable software and an upgradable battery on the Verizon network.
I’m now in the process of getting the rest of my family away from all Samsung devices. I’m giving my G3 to my wife as soon as my Motorola Nexus 6 arrives – I want to keep the G3 close in case there isn’t a big battery case for the Nexus 6 by next summer. Mom is getting my wife’s Moto X and my sister is upgrading to the Droid Turbo. We’ll be rid of Samsung just as soon as I punt my Galaxy Gear Live in favor of the Zenwatch.
Here’s a picture gallery – unaltered – from the wonderful camera on the LG G3. Enjoy.