REVIEW: LG G4
Arriving fashionably later than other 2015 flagships, has the LG G4 stolen the crown as best phone of 2015?
It's been a little wait for the LG G4 after a no-show at MWC 2015 back in March. However, the flagship phone is finally here and LG is calling it the 'most ambitious smartphone yet'. We were seriously impressed with the LG G2 and LG G3, so the G4 has a lot to live up to and fierce competition from rivals.
The LG G4 will arrive in the UK on 28 May and, as we expected, the firm has undercut rivals as it did with previous flagship devices with a price of £500.
(£525 for leather). For comparison, the HTC One M9 is £579 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 is £599.
Design and build
Despite rumours of a metal build, LG has gone for genuine leather instead which is unusual as a main option (you can choose it for the Moto X but it's a premium extra). The leather feels nice with the stitching so it's preferable to faux leather as found on some Samsung devices but some colours aren't great such as yellow and sky blue. Although the leather is vegetable tanned and LG says the colour will change over time.
If the idea of leather puts you off the LG G4 straight away then don't worry because there is a ceramic option too which has a smooth diamond texture and comes in three colours: Metallic Gray, Ceramic White and Shiny Gold. However, this feels pretty plasticky, especially the white model, with
LG confirming the polycarbonate is only 5 percent ceramic. You'll need to pay £25 extra for the leather.
That cover is still removable giving you access to the battery and microSD card slot which is good to see. What we don't know is how the leather will wear over time so we hope we can have a sample long enough to see what happens. Unfortunately, we've been sent the Metallic Gray model but we have seen the leather options at the G4 launch event.
Since the cover is removable, we're hoping to see third-party case makers offer some nice alternatives to LG's range.
The LG G4 looks pretty similar to the G3 apart from the switch to leather and ceramic. However, it's a shame that like the HTC One M9, the firm hasn't managed to slim it down. It's heavier at 155g and thicker at 9.8mm which isn't ideal. We were also hoping for the phone to be thinner on the width as the G3 is a tad difficult to use in this sense but the G4 is actually taller and wider at 76x149.9mm.
Another shame is that the frame is still plastic, this time with a slightly chromed effect. It feels cheap compared to rival flagships and we're not keen on the sharp edges around the micro-USB- and headphone ports.
LG uses a Slim Arc curved shape which makes it comfortable to hold and supposedly makes it 20 percent more durable than a flat smartphone in face-down drops. This subtle curve applies to the entire phone, not just the back, making it a little like the G Flex 2. It's certainly not a curved screen phone, but does make the G3 feel distinctly flat.
We knew a lot about the LG G4 prior to the launch, partly thanks to LG and partly the usual leaks online.
The firm has stuck with a 5.5in screen size and a Quad HD resolution (1440x2560), which offers
a high pixel density of 538ppi. It's not the same panel though as LG has fitted its new IPS Quantum Display which is says has 20 percent greater colour reproduction, 25 percent improvement in brightness and 50 percent greater contrast.
Percentages aside, the display is better than the G3 (which was the first Quad HD phone to market) but it's not a huge leap. Colours do, on the whole, look better - especially whites but some look a little over the top. For example, the YouTube icon icon looks neon red like it's eaten too many Haribo.
LG hasn't done itself any favours with the default garish colour scheme but that's something easily changed. Once again, we think the LG G4's screen is top quality so it's really the size which is more of an issue here as 5.5in will be too large for some users.
Which processor LG would opt for was something we had to wait to find out and it's not the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 (as used in the LG G Flex 2) or the
firm's own Nuclun processor. Instead the LG G4 has a Snapdragon 808 making it the first device we've seen with the chip. The reason is unknown but suspected to be behind the overheating issues of the 810, although Qualcomm denies this.
Nevertheless, the Snapdragon 808 is a six-core processor rather than octa-core offering dual-core ARM Cortex A57 and quad-core A53 with 64-bit support. It also has an Adreno 418 GPU which supports 3D gaming on 4K displays and X10 LTE which has integrated LTE Advanced for download speeds of up to 450Mbps (theoretically).
It can't keep up with rivals on pure benchmark numbers, as you might expect, but that doesn't mean the LG G4 is slow. It feels nippier than the G3 and can keep up with the Galaxy S6 some of the time in a side-by-side comparison but Samsung's phone does feel that little bit silkier in operation.
LG says it has worked with Qualcomm on the 808 touting is as 'snappy yet energy-thrifty'. It claims the change means an extra 20 percent battery life compared to the G3 despite having the same battery capacity. A removable battery is a key feature of the LG G4 when compared to rivals as it's the only flagship with this option.
In terms of battery life, we've not noticed it being dramatically different to the G3 which lasted a
couple of days with normal usage. After a number of days with the LG G4 it lasts a day and half to two days so there's really no difference.
In our battery test, the LG G4 managed four hours and 44 minutes with a numerical score of 2841 which quite a way off the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge which produce close to seven hours and a score over 4000.
Our real quibble on the battery front is that LG has downgraded to no wireless charging as standard, which is not a good move. You'll need to buy the Quick Circle case to gain this feature, which seems silly when having a leather cover is one of the main reasons to buy the G4.
It's also strange that the LG G4 doesn't offer Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 despite the Snapdragon 808 supporting this feature. Like the G3, it is supplied with a 1.8A charger though, which is still pretty speedy. It's also odd to see no type of extreme power saving mode which rivals offer which gives you basic functionality on a black and white interface.
LG has simplified things when it comes to memory and storage with a flat 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage matching rivals - the amount varies on the G3. There is, however, that microSD card slot which many were annoyed to see dropped on the Galaxy S6 so you can bump things up if you need to.
The G4 has the kind of wireless you'd expect from a top-end phone with 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 LE and NFC. This does mean that LG hasn't added features
you can find elsewhere such as a fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor but the IR blaster remains from the G3.
A major feature which LG has been pushing since before the launch event is the camera which is confirmed would have an aperture of f/1.8 – narrowly beating the Galaxy S6 by 0.1. We now know the main camera is 16Mp, up from 13Mp, and has OIS 2.0 (optical image stabilisation). A new feature called Quick Shot means you can double tap the Rear Key to launch the camera and take a photo but while this is fast, it's difficult to frame the shot with the screen off so you'll probably need to do some cropping.
Not that the camera was bad on the G3, but this is the biggest area of upgrade for us. The LG G4's main camera is up there with the best taking predominantly great shots in a range of conditions.
The new version of OIS can move up to two degrees which is double what the G3 has to offer and now has a third z-axis of movement. You can really see and feel this in action when you're shooting with the G4 and is the best optical image stabilisation we've seen on any smartphone.
We also like the addition of the Manual Mode which lets you start controlling the settings yourself – it's fun to try even if you're not into photography. You can tweak the shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, white balance and use manual focus. You can even shoot in RAW if you like!
Selfie fans will love the 8Mp front camera which has an f/2.0 aperture. It's easy to take photos using the Rear Key as a shutter button but you can also use the new Gesture Interval Shot feature to take a series of four selfies.
The LG G4 comes preloaded with the latest version of Android, 5.1 Lollipop, and the firm's new UX 4.0 interface which it teased before the launch. It looks similar to the G3's user interface as you'd expect and still has existing features such as Smart Bulletin and Smart Notice, but there are some new features.
Smart Bulletin sits to the left of the home screen, a now common place for a special feature like
The LG G4 has the best optical image stabilisation we've seen on any smartphone
Google Now, Flipboard and BlinkFeed depending on the device. On the G4, this vertical feed gives you information such as fitness tracking, calendar events and also gives you control such as music playback and the QRemote. If you don't like it, Smart Bulletin can be switched off in the settings menu. Smart Notice is improved and the widget now changes colour to match your wallpaper.
There's also an improved Gallery app and a new feature called Event Pocket allows you to create a unified calendar by dragging and dropping appointments and activities from multiple calendars and social media sites.
It's also worth noting that the LG G4 comes preinstalled with Google Office and G4 owners will receive an additional 100GB of Google Drive storage free for two years which is a lot of extra space. LG also said VW owners will be able to "view a carfriendly version of the G4 interface on the in-dash
display for full integration with contacts, navigation and music on the smartphone".
Beyond these additions, what we really like is the number of things you can customise and some cool things hidden away in the settings menu.
Like previous devices, you don't have to make do with the standard navigation buttons. You can have up to five on the bar including one to open and close the notification bar, QMemo+, QSlide and Dual Window. You can also manually choose whether to show or hide the navigation bar in apps you have installed rather than letting the phone decide.
You can once again choose the font (and size) for the interface and turn the notification LED off if you really don't want it. There's also the ability to adjust the strength of vibration for haptic feedback and notifications, which is great.
New for the G4 is a new section called Smart settings. This means you can automate a lot of things like switching Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off plus changing your sound profile. You can set these to automatically adjust when you're at home or away from home plus when earphones are plugged in.
Another feature is Smart cleaning which will help you clear some space on the G4 by cleaning some apps and deleting temporary files.
LG has gone down an unexpected route with leather models, which we like apart from a couple of colours. The so-called ceramic model is less expensive but we think it feels cheap and plasticky. On the whole, hardware is once again strong – particularly the camera – but not massively different from the G3 and the G4 has some tough competition. We feel build quality could be better, with a metal frame and dimensions going down, not the reverse. This is the flagship to go for if you want a removable battery and expandable storage, but it's a shame to see features such as wireless charging dropped. (Remember the G3 is now a steal at under £300 SIM-free.)