- Stunning display
- Excellent camera experience
- Reliable performance
- Solid battery life
- Middling design
- No wireless charging
LG G4 review: After naming the LG G3 phone of the year at last year’s Recombu Awards, LG’s G4 has a lot to live up to – can the updated screen, all-new camera and leather design make an impact? Check out our full in-depth LG G4 review.
Design – Against the grain
With Samsung putting its penchant for plastic-bodied flagships out the pasture following the arrival of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, we were curious to see what decisions LG would place on the development of the design from last year’s G3 leading into this year’s G4.
First and foremost we need to talk about that back plate. It is removable. In fact the LG G4 is now the only flagship smartphone with a removable back, a replaceable battery and microSD expandability in one package; everyone from Apple to Huawei, Sony, Motorola, Lumia and of course, Samsung have opted to lock their batteries away inside with far greater permanence than LG. This puts the G4 in a unique spot for the select few out there after the additional flexibility.
As well as what you’ll find under the back plate, the panel itself is a key aesthetic component on the G4, straying away from the faux metal plastic of the G3 and in its place adopting real stitched leather in an assortment of vegetable-dyed colours. Whilst the tan variant that features on most of LG’s marketing material isn’t particularly appealing to our eyes, there are a range of other choices that look as though they’ll suit a myriad of tastes, not to mention it feels nice in the hand.
Our review sample featured the Ceramic White back (a UK exclusive for Three until the end of June) that draws on older LG tastes with its shiny plastic finish, but the diamond pattern plays well against the light and there are also silver and gold options if leather isn’t for you, although it’s an unquestionably more distinctive and exotic material choice to find on a smartphone.
The rest of the bodywork doesn’t feature quite the same visual flare; with a chromed plastic border that we wish was metal and a centrally positioned button arrangement under the rear camera for volume and power control. Ergonomically, the LG G4 is a well thought out piece of hardware and overall, users will likely appreciate its svelte, elegant design
Screen – A Quantum leap?
LG was one of the first to squeeze an insanely sharp Quad HD panel onto a smartphone and the offering on the LG G4 only serves to surpass everything else on the market.
The 5.5-inch IPS ‘Quantum Display’, as it’s named, improves on the G3’s panel with greater overall brightness, colour reproduction and low reflectivity. The Gorilla Glass frontage is also slightly curved adding to its appeal under-finger. Just don’t be surprised when the fingerprints start appearing.
Geeks will appreciate that the colour gamut of the G4’s display matches up with the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) specification more closely than any other phone on the market, but to you and I just understand that colour reproduction is simply incredible and provided you turn off auto-brightness in the video player, you’ll have an absolutely stellar media experience. The G4 packs a sharp, colourful screen and it’s one of the best we’ve come across of late.
OS – Tightened up
Similarly to its leading rival Samsung, LG has clearly spent time refining and simplifying the user experience on offer with its latest flagship. New app iconography looks cleaner and whilst elements like the settings menu are still packed, it’s all become noticeably more manageable.
During the initial setup you’re also given the opportunity to download additional apps from LG and once you’re up and running you have the option to completely remove select apps like the browser to avoid doubling up with the likes of Google Chrome.
Running what’s called LG UX 4.0 atop Android 5.1 Lollipop, the G4 still features staples like the company’s Knock Code security lock screen feature and elements like Q Slide letting you attach floating windows over the main interface for multi-tasking, but there are also new experiences to be had too.
This updated interface features a new Smart Bulletin screen, kept one swipe away from the main home screen. By default it includes everything from your calendar and fitness activity to new automation features under the guise of Smart Settings and quick access to Q Remote for controlling your TV or set top box.
Depending on how you use your G4, Smart Bulletin will update with what it deems your preferred features and you can manually reorder services or hide the whole thing completely. The aforementioned Smart Settings tools bring Tasker-like functionality natively into the G4, with options like toggling WiFi when you get home or launching your music player when headphones are plugged in.
The new calendar app is also worth a mention. It adopts Google’s Material Design language, but LG’s added a little twist to the experience with its Event Pocket feature, letting you pull in content from Facebook, your device’s clipboard and even your local area to quickly add it to your calendar. Whilst we would have liked context aware Gmail or email support too, this is an intelligent feature and a great unique offering from LG.
Performance – Level-headed hexa-core
At the launch of the G4, the company outlined how it’d worked closely with Qualcomm to ensure the phone’s unusual hexa-core Snapdragon 808 chip was the right tool for the job – even going so far as to wheel out Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf to reassure us all that this thing was going to deliver where it counts.
Whilst on paper the 808 might look as though it lags behind the beefier 810, in actual use it delivers a more consistent experience and boasts smarter power management, with less of a need to throttle back when compared to its hot-headed octa-core sibling (ArsTechnica’s stress test benchmarking shows how well it handles itself against the 810 and Samsung’s Exynos 7420 chip).
Practically speaking you won’t find notable lag or slowdown, even after extended usage and it handles 3D gaming and other intensive tasks with aplomb. Paired up with 3GB of DDR3 RAM you can also expect solid multitasking performance when using the Q Slide or Dual Window mode as well.
Battery life is respectable too, with the removable 3000mAh cell comfortably lasting into a second day’s use, although you’ll likely need to charge it up again before lunch on that second day – or swap out the cell for another which isn’t an option on any of the G4’s obvious rivals. The only real omission on the battery front is wireless charging functionality, which can only be achieved if you purchase LG’s Quick Circle Case.
If it’s storage you’re after the G4’s 32GB of internal space serves as a strong base, but new owners will also receive 100GB of Google Drive cloud storage for two years and in the pursuit of future-proofing, the phone’s microSD slot will also accept cards up to 2TB in capacity – particularly impressive considering the largest commercially available microSD card on offer at the time of writing is a tenth of the size (200GB).
Camera – Stable, focussed, fast
Amidst the hype ahead of the G4’s official launch, LG pushed out content marketing the phone as a great alternative backup snapper for professionals. In some ways these claims ring true, in others they really don’t, but after toying with the camera for the last week, it’s undoubtedly one of the best smartphone shooters on the market.
There are three levels to the user interface; in its most basic form the ‘Easy’ UX leaves only a back button, a gallery button, the interface setting switch and the viewfinder on screen – ideal for those who want a ‘tap anywhere to snap’ camera experience. Switching to the ‘Auto’ interface adds in the option to shoot video and tools to customise aspect ratio, resolution, toggle flash, toggle HDR, toggle a voice shutter and more, including advanced modes such as Panorama and Dual Shot (both front and rear cameras in a single image).
Then there’s ‘Manual’ mode, which adds an impressive level control over the G4’s camera experience, similarly to Microsoft’s Lumia Camera app on Windows devices. You’ll find additional tools for white balance, manual focus, exposure, ISO and shutter speed, as well as the option to lock each of these elements in place. All of the controls are managed via a set of simple virtual scroll wheels and you’re given a preview of the resultant image (where possible) through the viewfinder. You can even save out shots in RAW format should you want to get down to some serious photo editing later.
As for image quality in auto mode both the front and rear cameras cope exceptionally well in all manner of conditions, the images are softer and more natural-looking than shots produced on phones like the Galaxy S6, but for the most part it falls to personal preference at this point.
Demonstrating solid dynamic range, impressive macro capabilities and, as LG rightly claimed, excellent low light performance, you’re well equipped to take photos pretty much anywhere with the LG G4’s camera.
As we outlined in our initial camera comparison, the benefits of the improved OIS system are wholly apparent when taking stills or video and cinematographers will appreciate the option to switch between Full HD, 4K and slow motion video (even if slo-mo appears to be limited to 720p HD). Whilst it’s unfortunate that the phone’s excellent manual controls don’t carry over in any capacity when filming video, you’re still given an impressively robust overall imaging experience.
Verdict – Well played
If it isn’t clear, the LG G4 is a feature-packed handset and a fitting offering amidst the current top smartphones on the scene. Its stellar hardware, refined user experience and incredible camera place it somewhere near the top of the pile along with the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge and Apple’s iPhone 6 – arguably the most sought after handsets available right now.
We wouldn’t say it’s better or worse than the obvious competition when it comes to capabilities, simply that it comes with a different set of strengths and weaknesses that will appeal more to some and less to other potential buyers.
The new design, particularly that distinctive leather back, may divide the style conscious, but one aspect everyone should be able to agree on is that the LG G4 is a very competitively priced handset. With a SIM-free UK price of £499, it’s noticeably more affordable than its main rivals without falling short on quality. Well played LG.
|Screen resolution||QHD (2560x1440)|
|OS||Android 5.1 Lollipop|
|Rear Camera||16-megapixel w/ single LED flash, F1.8 aperture and OIS|
|Processor||1.8GHz hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808|
|Storage||32GB. Expandable via microSD up to 2TB|
|Bonus features||Knock Code, manual camera controls, Smart Bulletin, genuine leather back|