LG G4 Definitive Review

LG G4 Definitive Review

I think the LG G3 was a great phone. It did have some performance issues, and until the recent lollipop update it could be a bit slow and unresponsiveness without installing a third party launcher or rooting it. But fortunately, the G4 has pretty much fixed all that. A faster processer, more RAM and the latest Android 5.1 software mean it’s a lot smoother and nicer to use. However aside from better performance and an improved camera – there isn’t a whole lot that’s new with the G4 and in some areas like design, I think the G3 was actually a bit better.

LG G4

So it looks like a fairly modest upgrade overall, but let’s see if the G4 has what it takes to keep up with the strong competition and live up to the success of it’s predecessor.

LG G4

Design & Build

Weighing 155g and at 9.8mm thick, the G4 is heavier and chunkier than the G3. It’s 1.5mm wider too, which means despite featuring the same size 5.5” screen, the screen-to-body ratio is now 72.5%, that’s down 2.7% from the G3.

So it’s wider, thicker, heavier and has a lower screen-to-body ratio – I’m not sure the G4’s design can considered an improvement over the G3.

As well as simply being bigger, it’s also less comfortable to use. The sharper, less rounded corners dig into your hand which means it’s one of the least comfortable phones I’ve used in a long time. The polar opposite of the G3 if you recall my review of that, I praised its ergonomics as a borderline phablet compared with the Note 4 and iPhone 6 + for example. Unfortunately the G4 just isn’t comfortable to hold. For one-handed use a fair amount of hand and finger gymnastics will be required so I think ideally it’s a two-handed device.

On the front of the plastic chassis, Gorilla glass 3 protects the 5.5” display. It is a bit of a shame we’re not seeing Gorilla Glass 4, however – since that is featured on phones like the Galaxy S6. It’s also worth noting the G4 doesn’t have an oleophobic coating on the screen like the G3 did – it’s a relatively minor point but it means the G4 is more susceptible to fingerprints and smudges – and from my experience I do find I have to keep giving the screen a wipe to get rid of fingerprints. Minor, but annoying.

So for me, first impressions aren’t fantastic, but the G4 does have a few tricks up its sleeve to win me back around.

First of all – it’s the removable back cover, available in gold or metallic grey  with a subtle brushed metal effect and subtle diamond pattern – or a rather more interesting, and more expensive, brown leather option. Regardless of whether you opt for plastic or leather, the best part is that it’s removable.

leather G4

Taking it off reveals a micro-Sim card slot, a Micro-SD port that supports cards up to 2048GB – that’s 2 Terabytes in capacity as well as a removable 3,000MaH battery. Fewer and fewer phones offer these features so it’s great to see here.

Now introduced on the G2, rear buttons have become a regular feature on LG’s flagship phones. So on the back of the G4 we have the volume and power buttons. The volume is textured in contrast to the smooth power button so you can work out which you’re pressing from the feel, but although you do get used to it still find it a bit unwieldy to use, I often smudge the camera lens because I’ve gone too high and the less ergonomic design of the G4 makes using even more of a hassle. Some people really like their placement, which means both edges are completely clean and clear of buttons. For me though, I’m not a huge fan.

Above these buttons is the 16 megapixel camera, flanked by a laser autofocus and LED flash. Below is the speaker, unfortunately still relegated to the back corner  On the base we have a micro USB 2 port, microphone and 3.5mm headphone jack. As a result of the volume and power being on the back, both sides are completely clear of any buttons. Up top we have an IR emitter and a noise cancelling microphone.

Onto the front, software buttons mean there are no capacitive buttons taking up the bottom bezel, just an LG logo. At the top we have a 8 megapixel camera, call speaker and the usual light sensors and LED notification light. The front bezels have a very small, very subtle diamond pattern effect. It’s a smaller version of the diamonds found on the back cover which I think it gives it an almost carbon-fibre look.

One of the most interesting aspects to the design though is the subtle-curve that LG have added to the G4. Dubbed the Slim Arc, it’s a not nearly as pronounced as the curve found on the LG G Flex phones and is barely noticeable looking at it straight on. Viewed from the side though you can see a slight curve which presumably might help to reduce reflections on the screen, protect the screen if placed facing down and perhaps improve the call quality due to more optimal mic and speaker positioning etc. – but in reality I haven’t really noticed any of that so for me it’s more of just an interesting design.

LG G4 Curve

Display

The G4 features a big 5.5” quad-HD display. That translates to 538 pixels per inch meaning it’s incredibly crisp and sharp. Using what LG describe as a Quantum Display, the IPS LCD display looks really nice too, whites look white without any hint of a warm yellow or cool blue you can often find on other phones. Colours are generally quite natural. It’s brighter than last year’s G3 too, producing around 450-nits with brightness set to max. It’s not quite as bright as the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S6, but still pretty good and usable in bright sunlight. Viewing angles are good, colours retain their vibrancy even at quite acute angles but you do notice quite a significant drop in brightness when viewed from around 30degrees of centre. So although it’s the same size and resolution as the G3, it’s brighter and colours are richer – a fair improvement.

 

Speed & Storage

Despite not offering the flagship Snapdragon 810 like the HTC One M9 or even the LG Flex 2, the G4 uses the slightly less powerful 1.8GHz 64-bit hexa-core Snapdragon 808. This is a decent upgrade from the 801 chip in the G3, but it’s also not going to win any speed awards. That’s fine, it handles everything just fine and even intensive games run smoothly.

The G4 scores just over 45-thousand on the AnTuTu benchmark. A solid score but trails the Galaxy S6’s 61-thousand and HTC M9’s 52-thousand.

Your initial thoughts might be well – why haven’t they included the Snapdragon 810 – and although I don’t know other than guessing it may be a cost or manufacturing issue – there is an upside. I did find some minor throttling and overheating with the 810 on the HTC M9 and so it may not be an entirely bad thing for the G4 to use the 808 – Although the M9 did score higher on the benchmark, the 808 is still the second fastest chip Qualcomm offer and very capable.

Alongside this is 3GB RAM and 32GB built-in storage (although only 22.6GB are usable). The G4 also supports Micro-SD card support of up to 2GB cards – significantly more than the maximum 128GB on the G3.

 

User Interface

Although previously described as quite cluttered and a bit cartoony looking, the G4 introduces the LG UX 4.0 software on top of the latest Android Lollipop 5.1. This makes the G4 much more responsive than the G3 was when it was released. It retains it’s fairly distinctive look, but it feels more grown up overall.

The combination of the new software and faster hardware means the G4 is, for most of the time, very fast and responsive. Only occasionally has it slowed down when videos and browsing some more intensive websites on chrome. Generally any slow-down can be fixed by with a clear-all of the apps, but coming from the Galaxy S6 – the G4 is noticeably less responsive and apps are a bit slower to load. Still, it’s an improvement over the G3 and for the vast majority of the time works brilliantly.

Double-tap – For some reason it seems like fewer and fewer phones these days have a double-tap to wake feature but fortunately the G4 does and it works really well. You can even double-tap on empty areas of the home screen to put it back to sleep. Following its introduction on the G3, you can keep your phone safe using a knock-code instead of a normal password.

Go to settings > Lock screen > select screen lock. Tap Knock Code and then tap the square 3-8 times in a pattern you will remember. This works well from my experience although I’d recommend still keeping the code relatively simple so it doesn’t become too annoying trying to wake your phone every time.

Smart Settings are another interesting feature are the Smart Settings. Customise one of three categories – Home, Away and Accessory. For each, you can select specific sound profiles, turn on Bluetooth and even automatically open the music app when headphones are plugged in. I can maybe see why you might want to try this but it seems too much hassle to set it up – I’d rather just swipe down from the top to enable or disable Bluetooth for example rather than rely on geo-specific settings. Nice idea – not sure about how useful it is.

Smart Notice, the large widget by at the top of the main home screen is one of the most useful default widgets I’ve seen. It provides the usual weather, time and temperature information, but also has a small message underneath that forecasts the weather for the rest of the day. At one point the smart notice reminded me that the Spotify app, which I had been using but not for a few hours, was in fact using around 2% of the battery an hour even as a background app. I never knew this and in the future will make sure to close that app fully when I’m finished using it. Small things like this actually are really useful, so Smart Notice is a really nice addition to the UI.

Smart Bulletin – Left of the home screen, where on other phones you may find newsfeeds, such as the BlinkFeed on the HTC One and Flipboard on the Galaxy S6, on the G4 you’ll find the Smart Bulletin. This is a slightly more useful kind of information feed that includes updates and info from the health app, your upcoming events from the calendar, recently played music and a range of smart tips for using the phone. You can edit the list of what comes up and even add more by downloading from the LG Smart World.

Dual Window – Multitasking comes in the form of the Dual Window feature. Tap the recent apps button and then Dual window to view a list of compatible apps. Tap two apps to open in dual window mode. For example you could open the web browser and messages at the same time. You can adjust the divider between them, giving one app more space over the other. It’s a good use of the large 5.5” screen although is quite a common feature these days.

 

Camera

The camera has been significantly upgraded over the G3, which itself was pretty good and introduced the now improved laser focus technology. Gaining 3MP, the G4 boasts a 16 MP, optical image stabilised camera with laser autofocus, LED flash and is capable of recording video in 4k.

LG claim its f/1.8 aperture lets in 80% more light than the f/2.4 aperture of the G3. In addition, the sensor is also 40% larger. This all helps the camera capture brighter and more detailed pictures and video. It also reduces noise in low-light photos.

I left HDR on for all of these photos as I found it took a generally brighter and more vivid picture. Even though HDR does take 1 or 2 seconds to process, it does a decent job of improving the dynamic range of an image.

Whether you prefer a simple, point-and-shoot camera UI or access to more advanced options like the focus, shutter speed, white balance and ISO settings, you tailor the camera app suit you. From the top left of the viewfinder, the three dots reveal simple – auto and manual options. Each ofering more options and settings than the last. It’s pretty impressive how much you can change and it allows you to take really specific and high-quality shots.

One of the most interesting aspects of the G4’s camera is it’s ability to capture images in the RAW format. As well as the standard JPEG, you can select to take pictures in RAW which is great for post-processing and editing – although it does produce a slightly larger file size.

Video is just as impressive, with the OIS helping to keep videos smooth. You have the option to record in up to 4k resolution as well as higher frame rates for slow-motion.

The front camera has received a huge upgrade over the G3, now boasting a whopping 8 megapixels (that’s up from 2.1). This ensures pics and selfies are rich and detailed.

 

Battery Life

Inside the G4 is a removable 3,000 mAH battery, the same size as the G3. The battery life is actually a bit better than the G3 though, thanks to more efficient hardware and the latest software being more optimised.

I ran the Geekbench battery rundown test which gives a good indication of the battery performance. By itself the results don’t mean much but when you compare it against the competition it gives you a good idea of what kind of battery life you can expect.

From a full charge, it took 5 hours and 14 minutes to fully rundown which is a pretty good score. By comparison, the iPhone 6 + only lasted 12 minutes longer, the Galaxy S6 was slightly better at 5 hours 50 and the HTC One M9 was definitely below average at 3 hours 38. A good performance then from the G4 and its score is reflected in my experience of using it. After a full day of pretty typical use, messaging, web browsing, emails and YouTube videos, it’ll still have around 30% of its charge. So I’m confident to say it will last a solid day, maybe a day and a half with power-saving enabled. Although the G4 lacks any sort of quick charging or wireless charging capabilities, it does have a removable battery which I think is genuinely a useful feature. I always have a spare battery just-in case so I can hot-swap them out to get another full day of use if I need to.

Aside from a standard battery saver function that you can select to come on at a certain battery percentage which as you would expect dims the screen and reduces the processor speed a bit, the only other option within the settings for extending battery life is Game Optimizer.

Hidden away in the battery settings is an option to enable ‘Game Optimizer’ which changes the video quality of demanding games to help preserve as much battery as possible. Enabling it didn’t really appear to do much – in a good way, games didn’t look any worse and there wasn’t any noticeable drop in framerate. So unless you come across an incredibly intensive game and you are seeing some lag, perhaps turn it off but otherwise I’d leave it on to extend the battery a bit more.

 

Sound, Speaker & Call Quality

Call quality is reasonable, if a little tinny but it’s serviceable. The G4 does support VoLTE (or Voice-over LTE) if you’re in a country and on a network that supports it.

In terms of sound quality, the speaker is once again located on the back lower-left corner. This is a pretty typical placement although other phones are starting to embrace speakers on the front or bottom, as well as stereo speakers in the case of the Sony Z and HTC One series. As you might expect then, sound quality is isn’t great.

It’s passable but I would strongly recommend using headphones since the G4 does supports high-quality audio, so you can actually enjoy some good quality sounds when using head or earphones.

 

Conclusion

In some ways the G4 actually feels like a step back from the G3, it’s odd how a phone with the same screen size as before can become wider, thicker, heavier and less comfortable.

Of course other than the questionable design changes, the hardware and software improvements has by and large fixed the issues many people had with the G3 and for that reason alone does make it a better phone.

It’s worth mentioning that some people are encountering issues with the G4’s touchscreen that prevent quick taps and touches from registering on the screen – I haven’t personally experienced this but it does seem to be fairly prominent issue. Perhaps if you do buy a G4 just keep an eye out.

The camera is one of the phones best features, catering to all users from those who prefer a simple auto mode to those who want to fine tune the settings in pro mode. Most importantly of course is the quality, and the G4 does not disappoint. It takes really bright and detailed pictures and videos. It’s one of the best cameras you can find on any smartphone and I’ll be making an in-depth G4 versus galaxy S6 camera video soon and from my initial tests – they are incredibly close in terms of quality.

Now in terms of cost, it is over twice the price of the G3, and although this is often the case with the latest flagships – there really isn’t a great deal of difference between them. Regardless of that, you can find the G4 from most online retailers for under £500 which is pretty reasonable for a flagship phone. I think the biggest challenge facing the G4 is from the incredibly strong competition. At 5.5” it sort of competes against both average sized phones and phablets including the Galaxy S6, Note 4, Sony Z3, OnePlus One, iPhone 6+ and even last year’s G3.I think the G4 struggles to really stand out beyond its slightly different design and the fact it includes a removable battery and SD card.

So overall the G4 is a good phone. It has a solid battery life, bright and vivid display, good performance and an excellent camera. It’s also great to see the micro-SD slot and removable battery.

For me though, it just lacks a bit of a wow factor for a 2015 phone (despite the optional leather back). I would still recommend it, but whether it’s worth the price premium over the G3 depends on how important it is for you to have the latest tech, and competition from the likes of the galaxy S6 makes areas like the performance of the G4 a bit less impressive.

I hope you have found this definitive review helpful and please let me know if you have any thoughts or questions in the comments.

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