LG has had a lot of successes with their smartphone lines in recent years, starting with the LG G2 and continuing with last year’s LG G3. While companies such as Samsung have removed extra features such as expandable storage and a swappable battery, LG has opted to keep those features while also introducing a beautiful new design for their hardware.
The first thing you will notice about this phone is that it comes in a beautiful leather option. The Leather colors include Black, Brown, Red, Sky Blue, Beige, Yellow. I received the Brown option and I can say that it is beautiful in person. And not only is it beautiful, it also feels great in the hand. The slight curvature paired with the Leather makes it feel right like it belongs in the hand or against your face when a phone call is made. While this may sound weird, when the phone is very rarely running hot from something such as Navigation, you can actually smell the Leather.
The best part of the hardware is that the back is removable. With the removable back, you can easily change the look of your phone if you buy another back. You can also pop in a microSD card that is up to 2 TB in size. The battery is also removable, giving the G4 a great advantage over competitors like Samsung and HTC in the ability to quickly get back to using the phone after it runs out of power. The battery is 3,000 mAh in size (on final retail units), which is more than enough power for doing daily activities.
The screen is a gorgeous 5.5-inch Quad HD display with a pixel density of 534ppi. The display features LG’s new “Quantum IPS” technology, which allows for more authentic color reproduction and lets more light shine through the display using less power. LG also says that the G4 has 20% greater color reproduction and 50% more contrast than last year’s G3. The ability to shine brighter greatly helps when outdoors in direct sunlight. When in landscape orientation, the phone ‘s curve makes for an excellent way to watch videos. While the curve may not be as drastic as it is on the G Flex 2, it still feels nice.
Once you get into the LG G4, LG’s interface choices become apparent. Unlike Samsung, who has refined their interface after years of user complaints, LG has kept their skin “UX 4.0” largely looking the same as last year’s. The Smart Notice widget still remains from last year’s G3, but adds the new feature of letting users know when an app is draining too much power. Unfortunately, it’s still a long way off from the capabilities of Google Now’s cards. The weather forecasts are also rather long -winded, reading items such as, “It will be sunny today. High UV levels forecasted Avoid direct contact with the sun.” LG is clearly trying to be helpful, but most users will probably prefer a shorter weather tip.
LG’s leftmost part of the home screen has been improved as well. LG has added widgets such as their LG Health app, the Quick Remote software to control a TV, and more. The Calendar widget also helps, showing upcoming appointments on your calendar. LG has also included a Smart Tips card, to help unfamiliar users navigate the software. The Smart Settings suite is also great, with bonus features such as turning on Wi-Fi when getting home or turning the Ringer to “Loud” when leaving home. The cards don’t do enough either though. The G4 does not have the option to load certain apps at a location, such as LG Health when at a gym or the Yogurtland app when approaching one of their stores. It seems like LG didn’t think of this feature, so they could potentially add it later in future software updates.
Like most Android phones these days, the LG G4 doesn’t come without bloatware. On the T-Mobile variant I received, there were 9 apps that came pre-loaded, including T-Mobile TV, Visual Voicemail, App Source, Lookout, and more. While some people may use Lookout (including myself), many people probably never will. You can disable these apps, but you cannot uninstall them. The device comes with 32 GB of internal space, but some of that is lost after the built-in software and the bloatware.
The LG G4 has support for LG’s Dual Window mode, allowing users to run certain apps at the same time, such as YouTube and Chrome. The app list support isn’t very extensive however, so it might not be useful to you depending on your apps of choice. You can’t run Twitter and YouTube at the same time, for example. Much of the UI has changed from squares to circles, aside from the folders and a few other elements. They actually have switched away from circles to squares. The SMS boxes are also boxes, which does not match the rest of the UI. When text is too big for a text field and highlighted, it is scrolled automatically, which affects areas such as the Settings app. When holding down the power button, the options for shutting down and restarting are transparent, a noticeable difference between them and the rest of LG’s design choices.
The UI isn’t all bad though. The lock screen is generally nice, though I do wish I could at least glance at the lock screen before I have to enter my passcode. The keyboard is excellent with its large size and extra row of numbers, which can really help save a few seconds off figuring out where numbers are when switching to the numerical and symbol keyboard. LG’S Quick Memo+ toggle in the Notification Center is great for grabbing quick screenshots. And the fact that you can add a Notification Center toggle to the buttons on the bottom of the screen is a good option for people who may have smaller hands.
I would be lying if I said I used all of LG’s UI elements however. Google Now’s cards are always helpful, so I switched to the Google Now Launcher about a day or two after I got the device. And I can’t live without the Google Keyboard’s Swipe-like feature, as it greatly speeds up my typing. LG’s UI performs very well with the Snapdragon 808 and 3 GB of RAM (more on that below), but I prefer Google’s options. Maybe LG can switch me back in the future.
This is where the LG G4 shines. My daily driver is an iPhone 6 and, as typical with iPhones, takes amazing pictures. But the LG G4 blew me away, as it surpassed the quality of my iPhone 6 almost every time, especially in low-light. The iPhone 6, for the comparison, has an 8 Megapixel rear camera with an ƒ/2.2 aperture and shoots in 1080p at max video quality. The G4, on the other hand, has a 16 Megapixel optically-stabilized rear camera with an f/1.8 aperture and maxes out at 4K quality for video. I only shot in 1080p however, to be fair in my comparison.
I will be fully going in depth on a comparison between the iPhone 6 and the LG G4 in a separate post, but in these photos, the G4 trounces it. The G4 has some digital noise when zooming into images, but since most people will probably be sharing their pictures to Facebook and other social media, it won’t be much of an issue and could potentially be solved with a software upgrade.
The camera is also easily accessible when the device is locked. If you double-tap the Volume Down button while the phone is locked, it will bring up the camera viewfinder and being ready instantaneously. For those who want complete control over their photos, LG has a very extensive amount of manual controls, from the focus, to the White Balance, the ISO, shutter speed, and more. You can also choose between JPG and RAW photos, if you so desire.
The video is not that great however. In my testing, the colors looked a little washed out and far-off objects are somewhat blurry. The videos are very stable thanks to the improved OIS and 4K quality is nice to have, even though most people probably don’t have a device capable of displaying 4K video.
I don’t take many selfies, but the 8 MP front camera should work out very well for anyone who does. The gesture control from last year’s G3 remains and you can even use the volume buttons on the rear of the device for better photo taking.
I tested the LG G4 both in the general San Francisco Bay Area and the Phoenix area over the course of about two weeks and I have never noticed any real slowdown. LG opted out of choosing the Snapdragon 810 (which reportedly has some heating problems) and instead went for the slightly older Snapdragon 808. Paired with the 3 GB of RAM, this device is wicked fast. Apps launch instantly, games don’t lag very hard (if at all), and scrolling is a breeze.
This device is running off T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network, which covers most of the Phoenix and Bay Area. In the Phoenix area, I consistently pulled about 20-25 Mbps down in the Phoenix area and in certain areas of the SF Bay Area, I got between 50 and 60 Mbps. Your mileage will vary by your area of choice, of course, so keep that in mind.
As for calling, the people I spoke to on the handset itself said the call quality was excellent, sounding like I was in the room for them. For speaker calls, some callers said I sounded a little tinny, but it could have been an issue only for that specific call.
Battery life is either great or very poor, depending on what you do. As typical with most phones, using Navigation on Google Maps can really drain the LG G4 down from 100% quickly. Thankfully, the battery is user-replaceable and the device also supports Quick Charging, if you have a special charger. LG opted to not include a Quick Charge power adapter in the box, which led to some initial confusion over whether the device supported it or not. But it indeed does, so if you buy a compatible charger, you will be good to go.
Every smartphone has some flaws, and the LG G4 is not an exception to the rule. Aging software is the G4’s biggest drawback, especially in the face of the new Samsung Galaxy S6. While the Leather backs are definitely noticeable, a normal user may not know the difference between the LG G3 and the LG G4 if the latter had one of the plastic backs.
However, there are a lot of positive aspects to this phone. Despite the large footprint of the device, it is very comfortable in the hand, especially with the Leather back. And with the Leather back, you get a gorgeous design that also doesn’t hinder the phone. A removable battery and expandable storage are great features to have, especially with Samsung removing them from their latest phone. The camera is phenomenal, especially in low-light situations.
With the LG G4, LG is closer than ever to creating the perfect Android smartphone. They have provided a compelling alternative to users who may have purchased the Galaxy S6 or HTC One M9 who want more with their phones. If you work around some odd design choices and can afford an extra battery and expandable storage, you will enjoy this device very much.