LG G4 review: Easily the best smartphone to come from LG
Not playing the spec race means the G4 is a fantastic smartphone designed for the real world
- Bright 1440p, 534ppi display
- Fantastic cameras with infrared autofocus and manual controls
- Excellent battery life
- Replaceable battery and expandable storage
- Competent hardware
- Heavy Android overlay
- Hit and miss looks
Price$ 929.00 (AUD)
Smartphones have a tendency to all look alike, but the G4 has a few trinkets it can call its own. Most of its individuality stems from its back case, which has a visible seam sewn together. It is like a handbag, or the interior of a European car, because it is made from cow-hide leather.
Representatives from the company claim it takes twelve weeks to make a single G4 cover, in a process that involves vegetable tanning — the most environmentally friendly method of tanning — and skiving the leather down to 0.4mm. A leather hind serves another purpose: the subtle curve of the smartphone’s body won’t damage leather as it would plastic.
A cluster of controls and sensors punctuate the smartphone’s back. Indented volume rockers and a power key have been relocated to its rear, freeing up the sides and making it possible to taper them in the process.
The front of the smartphone is largely understated, wearing an inconspicuous shade of dreary black. Its saving grace is that it shifts attention onto one of the best screens to be found on a smartphone.
Last year’s G3 was the first smartphone in Australia to have a 2560x1440 display. Although LG tried to limit its energy footprint with low brightness levels, it demanded a lot from the battery. (Our average battery life for the G3 on record was a dismal 12 hours.)
The display of the G4 still stretches a 1440p resolution over 5.5-inches, only now it has the backlighting to back it up. LG claims the screen is 25 per cent brighter than its predecessor at 500-nits. Such is the quality of the display that brightness can be set to 50 per cent, the battery saving mode can be enabled and it will still dazzle.
Compensating for the brighter screen is computing hardware that is less power intensive. Flagships from Samsung and HTC have octa-core processors. LG’s differs by packing a Snapdragon 808 processor, which bundles a 1.4GHz quad-core CPU with a 1.8 GHz dual-core CPU.
Graphics are handled by an Adreno 418 GPU, there’s 3GB of DDR3 RAM and 32GB of internal storage.
On paper this processing cocktail is less powerful than its rivals. A 3DMark ice storm unlimited benchmarking test awarded the G4 a score of 18,662, which is lesser than the 22,248 achieved by the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and the 21,123 scored by the HTC One (M9).
In the real world of phone calls and social networking, of taking photos and surfing the web, the differences between a hexa- and an octa-core processor are negligible. The G4 feels just as quick and it can handle just as many applications as its rivals. Only it works more economically.
Loyal Samsung fans feeling abandoned by the manufacturer’s shift towards integrated batteries and in-built storage will naturally gravitate towards LG’s G4. The leather back is removable, the 3000 milliamp-hour battery is replaceable and there is a microSD slot that’ll take cards 1-terabyte in size.
LG generously provided us with a G4 well ahead of the smartphone’s local launch. We’ve been testing it for the better part of a month, taking notes on its performance and compiling findings on its battery life.
Our usage over the three weeks varied between medium to heavy. We used the smartphone to make calls, send texts and to email; for Internet browsing and social networking; to stream videos and music, take photos and for use as a GPS. Good Gear Guide found the G4’s battery would last 27 hours and 44 minutes on average. The smartphone’s shortest recorded battery life was an outlier at 17 hours and 50 minutes, although it often exceeded the 30 hour mark before needing to be recharged, with the longest result on record being 41 hours.
Letting the smartphone down is the software. The Android 5.0 operating system wears one of the most extensive overlays. Most of the changes made add no further functionality to the already comprehensive Android OS.
LG’s take on Android runs the risk of putting customers off, just as Samsung did with its cumbersome TouchWiz overlay, prior to it being overhauled for the Galaxy S6. The only add-on software of value involves the smartphone’s camera interface as it features detailed manual controls.
Specifications for the rear camera include a 16 megapixel sensor and the ability to record video in ultra high definition (3840x2160) resolution. It has a market leading aperture of f/1.8 and optical image stabilisation for improved low-light photography. Rounding off the suite of features are infrared- and colour spectrum-sensors for accurate colours.
The resulting photos are good enough to view on a large screen television. A wide dynamic range makes it possible to take photos in all lighting conditions. A photo taken during sunset, for instance, managed to capture the twilight hues of the sky, as well as the dark details in the foreground. Most smartphone cameras tend to focus on one at the expense of the other.
It’ll find light in dark environments, such as a carpark, in an effort to highlight all of the details in a photo. Viewing these photos on a large screen television will reveal signs of image noise, but they remain attractive when viewed on the screen of a notebook or a smartphone.
A manual mode makes it possible to fine tune the digital camera’s settings. These include settings for white balance, ISO and shutter speed, while there’s even an option to capture photos in RAW format.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the camera is that you don’t need to know how any of these settings work. The auto mode will tastefully capture photos and the fact the G4 incorporates the infrared laser from last year’s G3 ensures these photos are taken quickly.
The rear camera is joined by a proficient front camera, which has an aperture of f/2.0, will capture photos at a large 8 megapixels and can record videos in Full HD resolution.
The G4 is less about numbers on a spec sheet and more about how it works in the real world. Improvements made don’t come at the expense of other features, and this means its list of positives is much longer than its list of negatives.
For all its strengths, the G4 is still missing something. We've been using it for more than three weeks and we'll move on to the next phone the moment this review goes live. Perhaps, because of its design or its software, we doubt it’ll be missed.
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