LG G4 Review

DSC02164.JPGINTRODUCTION

LG is known as one of the underdogs of the Android. With the usual juggernauts like Apple and Samsung at the top, smaller manufacturers like HTC and LG tend to be somewhere in the middle or bottom, fighting over small scraps.

In the last 2 years, however, LG has somehow made a name for itself, beginning with the radical LG G2, which made the unusual step of moving key buttons (volume and power) to the back of the phone, which seemed really odd at the time, but was otherwise an excellent all-rounder, delivering strong performance in a good-looking package. In 2014, we had the G3, which boasted a 2560×1400 QHD display (the first of any global smartphone). Though it is an impressive piece of tech, it was also problematic, with thermal issues along with performance chugging mainly due to rather poor optimization of its UX and the processor’s GPU being somewhat underpowered for the display. For 2015, LG decided to go for evolution rather and revolution, and introduced the G4, which is more of a refinement of the G3, fixing many of its flaws while also boasting some improvements. Is LG’s G4 the one to rule them all? Let’s find out…

DISCLAIMER

This review was done on an LG G4 H815 EU-unlocked unit connected to a 4G LTE-A capable network. The phone has a 128GB SanDisk Ultra microSD card inside. The phone also came with a black leather back. Note that this is actually my personal phone. At the time of initial writing, the phone ran Android 5.1 “Lollipop”, but currently, the phone is running Android 6.0 “Marshmallow”.

EXTERIOR

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The G4’s main design somewhat resembles the G3 in many aspects, keeping the rather thin bezels all around the front (though they somehow got bigger), along with the lack of any physical or capacitive buttons on the exterior. The front is covered by a pane of Gorilla Glass 3 that is also curved vertically like the G Flex 2, albeit to a far lesser extent and is mainly for durability.

The back of the phone also bears resemblance to its predecessor, with LG’s now-signature rear buttons taking center stage. The buttons are improved from the G4, being slightly larger and the power button is also given a slight bump last seen in the G2, which makes it a lot easier to feel for without looking. The back cover, however, is the big story here. Where other manufacturers (especially Samsung) are pursuing a more premium build by using premium materials like glass and metal (and sealing up the battery and eliminating expandable storage as a consequence), LG stuck to its guns and kept the removable back of the G3, now available in either plastic or leather options. The plastics backs are nothing special but the leather ones do feel nice and offer a bit more grip. However, the phone feels nowhere near as ‘premium’ as other phones of 2015, as it’s still mainly an all-plastic build (a good-feeling one at that).

On the bottom-line, the LG G4’s exterior is nothing special. Sure, the leather backs are nice, but it doesn’t feel as ‘premium’ as some of its competitors, which I personally don’t mind, but some others might. It looks great but it isn’t going to be winning the “Most Beautiful Phone” award sometime soon.

DISPLAY

The LG G3 made headlines in 2014 by being the first global phone to boast a QHD 1440p display. While that was certainly a technical achievement, the actual display itself wasn’t all that great. The contrast ratio was about average and the vibrancy was just not there, with lots of stuff on-screen just appearing dull. With the G4, LG attempts to fix all of those, with exceptional results.

The G4 utilizes In-Cell Touch, which combines the panel and digitizer into a single-layer, which improves color reproduction. LG also used Quantum display tech in order to boost contrast and vibrancy along with a new LCD switch method which allows the display to be brighter without consuming any more power.

The results are nothing short of superb. The G4’s display looks extremely vibrant, with punchy colors and high contrast, with blacks being much deeper than the G3, and it is also brighter, improving outdoor visibility. In fact, at times, I forgot I was looking at an IPS display, as it looked a lot like an AMOLED display in some cases, which is very high praise from me.

The G4’s display is among the best I’ve used in any phone this year (only beaten by the AMOLED panel in the Galaxy Note 5) and perhaps the best IPS panel I’ve used on a mobile device ever. Although it has its flaws (like some weird contrast adjustment at full brightness that makes the display look ‘broken’), it’s an excellent display.

PROCESSOR AND HARDWARE

Under the hood, the LG G4 packs a 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core processor, packing 4 ARM Cortex-A53 CPUs clocked at 1.44GHz and 2 ARM Cortex-A57 CPUs clocked at 1.82GHz, all in a big.LITTLE arrangement, meaning that the A57s are not used until they are needed. A Qualcomm Adreno 418 clocked at 600MHz gives the phone its graphics muscle. The phone has 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM along with 32GB of eMMC storage, along with the option for expandable storage via microSD card slot.

The use of a Snapdragon 808 on a high-tier flagship is a surprise to some as the 808 is the little-brother to the harder-hitting Snapdragon 810, which has a more powerful Adreno 430 GPU and 2 more Cortex-A57 cores clocked at 2.0GHz. However, the 810 has been hit with a myriad of controversies surrounding its heat-output, as many reviewers found that the chip overheated during initial use after a reveal of the device. This means that OEMs have to put in heavy-throttling to prevent damage, which impacted performance significantly. LG used the 810 on the G Flex 2, which performed rather poorly. Due to that, and the chip’s crumbling reputation, LG decided to step back to the 808, which has more consistent thermal performance, and tests show that it hardly throttles, compared to the 810.

The phone is plenty powerful for daily tasks. Apps launch as fast as you would expect and daily performance was consistent and fluid throughout. There was hardly a moment where the G4 skipped a beat. Memory management, however, was more aggressive than I would have liked. The G4 can store 7-8 apps in memory before it has to reload them from scratch. While I don’t find that very annoying, it’s something to point out.

Except there was. The Adreno 418 in the 808 is actually slightly weaker than the Adreno 420 in the older Snapdragon 805. Gaming performance on more graphic-intensive titles were good but not great, although performance in more casual-games like Temple Run 2 was excellent.

For daily use, however, the G4 is more than capable enough for all the usual daily tasks. The 808 proves to be a more consistent performer and the phone seems to pair well with its processing package.

Other pieces of hardware include a multicolored-notification LED, a headphone jack mounted on the bottom, LG’s signature rear power-keys, an IR blaster and a rear-facing speaker which actually sounds decent considering the non-optimal position. You won’t find a fingerprint-scanner here, however. The phone supports LTE and LTE-A up to Category 9, with theoretical download speeds of 450Mbps, meaning much faster data.

Overall, it sports very solid hardware and packs in everything but the kitchen sink for a high-end Android flagship.

CAMERA

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The camera has been one of the most talked-about parts of the G4, with LG repeatedly hyping it up to be a “DSLR-killer”. Bullshit marketing aside, just how well does this camera perform? Pretty damn impressively well, actually.

On the hardware-side, we’re looking at a 16-megapixel Sony Exmor RS IMX234 1/2.6” camera sensor behind LG Innotek’s custom camera package, which has a wider aperture at f/1.8 for better low-light performance and 3-axis OIS for rock-solid video and photos. On the front, we have an 8-megapixel Toshiba T4KA3 sensor mounted behind LG Innotek’s custom lens with an f/2.0 aperture for the selfie freaks out there. LG’s laser-autofocus returns here, along with a custom sensor that analyzes both IR and RGB color to calibrate white balance. That’s a lot of cutting-edge photography tech on a phone, and the G4 makes great use of it.

The G4 delivers pictures that have stunning detail and a good amount of exposure in automatic mode. Color accuracy was also excellent when viewed on the phone, although they tend to look a bit dull when viewed on a good monitor, compared to other phones like the Galaxy Note 5. OIS also helped tremendously in low-light and also when recording video. Low-light performance was pretty good although lit objects tend to be blown-out sometimes. The performance of the front-facing camera was also good, but iffy processing tends to make the colors dull and can make the entire image way overblown, which is rather annoying.

CAMERA APP

The default camera app is perhaps the way manufacturers should design their camera apps. You have 3 modes to select from. “Simple” mode is as it says. Just tap anywhere on the screen to take a photo. The phone figures out the rest, although I find that too simple. “Auto” is your regular mode. Press the shutter to take a photo and tap on the camcorder to take a video. Nothing too fancy. However, the G4’s real prize is in it’s third-mode, named “Manual”.

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Selecting this gives you perhaps the best and most comprehensive manual controls on a smartphone camera app ever, especially a stock one. We’ve seen manual camera controls in smartphones like the HTC One M8 before, but at the time, it was paired with a rather subpar camera package, while the G4 pairs this up with an excellent one. You can adjust ISO, white balance, shutter speed and focus. It’s not going to give you a range of adjustments as wide as a DSLR, but for a phone, it’s mighty impressive and really shows off the true capabilities of the camera.

SOFTWARE

The LG G4 runs Android 5.1 “Lollipop” out-of-the-box, with Android 6.0 “Marshmallow” already available for variants launched in Korea and Europe. Like many other non-Nexus Android phones (with the exception of Motorola and a few others), the G4 has an OEM skin on top, named LG UX, now in its 4th-iteration.

LG has never been great at software, with past attempts resulting in a technicolored mess that is simply an eyesore to look at. The G3 improved on the design but presented several performance issues, with lag, stutters and slowdowns all present throughout the UI. It seemed like LG was copying all the bad parts of TouchWiz. With the G4, LG UX has certainly improved in one important department; performance.

Throughout my 5 months of daily usage with my usual patterns, the phone has yet to seriously choke. Apps all launch, close and run smoothly and aside from the rather bloated and buggy Facebook app, everything runs as well as it should, although, as mentioned before, memory management is still rather aggressive, and there is some stuttering in the notification screen when you have lots of notifications, but I never found those particularly irritating. Marshmallow makes the experience even better, with speedier performance and more optimizations in the underlying OS.

However, LG UX still isn’t a looker. It looks miles better than earlier versions, but I’m still not a fan of the square icons and the stock launcher’s app drawer is reminiscent of the days of Android 4.x. Color choices also seem rather dull and in some cases, a bit too cartoonish. Some sounds also don’t fit in well, although they were improved in Marshmallow slightly, with the ringer volume adjustment sound being one of the changes, which sounds much better than before.

Overall, it’s a big improvement from the G3 performance-wise, but in terms of aesthetics, it still isn’t up there with even TouchWiz but overall, it’s an improvement.

BATTERY

The G4 packs a 3000mAh battery, which seems rather large, but considering the 1440p display and high-end hardware, battery life turned out to be slightly higher-than-average at best.

Average SOT is around 3.5-4 hours, which is decent but not outstanding. During my daily usage in college, I usually return home with 35% remaining, which is quite good, but if I’m really pushing it, it’ll likely die before classes end.

However, LG has included 2 things which alleviates the pain. Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 and the ability to freely swap the battery. With QC 2.0, the phone charges very quickly, about 1.4 hours for a complete charge, and you’ll get more than enough juice out of the battery after just 20 minutes. However, the removable battery is the big deal here. With it, you can freely swap the battery at any time you wish, and have a fully-charged phone in just seconds.

Overall, while the battery life is somewhat average, LG has included things to help ease the battery concerns. Especially in the case of the user-replaceable battery, power users will like this one.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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The LG G4 isn’t perfect. It has a somewhat average build, the front-camera has somewhat iffy processing, LG UX still isn’t a looker and the battery could be better, but it does everything else really well, and frankly, those other things outweigh all the cons of this phone by a wide margin. It’s very speedy, has a microSD card slot and a replaceable battery, the rear-camera is kickass along with that manual mode and a simply gorgeous display. It’s very hard to not recommend this phone unless you prefer an iPhone or you want something that runs stock Android

FINAL RATING: 9/10 (Outstanding)

What it has going for it What it doesn’t do very well in
·         Display is excellent

·         microSD card slot and removable battery will make power users very happy

·         Strong hardware

·         Superb camera package

·         Speedy performance

·         Build quality could be better

·         LG UX still isn’t a looker

·         Battery life could be improved

·         FFC has somewhat iffy processing

 

 

LG G4 Review