With its lightning-quick processor, big and bright display, and 16-megapixel camera that can shoot both JPEG and raw file formats, it’s easy to see how the LG G4 is a stellar device. It’s also one of the most enjoyable LG handsets to use thanks to its interface’s welcomed facelift, and has both expandable memory and a removable battery (an old-school rarity these days with marquee handsets).
Despite all its pros, however, the handset feels like a slightly tweaked, but ultimately repackaged LG G3. Sure, there’s a new leather-clad option, and there’s nothing wrong with the G3 per se (especially when you retain everything we liked about it, like the laser-guided focus and better-than-full-HD resolution). But when your newest offering doesn’t progress far enough beyond your previous endeavor, it’s hard to get excited about it.
With its lack of cutting-edge hardware and innovative software, LG played it safe with the G4. And in this fast-paced mobile industry, tame won’t work in the company’s favor; especially now that Samsung redesigned its Galaxy S6 with a sleeker and thinner look, and launched the envelope-pushing S6 Edge counterpart. All in all, while the G4 is a solid device, it isn’t compelling enough to outshine its ambitious competitors.
In the US, all four major carriers and US Cellular carry the device. With a two-year contract, the handset costs $199.99 (though with US Cellular, you can mail a $100 rebate and bring the price down to $99.99). Off-contract, it ranges from $510-$630 depending on the carrier, and prepaid carrier T-Mobile sells it for $599.
To entice customers, LG is bundling a promotion: 100GB of Google Drive storage for two years, for free.
Like its predecessor, the G4 sports a 5.5-inch LCD display. The quad-HD touchscreen is razor-sharp, with graphics, images, text and movies appearing incredibly crisp. It has a 2,560×1,440-pixel resolution and 534 pixels per inch (ppi), which puts it way above the Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (which isn’t Apple’s current marquee handset, but the 6 Plus does have the same screen size as the G4) and between its Android competitors the Galaxy S6 and the HTC One M9.
To the naked eye, however, you won’t be able to discern each device’s relative sharpness from another. When we looked at high resolution images, HD trailers and even text zoomed all the way in and under a magnifying glass, there were no standout differences between the handsets’ sharpness. Each one offered an ultra-sharp viewing experience.
LG also claims that the phone’s screen, an IPS Quantum Display that it says is the first of its kind anywhere, is 25 percent brighter (500 nits) and has a 20 percent wider color range than its previous QHD screens on mobile devices. Contrast has improved by 50 percent over last year’s G3, up to 1,500:1.
Translated in the real world, we can attest that the G4 is indeed noticeably brighter. When both are placed side by side on maximum brightness, the G4 is much more luminous and colors look more distinguished than the G3.
Compared to its competitors, the handset is brighter than the One M9, but it looked a tad dimmer than the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6s. This is especially noticeable when looking at a blank white swatch. Both iPhones had the purest and brightest whites, followed by the Galaxy S6. And while both the G4 and the One M9’s displays aren’t bad by any means, they did look a touch more washed-out compared to the other two.
LG also reports that its phone’s color accuracy has improved, resulting in more true-to-life red and blue tones. Though it’s not necessarily noticeable when looking at the G4 by itself, color differences become more discernible when placed side by side with others. Red hues on the G4 looked similar to the One M9, with tones coming off as deeper and authentic. On the Galaxy S6 and iPhones, reds appeared more orangey and unrealistic.
Skin tones and blues also appeared true-to-life on the G4 and One M9, though on the iPhone 6s they looked the most accurate. And while the Samsung has made improvements over the years with the Galaxy’s over-saturation, skin tones came off drastically warmer, and its blues still looked more turquoise or greenish compared to the other three. Blacks came off well on the LG’s device too. Though the Galaxy S6 had the deepest and darkest black hues, the G4 was a solid second. On the iPhones and One M9, blacks tended to look a bit more washed-out and gray.
Similar to the LG G Flex 2, the G4’s display is curved. However, the former is arched about four times steeper, whereas the curve on the latter is barely noticeable to the eye. In fact, you can only really see it if you place the phone face down on a flat surface. It also doesn’t make a notable impact on comfort. Though it’s nice to hold in your hand and up to your face while on a call, that’s mostly thanks to the round back that curves from left to right and contours to your palm.
The G4 has a number of design options, with three different kinds of material for the back cover. The first is vegetable-dyed stitched leather over plastic, which includes light blue, black and tannish brown. The other back plates have either a ceramic paint or metallic elements.
We received the leather and metallic versions to review, and the latter feels similar to the G3’s faux-metal backing. The material fends off fingerprints and is smooth, but it isn’t too slick, so gripping is still easy. We also liked the subtle “dented” diamond pattern on the back — it catches the light in an interesting manner.
The leather version, meanwhile, feels much warmer to hold, more comfortable, and really does make it look like a totally different device to the plastic model. It’s real leather, so it won’t be the phone of choice for vegans, and it does mean it’s prone to scuffs and stains.
From the front, the handset looks nearly identical to its predecessor. There are some changes, though: its corners are a touch sharper and it has a shorter speaker grille up top. Its dimensions are also bigger all around, with the chin being noticeably longer and the height increasing from 5.76 inches (146mm) to 5.86 inches (149mm).
Oh and just for the record, the handset isn’t water resistant, so be sure not to submerge it underwater.
Compared to other flagships, the phone doesn’t look as premium. The Galaxy S6 is thinner, and its dual-glass panels and metal trimmings give it a chic aesthetic. The One M9’s all-metal body has a stated elegance, and it’s hard to beat Apple’s polished, unibody design in the iPhone.
It’s also heavier and bigger than its competitors, but given its 5.5-inch display, that’s not necessarily a criticism — just something to keep in mind if you have petite hands or pockets. In fact, the 6 Plus, which also features the same sized screen, has an even bigger size footprint and weighs more.
Hardware and key components
The device is equipped with Qualcomm’s 64-bit, hexa-core Snapdragon 808 processor, which has a clock speed of 1.8GHz, a 3,000mAh removable battery and 3GB of RAM. You’ll also get NFC support that works in conjunction with services like the digital payment platform Google Wallet, 32GB of onboard storage and a microSD card slot that can hold up to 2TB.
On the back is a 16-megapixel camera — a jump from the previous 13-megapixel effort, and for your selfie and video chatting needs, the phone’s front-facing camera has been bumped up from 2.1 to 8 megapixels.
Android 5.1 Lollipop
LG’s custom user interface, UX 4.0
Smart Bulletin, Event Pocket, Memories in the photo gallery
The G4 runs Android 5.1 Lollipop, which includes a richer approach to recent apps known as Overview, notifications on the lock screen and Guest Mode. Google staples such as Gmail, the Chrome Web browser, Maps, the Now digital assistant service, the Play Store and more are preloaded. You can also launch search queries by sliding upwards from the center home softkey, or by saying “OK, Google” after you turn the option on in the Settings menu.
Overlaid on top is LG’s latest UI, UX 4.0. Bright, colorful and more in tune with Android’s Material Design aesthetic, UX 4.0 is LG’s most refreshing UI yet. It’s easy to navigate and to understand — we especially liked the fun animations on the lockscreen, the charming app icons and the clean simplicity of the dialer and settings menu shade.
One new baked-in feature is LG Smart Bulletin. Smart Bulletin dedicates an entire home screen page to display widgets of certain apps, including the music player, your Calendar, the LG Health fitness tracker, QRemote (which uses the IR blaster on the device’s top edge to turn your handset into a universal remote), and more.
Event Pocket in the calendar app syncs with your Facebook events so you don’t have to manually enter them in, and lets you drag and drop notes and images into your Calendar. (For example, you can drop a photo of one of your many household plants that needs watering on a specific day.) In addition, the photo gallery can now organize pictures and videos taken in the same event or location and package them into “Memories” to share, and works similar to Motorola’s Highlight Reel. There’s also Smart settings, which automatically turns on and off phone settings (like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and sound profiles) when it senses you’re in a certain location, such as your home or workplace.
Other features we’ve seen before are Smart Notice, another digital assistant that shows notification cards for upcoming events and weather info, as well as alerts for addressing any long-unused apps or missed notifications. Smart Notice gives users access to LG’s Quick Help too, for any phone troubleshooting.
LG has pushed the boat out for the G4’s camera, with a brighter f/1.8 aperture (which can take in more light) and a larger 1/2.6-inch image sensor. New manual camera controls let you adjust white balance, focus, brightness and ISO with more precision.