LG knows a thing or two about building an impressive smartphone. From the original Optimus G, to Google’s Nexus 5 to the pixel packed LG G3, the company’s legacy is substantial, but still it always seems to be a step behind the competition in some way or another–and not so much of a common brand here in Africa. With its 2015 flagship, LG looks to change that with this new flagship. This is the LG G4 review. Small confession, I’m huge into leather smartphones but we managed to get the plastic version of the LG G4 review, which is such a bummer considering the leather looks so beautiful, not that am complaining. You can also get this phone with a ceramic back cover.
HARDWAREMoto X. Though it’s a shame LG didn’t follow Motorola in going with a metallic side rail to bolster its premium phone. The result is exposed corners on the G4 which will get some dents on the plastic versions and users of the leather version have reported discoloration from what I can only guess will be denim dye from taking it in and out of jean pockets. The whole plastic composition of the phone seems durable enough, doing a nice job accentuating the rear key control collective while also providing a comfortable anchor point for the finger. And just like the G3, that plastic back cover comes right off meaning you can swap it for another flavor if you want. Also, rather than follow the competition in eliminating expandable storage and a removable battery, LG has retained both for the G4 making it the most extensible flagship on the market. Sadly, last year’s G3 battery doesn’t fit in the G4 even though it looks like it should, but this year’s pack is just as beefy.
The 3,000 mAh battery for this global version, powers a 5.5 inch Quad HD display that builds on last year’s successes and ferrets out some of the shortfalls. The new so-called Quantum dot IPS screen is more colorful, offers more contrast and most importantly it’s 25 percent brighter than the G3’s. It still wouldn’t be my first choice for outdoor use in direct sunlight as Samsung’s Galaxy S6 gets much brighter but it’s definitely an improvement over last year. And, in moderate light its got some pretty beautiful colors going on.
Power up that big display with the push for the rear key or a double tap on the cover glass, and you get a look at Android 5.1 with LG’s new interface which looks a lot like LG’s old interface. You get a smart notice widget dead center at the homescreen which flashes occasional bits of info. It’ll now let you know if a certain app is drawing too much memory, your battery power in the background– which is nice– but it doesn’t do that often enough. Mainly, it just serves to give you long-winded weather forecasts. It still doesn’t go far enough to supplant the Google Now service it emulates.
Same for the smart settings suite, which lives on the leftmost homescreen and offers automatic functions based on your location. It’s nice to have your phone turn on Wi-Fi automatically when you get home for instance, but doesn’t do much more than that. In my testing, it had trouble knowing when it was and wasn’t home, this is non final software so hopefully that’ll improve with time.
Speaking of improvements, while the skin looks a lot like previous generations’ — well if it were a car I’d say it drives different. The G3 often felt like it was overburdened trying to push too many pixels and getting really hot doing it. The G4 is solid and slick in everything from the lock screen animations to the dual window functionality. Thoughtful features like the notification toggle and resizable keyboard are still here. Also, LG has thrown in more color than last year and softened some of the previous versions’ sharper edges.
On the whole, I like these changes but I also think the skin lacks cohesion– it feels like I’m using one phone one second and another the next– at the end of the day, I don’t think the LG UI brings enough benefit that I’d choose that over say stock Android or HTC’s Sense UI. But, it’s also pleasant enough that I wouldn’t go out of my way to replace it either. The LG UI is fine, nothing more nothing less.
If you’re looking to be impressed, look no further than the camera. The specs tell us it’s a 16-megapixel sensor with a, f1.8 aperture with a 1/ 2.6 sensor size, optically stabilized across three axes to correct for up to 2 degrees of motion. And, the result of all that geek lingo are excellent photos. The G4 isn’t without the usual smartphone handicaps namely; digital noise and aggressive artificial sharpening but these defects really only show up beyond 100 percent zoom.
At normal sizes, the G4 camera performs admirably even against the fabled King of smartphone cameras the Lumia 1020 and the latest praises we gave to the Samsung Galaxy S6. Colors are rich with good dynamic range and contrast and the wider aperture combined with optical stabilization means that even as the sun gets real low, the camera keeps its cool instead of hawking out.
For a quick photo, you can double-click the volume down button to launch in a snap, but with such a short time to get focused its shots aren’t the greatest. To really fine tune for exactly the picture you’re looking for, LG gives you the most elaborate suite of manual controls we’ve seen on Android out of the box.
The camera comes complete with a level gauge, histogram and raw support. So, any photo effect you can dream up you can probably execute. The quality fades a little bit in video mode, it’s not bad but in full HD the auto-focus and exposure tend to wander a bit. Colors get a little washed out and the frame rate is kind of choppy too. The G4 does offer you HD recording and a slow-mo mode for what it’s worth.
Switch on over to the front, and well I can’t speak for other people, but this is definitely the best selfie camera I’ve ever used. Whether it’s thanks to the 8 megapixel resolution, the beauty face post-processing or the ease of taking a photo with the hand gesture, the G4 has become one of my favorite selfish snappers. Combine that with the quick response time and easy to use view finder on the main shooter, you’ve got a smartphone camera that outstrips much of the competition. Bravo LG.
We’ve tested the G4 on Airtel and Africell’s network in and around Kampala and as a phone, it’s great. The phone supports all networks on earth from GSM, 3G- HSPA, 4G- LTE (band 7 -2600MHz and band 20 -800MHz we use here) and WiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, hotspot). The maximum speeds supported are 42.2/5.76 Mbps on 3G HSPA and 300 DL/50 DL Mbps on LTE Cat6, of course don’t expect such speeds in real life, our speeds tests gave us between 18-25 Mbps DL on Africell 4G-LTE.
The slight curve of the chassis combined with that soft plastic backing make the G4 very comfortable to talk on and reception seems to be on point. For conference calls, the speakerphone’s rear firing placement is a bummer but at least loud. And, that goes for music, sound effects and games too, which the Snapdragon 808 processor runs with ease.
Any concerns I may have had about the 808 Hexa core processor vanished by the end of my first day with the device, it’s very smooth. Most modern processors can run even high demand games and the real performance measure is in the daily grind, how it feels on the day-to-day. Here, the G4 shines in most areas but despite its 3 GB of RAM, it suffers in memory management. Put simply and crudely, multitasking on Android lollipop sucks because apps left in the background are often forced to close or hibernate if you do almost anything else in the foreground. This obviously has implications for everything from fitness trackers to podcasting apps. This isn’t LG’s fault, it’s Android’s problem but this is an Android phone and it’s too frustrating not to mention.
That aggressive memory management doesn’t do much for battery life either, while I was able to get to about four and a half hours of screen-on time over an eight-hour day, it hasn’t been consistent probably thanks to the phantom apps sucking up milli-amps in the background. When I got into a habit of closing all background apps on a regular basis battery life improved. Do this, and the G4 battery will almost definitely last you a full day. The battery is swappable and you can charge it for 1 hour and 45 minutes to take it from zero to a full tank while powered off.
1. Superior display
2. The camera is to die
3. Fast performance
1. Poor build quality fir a flagship phone
2. Software and UI need some work, its not pretty