“See the Great. Feel the Great.” That’s what LG is claiming about their latest flagship smartphone, the G4 (LG | T-Mobile). It has no shortage of power and features, though a few of its design decisions may not be suitable for everyone.
Availability and Price
The unit that I’ve been taking a look at came courtesy of T-Mobile, though it’s available on the other three big carriers in the US. Specific to T-Mobile, it’ll run you $24.99 per month for 24 months. If you don’t mind paying full price from the get-go, it can be had for just $599.76. I use the term “just” as, compared to other flagship smartphones, the G4 is a good $50-150 cheaper while still being comparable in terms of specifications and user experience.
LG’s G4 is beyond powerful for any smartphone scenario, as you can tell from the spec list below.
- 5.5-inch 1440×2560 “IPS Quantum” display (538 pixels per inch)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 6-core CPU @ 1.8GHz + 3GB RAM
- 3,000mAh user-removable battery
- 32GB internal storage + microSD card slot (up to 2TB)
- 4G LTE (including band 12)/3G/2G support
- 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC support
- Android 5.1 “Lollipop”
- 16MP rear-facing camera with optical image stabilization and 4K video recording
- 8MP front-facing camera with 1080p video recording
- 5.86 inches tall, 3 inches wide, 0.38 inches thick, 5.43 ounces
Design and Hardware
Unlike the G3, the G4’s display has a very subtle curve to it. As minor as it is, it’s something that you will come to notice at some point. LG’s biggest design update actually isn’t on the front, but rather the rear of the device. LG has two different types of back panels, including a real leather version and a standard plastic model. While I haven’t used the latter, it does look like quite a classy piece. My model featured the genuine leather brown back plate, which certainly looks, feels and smells like you’d expect it to. Like the display, the back is curved to make it as ergonomic as can be. It’s certainly comfortable to hold with one hand, though it can make for things to be a bit slippery and hard to hold. Because of its rear curve, when lying on a surface, the device will wobble a bit when you’re interacting with the device. The rest of the device uses regular glossy plastic for its side, which doesn’t help with the grip very much either. But as the buttons are on the back, you can give the device a tighter hold then on other smartphones. For build quality, I never felt as though the G4 was a cheap device, and believe that it should hold up for quite some time, so long as you aren’t abusing the thing.
As just mentioned,the G4 has its main set of buttons located on the rear of the device, similar to the G2, G3 and G Flex 2. This may be awkward for some, but it took me no longer than a few minutes to get used to the unique placement. This does make for some annoyances, such as being unable to adjust the volume or turn the display off if the device is lying on a table. Particularly, if you use phone stands, doing said tasks is just as frustrating as opposed to if the buttons were simply kept on the side. Like the actual placement, I did get used to having to do the old reach-around from time to time. And since the buttons are on the back, just under the camera, you have nothing along the sides, except for a few microphones, the IR blaster, 3.5mm headset port (on the bottom) and micro-USB 2.0 port (also on the bottom).
All told, the design of the G4 portrays a device of class and quality to where those characteristics certainly translates over to actual usability, despite the different button placement.
Unfortunately, LG left the speaker firing out of the back of the smartphone. On the bright side, it’s one of the loudest smartphone speakers I’ve ever heard, and even at its maximum volume, it doesn’t sound half bad. It may have fared better being placed on the bottom or on the front somehow (like the HTC One M9 and ALCATEL ONETOUCH IDOL 3), though I really don’t mind where it is now. The rear curve actually helps with audio volume, as the speaker isn’t completely covered by a table if you lay it down on one.
What you’re looking at the most — the display — is one of the LG’s strongest hardware features. When needed, the display can get very bright, and was one of the brightest smartphone screens I’ve seen to date. Its lowest brightness could be a tad lower, but it should get low enough for most users. Like with most of today’s high-end screens, colors aren’t overblown and viewing angles are great. It can also be used outdoors and in direct sunlight with ease. Some have complained about touchscreen responsiveness, but I found nothing wrong in that regard.
Software, Apps and Features
Running on the G4 is Android 5.1, better known as Lollipop. LG added their own interface layer on top of the stock experience, adding plenty of colorful icons and features without stepping beyond the boundary and into “overdoing it” territory. Nothing that LG added made anything more complicated or harder to use than without them. Compared to previous LG devices, the software appears as though it has changed the least when you think about their devices as a whole. In other words, the hardware saw more than the operating system did. Still, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Here’s a brief rundown of some of the software-based features that you might enjoy:
- Control your television using Quick Remote. This uses the IR blaster that’s located at the top of the device, essentially turning your smartphone into a remote control.
- Run two applications with Dual Window. For example, you could be scrolling through your Twitter timeline at the top half of the screen while the bottom half is running Google Maps for navigation.
- Run three applications with QSlide. How this differs from Dual Window is that these applications are little popout windows that can be resized with transparency options.
- Tap on the screen twice while off to wake it up. This is especially useful, given that the power button isn’t the most easily-accessible thing around.
Aside from the above features, the majority of the operating system is straightforward.
The G4 isn’t even remotely slow. I find it easy to notice slowdowns and stuttering UI elements, such as animations, but LG’s G4 held its own. Everything was nice and smooth throughout. Multitasking was handled with easy, and applications launched very quickly and performed fine afterwards. As for games, they performed beautifully, giving me better average frames per second than just about every other Android device I’ve used. The downside is that the device can get a bit warm rather quickly, but nothing to where you’d have to start worrying about what you’re doing.
While performance is great, battery life is so-so. I never found myself unable to get throughout the entire day with general usage. However, stepping things up a notch (such as gaming and LTE video streaming) and the battery will drain much quicker than you wish it would. There is a battery saving mode, though I avoided it as you aren’t given control over which features are disabled and which ones aren’t. As long as you keep the display brightness at a reasonable level, don’t stream live video over LTE for more than an hour or two or play graphically-demanding games for very long, a day is certainly attainable. With light usage, you should be able to get into two days comfortably.
What if your battery’s low and you need to stay up and running? The G4 supports quick charging, meaning you can fill up most of the battery in well under an hour. I never kept track of how quickly it can charge, but I know I went from 3% to 75% relatively quickly.
Call and Cellular Network Performance
On T-Mobile, the G4 performed beautifully. It supports LTE band 12, a frequency that can travel deeper into buildings (if you’re in an area with it rolled out), which I tested, which worked fine. Call quality is fantastic, as T-Mobile’s HD Voice calls always are. Even calls to non-HD Voice devices sounded better than on competing carriers’ devices. Additionally, it supports VoLTE and Wi-Fi Calling. I also found that the device had no trouble hanging onto low, yet usable, signals. Data speeds and general reliability greatly depends on area (among several other factors), and I always reached the speeds I was expecting where I was. I do wish that the device had a manual band selection mode (only Samsung devices seem to have this), but only a very small group of people would use it or even know what it does.
For my reviews, I tend to focus on the camera last. I have no specific reason as to why, but in this case, I’m calling it a “saving the best for last” situation.
LG’s always given cameras great attention, and you can certainly see this with the G4. Simply put, it might be the best smartphone camera I’ve used so far this year. Photos simply turned out fantastic, with rich detail and colors that aren’t blown way out of proportion. In situations with a relatively low amount of light, the G4’s rear shooter still did exceptionally well, more so than just about every other high-end smartphone this year. The camera app opens quickly, with photos taking very little time to actually be taken. The laser-guided auto focus system clearly shines, with quick focusing for both photos and videos. Video stabilization for both is also noticeable and welcomed. Video and audio quality were also quite good.
If you know a thing or two about photography, the included camera application provides a number of manual settings, such as ISO, white balance, manual focus, exposure and shutter speed. If you’d rather play it safe, the camera app also has an auto mode, which still lets you adjust some options, such as photo resolution and flash. There’s also a third mode, called simple mode. This eliminates all app elements, except for a back button. Simply tap the screen to automatically focus and take a photo.
It’s no wonder why I’ve been enjoying the LG G4 so much. Its combination of simple software, good looks and extraordinary camera make it something special. Without a doubt, the LG G4 will be one of this year’s top smartphone, if not the best smartphone.