Device Review: LG G4

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The fourth generation of LG’s high-end G series hit the sales floor late last month, but does the £499 price have the power to unsettle rivals Apple and Samsung?

Say hello to the LG G4, LG’s latest flagship device. Can a superb camera, high-spec performance and distinctive leather design help it compete against Apple and Samsung? Since the G2’s release, LG has become a major rival for Apple and Samsung in the high-end smartphone market. Last year’s G3 was the pinnacle for the Korean manufacturer and it showed that it could produce a smartphone that was just as good as anything Apple and Samsung offered.

That gives the LG G4, the brand’s latest flagship, a gargantuan task to face. Not only does it have tough competition from the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6, it also has to top the excellent G3.

At first glance, the G4’s front looks similar to its predecessor. However, looks can be deceiving and the G4 is anything but a copycat phone. LG has tweaked the software and hardware, while a leather-back gives the phone its own distinct look. Will all this be enough to help LG escape the shadows of Apple and Samsung?

Design

The LG G4 will really turn heads with its leather back, available in tan, black, burgundy, blue, grey and yellow. Stitching runs down the back of the phone and that leather jacket makes it feel more luxurious.

Sure, we prefer the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge’s curved design, but the leather-backed LG G4 does have one advantage over its main rival. Whenever we held the all-glass S6 edge in our hands, we were always slightly worried about it slipping from our hands and crashing to the ground. The extra grip provided by the G4’s leather back meant we had no such worries.

The G4 is also slightly curved at the front, a design dubbed the ‘Slim Arc’ by LG. It claims that this design offers “20 per cent better durability in face-down drops” and that it “gives the smartphone a more comfortable and secure feel in the hand.”

You can also buy the LG G4 with a ceramic back, but we’d recommend sticking with the leather models if you can afford to splash out an extra £100. The non-leather phones feel especially cheap and easy to scratch, which is worrying as the ceramic devices start from £500.

There are three buttons sitting below the 16MP camera on the back. We couldn’t get used to this placement and it felt awkward every time we had to stretch our fingers to lock the phone, adjust the volume or screengrab. The G4’s phablet-sized dimensions can make it especially difficult for anyone with small hands to reach the buttons.

Camera

LG certainly hasn’t held back with the G4’s cameras. The 16MP rear camera boasts a superfast lens that takes in 80 per cent more light than the LG G3’s already impressive camera. If a camera lens takes in more light, then there’s a higher chance the photographs it snaps will appear brighter and have more emphasis placed on your chosen subject. It’s also more likely that the photographs will become blur-free.

The LG G4 has another fancy trick where it fires off an infrared beam every time a picture is taken. This beam is reflected off your subject and back to a sensor on the phone, telling it how far away your subject is. All this helps the G4’s camera do a better job of focusing and adjusting contrast.

A colour spectrum sensor has also been added, the first for any mobile phone. This sensor helps adjust your camera’s flash so the colours in photographs resemble what you’re seeing with your own eyes. All this is finished off with Optical Image Stabilisation, which reduces any blur that could potentially be caused by shaking hands.

Does all this fancy tech work? The LG G4 handled any condition we tested it in and it especially impressed us in bright environments. Colours of vibrant subjects stood out and it easily captured tiny details like strands of hair. Night shots were just as fantastic and the camera did an excellent job of balancing light emitting from nearby light sources with darker objects.

If you really want to take advantage of the rear camera, you’ll want to stick the phone into manual mode. This lets you adjust white balance, shutter speed, focus and many other features.

Each photograph we snapped in manual mode looked marginally better than those taken in auto mode. The quality was almost on a par with the photographs taken by DSLR cameras, the standalone cameras many professional photographers use.

Dedicated photographers will be glad to hear that photos can be saved in either JPEG or RAW formats. When images are captured in a JPEG format, the photograph is compressed and information is lost. When a photograph is compressed, the overall quality also drops. No information is compressed in RAW formats and the overall quality of RAW photographs is higher than those of JPEG photos.

Double tap the bottom button on the back and the LG G4’s camera app starts up, even when the phone is locked. This is useful when you want to quickly take a photo without having to faff around with unlocking the phone and finding the camera app. It’s a neat feature, but it is a little slow when starting up. The front 8MP camera isn’t as advanced as the 16MP rear camera, but it did a decent job of bringing out the details of our ugly mugs in selfies.

Gesture control is a useful feature when taking selfies. Quickly open and close your hand in front of the camera and four selfies will be taken two seconds apart from each other. You just have to pick your favourite. Then there’s beauty mode, which helps smooth out any wrinkles or blemishes from your face.

Screen

The LG G4’s screen boasts a massive 5.5- inch screen. The quad-HD screen has a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, which makes all videos, images and text look vibrant and sharp. This is partly due to the IPS LCD screen. In simple terms, this technology ensures that all the colours on screen appear more vibrant and saturated.

The overall result is a screen that isn’t as good as the Samsung Galaxy S6’s, but one that’s nonetheless one of the best on the market.

If you’re worried about dropping the phone and smashing the screen, the Gorilla Glass 3 screen should stop that happening to some extent. Gorilla Glass 3 is special glass that’s been tested and punished to withstand drops from certain heights. It’s worth noting that Gorilla Glass 3 isn’t the most recent and advanced Gorilla Glass screen on the market. That title goes to Gorilla Glass 4,which the Samsung Galaxy S6 uses. We didn’t test the G4 out in a drop test, but it does feel quite tough and sturdy.

Performance

A Snapdragon 808 processor is fitted beneath the LG G4’s shell. This means that the LG G4 isn’t the most powerful phone on the market, as the Samsung Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9 use the more advanced Exynos 7420 and Snapdragon 810 processors respectively. Processor-heavy games don’t run as smoothly on the G4 as they do on its rivals, but we experienced no problem with overheating. Games like Hearthstone and Real Racing 3 also ran without any hiccups. We did have problems using Bluetooth, Spotify and RunKeeper together, however, as RunKeeper either crashed or took a long time to boot up.

A bonus the LG G4 has over its rivals is that you can actually expand the internal 32GB memory to 128GB via an external microSD card. This means you needn’t fork out more cash for pricier models if you want bigger storage.

Software

The G4 runs on the latest version of Android 5.1 and it comes with LG’s new UX 4.0 user interface. This is very tidy and easy to navigate, but some might not like how colourful and overlyvibrant it looks. The good news is that you download different wallpapers and themes to personalise the device into something that suits your own tastes. Head left from the main screen and you get LG’s Health app, calendar, music and various guides. There’s an option to arrange what information you want displayed here or you can get rid of this information entirely if it gets in your way.

LG’s Knock Code pattern can also be used as an alternative and very secure way of unlocking your device. Simply tap a chosen pattern on the screen to unlock your phone.

Smart Settings is also very useful. You can use it to automatically set your phone on loud, vibrate or silent, and switch on WiFi or Bluetooth depending on location. You can also set it to automatically activate apps like Spotify whenever you connect the G4 to headphones or an external speaker.

The organised among you will also want to take a deeper look into the Calendar’s Event Pocket feature. This useful tool allows you to create new events by dragging images, text, memos, tasks, locations and even Facebook information into the planner. Nearby events will also be suggested and added to your calendar. Quick Memo+ is also useful. This feature allows you to save web content for later and even strips away any annoying adverts that feature alongside the content.

Battery

Battery life is on a par with most other smartphones on the market. On more intensive days with regular WhatsApp, RunKeeper, Spotify and CityMapper usage, we had to reach for the charger within 10 hours of use. Battery Saver mode really helped in these instances.

Whenever the G4’s battery drops to 15 per cent and below, battery saving mode kicks in and disables certain features to keep your phone going. Then there’s Smart Power saving, which tells you which apps are being particularly strenuous on battery life and gives you the option to shut them down.

An advantage the phone has over its rivals is its removable battery. This allows you to carry a spare battery and get more life out of the phone, but it will also help with the device’s life span. Phone battery quality normally drops after 12 months. This can lead to shortened battery life, which can be annoying on phones like the iPhone where you can’t replace the battery. The G4 avoids this common problem with its removable battery that can easily be replaced.

Verdict

The leather case covering certainly helps the LG G4 stand out against expensive rivals, while the camera is one of the best we’ve tested and offers something for everyone from the selfie lover to the more advanced photographer. The positioning of the rear buttons does take some getting used to, but with regular use it’s hard to imagine a device without them. Whether it’s business or pleasure, the G4 is a match for its rivals.

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