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Hands-on: LG G4 delivers promising first impressions

By Cookie Monster - 5 May 2015

LG is on full throttle with the G4, delivers promising first impression

The LG G4 is set to be available in Singapore towards the end of the month.

Overview

LG’s latest flagship Android smartphone, the G4, is set to “make a bigger splash” when it is available at the end of the month. As the successor to the impressive G3, the G4 has some big shoes to fill and LG is promising that it is more than capable in doing so.

We were provided with a preproduction unit and spent the weekend toying around with it. While this isn’t a conclusive review of the capaibilties of the G4, here are some initial thoughts and impressions of the phone:

Design

Phone makers approach the concept of premium differently. HTC sticks to an all-metal design for its One M9 while Samsung chose a combination of glass and aluminium for its Galaxy S6 models. LG has its own take on premium by offering the G4 with handcrafted, genuine full grain leather backs in six colors: black, brown, red, sky blue, beige and yellow.

The different colors have different textures; brown and red have a smooth finish whereas black is textured. Consumers in Singapore will have three leather options (black, brown and red) and two ceramic-coated plastic options (metallic gray and shiny gold). If you can't make up your mind on which color to choose, you might want to go with brown as it is the flagship color and thus, we received the brown model for this trial. The rest of the chassis is made up of plastic and the sides have a metallic chrome finish. How different is the G4’s leather back from what we’ve seen on the Moto X?

From left to right: HTC One M9, Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4.

From left to right: HTC One M9, Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4. <br> Metal, glass, leather - what's your pick?

Well, LG states that it takes three months to make each leather back, and the materials and process involved are the same as how fashion brands make their luxury handbags. After a few days of handling the G4, we liked how the leather back felt in our hands. It has a similar (if not better) feel and texture as the Apple leather case for the iPhone. 

The leather back is nice to touch and provides some grip. Running through the middle is a seam with stitches.

While some may prefer metal or even glass, the nature of leather ensures that you do not have to deal with scratches, cracks, breakages, fingerprints and smudges. In fact, the color and tone of the leather is said to change overtime, which will give each G4 a unique look. If leather is not your thing, LG offers the G4 in another option with metallic gray or shiny gold, both of which are plastic. We reckon most people will go for the leather option though. If there's one negative to the leather finish, it's that it looks a bit too premium, and as a result, the contrast between it and the not-so-premium plastic front is hard to ignore.

Another key thing to note about the leather back is that it is removable. LG bucked the trend of Android flagship smartphones coming with built-in battery and non-removable back covers. Removing the leather rear is fairly easy via the silt at the bottom left corner. Having said that, do not expect the G4 to be dust/water resistant.

Of the three Android flagship smartphones featured in this article, the LG G4 is the only one which comes with a removable back cover and battery. It is also the only one still using the micro-SIM standard.

The G4 comes with a removable 3,000mAh battery, a micro-SIM card slot and a microSD card slot which supports capacities up to 128GB. There is only one storage option available, which is the 32GB model. As for the available storage out-of-the box, we were unable to advise as we had a preproduction unit running on a different version of software from the final retail set.

We've received some queries on whether the G4's battery is compatible with that of the G3 since both are of the same capacity. Looking at the model numbers of the batteries, we have gathered that they are different.

Let’s talk about the overall design of the G4. LG hasn’t deviated much from the design philosophy for the G4. In fact, the G4 takes the best of the G3 and the G Flex 2. The footprint of the G4 is slightly larger than the G3 with a longer (148.9 vs. 146.3mm), wider (76.1 vs. 74.6mm), thicker ( 6.3~9.8 vs. 8.9mm) and heavier (155 vs 149g). Like its predecessor, the G4 is marginally larger than the 5-inch rivals and notably smaller than the 5.5-inch Apple iPhone 6 Plus. It also boasts a curved rear which rests comfortably in our palms.

The LG G4 is noticeably shorter than the Apple iPhone 6 Plus even though both phones sport 5.5-inch displays.

The leather back of the LG G4 holds its own against the aluminium finish of the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. One thing for sure - you have a better grip on the G4.

While it was initially not apparent, the 5.5-inch display of the G4 is actually slightly curved. It is not as pronounced as the G Flex 2, but you can feel it as you navigate your thumb or finger across the display. Together with the curved back, LG gives the design language a name, Slim Arc and claims that there is a 20% better durability of the G4 in face-down drops when compared to the flat smartphones. Nonetheless, the comfortable and secure feel of the G4 in the hand should minimize such accidents from happening.

Having a Slim Arc design means that the LG G4 will wobble when placed on its back on a flat surface.

 

Display

The 5.5-inch Quad-HD display of the LG G4 is really crisp, bright and vibrant.

Even though there is no increase in display resolution and size, LG has made significant improvements to the display technology on the G4. The company claims that the G4 is the first smartphone to deliver 98% of the digital cinema initiative (DCI) color standard, which in layman terms, means that color rendering is more accurate and best represents what cinematographers expect to deliver to its audience.

This is an obvious potshot on the AMOLED display technology found in competing smartphones. However, with DisplayMate rating the AMOLED displays of the Samsung Galaxy S6 as the best in the industry, it remains to be seen how the G4 actually stacks up against the Galaxy S6 in real world usage scenarios. You can find out more about the innovations of the new 5.5-inch Quad-HD display of the G4 here.

In person, we found the display to be gorgeous, especially when viewing photos. Colors are eye-popping and almost anything looked better on the G4 than on competing smartphones. A word of caution though - images may look really good on the G4, but when viewed on another mobile device or desktop, colors are slightly muted. As such, you'll need calibrated monitors to better appreciate what you capture on the G4.

Rear Buttons

The rear-button setup is retained on the G4 and by now, LG G2/G3/G Flex/G Flex 2/G Pro users should be very familiar with. As stated before, the rear buttons make sense for a device of this size. LG made a slight change to the design of the power button. Previously, the power button was circular in design which we felt made it easier to feel and access. Now, the G4 sports a more rectangular shape that makes it a bit harder to differentiate from the volume controls. It is a very small issue as we got used to the new design within an hour or two. Moreover, you don't need to use the power button often as the G4 still supports KnockON - the double-tap gesture to turn on and off the screen which was introduced on the G2

Near the top middle section on the back of the LG G4 houses the 16MP camera module, the laser autofocus sensor, the LED flash, the color spectrum sensor, and the rear buttons.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 with 3GB RAM

Unlike the Snapdragon 810-powered G Flex 2, the G4 runs on a Snapdragon 808 processor. The choice to go with a different processor fuels speculation that the Snapdragon 810 did had some issues, which resulted in Samsung ditching the processor in favor of its own for the Galaxy S6 models.

Don’t be mistaken though; the Snapdragon 808 is still one of the premium tier processors from Qualcomm. It consists of two 1.8GHz Cortex A57 cores with four 1.44GHz Cortex A53 cores and Adreno 418 GPU. In comparison, the Snapdragon 810 comes with four 2.0GHz Cortex A57 cores with four 1.6GHz A53 cores and Adreno 430. To reassure potential customers, LG stated during the launch event that it had worked closely with Qualcomm to optimize the Snapdragon 808 processor for the G4.

As we were using a preproduction unit, we were not allowed to run benchmarks. From our past few days of using the G4, it seemed that there was no need for concern here; navigation on the G4 was smooth and the user experience was not any different from other Android flagship smartphones.

UX 4.0 and Android 5.1 Lollipop

LG also debut its latest mobile user interface, UX 4.0 which is designed to be simpler, more intuitive and smarter. This is a natural progression from last year's UX 3.0 where the theme was "Simple is the new smart".   

Smart Notice becomes smarter and more personalized; after four hours of walking around Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay, it notified us to limit our outdoor activities as the weather was bad. The Gallery app now organizes the photos according to time (year,month and day) and location. There is also an option to view significant moments in life via Memories album. Event Pocket allows you to drag events from social media accounts to the default Calendar. For now, it seems that only Facebook is integrated with this feature.

 

16MP rear camera with F1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization

The other big selling point of the G4 is its imaging capabilities with both front and rear camera sporting quite impressive specs. Without further ado, let's take a look at how the G4 stacks up against the other Android flagship smartphones:

Camera Hardware Compared
Specifications / Device HTC One M9 LG G4 Samsung Galaxy S6
Rear camera 

20MP, 1.12 µm pixels, 1/2.4" , f/2.2

16MP, 1.12µm pixels, 1/2.6" , f/1.8

16MP, 1.12µm pixels, 1/2.6" , f/1.9

Rear camera sensor Toshiba T4KA7 Sony IMX234 Sony IMX240
Optical image stabilization NIL 3-axis Yes
Front camera

4MP UltraPixel, 2.0 µm, 1/3", f/2.0

8MP

5MP, 1.34 µm, 1/4.1", f/1.9

 

Manual Modes Compared
Manual Settings / Device HTC One M9 LG G4 Samsung Galaxy S6
White balance 2300K - 7500K   2400K - 7400K Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent
ISO 100 - 1600   50 - 2700 100 - 800
Shutter speed 2 - 1/8000   30 - 1/6000 NIL 
RAW support  Yes Yes  No 

The laser autofocus in the G3 was an industry's first, and LG set out to attain more milestones this year with the G4. First, the G4 is one of the few smartphones in the world to come with an aperture of f/1.8 for the rear camera. This is a huge jump from the G2 which has an aperture of f/2.4. A wider aperture not allows more light through to the sensor (resulting in brighter photos), it also gives a greater shallow depth of field effect

Second, the G4 is the first smartphone to be equipped with a color spectrum sensor. The color spectrum sensor helps to improve color accuracy by measuring the ambient light and then adjusting the white balance and flash color according to the scene. 

Third, the G4 one-ups the competition with its new optical image stabilization (OIS) 2.0 system, which offers a 3-axis gyroscope instead of the standard 2-axis implementation in most other smartphones with OIS. In technical terms, the G4 comes with a range of stabilization that has been increased from 1 to 2 degrees, which is far better than the 0.6-degree correction on the iPhone 6 Plus and 1.2-degree correction on the Huawei Ascend P8. This will help the G4 take smoother videos and blur-free photos, especially under low light conditions.

Fourth, you would have noticed that the G4 offers manual controls typically found in DSLRs. This is the playground of photo enthusiasts as they are now given more control over the focus, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation and white balance. The G4 also offers the option to save photos in RAW format, which allows you to do some post processing work without losing the details. 

We took the G4 for a spin around Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay to test out the capabilities of the rear camera. Do note that these photos are taken with a preproduction unit and may not be an accurate representation of what you will get on the final retail unit - LG mentioned there are a couple more software updates that have yet to filter down to our test unit. Stay tuned for another article focusing on camera phone performance once we get the final unit, but meanwhile, we hope the below camera performance is a glimpse of what to expect.

Normal lighting on auto mode

f/1.8 at 4.42mm, 1/1538, ISO 50. <br> Click for full resolution image.

f/1.8 at 4.42mm, 1/119, ISO 50. <br> Click for full resolution image. 

Macro shots taken on manual focus

f/1.8 at 4.42mm, 1/157, ISO 50. <br> Click for full resolution image.

f/1.8 at 4.42mm, 1/119, ISO 50. <br> Click for full resolution image.

f/1.8 at 4.42mm, 1/136, ISO 50. <br>Click for full resolution image. 

Evening shot taken on auto mode

f/1.8 at 4.42mm, 1/29, ISO 150. <br> Click for full resolution image. 

Low light shots taken on auto mode

Click for full resolution image.

Click for full resolution image.

Light trail

f/1.8 at 4.42mm, 4 secs, ISO 50. <br> Click for full resolution image. 

Panorama

Click for full resolution image.  

Click for full resolution image.

Overall, the photo-taking experience on the G4 was admittedly a pleasant one. Focusing was fast and as you can see from the three macro shots above, we loved the manual focus the most. Taking light trails was a challenge though as we did not have the luxury of having a tripod stand with us and it didn't help that it was drizzling for almost an hour.

What annoyed us was the camera interface, which needs some rework. It was initially very confusing on where to activate the three different camera modes (simple, auto and manual). One would expect it to be accessible via Mode. Wrong. What about the Settings icon? Wrong again. You can only toggle among the three modes via the three-dot option at the top left corner of the interface. Mode, on the other hand, will offer a switch to Panorama or Dual while the Settings icon brings you to a list of options such as HDR, timer and grid layout.

You will be confused by the number of possible options to tap on when accessing the different camera settings on the LG G4.

If you've used the camera interface on the Galaxy S6, it's more straightforward. Tapping on Mode brings you to select Auto, Pro (which is Samsung's manual mode), Selective Focus, Panorama, Slow Motion, Fast Motion, Virtual Shot and Download. 

 

Photo Comparison with the Samsung Galaxy S6

LG G4, auto mode. <br>f/1.8 at 4.42mm, 1/480, ISO 50. Samsung Galaxy S6, auto mode. <br>f/1.9 at 4.3mm, 1/560, ISO 40

Both photos were taken at about 1PM outdoors. While both photos show impressive levels of details when zoomed in, it is apparent that the photo taken by the Galaxy S6 shows more contrast and slightly more saturated colors. This boils down to individual preference; some may like the more accurate colors on the G4 while others may prefer more punchy colors on the Galaxy S6.

LG G4, macro shot taken with manual focus. <br> f/1.8 at 4.42mm, 1/250, ISO 50.

Samsung Galaxy S6, macro shot taken with manual focus. <br> f/1.8 at 4.3mm, 1/1,168 sec, ISO 40.

Using manual focus, both phones take really great macro shots. The photo taken by the G4 is brighter and colors are more accurate, but the Galaxy S6 has a slight upper hand in terms of details. Notice the fine details on the front two petals captured by the Galaxy S6. 

LG G4, low light shot taken with Auto mode. <br> f/1.8 at 4.42mm, 1/9 sec, ISO 2350.

Samsung Galaxy S6, low light shot taken with auto mode. <br> f/1.9 at 4.3mm, 1/10 sec, ISO 1000.

Using auto mode, these two photos were taken under low light conditions at about 8PM. It's obvious which phone takes the better photo. Just look at the steps on the left side of the each photo and you will see that the steps are clearly visible in the photo taken by the G4 while the steps are shrouded in darkness in the photo taken by the Galaxy S6. Both phones also managed to keep noise levels to acceptable levels.

Availability and Pricing 

The G4 (32GB) will be available in Singapore at the end of the month. There will be a registration of interest at the websites of all three telcos from 15 May to 24 May. If you are planning to get the G4 (32GB) without a line contract at authorized LG Mobile retailers, the handset will cost you S$998 for the model with genuine leather (black, brown and red) and S$928 for the model with the plastic back (metallic gray and shiny gold). You will also get a free additional 3,000mAh battery and a battery charger when you buy from any authorized LG retailer (while stocks last). For comparison's sake, the Galaxy S6 (32GB), Galaxy S6 Edge (32GB) and One M9 cost S$998, S$1,168 and S$1,008 respectively.