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LG G4 smartphone review: Inching closer to perfection

By Cookie Monster - 30 May 2015
Launch SRP: S$928

LG G4 - Putting the spotlight on design and photography

Overview

As one of the last Android flagship smartphones to be announced in the first half of 2015, the LG G4 has lofty expectations to live up to. After all, LG reportedly pushed back the launch of the G4 to April to "make a bigger splash".

When the G4 made its official debut late last month, LG spent a lot of time beating the drum on its key features which are the 5.5-inch Quad-HD IPS Quantum Display, the vegetable-tanned, full grained leather back, the 16-megapixel f/1.8 rear camera, and the benefits of having a removable battery and a memory card slot. It's not hard to guess which rival phone model is on LG's target board, but winning the smartphone race takes more than just words and specs.

Can LG outgun the best Android smartphones in the market with their highly anticipated G4? We hope to give you the answer through the course of this full review. Before we begin, here's a quick overview of the specs of the G4 and its predecessor, the G3:

LG G4 vs. G3
  LG G4 LG G3
  LG G4 LG G3
Launch SRP
  • From S$928
  • From S$868
Operating system
  • LG UX 4.0 based on Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • Android 4.4.2 KitKat
Processor
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 with X10 LTE
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core up to 2.5GHz
Built-in Memory
  • 3GB RAM
  • 2GB/3GB RAM
Display
  • 5.5-inch / 2,560 x 1,440 pixels / IPS
  • 5.5-inch / 2,560 x 1,440 pixels (538 ppi) / IPS
Camera
  • Rear: 16-megapixel with f/1.8, optical image stabilization and laser autofocus
  • Front: 8-megapixel
  • Rear: 13-megapixel with optical image stabilization plus and laser autofocus
  • Front: 2.1-megapixel
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, A-GPS, GLONASS, CAT 6 LTE
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth Smart Ready (Apt-X), NFC, A-GPS/Glonass
Storage Type
  • 32GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 2TB
  • 16/32GB internal storage
  • microSD expansion up to 128GB
Battery
  • 3,000mAh
  • 3,000mAh
Dimensions
  • 148.9 x 76.1 x 6.3~9.8mm
  • 146.3 x 74.6 x 8.9mm
Weight
  • 155g
  • 149g

 

Design & Handling

(Note: We've done an extensive hands-on article with the G4, so we'll summarize the key points here instead of going into great length again.)

Compared to the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, the LG G4 delivers a more comfortable and secure grip.

When it comes to making big phones feel comfortable in the hands, only three brands come to our minds - HTC, LG and Motorola. We've seen how the three phone makers adopt curved rear designs for their phones to give a more comfortable handling and the G4 is LG's latest attempt to do so.

Dubbed the Slim Arc design, the G4 has a slight curve that runs along the entire chassis. Though it is not as pronounced as its G Flex 2 counterpart, you can feel the phone fitting the contours of your hands in a natural manner unlike the flat designs of the Apple iPhone 6 Plus and Sony Xperia Z smartphones.

The Slim Arc design not only makes the LG G4 feel comfortable in the hands, it also helps to increase its durability by 20%.

Besides offering a more comfortable grip of the phone in one hand, LG claims that the Slim Arc design offers 20% more durability in comparison to a flat smartphones in the event of accidental face-down drops. It was fortunate that we did not have to put the G4 through that sort of 'test' during our usage, but it would be good for LG to release drop-test videos to prove its claims.

Another design aspect to improve the handling of the G4 is the use of vegetable-tanned, full grained leather back. Just to be clear, you have two options when purchasing the G4; the S$998 option will get you a leather back cover (black, brown or red) while the S$928 option gives you a more standard rear finish (plastic) of metallic gray or shiny gold.

The leather material, which is also used to make high-quality, luxury bags and wallets, provides a better grip of the G4 than the standard finish. The high density yet soft leather material also helps to disperse the weight of the phone evenly, which leads to a more comfortable feel.

Time will tell how well the leather back of the LG G4 will age.

There are other benefits as well; no concerns over scratches, smudges, cracks or dents. The only real concern we foresee for the G4 is how well the leather back will age and only time will tell. LG states that the nature of the leather provides excellent ventilation, which in turn allows pleasantness in spite of long term usage. Intensive post-processing procedures are also applied to the leather to improve its durability.

As the back cover is removable, LG has included a memory card slot and a removable battery in the G4. The phone is available in one storage option (32GB) and you have about 20.42GB of available storage space out of the box after updating the preloaded apps. If you are a power user who requires massive amount of storage space for your music files, photos and videos, the G4 fits the bill as it is able to support microSD cards of up to 128GB (or larger should there be larger capacity cards made available). As an additional bonus, you get 100GB free Google Drive cloud storage for two years on the G4. 

Preloaded apps take up about 1.53GB of storage space on the LG G4.

 

A Closer Look at UX 4.0

We briefly discussed about the UX 4.0 in our hands-on article, so in this review we will explore two key features, Event Pocket and Quick Help. 

Event Pocket

The function of Event Pocket is to collate data from multiple sources and integrate them into one single calendar. In doing so, LG wants to reduce the hassle that users face when checking different calendars for work, home or entertainment on their phones. The pre-loaded LG Calendar gives you the option to save images, text, memos and tasks to Event Pocket.

Clicking on the Folder icon allows you to add images and memos to Event Pocket. Based on your location, Event Pocket enables you to add places of interests around you effortlessly.

 

Quick Help

For the users who are unfamiliar with LG's UX interface and menu settings, there is Quick Help to assist you. Accessible via the question mark icon on the Smart Notice widget, Quick Help can guide you through the different settings.

Quick Help offers troubleshooting tips for the LG G4 user.

 

Performance benchmarks

The G4 is the first smartphone to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core processor with X10 LTE. It consists of two 1.8GHz Cortex A57 cores with four 1.44GHz Cortex A53 cores and Adreno 418 GPU. One of the most hotly debated topics is the Snapdragon 808 chipset powering the G4 and not the Snapdragon 810 found in the HTC One M9, LG G Flex 2, Sony Xperia Z3+ and Xiaomi Mi Note Pro.

LG defended its decision by claiming that the Snapdragon 808 is optimized on the G4 to deliver the best mobile experience for consumers that can deliver just as well as a Snapdragon 810 processor based device. Is this really true? Let's find out how the G4 fared against the competition in synthetic benchmarks and real world usage experience.

For this review, we compared the G4 against the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, HTC One M9, G Flex 2, Motorola Nexus 6, Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4 (pardon the extra large table).

LG G4 vs. The Competition
  LG G4 LG G Flex2 Apple iPhone 6 Plus HTC One M9 Motorola Nexus 6 Samsung Galaxy S6 Samsung Galaxy Note 4 4G+
  LG G4 LG G Flex2 Apple iPhone 6 Plus HTC One M9 Motorola Nexus 6 Samsung Galaxy S6 Samsung Galaxy Note 4 4G+
Launch SRP
  • From S$928
  • From S$998
  • From S$1148
  • From S$1008
  • From S$998
  • From S$998
  • From S$1088
Operating system
  • LG UX 4.0 based on Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • iOS 8
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop with HTC Sense 7
  • Android 5.0 (Lollipop)
  • Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
  • Android 4.4.4 KitKat
Processor
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 with X10 LTE
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core (quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 & quad-core 2GHz Cortex-A57) processor
  • Apple A8 64-bit dual-core 1.4GHz with M8 motion coprocessor
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core (Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2 GHz Cortex-A57)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 (quad-core 2.7GHz)
  • Samsung Exynos 7420 octa-core (quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & quad-core 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 quad-core 2.7GHz
Built-in Memory
  • 3GB RAM
  • 2GB
  • 1GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
Display
  • 5.5-inch / 2,560 x 1,440 pixels / IPS
  • 5.5-inch / 1920 x 1080 pixels (403 ppi) / P-OLED
  • 5.5-inch Retina HD / 1,920 x 1,080 (401 ppi) / IPS
  • 5-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (441 ppi) / Super LCD 3
  • 5.96-inch / 2,560 x 1,440 pixels / AMOLED
  • 5.1-inch / 2,560 x 1,440 pixels (577 ppi) / Super AMOLED
  • 5.7-inch / 2,560 x 1,440 pixels (518 ppi) / Super AMOLED
Camera
  • Rear: 16-megapixel with f/1.8, optical image stabilization and laser autofocus
  • Front: 8-megapixel
  • Rear: 13-megapixel, laser autofocus, optical image stabilization, dual-LED flash
  • Front: 2.1-megapixel
  • Rear: 8-megapixel iSight camera with autofocus, dual warm/cool LED flashes and optical image stabilization
  • Front: 2.2-megapixels FaceTime HD camera
  • Rear: 20.7-megapixel, f/2.2, 27.8mm lens, autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
  • Front: 4-megapixel (HTC Ultrapixel) f/2.0, 26.8mm
  • Rear: 13MP IMX 214 Image Sensor, F2.0 aperture, OIS, ring flash with dual LEDs (4K video capture, HDR+, etc.)
  • Front: 2MP
  • Rear: 16-megapixel with f/1.9 aperture and smart OIS
  • Front: 5-megapixel with f/1.9 aperture
  • Rear: 16-megapixel with Smart OIS and LED flash
  • Front: 3.7-megapixel with f/1.9
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, A-GPS, GLONASS, CAT 6 LTE
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth Smart Ready (Apt-X), NFC, A-GPS/Glonass, 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n) (802.11n: 2.4 and 5 GHz), 4G LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS & GLONASS, Lightning connector, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX enabled, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5GHz), NFC, DLNA, Micro-USB 2.0,
  • Bluetooth 4.1 LE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5GHz), NFC, DLNA, Micro-USB 2.0
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 + 5GHz), 4G+ LTE, Bluetooth 4.1, VHT80, MIMO (2x2), GPS, GLONASS, NFC, Screen Mirroring
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 + 5GHz), 4G+ LTE, Bluetooth 4.1, VHT80, MIMO (2x2), GPS, GLONASS, NFC, Screen Mirroring
Storage Type
  • 32GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 2TB
  • 32GB internal storage
  • microSD expansion up to 2TB
  • 16 / 64 / 128GB internal storage
  • 32GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • 32GB internal storage
  • 32/64/128 GB internal storage
  • 32GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 128GB
Battery
  • 3,000mAh
  • 3,000mAh
  • 2915mAh
  • 2,840mAh
  • 3,220mAh
  • Qi wireless charging support
  • 2,550mAh
  • 3,220mAh
Dimensions
  • 148.9 x 76.1 x 6.3~9.8mm
  • 149.1 x 75.3 x 7.1-9.4 mm
  • 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1mm
  • 144.6 x 69.7 x 9.61mm
  • 159.3 x 83 x 3.8 to 10.1mm
  • 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm
  • 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5mm
Weight
  • 155g
  • 152g
  • 172g
  • 157g
  • 184g
  • 138g
  • 176g

 

Quadrant

Quadrant evaluates a device's CPU, memory, I/O, and 3D graphics performance. The G4 held its own in the Quadrant benchmark although it trailed slightly behind the Snapdragon 810-powered One M9 and G Flex 2 by 4% and 12% respectively. On the whole, none of the Snapdragon processors came close to matching the impressive score of the Exynos chip in the Galaxy S6.

 

3DMark (2013)

Originally developed as a PC gaming benchmarking tool, 3DMark now supports multiple platforms including Android. The Ice Storm benchmark is designed for smartphones, mobile devices and ARM architecture computers.

For an in-depth understanding of 3DMark for Android, do head over to our article, "3DMark - Android Device GPU Performance Review." In a nutshell, it is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark test that uses fixed off-screen rendering to run two graphics tests designed to stress the GPU performance of your device and a physics test to stress its CPU performance. The benchmark consists of three test portfolios: Standard (720p resolution rendering), Extreme (1080p resolution rendering with higher quality textures and post-processing effects), and Unlimited (disabled v-sync, display scaling and other OS factors that make it ideal for chipset comparison).

Since all the recent flagship smartphones max out the scores for the Standard and Extreme tests, we will only be looking at the scores for Ice Storm Unlimited. The Ice Storm Unlimited is where the Snapdragon 808 started to show its weakness against the competition; the One M9, G Flex 2 and Galaxy S6 easily beat it by 15%, 22% and 15% respectively. Even the Snapdragon 805-equipped Nexus 6 and Galaxy Note 4 fared better. Although the Snapdragon 808 features a new GPU core with a newer process technology, the Adreno 418 is clearly not in the same ballpark of performance as the Adreno 420 and 430 in the Snapdragon 805 and 810 processors respectively and it is plainly visible from the numerical positioning of the GPU from the company.

Having said that, the G4 performed reasonably well in actual gaming conditions, and was for the most part, lag free.

 

SunSpider JavaScript

SunSpider JavaScript helps measure the browsing performance of a device when processing Javascript. It not only takes into consideration the underlying hardware performance, but also assesses how optimized a particular platform is at delivering a high-speed web browsing experience. The G4 trailed behind most of the competition in the SunSpider Javascript benchmark, especially against the Galaxy S6.

 

Under real world usage conditions, the G4 breezed through daily operations without any lag. The user experience was smooth and similar to most other recent Android flagship smartphones that we've reviewed.

 

Battery performance

Our standard battery test for mobile phones includes the following parameters:

  • Looping a 800 x 480-pixel video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

In our standard video battery test, the G4 lasted six hours and 17 minutes which is just slightly longer than the G3 (6 hours and 3 minutes). In the 5.5-inch competition, the iPhone 6 Plus and G Flex 2 beat the G4 by 28% and 36% respectively.

Granted that both the iPhone 6 Plus and G Flex 2 have lower resolution displays (which draw lesser power), it doesn't explain how the Galaxy Note 4 could achieve double its battery mileage with a slightly larger 5.7-inch Quad-HD display. The slightly bigger 3,220mAh battery and more power-efficient AMOLED display could account for some extent of disparity, but the margin of difference is too wide. Compared to the Galaxy S6 (5.1-inch Quad-HD display with 2,550mAh battery), the G4 lost by a significant margin of 20%.

The G4's lower-than-expected battery life is attributed to its high power consumption (1.84W) which is notably higher than the rest of its competitors. 

 

  

Portability

We measure the portability of a device by calculating its battery life to (weight x volume) ratio. Due to its low battery mileage and sizeable footprint, the G4 ranked even lower than the iPhone 6 Plus in the Portability Index.

 

 

  

Camera performance

A lot has been said and discussed about the imaging hardware of the G4 in our hands-on article and we invite you to take a read if you wish to find out more. We put the G4 through the typical lab imaging test and here's the result:

The LG G4 takes excellent photos in our test lab conditions. Details remain sharp even after we zoom in. Color accuracy and contrast are top-notch! 

As for the camera user experience, do check out our travel photography experience in South Korea focussing on craftsmanship where our asscoiate editor shared his experience using the G4 during his seven-day trip.

Having used both the Galaxy S6 and G4 for photography, it's really tough to call out a winner. Both phones deliver the best camera user experience on the Android platform to-date and it really boils down to individual preferences. We'll be embarking on a head-on dedicated camera phone shootout piece where the full range of imaging capabilities in the G4 will be pitted against other high flyers such as the Galaxy S6. In the meantime, you can check out a short video clip on the Auto, Simple and Manual shooting modes found in the G4:

 

Comparison versus the competition

So where does the G4 stand among the intense competition? Did LG delivered a convincing package of good hardware and software in the G4? Is the G4 the best Android smartphone you can get in the market now? Frankly, it is a mixed bag of feelings.

Design and Hardware

The Slim Arc design and leather back of the G4 have their merits, and are comparable to the best that HTC and Samsung have to offer in their flagship smartphones. The definition of premium has always been associated with metal and/or glass, but LG dared to deviate from the norm and attempted to anchor its own interpretation of premium. Having said that, we feel that the plastic front of the G4 (which is the side you'll spend the most time looking at) doesn't match up to the premium leather rear.

In terms of design and build quality, there's no clear winner as each material has its pros and cons, and it ultimately boils down to your preferences. Do you like the feel of cold hard metal or the smooth texture of a glass panel? Does the feel of leather appeal to you? It also remains to be seen how well the G4's leather rear holds up to daily wear and tear. Anyone with an Apple iPhone leather case will know how grubby and worn down the leather will look after just a few short months. LG assures us that the coating on the G4's rear will prevent that, but leather is inherently softer and more prone to damage than metal or glass, so we'll reserve judgment for now.

While Samsung ditches the memory card slot and removable battery option for a cleaner design and whatever opther reason(s) it has, LG proved that it is still possible to include both of these options without compromising on the design, and a arc design no less. To some, these merits are strong trump cards against competitive smartphone options.

When it comes to display quality, it's a close fight between the G4 and Galaxy S6. Do you nitpick on the color accuracy and contrast of the display? Or do you prefer a brighter and more saturated display? If you are the former, go for the G4. Otherwise, the Galaxy S6 is a better fit. Regardless of which phone you are buying, you are looking at the two best smartphone displays in the market and you can't go wrong with either choice.

Software

On the software front, LG designed UX 4.0 to be simpler and more human-centric, which in daily use cases, is true. On the other hand, Samsung did itself a favor by streamlining its TouchWiz UI on the Galaxy S6. Sense 7 on the HTC One M9 is more polished than ever as well. In terms of software features, we would consider it to be a draw among the three phones as there isn't a strong differentiating factor and it all boils down to user preferences.

Performance

The choice of processors may be a controversial one and this aspect only matters if you are a benchmark junkie. Going by pure benchmark statistics, the Galaxy S6 easily mopped the floor with the One M9 and G4. However, day to day usage saw no apparent difference among the three phones.

As for the rear camera performance, the G4 and Galaxy S6 tend to deliver more consistent and better quality images than the One M9. At the moment, it is a tie between HTC and LG when it comes to shooting in manual mode as the Galaxy S6 lacks shutter speed control and RAW support (though we hear a software update is on the way to patch this). On paper, the LG G4 has a slight upper hand over the Galaxy S6 with a wider aperture and an enhanced optical image stabilization system with a 3-axis gyroscope. 

Perhaps the most crucial factor is the battery life and this is where the G4 falls short of expectations. Both the HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6 boast longer battery mileage than the G4 in our standard battery test. To be fair, battery mileage is subjective as different people have different usage patterns. The outcome in reality may differ somewhat from our lab test results. Also don't forget that battery performance supposedly improves somewhat after several recharge cycles as observed by LG and our HardwareZone trial users.

However, it is important to note that the G4 is the only phone of the three to offer a removable battery and coupled with the free battery pack, we consider the G4 to be a better deal as consumers don't have to send in their phones for servicing when the battery becomes faulty. On another note, the Galaxy S6 supports wireless charging and if you embrace this charging standard, the Galaxy S6 might appeal to you more. Another key consideration is the support for quick charging; all three phones support quick charging technologies, but Samsung is the only one that bundles a quick charger.

If given a choice to choose between fast charging and a removable battery, our guess is that consumers would go for the latter as it is more convenient and easier to swap out an empty battery than finding a power outlet to charge the phone.

 

Conclusion

Considering all factors, the G4 is certainly in the running for the best Android flagship smartphone as it ticks several of the right boxes of what we expect from an Android flagship smartphone this year. Even so, as we've found out, it's not quite as perfect as we hoped it to be and the G4 has areas of improvement. While it wasn't a stellar benchmarks performer, it was generally fast and smooth to deliver a flagship phone experience one would expect while juggling several apps and blaze through games. However, it was battery performance that really held back the G4. We do have to point out that the G4, like the G3, is competing in the phablet category as it has a 5.5-inch sized screen and a tremendously high screen resolution. These factors will inevitably have a high toll on battery performance and it's exactly what we noticed.

LG has also focussed much of its design efforts on the rear of the device, but unfortunately the rest of the device sees little improvement - especially the front face which will naturally see far more interaction. Existing G3 owners can attest to this and might even go so far as to say that the G4 is more of a G3+ device as they see it as a more polished and advanced G3.

Apart from these two areas, the LG G4 has a lot else going right for it and we would still highly recommend the phone for anyone in the market looking for a differentiated flagship Android phone experience.

The LG G4 will be available for purchase from today (30th May) at the three telcos and authorized retailers. For customers who've registered their interests and successfully booked an appointment with M1 and StarHub, they will get an exclusive premium pack of gifts worth S$292 which includes an extra battery, battery charger, a 64GB Class 10 microSD card, and a Leather Quick Circle case (for those who purchase the Leather version).

8.5
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • User-Friendliness 8.5
  • Performance 8
  • Value 8.5
The Good
Stunning QHD display
Top-notch imaging capability
Good handling
Leather back option feels good
Removable battery and microSD card slot
Smooth performance
The Bad
Lower-than-expected battery life
Plastic back option doesn't look premium
Front and sides still have plastic build and feel
Leather Quick Circle case doesn't feel as premium as the G4's own leather back
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