Just like a luxury car seat, LG’s new flagship, the G4, is all curves and leather. But what’s it like under the glamorous surface?
The answer is that the G4 has a lot going for it. From a DSLR-esque camera to a HD screen that blew us away, this is a phone worth talking about. Although it's let down a little by the battery and the shelf life of its processors, we remain impressed.
Design and display
The thing about the G4 that everyone's talking about is the leather back, made from a real bona fide dead animal. And the phone does feel really good to hold in your hand. The leather's grippy and, despite its size creeping into phablet territory, it sits in your palm nicely - helped by the curvy shape of the back. It's a stretch to say it feels particularly premium, however. If anything, it's kind of tacky up close, and obviously just a very thin sliver over an otherwise plastic back. And besides, it's leather. On a phone. Which is weird.
At least it'll match my motorcycle.
LG has continued its trademark touch of putting the buttons on the back of the phone, which is interesting and surprisingly accessible. They're textured metal, very tactile, and placed pretty much exactly where your index finger is when you're using the phone - so they're easy to find and press. Unfortunately, the combo of curvy shape and buttons-on-the-back means that the G4 simply is not made for lying flat on a table. Which is… where I keep my phone most of the time. Hmm.
Otherwise, the handset feels lovely and sturdy, and no doubt worth its price tag. The buttonless front means a reliance on soft keys, but they're implemented quite effectively: rather than taking up screen real estate, instead they overlay on top of whatever you're looking at on the display. A little more touch sensitivity wouldn't go amiss, mind you.
And the display itself - my god, the display. It's 5.5in, and a whopping 538ppi (edging pretty close to the 577ppi of the Samsung Galaxy S6), meaning that lines are crisp and clear, and hi-res pictures and videos look stunning. Watching a Full HD nature documentary on Netflix blew me away, and not just because of how cute the baby polar bears were. The screen has a wider colour space than most phones, which is great for viewing photos and videos, but unfortunately it lets down the design of the UI. Reds, oranges, and pinks look quite garish… and the colour balance can't be altered in the settings. So if you do go for an LG G4, remember the factor in the cost of sunglasses as well as the handset.
Power and performance
The G4 is rocking a hexa-core Snapdragon 808 chipset, and that makes it pretty speedy. Apps load nice and quickly, and games work well with barely a hint of lag - though I did have some apps crash a couple of times.
So while the CPU isn't quite as speedy as, say, the octa-core you'll find in flagships like the HTC One M9, it seems to fare pretty well. Just be prepared to see a bit of sluggishness in more high-powered games, and be warned that it may not fare amazingly for the whole of the phone's life.
Interface and features
The G4 runs Android Lollipop right out of the box - hooray! - though it's overlaid with LG's own Optimus UX. It's not a whole lot different in, say, the messaging and phone apps, but elsewhere it's rather nice to use. It looks contemporary and smooth, and the home screens are wonderfully customisable.
LG Electronics are my favourite band.
The colours aren't the best choices, however. Something about the grey-ish yellows and blues just makes the screen look washed-out, and they clash horrifically with the garish oranges and turquoises of the default Android UI.
The selection of apps themselves you get is an interesting bag. Evernote is included, as is LG Health, Kindle, the whole Google suite, and eBay. Then there's LG SmartWorld. This one's where you'll find all the customisation you can ever want: skins, wallpapers, fonts, apps, and so on. It's also got some interesting language choices - we're not quite sure what LG means by 'We introduce the theme contents for all G4 users' but we thank them all the same.
Of course, there are some features we're even more thankful for. Pop-up notifications with previews are quite cool, for instance. And Smart Settings look like the phone features of the future - you can get the G4 to automatically change the sound, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth settings when it detects you're at home. They may only have limited capability right now, but we've got high hopes for more. There's the dual window feature too - perfect for when you need to need to see something in one app while using another.
The LG G4's settings are even smarter than its user.
Let's get right down to it: the camera is amazing.
Not only does the back camera have 16MP, it also has flash, image stabilisation, fast laser focusing, and a colour spectrum sensor - the first of its kind in a phone camera. Its automatic focus and balancing works wonderfully on the app, but if you want more control, the settings on manual mode are in-depth and akin to what you'll find on a DSLR. I didn't understand any of it, so it must be good.
Luckily there are some fun features for complete amateurs like myself as well. You can trigger the camera to take a picture when you say the word 'cheese,' and there's a dual mode - where you can compose a picture using both the main camera and a little window of the front-facing one too. It's not clear what this feature is for, exactly, but we're sure you can find a use for it.
The photos themselves are brilliant quality. Barely a detail is lost and colours really pop. Outdoors in natural lighting, even the greenest of novices can take a quite stunning-looking picture. So if you're a photography enthusiast, we really can't recommend the G4 enough.
The LG G4 camera: Making an average park look like an amazing one.
At first glance, we felt pretty positive about the battery - it's a hefty 3000mAh one and unlike with a lot of flagships these days, it's removable. However, a big bright screen and hexa-core processors are kind of a drain. So while the battery will easily last a day with normal use, it'll definitely struggle if you use the phone more intensively - playing 3D games, watching videos, downloading on 4G, and the like.
Thankfully it's quite power efficient besides that: there are battery saver and game optimiser settings to make it last a little longer. And the 'quick-charge technology' means that you can get the battery back up to full charge in a jiffy.
The design of the G4, with its curves, leather, and oddly-placed buttons, is set to divide opinions - but in terms of the phone's specs, our thoughts are clear.
There's an incredible display and a nicely usable interface, though what's going on under the surface isn't quite up to scratch. The processors don't look future-proof, and the battery struggles to cope.
Still… that's no reason to write it off. There's no better smartphone around for photographers, for a start. Besides, when a phone feels this premium to hold in your hand, it's hard to criticise. And that display - let's just mention the display again. The display is fantastic.
So we can safely place the LG G4 on the flagship pedestal without any hesitation. Sure, it's not about to blow the latest Samsung out of the water - but it deserves a place right next to it.
Thank you to O2 for supplying our test handset!