LG changed the game with the release of it’s G2 back in 2013. The G2 had a screen that was nearly entirely bezelless. It had buttons on the back. It had a (then) outlandishly large screen, a size that manufacturers across the industry would go on to adopt. It’s size was ahead of it’s time, and the unusual button placement gave consumers pause for thought. This is all to say that it didn’t sell as well as LG might have hoped. But make no mistake: it was leagues ahead of the competition then: the Samsung Galaxy S4, which was plastic-fantastic, and the HTC One, which had a set of software that made me roll around on the floor convulsing in tears. The following year LG released the G3, the G2’s successor. It was a little bit of an upgrade internally, but crucially, it had a 2K screen. 2K is a resolution that is between 4K and Full HD. It is a lot of pixels. It had more pixels than most TVs. And it was a phone. Once again, LG was leading the pack. And now we have the G4.
The G4 doesn’t lead in quite the same way as the G2 and G3 did. That’s because although LG has continued to innovate, the market seems to have massively caught up. Samsung has apparently given up on trying to design phones and has taken as astronomical amount of cues from Apple (although I shan’t judge just yet, I hope to be reviewing the phone soon). The result of Samsung’s change is that the phone is now not made of plastic, which is a big step forward. Their S6 also now has a 2K screen. HTC makes the One M9 (does anyone actually own one of these?), which might be decent, but I’ve never seen one. So what differentiates the G4 from the pack? And is LG still king of the hill?
The G4 is slim. It’s apparently 9.8mm, but the phone is tapered, so at the edges you can basically cut fruit with it. I’m pretty sure it’s made of plastic but there’s some kind of alchemy afoot here because it feels oddly like metal. At any rate, the phone is sold with multiple different backs (I had the ‘Metallic Grey’ version but the Black leather one looks sweet). It has buttons on the back. This is important, because it enables the phone to be slim in terms of width. I also found, after a minor learning curve, that buttons on the back is kinda awesome. When you hold a phone up to use it, you realise quite quickly that your hand and fingers have natural resting places. For me, and I suspect many others, the resting place isn’t the side of the one. It really isn’t the top of the side of the phone, where most manufacturers confusingly locate volume rockers and power buttons and the like. The buttons on the back make ergonomic sense. There are three: volume down at the bottom, then a power button, then volume up.
Now, for what it’s worth, the volume buttons are splendid. They’re large and textured and are, in all honesty, just about the best phone buttons I’ve ever come across. The power buttons sucks though. I’m not really sure what LG were thinking here: it’s too small and too slippy and it makes me wonder if they were sniffing paint. One other slight oddity is what happens when you drop this. To LG: I didn’t perform a drop test deliberately, I’m just clumsy. At any rate, the phone went into self destruct mode and did something I haven’t seen since Nokias: the back and battery both came off. The bottom line here though is that the phone was absolutely fine and unmarked. In terms of a design summary though: the phone is pretty, functional and damn well built.
Performance wise, the phone is a belter. It has 3GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 808. Though not quite as powerful as it’s bigger brother, the 810, it pushes along decently. Separately, I got my hands on a G Flex 2 (another LG which I might review), which has the 810, and the performance was no better. However, the phone did occasionally stutter, and I think I know why that happened. I think it’s the same reason the 810 phone was no faster than the 808 phone: the software built on top of Android in LG’s sucks. It’s not clean and tidy. It uses loads of power and it makes operation clunky. It’s worse than the old TouchWiz stuff on Samsung. Why, oh why, LG? It’s worth noting though that my review unit may not have the same preloaded software (read: bloatware) as the phone you buy. Additionally, you can just change it: that is to say, Android is customisable, particularly if you put on something like Cyanogenmod (a near stock custom ROM, which is the software the phone runs).
The camera on this phone is first rate, and I’ve included samples to demonstrate that. That is to say, it’s the best phone camera I’ve ever used. I didn’t delve into the camera app menus because I didn’t need to: this is the phone that is most likely to get the best shot every time. It’s fantastic. The focus is quick. It practically sees in the dark. The video is also brilliant. I have no more to say here.
In summary, because I’ve rather gone on: the G4 is a top-tier phone in every aspect, let down by the software LG has affixed over Android. It’s built well, looks premium, takes a great photo and handles almost everything with ease. It also has the added bonus of being cheaper than other flagship phones: I’ve seen these floating around for £300 online. So, should you buy one? Answer: probably.
Screen: 5.5”, 2K
Processor: Snapdragon 808
Size: H*W*D – 148.9 x 76.1 x 9.8mm
— CNET (@CNET) October 19, 2015