Every year, LG manages to impress me in one way or another with their new flagship Android smartphone. The inclusion of a near bezel-free display, combined with surprisingly awesome battery life on the G2 two years ago made me fall in love with LG handsets for the first time. In 2014, the company released the G3, the first mainstream smartphone with a crisp 1440p display and a great laser-assisted autofocus system for the camera.
This year, LG has focused on improving every aspect of the camera with their latest flagship, the G4, and the results might prove impressive once again. LG has upgraded the camera sensor to a 16-megapixel unit, kept the optical image stabilization and laser autofocus from the G3, and switched to a wide f/1.8 lens. The selfie camera was also upgraded to eight megapixels.
Aside from the camera, LG has upgraded several other parts of their flagship’s hardware for the G4. The company has chosen a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 SoC for this handset, rather than the Snapdragon 810 they used in the G Flex 2, likely for power consumption and heat concerns. There’s also a new 5.5-inch 1440p “Quantum” IPS display, which improves upon its similar predecessor, alongside versatile features that include a removable battery and microSD card slot.
The design of the G4 is a definite upgrade on the LG G3 from last year, and will be very familiar to folks who have seen or used LG’s high-end smartphone from earlier this year, the G Flex 2. While the G4 doesn’t bend or flex, its strong and rigid body is slightly curved, though not to the same extent as the G Flex 2. The general style of the G4, with its slim bezels and quite rectangular profile, is borrowed from the G Flex 2 as well, so much so that the two look exactly the same from the front.
Around the back is where LG has changed some things up. The faux metal used on the G3’s rear panel wasn’t very impressive and basically felt like boring plastic, so the company has swapped it out for a diamond-patterned back cover on the G4. This cover is available in two options: “ceramic” white and “metallic” grey, though both quite obviously look and feel like plastic when you see the phone in person.
As I’ve mentioned countless times before, I’m not a huge fan of plastic on high-end smartphones, as – depending on the implementation and quality of the plastic – it can make an expensive phone look and feel cheap. The patterned back covers LG provides for the G4 are far from the worst use of plastic I’ve seen on a high-end device, but I would hardly say that they are great either. Perhaps the best word to describe this use of plastic is simply “meh”.
Luckily, the diamond-patterned plastic back covers aren’t the only options LG provides. For those that are willing to spend a bit more cash on their G4, LG will let you choose between two genuine leather back covers in either black or brown. The black leather cover has been given a skin-like texture, whereas the brown cover uses polished leather; both feature a prominent, stitched seam down the middle. The retail G4 I was sent to review came with both a black leather back and a ceramic plastic back in the box, but I’m not sure whether the inclusion of two backs in the box is the case for all leather G4s on the market.
Compared to the plastic back covers, the leather back is significantly better both from a visual and textural perspective. Not everyone I’ve shown the G4 to agree with me on this point, but I really like the way the leather G4 looks, even if it is a bit unusual. Unfortunately the leather back didn’t feel as good to touch as I was expecting: it’s really only a minor upgrade over the faux-leather Galaxy Note 3 and 4 in this department. Part of this has to do with how hard the leather feels, mostly due to the plastic backing, which differs from how other genuine leather products such as wallets and shoes typically feel.
Aside from the leather backing, the G4 also features back buttons for power and volume, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to people who have seen LG’s flagship smartphones over the past few years. The use of back buttons supposedly allows LG to make the bezels on either side of the display extremely thin, and this is certainly the case with the G4. I have no problem with the positioning of the buttons on the G4, and after a few days of use it feels just as natural to use as buttons on the side.
Oh, and if you don't like the leather or plastic backs, I'd highly recommend grabbing one of dbrand's custom black carbon skins, seen above. The skin doesn't just look awesome on the back of the G4: it also fits extremely well and feels even better than either of LG's stock options.
The 5.5-inch display occupies the vast majority of the front panel (around 74% of the total area), with a simple LG logo below and the usual collection of sensors, camera and speaker above. The entire area is protected with smooth Gorilla Glass 3, which like other Gorilla Glass panels, feels great to touch and is very swooshable.
The edges of the G4 are made of plastic, which is a tad disappointing but not unusual for a smartphone. On the top edge you’ll find an infrared LED that allows the G4 to act as a universal remote for your home theater equipment, which can definitely come in handy. Along the bottom are both the micro-USB port and the 3.5mm audio jack. Unfortunately the G4 has just missed out on getting USB Type-C.
The profile of the G4 is certainly interesting. As well as the display being curved from top to bottom ever so slightly, the device’s body is curved from left to right, making it thicker in the middle than at the edges. This means the G4 is 10.6mm thick at its thickest point (thicker than LG’s official figures for the device), tapering down to under 6mm thick at the edges. And although the handset doesn’t look chubby thanks to the curvature of the design, it doesn’t really feel all that thin when you’re holding and using it.
The back cover of the G4 can be removed, revealing the removable 3,000 mAh battery, the microSD card slot, and the micro-SIM slot. The cover is secured well but can still be removed easily when necessary, and it can be replaced if you decide the plastic back you went with originally should actually be leather. Like the G Flex 2, the G4 doesn’t support wireless charging natively, unlike the G3 which is a disappointing downgrade.
LG is using a brand new 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 IPS LCD panel for the G4, improving upon the first-generation 1440p panel we got with the LG G3. LG claims this new “IPS Quantum display”, whatever that means, improves upon its predecessor through better contrast (rated at 1500:1), improved color accuracy, better power efficiency, and better brightness.
To start with, the G4’s display is extremely crisp at 538 PPI. LG has removed the odd sharpening filter that made the G3’s display look artificially sharper (and worse), and the device is better off for it. Images, text, videos, apps and games all look great on this display, and even though I still don’t believe 1440p is a significant upgrade on 1080p at this display size, this new panel in the G4 nullifies some of the issues with the initial use of 1440p displays in smartphones.
The G4’s display is noticeably brighter than the G3’s display, with LG’s latest display technology allowing this high-resolution panel to match the luminance of current-generation 1080p LCDs. Compared to Samsung’s 1440p AMOLED display used in the Galaxy S6, the G4’s LCD is slightly brighter, and I found the G4 easier to view outdoors thanks to better management of stray reflections, possibly due to less of a gap between air and panel. The G4’s automatic brightness also performs smoothly, accurately and quickly, which is great to see.
It’s hard to visually compare the accuracy of smartphone displays these days, because most do a very good job when it comes to color reproduction and saturation. Photos certainly look excellent on the G4’s display thanks to great contrast, decent black levels for an LCD, acceptable gamma, and a panel temperature close to the ideal 6500K if slightly on the cool side of the spectrum. It’s hard to definitively say whether the Galaxy S6 or LG G4’s display is better, which goes to show how excellent both panels are.
Another aspect of the G4’s panel that seriously impressed me were the viewing angles; I don’t think I’ve seen an LCD with viewing angles as good as this. The display exhibits so little color and brightness shift at off-normal and acute angles that it could be mistaken for an AMOLED panel, which is an impressive achievement for LG’s display division.
Unlike a number of other flagship smartphones on the market these days, LG does not offer any way to adjust the quality of this display through the settings menu. You can adjust the layout of the on-screen navigation buttons, as you’ve been able to do on previous LG flagships, but that’s it.