Over the past few years LG has stepped up their software game significantly, releasing software updates for older devices faster than a lot of their competitors. The company has also brought the latest version of Android to new devices a lot faster than its competitors, which is why the LG G4 comes with Android 5.1 with an updated version of LG’s custom skin atop.
The LG G3 shipped with Android 4.4, though it was quickly updated to Android 5.0 when Google released their updated operating system later in the year. The G4’s software is pretty similar to the G3 running Android 5.0, so many of the features will be familiar to those currently using a G3. A significant number of the G4’s software features were also introduced in the G3’s version of Android 4.4, although LG has applied polish and changes across the board since then.
Some of my favorite features from the G3’ software have carried over to the G4. The notifications pane, now with a dash of Material Design, makes great use of the handset’s screen real estate by providing both notifications, quick setting toggles, and sliders. The 5x5 homescreen grid gets the most out of the G4’s 5.5-inch display as well, while I was generally pleased with the design of LG’s included widgets.
While the G4 doesn’t include a fingerprint scanner, Knock Code is one of the best lockscreen security methods I’ve seen that doesn’t involve dedicated hardware. The feature allows you to unlock the G4, even when the screen is off, through a series of coordinated taps on the display. It’s very reliable and gives easy, secure access to the smartphone without needing to mess with the rear buttons.
LG has revamped Smart Bulletin, which sits to the left of the homescreens as a dedicated pane for information from various apps. It now provides you with a list of upcoming calendar events, controls for music, a mini QuickRemote section to control home theater equipment, smart settings, and a screen for LG’s acceptable health application. Previously Smart Bulletin only provided you with health information and smart tips, so it’s great to see LG expanding this section to make it more useful.
Smart Notice is still available through LG’s weather/clock widget, providing Google Now-like information depending on how and where you use your phone. I didn’t find it to be too useful, as it mostly showed me short snippets about the weather, but I see no reason to disable it unless you get sick of the infrequent notifications it dishes out.
LG includes a number of multi-tasking features on the G4, although most of them I didn’t touch throughout my usage as I didn’t find them particularly useful. Dual Window allows you to use two apps at once in a split screen view, but the selection of apps that Dual Window supports is limited and activating the feature is clunky. Similarly, QSlide turns apps into floating windows, which can come in handy for quickly composing messages or taking notes, but the selection of apps that are supported is once again limited.
There aren’t many new features added to the G4’s software compared to what LG shipped with the G3, with the company instead focusing on streamlining the software experience. This means that several features have actually been removed, including the useless Smart Screen and the largely ignored one-handed mode.
What has been added includes a new collection of Smart Settings that allow you to automate some functionality. For example, you can get your G4 to automatically turn Wi-Fi on when you get home, or open the music app when you plug earphones in. It would be nice if LG allowed users to create their own rules, as the included list is short and limited (but still useful in some circumstances).
I was pleasantly surprised by the visual quality of LG’s skin, which fits in well with the Material Design principles Google has established over the past year. Stock apps are colorful and functional while looking sleek and well designed, a balance LG has struggled to get right in the past. None of the stock apps really blew me away in terms of what they could do, though at the same time I never felt like LG’s apps were inadequate or in need of replacing.
Lastly, I neither liked nor hated the keyboard LG includes with the G4. The typing experience is okay and the feature set is reasonable, but the prediction engine LG uses isn’t great and often replaces words I have typed correctly the first time. Luckily you can replace this keyboard with your favorite third-party alternative.