LG’s G series has always been compared with Samsung’s Galaxy S series. And while the first G device, the Optimus G did not exactly match Galaxy SIII, subsequent devices under the G series has been good for LG. The G2 saw it emerge as a credible challenger to Samsung’s Android supremacy, and the G3 kind of consolidated its position in the Android frontline, although it did not evoke the sort of gasps of surprise that the G2 had. And now, LG has thrown the G4 into the mix, up against not only the usual rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, the HTC One M9 and the Sony Xperia Z4, but also the relatively new kids on the tech block – the OnePluses, the Xiaomis and the like – who have been claiming to deliver flagship features at staggeringly low prices. Perhaps no LG flagship has had to contend with so much competition. And not just on the specs, but also the price front. Verily, the LG G4 has its cellular hands full.
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Like Samsung, LG too has made a material change when it comes to design – literally. Mind you, the change is not as dramatic as the from-plastic-to-metal-and-glass-and-go-over-the-edge journey that its famous rival has made. In fact, the change is not apparent at first glance – from the front, the G4 looks like pretty much a routine large display Android, although with the base and top curving out gently rather than being straight-lined as in some devices. Flip it over, however, and the change hits you in the face like, well, a leather glove. Because that back IS made of leather. We are not talking of the faux leather that we have seen in some devices – no, sir, LG has decided to go with the hide itself instead of playing hide and seek. There even is a double stitch running from the base of the phone till the metallic key combination on the back that has become the trademark of the LG flagships of late – the volume rocker and the power/display buttons are on the back of the device, rather than on the side. Whether it looks good or not is going to be a matter of taste – we think it looks very nice indeed and makes the phone stand out from the crowd. And before you ask, the back can be removed to reveal the battery and the SIM card and expansion card slots. Unlike Samsung, LG seems content to let users rip the back cover off its phones.
The back itself curves out gently, giving the phone a thickness that can fluctuate – it is 6.3 mm at its thinnest point, and 9.8 mm at its thickest. The phone is remarkably compact for its size – it has the same display size as an iPhone 6 Plus but at 148.9 mm is significantly shorter in size (the 6 Plus is 158.1 mm) and less wide too (76.1 mm against 77.8 mm). And the leather does feel good to hold, with the curved back fitting nicely into one’s palm. However, the curved back also means that the phone actually wobbles when you place it on a flat surface on its back. Which actually makes this the first phone that we might actually prefer placing face down – hey, that back is gorgeous, even though it is difficult to get oily stains off it (we would advise you to absolutely not keep it anywhere near a dining table). Our looks summary of the G4 – standard front, snazzy back, very compact. We won’t say that LG has pulled off a design coup with the device, but it certainly has stepped away from the routine.
Bringing on the hardware muscle
When it comes to hardware, the LG G4 follows in the footsteps of its predecessors. Spec sheet junkies will find very little to complain about here, although some might turn their noses up at the hexa core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor in the phone as compared to the Snapdragon 810 seen in other flagships (more on that later). The 5.5 inch display is a quad HD one with 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution, and is much sharper and brighter than the one we saw in the G3. No, it is not as eye popping as the one on the Super AMOLED laden Galaxy S6/Edge, but it certainly is one of the best we have seen on a handset.
Storage stands at 32 GB and can be expanded up to 128 GB via micro SD card. The camera on the back is 16.0-megapixel one, with a f/1.8 aperture and a 1/2.6” sensor, and has a dual tone LED flash accompanying it. Supplementing this is a 8.0-megapixel front facing camera for the selfie crowd. Connectivity-wise you have 4G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and infra-red (yes, you can use this phone to control a television or an air conditioner). The version of the device launched in India is a dual SIM one, but we were given a single SIM device for review – the specs and design are exactly the same. And all this topped off with Android Lollipop (5.1), with LG’s UI over it, complete with a number of bells and whistles.
Stunning performer…and battery batterer
And the G4 certainly turns in a flagship level performance. The display is, as we stated earlier, one of the best we have seen on a phone in terms of clarity and colour reproduction. The AMOLED fanboys may clamour for brighter colors, but we loved playing games and watching videos on it, although we would have liked slightly louder volumes from the speaker on the device. Speaking of games, we found that the Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 handled high-end gaming (FIFA 15, Hitman: Sniper) with a degree of ease and we found no stutters in the multi-tasking department either. Yes, we must confess that we found our fingers straying to the sides instead of the back of the device for the volume, but we also loved the convenience of simply hitting the button on the back of the phone to click a selfie.
And while we must confess that we are not massive fans of Android overlays, the G4’s does come with some interesting touches, including the ability to run apps next to each other, an extended clipboard that keeps a collection of whatever you cut or copy, which makes cutting and pasting text across apps a cinch, support for gestures for photography, and of course, like HTC and Samsung, a swipe to the right from the homescreen reveals a special section complete with your calendar, health stats, music and loads more. As we had noticed in the G3, the icons and overall look of the interface seems to have acquired a more understated tone and is not as cartoonish with loud colours as in the past. We would have still liked a tab-free Settings section, though.
Which brings us to the one area where we really felt the phone let us down – the battery. The G4 ships with a 3000 mAh battery and that really seems unable to take the burden the display and the heavy duty use to which most people would put such a powerful device. We found ourselves having to recharge the phone at least once a day, and if we did a lot of photography and gaming, sometimes even twice. While we are accustomed to quad HD devices guzzling battery, we really had expected a bit more in this regard, especially from such a high-end device. On an average we were getting 3 to 3.5 hours of Screen On Time (SOT), which is decent for a phone with a Quad-HD screen, but the problem seems to be the standby battery which is among the worst we have seen this year.
Scoring on camera
But if the battery is the Achilles Heel of the G4, the camera is definitely its rock star. LG talked a lot about the camera while launching the G4. And with good reason. The 16.0-megapixel shooter on the device is among the best we have seen, and brings LG right back into the camera phone game – a territory where its performances had been marked by inconsistency since the brilliant Viewty series (remember them, anyone?). Yes, the G2 and G3 also had cameras, but the G4 is pretty much at another level and is a frontrunner in the “best camera on a phone” stakes. We don’t know whether it is the 1/2.6” sensor or the laser autofocus (which evidently results in sharper, faster focussed shots), but the fact is that the G4 takes excellent photographs, with close to real life colours and a wealth of detail. No, you are not going to like it if you are a fan of the slightly oversaturated results doled out by the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 (we know people love those bright hues), but if you want to capture exactly what you are seeing, the G4 comes very close to doing a good job.
What impressed us was also its ability in low light conditions, where it did not try to artificially brighten up dark areas (we remain unconvinced by non-Xenon flashes, just for the record) but instead tried to bring out the contrast between the dark and the light. Foodie alert – this is a great camera for taking snaps of food in restaurants, even if the lights are not the greatest. Yes, there still are eccentricities – colors can sometimes be a trifle inconsistent, and we honestly expected much better close-ups. But that’s just us being picky. All said and done, the G4 finally sees LG come to the camera phone party, with greater manual controls and also support for RAW format for the really geeky types. Yes, it can very comfortably hold its own against the likes of the Galaxy S6 Edge, the Xperia Z3 and the iPhone 6 Plus. What else can we say?
So where does that leave the G4? Well, at its best, it is the match of any smartphone out there in any department – the design is different, the performance can be cutting edge, the camera dazzling, the display wonderful… but bring up the question of value for money, and the G4 faces the same question that many of the older guard in smartphones do these days: isn’t a price tag in the vicinity of Rs 50,000 (>$750) a tad too high in the era of Xiaomi, OnePlus, Asus, Motorola and Lenovo? And like most old guard flagships, the G4 does not give us a very convincing answer – it is the latest in terms of tech, but seems from another era in terms of price. Mind you, it is in very good company in that zone, with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge, the HTC One M9 and the Sony Xperia Z3+, sitting alongside it.
Like them, it is a fantastic device in terms of performance and design. Like them, it stutters while trying to justify what has of late started to seem like a very high price tag – remember, this is a market that felt that the Xiaomi Mi4 was overpriced when it was released at a price that was less than half that of the G4. No, we are not from that geek group that insists that devices like the OnePlus and Mi 4 match the G4 in all respects – they don’t, but they come close enough to sow seeds of doubt about just how much value for money the latter is.
All said and done, if you want a high-performance Android that stands out in a crowd (especially when placed face down) and have no budget restrictions (and have a power outlet handy), we would advise you to go right ahead and grab the G4. The phone has its foibles and flaws, but is capable of turning in a stunning performance at its best. No, it is not a perfect flagship, but then, which device is?