The Bottom Line

LG tries to offer users everything the others do not - and then some

PROS
  • Aesthetically unique and attractive design
  • Quad HD 5.5-inch screen is vivid and great for media
  • Snapdragon 808 shows how optimization is recipe for success
  • Backing is removable, comes in leather or plastic
  • Removable battery and expandable storage
  • Camera is among the best in quality
  • Camera manual mode is robust
  • LG UX is very snappy and almost feels slimmed down
CONS
  • LG UX still a bit bloated
  • Still some smudgy post processing in the camera
  • For those that don't want leather backings, plastic backs are a consolation prize
9.0
With a unique and attractive design, great performance, and a fantastic camera, while also being the only current flagship to feature a replaceable battery, LG is attempting to provide users with a phone that offers literally everything you may want.

Editor's Choice Update 2015

In today’s landscape, we are seeing more and more OEMs push away from the less premium designs of old, electing for slim, great-looking devices that are unfortunately not without their compromises. LG has decided to go a somewhat different route with their latest flagship, in an attempt to provide users with a phone that offers literally everything you may want, from a great design to power user features like removable battery and microSD.

What does the company’s latest high-end offering bring to the table, and how does it stand out from the crowd? We find out, in this in-depth LG G4 review!

Design

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In terms of design, what worked with LG’s last two high-end releases, the G Flex 2 and the G3, are brought together to create this new device. Curves, a variety of back cover options, and a large form factor are all par for the course here.

The presence of a 5.5-inch display dictates the overall size of the phone and the resulting handling experience, but as always, LG’s penchant for slim bezels on the sides of the display does make for a pretty narrow device. The G4 is slightly taller than its predecessor, but that is mitigated by a very subtle curve. Speaking of which, the curve of the G4 display isn’t as pronounced as what was available with the G Flex 2, and unfortunately, does not offer the immersive quality of the latter. The benefits are felt in terms of durability though, with even this small curvature resulting in 20% more resilience when compared to any regular slab smartphone.

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The sides remain quite thick, with the phone measuring 9.8 mm at its thickest point, but there are no buttons on these sides, with LG’s signature rear button layout returning, found below the large camera optics. The power button is quite small, but offers a different feel from the volume rocker that flanks it to make it easy to identify the right area to press. This button layout falls squarely in the region where the index finger would lay when holding the phone, a design choice that continues to make sense, apart from just being aesthetically unique.

What curves may be lost in the subtlety up front are best felt on the back. This is all for the sake of handling, and there’s no doubt that the LG G4 offers one of the best handling experiences around when it comes to large form factor device. For a lot of users, there is an obvious preference for at least some form of one-handed usage, and the G4 manages to just toe the line of comfort. The device rests nicely in the hand and in the pocket, and while hand gymnastics are of course necessary to reach across it, it’s not too bothersome.

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Back covers of the LG G4 are available in a couple of different styles, with a slew of color options across them. This particular review unit is the titanium version, which comes with a metallic feel, with the other plastic iterations, the white and gold, coming with a ceramic finish, and all coming with a subtle diamond grid pattern. However, the fashion statement LG is making with the G4 comes in the form of the leather backing, with a variety of textures and color options available. We did enjoy our time we had with these back covers during the launch event, but it might be a point of contention for some though, as the leather is actually sourced from cows and vegetable tanned. What might be the biggest selling point of the LG G4 is the fact that the back cover is removable, something that no other current flagship offers, giving users access to features like expandable storage and replaceable batteries.

The LG G4 is certainly a lot like the G Flex 2, with a design that is further refined and with a less severe curve overall, and does raise the question as to whether the presence of leather backings is a way to prevent this release from seeming too incremental. That said, LG’s design continues to be distinctive and therefore, recognizable, and the G4 is still quite an attractive phone.

Display

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LG ups the ante in the display department with an ever better iteration of the Quad HD display from its predecessor, now boasting the Quantum Display moniker. Flashy names aside, the 5.5-inch IPS+ LCD screen comes with 2560 x 1440 resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 538 ppi. What makes this display different is the Quantum Dot technology behind it. LG’s presentation during the launch event focused on how the actual molecules are being manipulated as it passes through a phosphor layer, the result being an even better color gamut than typical IPS screens can provide.

Related: Best LG G4 cases!

What is probably easier to understand is their philosophy on displays this time around, with the company looking to adhere to the DCI standard normally reserved to television and cinema with the G4. Whereas the Samsung Super AMOLED displays of the world go past this standard with its overly saturated colors, the G4 stays 98% within the parameters, to provide the proper experience. Now, without some real knowledge of film standards, it is hard to really tell if LG has hit that mark, but the difference can be seen in a comparison shot, with the Samsung phone definitely being a little more saturated.

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What matters most of all is that the display of the LG G4 is still powerful and pleasing to the eye. Blacks are adequately shown, colors are definitely very vibrant, and all tasks look great on it. A couple of small nuances from its predecessor return however, like a smoothening of the screen elements, that can be observed mostly when viewing and scrolling through text, likely a result of the device lowering sharpness on these types of areas to lower power consumption. Knock On and Knock Code also return, so double tapping the screen to turn it on or tapping a pattern at any time are available.

Big words and scientific language aside, the display on the LG G4 is worthy of a high-end flagship, and there certainly have been no complaints from us.

Performance

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While we might expect the latest and greatest processing packages to be found in today’s high-end flagships, LG decided to take a somewhat unconventional route in this regard. On paper, it looks like LG has taken a step back, with the G4 packing a 1.8 GHz hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, backed by the Adreno 418 GPU and 3 GB of RAM. Thankfully, the overall experience is better helped with more optimization, as opposed to just sheer power.

Thanks to this optimization, the still bloated LG G UI manages to move along with a speed and smoothness that might be a bit surprising. In my daily usage, there have been no hiccups or instances of stutter throughout, with there being a negligible pause only when applications needed to be loaded from the Recent Apps screen. Unlike what is the case with some other flagships, this smoothness isn’t a result of a stripped down and lighter software experience. In fact, much of what was found with G3 and G Flex 2 make a return here with even a few more extras tacked on, and whatever close relationship LG has with Qualcomm is what has paid off here.

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Browsing among applications is a breeze, even when using the Dual Window functionality, and intensive gaming is also not hindered by the two core shortage, with the Adreno 418 doing an admirable job in the graphics department. Despite many of the elements remaining in the latest iteration of the LG UI, the snappiness of it all makes it feel otherwise. It all makes a case that taking great care in optimizing the processor to the needs of the software, and vice versa, can often be a better recipe for success.

Hardware

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As already mentioned, and something that LG will most certainly heavily market, the main cornerstones of the LG G4 is the availability of expandable storage and removable battery. The expandable storage will be most useful for photographers looking to take advantage of the RAW capture ability of the souped-up camera of the G4, but most everyone will agree that it’s always nice to have a buffer for space regardless.

It’s important to mention here that this review unit is the Korean edition, and as usual, LTE connectivity in the US wasn’t possible. While HSPA+ connections were still adequate for daily usage, I relied mainly on Wi-Fi for internet connectivity. Connection on the T-Mobile network was still quite good, including during calls, and the subtle curve of the phone is felt when holding the phone up to your ear. The rear facing speaker does sound better than previous iterations, with more body and richness to the sound, but unfortunately, the general issues with this positioning of the speaker do return.

Qualcomm and LG did work together to create a more accurate location algorithm in the G4, but without the benefit of full mobile network connectivity, this is something that I will have to follow up on with a local version of the phone. Nonetheless, this accuracy is achieved using a combination of all sensors available in the phone, rather than just Wi-Fi and general global positioning. During a day heavy with GPS navigation, it seemed to do its job quite well, positioning me in the right direction even at the start of each trip, which isn’t always common.

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Battery life will also have to further tested with a US version of the device with LTE connectivity. In this case, primarily using Wi-Fi and HSPA+ where  required, the G4 did do very well in terms of daily battery usage, with up to 3 hours of screen-on time possible during a total usage of 16 hours. A few hours of screen-on time was also possible even with heavy usage, including once that included almost a full hour of GPS navigation, which did seem to provide the kind of accuracy LG and Qualcomm claim the G4 has.

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Of course, power users will be happy about the fact that you always have the option to carry around spares, which is something that might need to be taken advantage of, with any quick charging capabilities being noticeably absent. In my observation, I did find the phone to charge quicker when using something like the Motorola Turbo charger, but definitely nowhere close to the speed that Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 provides.

Camera

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It might be a game of one-ups-manship for LG as it tries to provide more than the competiton, and specifically, their Korean brethren Samsung. Ultimately though, it’s the consumers that are the winners, as LG introduces yet another high quality camera to this year’s Android smartphone space.

Te larger camera package on the back is very noticeable, and bigger than anything we’ve seen so far. This larger sensor comes with a f/1.8 aperture lens, flanked by laser autofocus, a flash, and a color spectrum sensor. LG made a lot of sense in their launch that a large aperture opening doesn’t make much sense if the actual sensor itself is really small, so the G4 has quite a bit going for it physically, as the larger sensor will also benefit from better optical image stabilization.

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Up front is an 8 MP unit, providing a larger photo than many competitors, but also comes with a few gesture-centric features. Bring a hand up and close it to trigger a countdown, or do the gesture twice to take four pictures in succession, and then bringing down the phone immediately after the shot lets you automatically review the selfie. The last one might be the more useful feature, because we think that just hitting that shutter button on the selfie cam is just as quick, and requires less effort. We might put the front facing camera as one of the better iterations in Android now, as it has good detail and a wide enough perspective for group shots.

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When it comes to the camera interface, there are a few different modes available. The Simple mode allows for tapping on subjects for quick laser focusing and immediate snapping, the Auto mode opens up a few more possibilities which are easily seen via the controls, and then there is the Manual Mode.

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It’s here that the budding photographer will have a great many tools at its fingertips, including everything from a histogram for accurate levels, to shutter speeds as long as 30 seconds, to a full white balance kelvin gamut that allow you to cater the shot exactly how you want it. All of the changes will show in the viewfinder, so there is little guess work to be had in this manual mode, and even then, if you are not happy with the JPEG that comes out, shooting simultaneously in RAW format opens up the possibilities even more, as the photographer can take the RAW capture and mess with every setting available in a program like Lightroom. Of course, the RAW files will be huge, so expandable storage will definitely be required in this case.

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White balance is a very important aspect of this camera, as the IR backed color spectrum sensor works to analyze the entire scene and get accurate color reproduction, and of course, the very act of taking pictures is still a breeze here because of the laser guided autofocus. Indeed, using this camera in either the Auto or Simple modes brings one of the easiest picture taking experiences available, and the resulting pictures still happen to be quite great.

In good lighting, the 16 MP photos are very pleasing, especially with the low aperture lending to nice depth of field perspectives for close or far focus. When zooming in, one can find that a noise reduction is still at work here, as the grain is smoothed out. This does detract just a little bit from the overall sharpness of the image though, but doesn’t do so to a large degree. This is better seen in lower light situations, where the camera also seemingly opts to have a slower shutter speed instead of higher ISO, making clear shots a bit tougher to capture. Finally, in lower light, prominent light sources are a little bit blown out, but again, not to a terrible degree.

We give the LG G4 high marks for having a great camera interface and a fast picture taking experience. It’s pictures are ultimately quite great, but fall just short of being the best in Android today because of the post processing that results in smudgy shots sometimes. That said, the G4 camera is definitely one of the best companions a user can have in the pocket.

Software

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Moving on to the software side of things, easily noticeable is the speed of the familiar user interface, but there are a few new additions this time around as well. Mainly, the calendar app has been updated to use just about any captured area of the phone as reminders on dates. It takes away from having to fill in a lot of information, but those who prefer high organization might still opt for the textual elements. The gallery has been given categories for

The gallery has been given categories for easy look back at one’s memories, and is generally better organized overall. If the hand gymnastics need to be helped, changing the button layout on the softkeys is possible in the Settings. Finally, the phone can now perform a number of actions based on location cues. LG’s continued relationship with Google is easily seen here, with Chrome being the default browser, and integration with Google Drive baked in, which also includes an additional 100 GB of storage for free for two years.

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The UX largely looks the way it did in the G Flex 2, with new Lollipop styled elements and plenty of features all around. Dual Window adds to multitasking and plenty of contextual features include the Smart Notice widget. Now there are more reasons for the widget to tell you pieces of information, as it will give suggestions not only for current weather conditions, but also warn the user of when applications in the background are continuously draining battery. These suggestions aren’t bad, but they might not be as useful for everyone as LG thinks.

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QSlide apps also return, so if you do need to have a floating window for things like a dialer or calculator, the line of applications will add extra girth to the notification dropdown. There is also the Smart Bulletin, which is a second screen to the far left that brings information from a number of sources, including LG Health and tips for better usage. It’s a better way of showing these features than before, but thankfully it can also be easily turned off.

The LG UX offers quite a lot without overcrowding the experience, which has been a gradual but welcome change. As a daily driver, it’s hard not to be impressed with the speed of this operating system, and the G4 manages to deliver a user experience that keeps up with some of the best out there.

Specifications

Display5.5-inch LCD Quantum Dot
2560 x 1440 resolution, 534 ppi
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 808 (hexa-core: 2xCortex A57+ 4xCortex A53, 64-bit), Adreno 418 GPU
RAM3 GB DDR3
Storage32 GB, expandable via microSD, up to 128GB
CameraRear camera: 16MP, f/1.8, color spectrum sensor, OIS, laser-assisted focus;
front camera: 8MP
ConnectivityHSPA, LTE-Advanced
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct
Bluetooth 4.1
SensorsAccelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
Battery3,000 mAh, user removable, wireless charging, quick charging
SoftwareAndroid 5.0 Lollipop, LG UX 4.0
Dimensions149.8 x 76.2 x 6.3-9.8 mm, 155 g
Colors and finishesPlastic: Gray, Gold, White
Leather: Black / Brown / Red / Sky Blue / Beige / Yellow

Gallery

Pricing and Final Thoughts

The LG G4 will come in at the premium price for a flagship on carriers, and as we have been told, will be the same price unlocked as the LG G3 when it was first launched. Obviously, the main competitors in the space include Samsung and HTC, who have released their flagship devices earlier this year.

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Editor's Choice Update 2015

So there you have it – an in-depth look at the LG G4! It’s been a great year so far for flagships. With every phone bringing different offerings to the table, the LG G4 is trying to bring the most. A great camera experience is backed by yet another speedy iteration of Android, in a body that remains recognizable and attractive due to LG’s signature design language. If what are missing in other flagships kept you from buying them, the G4 just might be the phone that you’re looking for. It isn’t a big leap from previous generations of the series, but that is true for most of this year’s releases as well.

If you want something unique, the G4 is among the best choices you have today, with its leather backings, and expansion options only sweetening the deal. If we had any doubt that LG was falling behind in the competition, the G4 is surely an example that they haven’t lost the touch yet.

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