Android Smartphone Review: The LG G4
LG have a long history with the Android operating system and have two Nexus devices to their name the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5. We have also seen a number of high end, flagship grade Android smartphones released. In recent years, the LG G2 and LG G3 introduced some interesting features to the Android world. The G2 introduced rear mounted volume and lock buttons combined with small bezels, and the G3 included a 1440p QHD (that is, 1,440 by 2,560 pixel) resolution display and a laser autofocus for the camera. Now enter the LG G4, which builds upon these features.
The G4 is a large device, but in the context of the 5.5-inch screen it is relatively compact. There are no buttons along the edge of the chassis as LG have minimized the bezel, instead including the lock and volume keys in the middle of the back under the camera module. The speaker is also on the back, which may be replaced – LG sell a leather back as well as the ordinary plastic type. The battery may be replaced and there's a MicroSD card slot for expansion, too. There's a MicroUSB charger port is along the bottom. The device was released running Android 5.1 Lollipop under LG's user interface.
In terms of hardware specification, the LG G4 is slightly different to some other flagship devices in that it uses a System-on-Chip that is one notch down from Qualcomm's finest Snapdragon. Here, the G4 is based around the Snapdragon 808, which is a less extreme high end 64-bit processor. The Snapdragon 808 contains six processor cores; four are the low powered, high efficiency Cortex-A53 and two are the high performance, high power Cortex-A57 cores with a maximum speed of 1.8 GHz. The 808 is backed up by 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage, plus a MicroSD card. There a 16MP rear camera, an 8MP front camera, the usual arrangement of NFC, 2G, 3G, 4G LTE radios, and the screen is an impressive 5.5-inch in size.
To write about that screen: it's gorgeous. LG's screen is beautifully sharp, bright and colorful and a delight to use. It can be adjusted to run dimly for comfortable night time viewing, or bright for being out and about in the sun too. The screen is the main way that users will interact with the device and it's important that LG get it right. It's also slightly curved, too: not a massive amount but enough to make the device more comfortable to use and handle. Unfortunately, LG's interface is less right. It's colorful and bright, but feels around three years out of date: LG's launcher is close to the pre-Google Experience Launcher. The notification shade is somewhat cluttered by default although thankfully you can edit this and remove the large brightness and volume bars from here, plus many of the shortcuts. LG have also included a theme engine into the software so it's not so difficult to adjust the look and feel of the device, but unfortunately many icons are not included in the theme engine and so applying a particularly beautiful theme works great until you have a third party application icon that looks very much out of place.
I'll write about device performance next: the Snapdragon 808 is one notch down from the Snapdragon 810 processor, but because of to the way that Android applications work, for the majority of the time there should be very little difference in running speed. The overwhelming majority of applications will use two processor cores at most and here the difference between the 808 and the 810 is 200 MHz of clock speed, so all being equal around 10%. For rendering web pages, the processor is almost always waiting for memory or the data connection. That 10% difference in performance when launching an application should not be noticeable almost all of the time. Unfortunately, in use the LG G4 feels noticeably less smooth compared with the HTC One M9, which is based around the Snapdragon 810 with 3 GB of RAM. Whereas the One M9 smoothly breezes through Chrome pages, Gmail, the calendar, or indeed any other application, the G4 pauses, hesitates and lags. The transitions between applications can drop frames and reloading a web page in Chrome can cause the device to pause to take a breath. There's plenty of memory for smooth multitasking, too; the G4 is a disappointment here.
Next up, I'll write about the G4's camera. It's superb. LG have included a great sensor and lens assembly; the camera performs well in bright and dim light. It's fast to focus, thanks to the infrared laser mounted on the back, pictures contain much detail and color reproduction is very good too. LG have included an automatic mode as well as many manual adjustments. I am not a photographer with high expectations of a camera mounted on a cell ‘phone, but the G4's camera is the finest I've used on a smartphone. As one source of disappointment is that the smartphone's volume keys are mounted on the back of the device rather than on the side, which means you have to touch the screen (or talk to the device) to take the shot, rather than tapping a volume key. I've included a random mix of images as a gallery here, taken in a variety of lighting conditions.
For signal, reception and call quality, the G4 was something of a mixed bag. Sound quality on a call was loud and clear, but with the volume too high the earpiece sounded distorted. It's not as clear as LG's 2012 Nexus 4. I found the G4 to be perfectly usable but there was sometimes a compromise between volume and clarity. For signal reception and antenna sensitivity, the G4 was a little strange here too. It would not always connect to a higher performance network in places where other devices on the same network would: in my office, it would not find a 4G LTE signal, and in one of my usual coffee shops it was resolutely stuck at an EDGE connection rather than HSPA. Perhaps LG have tuned the device to prefer a better quality signal rather than turning up the radio output for a faster network?
Next let me write about the battery life. The G4 comes with a 3,000 mAh battery, which is one of the larger of the flagship class. And yes, there's a QHD 5.5-inch screen to drive, but LG's decision to use the Snapdragon 808 should help keep power consumption down. I've also written about how the device manages the mobile networks, which may be a way of keeping power consumption down, so my expectations were high for the battery. Unfortunately, the device was something of a disappointment in this respect. Battery life was a little poorer than the HTC One M9 under like for like circumstances and the main reason for this appeared to be a blend of high idle power consumption and that gorgeous QHD screen. I was seeing around four hours of screen on time from the device in twenty four hours.
From a productivity perspective, the G4 can do what it need to. The screen is beautiful, sound quality and battery life is acceptable and the camera is industry leading. Many of the issues with the device could be down to less than optimized software but I could not recommend buying the device in the hope that LG resolve these issues with a subsequent software update. The G4 is not a bad handset by any stretch but it could and should be so much better. As it happens, it's carried by the camera.