This is always a good time of year for smartphone fans. Following all the hype of Mobile World Congress, this is when we can actually get our hands on the big companies’ new toys.
We’ve already had the HTC One M9, and Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. And now it’s the turn of LG’s latest flagship, the G4.
It keeps some of the same design quirks as its predecessor, but has some new features and upgraded specs. So how does it fare against the competition? Let’s find out.
First impressions and design
If you’re not familiar with the LG G3, the G4 will look a strange beast. Like the G3, it has buttons on the back, but it also comes with a new leather back.
As soon as you get it out of the box, you know it’s not your standard Android fare.
The button layout on the back is just like on the G3 – the power/wake button, along with volume up and volume down. You don’t have to reach around the back to wake it though, you can just double tap the screen.
Unfortunately, our test unit came with the standard plastic back instead of the leather one, so we can’t comment on the plushness or otherwise of the cowhide version.
It’s worth noting that you have to pay £25 extra for the leather, so best try it for yourself before coughing up. The leather also comes in a range of colours, so you can go bright if you like.
The plastic back feels fine, if not quite as premium as the metal ones found on the HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6. If you’re paying top dollar, you expect your smartphone to feel suitably expensive.
We like the contoured design too. You don’t really notice it while holding it, but it’s more interesting to look at than a boring slab of grey.
The back is also removable, so you can switch it for a more interesting shade, and slot in a microSD card and new battery.
These last two features might make Samsung Galaxy S6 owners feel a bit jealous, seeing as Samsung dropped both for its latest flagship.
It doesn’t feel too big for a 5.5-inch phone either. That’s because the back is curved slightly to fit your hand.
While we’re suspicious of novelty devices like the Samsung Galaxy Round and LG G Flex 2, it really makes a difference with the G4.
Coupled with the buttons on the back, it makes it a very usable phone indeed.
Android 5.1 comes as standard, with LG’s UX 4.0 UI slathered over the top of it.
The default colour scheme is pretty garish, and it’s not helped by the G4’s eye-popping 2K screen.
The sherbet hues really pop out, and not in a good way. Because this is Android, you can change this though, thankfully.
The look and layout take a bit of getting used to, as with any user interface. We would prefer stock Android, but UX does have its good points.
It looks very clean and is consistent. And it feels less cheap than Samsung’s TouchWiz.
There are some unique features too. Smart Bulletin gives an entire home page to widgets like the music player, calendar etc, while Event Pocket puts your Facebook events in your calendar so you don’t have to.
These are nice additions, but they as with most UI extras, the novelty soon wears off.
Like on the HTC One M9, you can also customise the home touch buttons (the ones at the bottom of the screen).
By default they are Home, Back and Stack view, but you can rearrange them, and add Notification, QMemo+, QSlide and Dual window. You can have a total of five along the bottom.
As you’d expect, the G4 has it where it counts.
The 5.5-inch screen is QHD (aka 2K, or 2,560x1,440 pixels), and there’s a 16-megapixel camera on the back that auto focuses using lasers. A monster eight-megapixel snapper sits on the front for selfies and video calls.
Under the bonnet, a hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 chip beavers away alongside 3GB of RAM, while it’s powered by a 3,000mAh battery.
As already mentioned, the battery is removable, so you can carry a spare or swap it for a new one once it starts to lose its potency. And the 32GB of storage is expandable using a microSD card.
So on paper it’s an absolute beast. But what about in actual use?
You’ll be glad to hear it’s equally beastly. The Qualcomm 808 chip is slightly less powerful than the 810 found in the HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6, but in reality you won’t notice any difference.
Games run absolutely fine and it handled everything we could throw at it – browsing, streaming 4K video, apps, the lot.
The screen is the same size and resolution as that found on the G3, the first phone to feature a 2K display.
A year on, it’s a little less impressive, but still startling bright and sharp with plenty of contrast. You’ll struggle to go back to a 1080p screen afterwards.
The camera is awesome. The laser focussing system works the same as on the G3 – it fires an infrared beam at the object you want to focus on, which reflects it back to the camera.
The phone then works out how far away it is and adjusts the focus accordingly. And it all happens in the blink of an eye.
The result is lightning-fast focus times.
It’s also the first mobile snapper with a colour spectrum sensor. This analyses the scene and what kind of colours are involved, and decides what level of flash is needed to give the best result.
We were suitably impressed. Shots pack a ton of detail, and even dark areas are very visible with bright sun behind them (that’ll be thanks to the f/1.8 aperture letting in more light).
We can’t say the same of many mobile cameras.
There are also a load of camera controls for you to twiddle with, though the auto settings give superb shots.
You can launch the camera by pressing the volume down button twice quickly.
This actually takes a snap too, unlike the ‘flick’ gesture on the Moto X, which just opens the camera.
It’s not instant, but it lets you go from the phone being asleep to taking a photo in about two seconds, which is pretty impressive.
It can be a bit slow in indoor conditions, however. And outdoors we found the Galaxy S6 gave slightly more natural colours.
Which leaves the battery. With heavy usage it’ll need charging before dinner, though you can easily get a full day by cutting down on the video streaming.
The G4 is a real rival to the HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6. It might not be as pretty, but its display is a corker, it holds its own performance-wise and the camera is superb.
But if you’re already rocking the G3, it’s hard to justify the upgrade. We would choose the S6 over it, but only just. In our book, that’s very high praise.