Reviewing LG’s smartphones for the last three years has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
The company really started getting competitive with the Apples and Samsungs of this world with the LG G2, a phone that was almost universally praised. It offered top-end specs at a price lower than every one of its competitors. It blew us away and quickly became one of our favourite smartphones at the time.
Then came the original LG G Flex; a triumph of LG’s manufacturing prowess but fundamentally flawed in use. It was too large and its display too lacklustre to win out over the hefty asking price.
The LG G3, meanwhile, was a strong follow up to the G2. It wielded the first quad HD smartphone display and packed more pixels than any human genuinely needs into 5.5 inches of glass, and also managed to cram a massive screen into a reasonably sized phone. Unfortunately the display was too power hungry and would routinely run out of battery power mid-day, scuppering hopes of another miracle product.
The G Flex successor went the other way. The G Flex 2 was a revelation. It fixed almost every problem we had with the original. Its only real flaw was sluggish performance that may have partly been the fault of Qualcomm’s rushed Snapdragon 810.
The LG G4 then fits into a winding tale of ups and downs. Praiseworthy and faulty predecessors alike have given the company’s smartphone division much to think about.
However the market has also changed in the last 12 months. Samsung has eschewed removable batteries and SD cards to take on Apple with an all-metal design in the Galaxy S6. That leaves LG the only major manufacturer to offer both of these features in its premier smartphone.
Is it time for LG to move with the times and drop expandable storage and battery life on-the-fly for a svelte unibody aluminium frame? Or is there a way for these features to remain while still offering the quality of materials demanded by smartphone snobs the world over?
Let’s find out.
Looking at the LG G4 out of the box you would be hard pressed to find many differences to the G3, but they are in fact there and they are substantial.
The 5.5 inch display is back, but this time it is flanked by larger bezels. That’s to accommodate the fact that the display is now curved, not flexible like the G Flex 2, but subtly curved.
What the larger forehead bezel should allow for is a pair of front facing stereo speakers ala HTC’s One. Alas the mono, rear facing speaker returns to disappoint in comparison to what’s out there.
Speaking of the rear of the G4, that’s where it holds the most difference over its main competition. The removable rear cover hides a removable battery and SD card expansion slot, something not easily found in the world of premium smartphones these days.
There are several variants of the rear cover available for the G4 as well, from a regular plastic one to a heavy ceramic version.
We highly recommend the leather one (not pictured). It brings a level of warmth and tactile happiness that a regular plastic backing just cannot match, plus it lends the phone an air of sophistication that plastic fails to.
We do wonder about the longevity of a cow-hide rear, but considering you can swap the phone’s covers out in a snap it shouldn’t be too much of an expense to manage halfway through the lifespan of your smartphone.
LG has made the brave, and in our opinion correct, decision not to use the fastest processor from Qualcomm in the G4. The snapdragon 810 has had some issues, specifically regarding the sometimes excessive amounts of heat it generates.
Instead the LG G4 is powered by a six-core Snapdragon 808 processor which scores lower in benchmarking but higher in our usage tests.
Where the Snapdragon 810 powered G Flex 2 would stutter with animations and simple tasks, the 808 powered G4 breezed through every task sans hiccups.
It’s hard to believe, but along with the 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage the G4 is the perfect spec for a 2015 flagship Android smartphone. Less in this case is definitely more.
When we tested out the G Flex 2 earlier in the year we found some serious issues in the performance of the phone. Whether it was due to the Snapdragon 810 processor or faulty software it wasn’t a pleasant experience for us overall.
The G4 rolls off the production line with the latest version of Google’s Android Operating system Android 5.1 Lollipop. Along with LG’s light customisations it’s one of the best instances of Android you’re likely to find in the marketplace.
The 5.5 inch, quad HD, 1 440×2 560 resolution, quantum IPS display is more than just a collection of impressive sounding terms. The G4’s new display is vastly improved from its predecessor’s.
It still offers more pixels than the human eye could need but this time also offers the outdoor brightness to keep things legible in the bright sunlight that was lacking. That, along with the fact that the G4’s panel sips power rather than gulping it down like the G3’s, makes this the biggest improvement in LG’s flagship this year.
Right now there is only one smartphone panel that can better it in everyday use: that of the Galaxy S6. Both may have the same resolution but the S6’s display is both able to crank up its brightness higher and create darker blacks than the G4.
That’s not to say that the G4 is not good, rather to say that it’s good enough to be compared to the best display on the market right now, and even to come close to matching it.
LG’s smartphone cameras have been steadily progressing in quality over the last few years. The cameras in the G2 and G3 were both excellent and, in the G4 the company has outdone itself. This is one of the best smartphone cameras we have ever had the pleasure to use.
Whether a novice or a professional photographer picks up the G4 they will both be impressed with its imaging capabilities.
LG’s minimalist interface is perfect for capturing great photos in everyday situations but for those with the knowledge and the temperament the manual mode unlocks almost every setting that you could with to tweak when snapping that perfect photo.
There’s even the option to store the files in both RAW and JPEG formats so that those who have the ability to work magic with Adobe’s Lightroom or Aperture can fully utilise the photos taken with the G4.
From a dismal showing last time with the G3, the LG G4 has redeemed itself thanks, in no small part, to a massive improvement in its display.
As with its two predecessors battery capacity has remained at 3 000mAh and, after some initial bumbling over whether it was included or not, Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 2.0 tech helps to get the battery from empty to full in a very short amount time.
While the battery life on the G4 is much improved, it’s by no means perfect. You’ll get a day if you’re a regular user, and more than that if you’re gentle on the G4. But for those of us who hammer a smartphone during the day, the rapid charging ability comes in handy at around 3PM.
Should LG go the way of Samsung, Apple, HTC and Sony, and drop the removable battery in favour of form over function?
We think not.
LG has managed to incorporate premium materials into the G4 without sacrificing the ability to swap out batteries and pump up storage with an SD card.
If you opt for the leather clad version (and you really should) your G4 will be one of the best-looking, best-performing smartphones available today.
Price: R8 999
Display: 2 560×1 440, 5.1-inch @ 538ppi, IPS Quantum Display tech
Operating System: Android 5.1
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
Battery: 3 000maH
Rear Camera: 16 MP, 5312 x 2988 pixels, laser autofocus, optical image stabilization, LED flash
Communications: 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE
Dimensions: 148.9 x 76.1 x 6.3 – 9.8 (mm)
Other: A choice of leather backing or a regular plastic finish, with covers aplenty to choose from as well