What do we want to see from LG's 2015 flagship?
The LG G3 was one of our favorite devices of 2014, earning a spot on our top phones list for the year. As that handset approaches its first birthday, we're anticipating the launch of its successor, the LG G4, at events around the world later this month.
Its latest flagship is an opportunity for LG to fix some of the things that were less than great about the G3, while turning up the heat on Samsung, which has just started shipping its headline Android phone for the year. Join us after the break to find out what we're hoping to see from the LG G4 when it lands on April 28.
1. For it to be no bigger the G3
Over the past couple of years, LG has excelled at packing large displays into relatively small form factors, in part thanks to its use of super-slim bezels and rear-mounted buttons. The LG G2 didn't feel substantially heftier than the 4.7- to 4.8-inch rivals of the time, nor did the 5.5-inch G3 feel any bigger than its 5.0-inch competitors.
LG has already hinted that it'll stay somewhere around the 5.5-inch mark.
And with screen sizes continuing to grow all the time, the temptation might be for LG to differentiate itself with an even larger display than last year. But we're not convinced that's such a great idea — and we think LG knows this.
The company went to great lengths at CES this year to proclaim the 5.5-inch size as the "sweet spot" for smartphone displays, mentioning this term in press releases, the G Flex 2 press conference and in meetings with journalists. It seems unlikely that LG would do this only to come out with an even bigger phone just months later. What's more, it's probably no coincidence that LG has recently announced a new QHD 5.5-inch panel with improved brightnes and color gamut, just weeks ahead of the G4's arrival.
Sticking at 5.5 inches — likely with the same 1440p display resolution — would make sense. We feel like the G3 is about the limit when it comes to comfortable one-handed use, striking a nice balance between smaller 5-inch handsets and monsters like the Nexus 6 and Note 4. There are many things about the G3 that LG might want to change; the overall size isn't one of them.
2. Step up the build quality
With virtually every major competitor now offering high-end phones furnished in premium materials like glass and metal, LG needs to move beyond the plastic-clad handsets of the past. In particular, the fact that LG's main rival Samsung has fielded such a fantastic-looking pair of flagships this year puts additional pressure on the company to come up with an eye-catching design that's not just a plastic rectangle.
A metal-framed, plastic-backed device might be the most likely option for LG.
For the G4, there are a few options that would allow LG to field a premium phone without abandoning popular enthusiast features like a removable battery and wireless charging. With the 2014 Moto X Motorola has already shown how a slim metal band and soft-touch backs can result in a phone that both looks and feels great. And like Motorola, LG has teased the possibility of a leather-backed G4 in its invites for the April 28 event.
The other possibility is that LG might return to a design inspired by the original Optimus G and Nexus 4 — a glass-backed handset with sealed internals not unlike the Galaxy S6. This is somewhat at odds with the company's curve-centric design language for 2015, though, so we think a metal-framed, plastic (or indeed leather)-backed device might be more likely.
3. A camera to rival the Galaxy S6
The LG G3's laser-assisted, optically stabilized camera was one of the most reliable Android shooters of 2014 — and the same camera module stands up pretty well today on the G Flex 2. However a new flagship demands a sizeable stride forwards in camera performance — not least considering how good Samsung's gotten at cameras lately.
A 16-megapixel camera with f/1.8 aperture would let LG take the fight to Samsung.
Given that there was nothing really wrong with LG's approach to photography in the G3, its next flagship phone doesn't need to change anything in a revolutionary way. Instead, the G4 should push forwards with upgraded sensors and optics, and a speedier camera to rival the GS6's fast-launching shooter.
A 16-megapixel camera (per recent rumors) and f/1.8 aperture (per LG's own teaser) could put the G4 on equal footing with the GS6's highly praised camera — particularly when combined with LG's trademark OIS+ and laser autofocus capabilities.
As we discovered reviewing the HTC One M9, a "good enough" camera is no longer good enough in a premium smartphone. In 2015, with such fierce competition, a really great camera is basically table stakes. Hopefully the G4's camera won't disappoint.
4. Fix up UI performance
If there's one last vestige of Android's early days that's stuck around way longer than we'd like, it's the weird UI lag and performance stuttering still apparent in some modern-day phones. And unfortunately, LG is more guilty than most of shipping high-end phones prone to occasional slowdown. Some of the early G3 firmware we used was mired in lag, and while things have improved since then, LG's current software still doesn't feel as responsive as rivals like Motorola and HTC.
There's really no excuse for shipping a laggy phone in 2015.
With LG now teasing an updated UI ahead of the G4's arrival, we hope the behind-the-scenes performance tweaks necessary for a smooth, responsive experience have received just as much attention as the more visible feature and design changes. It's no great revelation that a phone which lags and stutters is much less enjoyable to use than a smooth, responsive handset. And given the sheer horsepower offered by modern processors, there's really no excuse for shipping a laggy phone in 2015.
At the same time, we hope to see LG incorporate more of Google's Material Design spec into the next version of its own UI. The G3 got a bit of Material love with its Lollipop upgrade, but many of the smooth transitions and animated flourishes were missing.
For the G4, we're crossing our fingers for something that's tighter visually and more responsive in day-to-day use.
5. Removable everything
Samsung's decision to ditch removable storage and removable batteries in the Galaxy S6 present LG with a unique opportunity. There's a very vocal subset of smartphone buyers who still want the option to swap their battery for a fresh one on longer days. There are even more who want to augment their phone's storage without coughing up extra cash up-front. As Samsung's main Android rival, LG could easily position a removable battery and removable storage as unique selling points simply by continuing on its current path.
By ditching the removable battery, Samsung has handed LG a gift-wrapped differentiator for the G4.
In Korea, both Samsung and LG have shipped spare batteries in the box with their high-end phones. If LG were to adopt this approach globally, it could take advantage of the GS6's relatively weak battery performance and present the G4 as a phone for power users who don't want to worry about where their next battery top-up is going to come from.
It's exactly this technology-led approach to smartphone design that has set previous LG flagships apart. And there's a ready-made audience of enthusiasts ready to snap up a next-gen LG phone with removable everything.
What are you hoping to see from the LG G4? Agree or disagree with our G4 wishlist? Shout out in the comments!
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