When LG took the wraps off of its latest G-series flagship, I immediately wanted to get one to put it up against my favorite phone at the time, the Galaxy S6. After being relatively unimpressed by the G3 with its performance issues and lackluster software, LG really had me excited with new internals and a bevy of high-end camera features.
Well I ended up getting an LG G4 — a grey plastic one, if you were wondering — to try just shy of a month ago, and it turns out I just haven't fallen in love with it the way others have. Though it seems to possess all of the raw materials and features of a good device, it hasn't been my phone of choice due to a few specific issues.
The hardware — a combination of subpar design elements
My quibbles with the LG G4 start at the hardware. With the same 5.5-inch screen size as the G3, the G4 has the same issue for me of being tough to operate in one hand. That's not just because of the screen size, though — it's the result of several design decisions put together.
Though LG has worked to decrease the size of the bezels around the screen, they're actually about the same size as any other phone. The G4 is still big (and particularly wide), no matter what way you look at it. And while the back is curved to better fit your hand, the edges of the phone are flat and the corners are tightly rounded, making it awkward to cradle in your hand while using it.
The G4 is just too big for me, and the shape isn't doing it any favors.
Perhaps these issues wouldn't be as noticeable if the phone were smaller, but when you have a device that's already large enough that it's hard to reach across with your thumb, the small issues add up to make the situation worse. Compare that to smaller phones like the Moto X (2014) or Galaxy S6, which also have a few form-over-function design details but are far easier to use because of their smaller overall size.
The usability issues of the G4 aren't helped any by the rear-mounted buttons, which I have yet to come around on. I wasn't a fan of them on the G2 (admittedly my Verizon G2 with its wonky buttons didn't help), and again didn't care for them on the G3 — the G4 hasn't done anything to convince me.
You certainly get used to the buttons (you don't really have a choice if you choose to use the G4), but no matter how familiar you are they're not going to be as easy to hit as "standard" buttons on the sides of the phone. The amount of extra work it takes to locate the buttons — and hold the big phone by the sides to press them — isn't too significant in itself, but it's just unnecessary. Such basic functions of a phone shouldn't be obscured as much as they are on the G4, and having some software tweaks like KnockON and a notification shade volume slider are only partial fixes.
The back buttons are a differentiator, but that doesn't mean it's the best way to do buttons.
LG could simplify both the hardware and software by just putting the buttons on the side, where you can see and operate them with 100 percent accuracy. And considering how thin other phones have gotten with standard buttons, this isn't an engineering limitation. LG seems to cling to the back buttons as a differentiator from other phones, which it is, but that doesn't mean it's a better way of doing buttons. In my case it turns out to be a worse way.
For all of the external issues with the G4, at least LG has managed to get the specs right. The processor is capable of pushing the software without lag that was present on the G3, and the battery offers solid longevity (and is removable, if that's your sort of thing). Though the screen isn't quite as bright as the Galaxy S6, the colors are good and you can't find any flaws unless you're setting it next to the competition. But that should all be a given at this point — you can get all of the right internals, but if the phone isn't designed well or easy to hold, it's all for nothing.
The software — it's the little things
I actually quite like the design of LG's latest software effort, and it feels "native" to Lollipop — it works well with modern apps and doesn't even look out of place with the Google Now Launcher installed. Sure the icons are a bit weird (hope you like huge squares) and the lockscreen animations are ... interesting, but that's mostly personal preference. There are a few big issues with the function of the G4's software, though.
The first is the notification shade, which has been oddly changed. On "stock" Lollipop devices, you pull down the notification shade once to reveal your notifications, and pull down once more to reveal quick settings. On some other phones with modified notification shades you simply pull down once to reveal small quick settings buttons and also notifications. Both are valid ways of doing things. LG has split the difference here seemingly for no reason. Let me explain.
There's no reason why you should break a fundamental function of Android notifications.
LG has chosen to use a dual-swipe system like stock Lollipop (even keeping the style and animation), but changed the way it works. With one swipe down on the status bar on a G4, you get the "expanded" view of the notification shade, including the quick settings. This is bad not because the quick settings are immediately visible, but because LG didn't quite think through the process. In Lollipop, with the quick settings expanded, you can't also expand and collapse notifications — meaning if you want to expand a Gmail notification to quickly archive it, or swipe down on a messaging app notification to make a quick reply, you can't. You have to swipe up to hide the quick settings, then swipe down again on the notification to expand it.
It breaks the fundamental system of expandable and actionable notifications — present since Jelly Bean — in Android, and there doesn't seem to be any reason for it. If you spend a lot of time using Android, you love how you can quickly expand and act on notifications — adding an extra swipe and step to acting on those notifications is just useless, and again there's no upside to doing it this way.
Then we have how LG has integrated the "interruptions" system into the G4. There are two prevailing options for how to handle this in Lollipop right now — take out the interruptions system altogether like the Galaxy S6 (and to a lesser extent One M9), or leave it in as-is like you'd find on a Nexus or Moto X. LG again split the difference, making for a confusing situation.
Somehow LG managed to make the interruptions system even harder to work with.
When you press the volume keys, you can only move between sound and vibrate with no option to choose "silent." That's because the interruptions system is still here, in which you can only get to a "silent" mode by switching to "priority" or "no interruptions" — the problem is when you're changing the volume it isn't at all clear that you can toggle between all/priority/none. You find that toggle in the quick settings area, separate from volume and easily hidden by editing the quick settings list. Why LG decided to separate volume controls from the interruptions system that in itself controls how the volume works is puzzling, and somehow manages to make the interruptions system even worse.
Finally, LG doesn't treat its navigation bar (the back, home and multitasking keys) as a standard Lollipop nav bar. This means when you have the keyboard up the "back" button doesn't turn into a "hide keyboard" button, and you also don't get the standard keyboard switching button in the nav bar when you have multiple keyboards installed — you get an old style notification to switch keyboards. Of course these are small things, but it shows how LG made things look like they should act as they do on other Lollipop phones, but they don't — again seemingly for no benefit.
There are better phones out there for me
If it feels like I'm making a big deal out of relatively small things, you're not far off. Sure the LG G4 isn't that hard to hold or manage in one hand, and the software quirks are noticeable but not life changing. The reason why I pick on the group of small things that bother me is that they all make a real difference in how I use and interact with the phone every single day. Why would I use a phone that doesn't feel right and basic software functions don't work how they should? Particularly when there are other phones that do things the way I want.
Phil clearly falls on the other side of this argument, and that's OK. No phone is perfect, but for me the G4 is further from perfect than the rest of the leading devices. It's a fine choice for some, but it's definitely not the right phone for me — I'll keep using my Galaxy S6 for now.