It doesn't seem like the LG G4 has been with us for long, but in reality we're now two months removed from the phone's official unveiling at parallel events in New York and London. Since then, many of the Android Central editors have been carrying a G4 in their pocket, either as a daily driver, or in addition to their Android phones of choice.
So with the G4 now on sale just about everywhere, we're well-placed to offer some long-term opinions on the LG standard-bearer for 2015. Read on to find out what we think of the LG G4, two months on!
Size, shape and design
First off, the LG G4 is not a small handset, but it is unique in terms of its shape and size. How have you gotten to grips with the basic physicality of the phone?
Alex: Having spent a good chunk of 2014 on the LG G3, and gotten to grips with bigger phones like the Note 4 and Nexus 6 in the past six months, the G4's size and shape was a fairly minor adjustment for me. Its dimensions certainly push it into the realm of larger phones — though I'd still argue this is just a bigger phone and not a "phablet" class device.
Andrew: I'm really not a big fan of phones with screen sizes in the 5.5-inch or more range, and greatly prefer something closer to 5 inches. The G4 feels just as big as any other phone with a large screen (other manufacturers are making small bezels nowadays, too), and that means it's a bit tough to use in one hand and borders on causing issues in some pockets.
I've argued that the G4's tightly-rounded corners and flat edges don't help you hold it much, but at least the curved back and new textured plastic (or leather if you like that) back can help you grip it.
Just like with the G3, LG has managed to take a large phone and disguise its overall size.
Jerry: If you can't beat them, join them. I don't particularly care for big phones, and I think I've probably said that enough times. But with only one viable alternative released since 2013 — the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact — with the same horsepower at its bigger counterparts, I've decided I'll have to give in.
I will say that the back buttons and knock on make things easier to use, but there's still the issue of carrying around a phone that's too big for my liking. I'm adjusting.
Phil: Different phone, same tune. Just like with the G3, LG has managed to take a large phone and disguise its overall size a bit thanks to the curvature of the back. LG's not the only manufacturer to do this, of course — Motorola and HTC also come to mind — but LG's sort of done it in its own way, in no small part due to the rear buttons on the back. The corners are more square this time around, and that sort of makes the size stand out a little more this time, but all in all it's a very holdable phone — and I say that as not a fan of phablets.
It fits in my car cup holder, but just barely. That's my litmus test.
Russell: LG is one of a few manufacturers that has figured out the benefits of using textures on the back of the phone to make it easier to hold, despite its size. I don't grip this phone like I would my 2013 Moto X, but because I can comfortably rest the phone on my fingertips and reach most of the screen with my thumb, the size of the phone doesn't bother me as much as a flat or glossy phone would.
Plastic and leather
Let's talk leather. Have you been using LG's premium back cover, or have you stuck it out with plastic? Any thoughts on these materials or how they've held up so far?
Alex: I'm torn here. The leather certainly looks better, but for whatever reason it still feels relatively plasticky — particularly the black leather I've been using. It's also a concern that the leather back I picked up has started to visibly fray around the top corners after just a month of use. That doesn't bode well for its long-term prospects, though at least it's easily replaceable.
The leather certainly looks better, but for whatever reason is still feels relatively plasticky.
I think LG's done a decent job with the G4's plastic overall, giving it a grippy matte finish, and differentiating it with a textured pattern that actually looks decent. I find myself going back and forth on leather versus plastic, and I think the issue is this: plastic-plus-plastic somehow seems more authentic than plastic-plus-leather, and fits with the phone's aesthetic a little better. Had LG introduced a Motorola-like metal trim it might've been a different story.
Andrew: I've only had a chance to use the G4 with a plastic back (gray, if you were wondering), and I can say that it's a big step above what you found on the G3 and G2. The new subtle diamond-like pattern gives you an extra bit of grip, and just looks better than a flat piece that's textured to look like metal (looking at you, G3).
Mine hasn't actually scratched or scuffed up either, though I luckily haven't dropped or abused the phone. Given how good the back plate looks and has held up after a good bit of use, I'm not really feeling any pressure to pick up a leather back.
Jerry: I've not had any real time with the leather backed G4, so I'll defer. I can say I like the textured feel of the plastic back, and while it doesn't make things feel any more "premium" it makes the phone easier to hold onto with damp hands.
Phil: Leather, definitely. I've got both models here — gray plastic and the brown leather from T-Mobile — and to me there's simply no other way to go. Part of that is the look of the leather. Just like with the 2014 Moto X, the leather makes the phone look like none other out there. As for how it's held up? I'm seeing signs of wear and tear after nearly two months. Mostly on the corners, from sitting in my pockets, but also where my thumb rests on the side of the phone. I keep telling myself that just makes it look aged, but I don't think it's as nice an effect as we get with the Moto X after months of use.
Russell: I am all about the leather back. The plastic backing is alright, but the brown leather T-Mobile currently offers as an exclusive looks and feels great to me. I've already noticed some wear on the corners, though, so I'm not sure about the long-term durability here. Fortunately, the backs seem to be easy to get ahold of should the worst happen. I'm also not opposed to grabbing multiple leather backs, and swapping them out based on my mood.
Software and UI
LG's software has been a divisive part of its phones in the past, for reasons of both design and performance. Is the G4's UI 4.0 really any better? Are you still using any of the custom features like Smart Notice?
Alex: LG's getting there, and you can't deny there's been a steady improvement in this area over the past three years. There's a visual consistency to LG's UI that was lacking before, although you could argue it's not all consistently good-looking. If you're not a fan of squares, circles and pastel colors, you'll need to do some extensive redecorating. So sure, it's not as pretty as stock Android, or even the pared-back TouchWiz we now see on the Galaxy S6, but it doesn't really bother me at all.
Andrew: I think Phil said it best in our last podcast, with the faint praise of "... it's getting better." LG has completely removed the lag and stutter (at least on my unlocked international model) that was present on the G3, which is wonderful, and we're finally also getting to a point where the entire interface looks like it belongs together. With that being said, I'm still not using any of LG's software "features" like Smart Notice, or Bulletin, or pretty much anything else.
As I explained previously I'm still not the biggest fan of the way the software works, either. Basic functions like the notification shade and nav bar look like they should work as they do on other phones, but then do things differently. It's annoying and jarring if you switch phones often (or are using LG for the first time), and I just can't get over it.
Jerry: I've turned off as many of these features as I can. I'm no fan of LG's current software, but can see how they have improved since their beginnings. I'm especially grated by the notifications, and the way things are expanded whether I want them to be or not. it's fine when you only have one or two things to look at in the notification panel, but when things get "busy" I spend more time seeing who or what needs attention than I am with any other phone here. It may be trivial, but I can't seem to find a reason to like it.
Let's put it this way: It's the best UI LG's done so far, but it's definitely not my favorite.
Phil: Let's put it this way: It's the best UI LG's done so far. It's definitely not my favorite — and there are a few questionable decisions in the software. But all in all I don't think it's any more annoying than any of the other manufacturers' user experiences. I still change things up as much as I want — a new keyboard and launcher are always the first things I add. Occasionally things seem to get a little laggy, but I have no idea if that's T-Mobile's doing, or LG's, or Lollipop, or whatever. I've resigned myself to the fact that every phone is going to have quirks like this.
Russell: I went from using a T-Mobile variant to a Verizon Wireless variant, and the software frustrations between the two devices are significant. The incessant hand-holding and tutorials in the T-Mobile version and the excess bloat on the Verizon version both leave me spending half an hour at first boot disabling and removing stuff I'll never use.
Once that got sorted, the only thing I dislike about this version of LG's software is the notification drawer. Google has an amazing notification drawer right now, and LG folks are truly missing out. I'm actually a fan of Smart Notice, especially the weather portion, but I wouldn't go so far as to say LG's software is appreciably better this generation. It's nicer than it was before, but feels just as far from Google's vision for Android as its predecessor.
Photography is a huge part of any phone, not least one that's aiming to dethrone the Galaxy S6's impressive camera. Is the G4 up to the task?
Alex: While Samsung undoubtedly has the better camera app, LG's taken a leap ahead in image quality this year. I spent two weeks in Asia recently using the G4 as my primary camera, and I've found it to be the most versatile and reliable smartphone camera I've ever used. I haven't monkeyed around with manual mode as much as I'd like — mainly because actually getting RAW photos off the phone remains something of a pain point. But even on full auto, which is where I live most of the time, the G4 performs admirably.
The camera is probably the main reason I'm still using the G4 — and the reason I'll continue to use it for the foreseeable future. Nothing beats having this kind of photographic power in your pocket.
Just about all the pics in this Google Photos story from Beijing and Taipei were taken on the G4.
Andrew: There isn't much you can complain about when it comes to the camera on the G4. It's fast, takes great photos (even in RAW if you want) and has all of the hardware specs — high megapixels, laser focus, OIS — that you want. The camera app is still a bit busy, even when in auto mode, but that's really grasping to find something "wrong" with it. It's really great to see that we have more than one phone with a great camera released in 2015.
The excellent manual controls on the LG G4 make it the best smartphone camera we've ever seen.
Jerry: The excellent manual controls on the LG G4 make it the best smartphone camera we've ever seen. It takes great pictures in point-and shoot mode, rivaling the photos you'll get from the Galaxy S6, but with manual controls that work — and work exactly as designed — combined with great camera hardware means you'll be able to get pictures with the G4 that you could never before get from a smartphone.
When Samsung releases a set of full manual controls for the GS6, it's going to be really interesting to compare the two.
Phil: I think the GS6 is still the top dog in the Android yard, but the G4 absolutely holds its own. Auto mode is great, and HDR doesn't tend to overdo things. I try to use manual mode every now and then, but I just don't have the patience to set up a shot. Besides, I figure, who am I to argue with the computer in auto mode? But every now and then I do manage to eke out something quite wonderful — and then have a proper RAW image for my trouble.
Russell: I'm a huge fan of the camera on the G4 in full auto, but the manual mode has encouraged me to try photos I'd always assumed I lacked the skill to even attempt. My favorite to date is this 4 second exposure shot where my daughter is doing a one-handed cartwheel while holding a sparkler. It's not even a particularly great photo, but I love looking at it.
A lot has been made of the G4's battery capabilities given that its major rival falls short in this area. What kind of battery life have you been getting, and is a removable battery still worth the design trade-offs that go with it?
Alex: Even before I picked up an extra battery kit for my G4, battery life was basically a non-issue for me. The 3,000mAh capacity (and less hungry Snapdragon 808 CPU) pushes LG's flagship to that magic 14-to-16-hour point at which most users won't ever need to worry about a mid-day charge. On busier days, the combination of a removable battery and Qualcomm QuickCharge support makes it easy to top up — or jump instantly to 100 percent.
The G4 hits that magic 14-to-16-hour point at which most users won't ever need to worry about a mid-day charge.
Andrew: Even though the G4's battery is removable, I haven't considered getting a replacement for it. The 3000 mAh cell can get you through a day with a little to spare, and In my use the G4 hasn't ever had any rapid drain even under heavy load. I still wish that it had wireless charging built into the back (there's certainly room for it in there), but thankfully the battery life is good enough that wireless charging isn't a necessity to get through the day.
Jerry: When I was using the G4 full-time, I had zero complaints about the battery. I always had juice left at the end of the day, and no matter how I used it or what I did with it, this didn't change — mostly.
I did have an opportunity to use the G4 in areas with horrendous cell service, and this trashed the battery quickly. This shows just how important good coverage can be when you decide whether battery life is good or bad. This would be the only time that a removable battery would have helped in my case.
Phil: I'm generally getting through a full day at home — that's off the charger at 7 a.m. and usually not back on it until bedtime. Sometimes it's less, but generally I can attribute that to known areas of bad cell coverage, or particularly heavy photography. So it's not the greatest battery life I've ever seen — even with that 3,000 mAh battery — but it's also certainly not the worst. I haven't picked up a spare battery yet (I suppose I should before hitting the road again), but quick charging generally takes care of things for me.
Russell: With a 3,000mAh battery under the hood, most days I don't even think about battery life. LG has done a great job making sure someone like me can get through a full day without issue, which means there are others out there who could get a great deal more. While it's nice to know I can bring a spare charged battery with me instead of my chunky QuickCharge 2.0 battery, I've yet to be in a situation where it was necessary. While the G4 could be a little slimmer with a sealed battery, I think users gain a lot more than they miss with this design.
What we'd change
No phone is perfect. What would you change about LG's 2015 flagship, given the chance?
Alex: LG needs to eliminate plastic altogether next time around, and address its outstanding software deficiencies. Let's make leather the standard, and replace that faux chrome trim with something more befitting a flagship phone — say, aluminum — and create a phone that feels as classy as the competition.
By the same token, there are parts of LG's software that feel clunky and either over- or under-designed, with vestiges of previous Android versions sprinkled throughout. LG has historically trailed the pack when it comes to software design, and it's about time it caught up.
The G4's plastic isn't total garbage, but a premium smartphone deserves more.
Andrew: On the hardware front, I really want to see LG step up its game. With the G4 it finally has plastic that doesn't feel like total garbage, but we should probably be at the point where there isn't so much plastic on the phone at all. Metal, glass and ceramic materials are all potential options, and I'm sure LG has the prowess to make it work. I also want to see a design that's a bit easier on the hand, with smoother edges and more softly rounded corners.
On the software side, LG needs to keep trimming down what it has on offer. The software does too many things and doesn't do them particularly well, whether it's the bundled features or just basic functions of the OS. Now that LG has the design part mostly figured out, it's time for the function to match it.
Jerry: I would try to increase the radius of the corners a bit, as long as it could be done without adding more bezel around the screen. Of course, I'd like a 4.7-inch version, too …
But mostly, my gripes are with the software. I feel it's still a bit clunky and not very intuitive — though a big improvement over previous versions — and doesn't perform as well as it should. I'd also like to see LG do something with the touchscreen driver, as I'm not the only person who has to tap more than once to make "stuff" happen far too often.
This can all be fixed, and LG is certainly capable of refining things a bit more as well as optimizing a few things for better performance.
Phil: For as far as LG's come with software, it still has a little ways to go. There are times it feels like it's just trying too hard to do something, and for whatever reason Knock Code and overall touch response just doesn't seem to be as good as it was on the G3. And while that's not a deal-breaker, it's also pretty disappointing.
Russell: I'm not sure I'd make any hardware changes, aside from maybe making the edges a little more round. There's always more to be done with software, though. LG's experience is a lot more usable than it used to be, and some of their extra features — the launcher, for example — I actually prefer to the Nexus experience, but I'd still like to see LG move their apps to the Play Store and give users the ability to choose between their experience and Google's.
The best Android phone?
There's been a lot of discussion about whether the G4 is the best overall Android phone available right now. What's your take, two months in?
Alex: For me, yes. And the reasons are mainly practical. The G4's battery life — and to a lesser extent, its expandable storage — push it ahead of the Galaxy S6 for the way I use a smartphone. Samsung's phone is prettier, but a pretty phone that's dead at 5pm is still a paperweight (or a wall-hugger) for the rest of the day. The presence of a camera that can go toe-to-toe with the GS6 is hugely important too, and a reason I carry the G4 anywhere there's a chance there'll be something cool to photograph.
If Samsung made a flagship phone with a bigger battery (that didn't also look like the bottom of a shoe), the decision would be much, much harder.
Andrew: I won't be shocking anyone by saying the G4 isn't the best phone out right now. Beyond just its size (which is an issue for me and some others) the G4's hardware isn't up to speed with what other phones offer, and on the software side there's too much bad — with extra software bloat and bad UX decisions — to counteract the good moves LG has made coming from the previous generation.
Of course the other phones out there may not have the G4's battery life, or expandable storage and removable battery, but for me I'd rather have a phone that feels better and has software that's truly functional and fit with how I work. Right now the Galaxy S6 is far closer to my ideal phone than the G4 is — the GS6 arguably has a better camera, certainly better feeling materials, and more functional software.
We're split on whether the LG G4 is really the best out there right now.
Jerry: No. Second best? Maybe. We all know my take on that, and I'll stand in front of the firing line once again and say until the user experience — no matter how colorful or feature-packed it is — is as smooth as fluid as the Nexus 6 it can never be the "best". That's tough to make happen, and I do think LG has done a pretty good job overall, but they still have work to do.
On the hardware side, with the phone shut off, LG does really well at packing a big phone into a unit that's fairly easy to manage. Just not as good a job as Samsung has done this year. They also seem to have done a good job with power management, and most will find the battery life more than adequate.
I will say, without any shred of doubt, right now if having the best camera is your main criteria when buying a new smartphone, the LG G4 is the one to buy. My minor niggles with the software are an easy trade-off to get access to the camera hardware and software. Again, when Samsung comes around with the same (hopefully?) level of manual control to their excellent camera, this is something we need to look at some more.
Phil: For me it's the best right now. I like the Galaxy S6 a lot (I've got the edge model, as you'll recall), but have sort of soured on the overal feel of the phone. Plus the GS6 just doesn't play as nicely with Android Auto as the G4 does, for some reason. (You'd think they'd all be the same, right?) And that's a big deal for me. Plus the G4 has a better speaker and comparable camera. So for me it's a pretty easy choice.
Russell: Out of all the 2015 devices, I prefer the G4. I like the hardware, especially that I don't feel like I need a case when using it. I'm mostly happy with the software after some triage to remove the excess baggage, and LG nailed the cameras and battery this year. It's a close race right now between the G4 and the Galaxy S6, but for me the ability to comfortably hold the phone and the battery set it above Samsung's offering this year. Anything that comes out in 2015 is going to be compared directly to the G4 when it crosses my desk, so yeah for now I'd say this is the best overall phone available right now.
LG G4 owners, how have you been getting on with the phone? Shout out in the comments, and join the discussion on the AC forums!