LG’s brand new G4 could well represent the dawn of a newer era in mobile, and I don’t think I’m going too far in saying that. I’m in Singapore at the moment as LG’s guest for the worldwide launch of the G4 today, and having had some hands on time with the phone itself, I’m not so quietly impressed. This phone is every bit the contender for Ausdroid’s 2015 phone of the year.
The first standout feature is that leather back. When I saw the press photos, I have to say I was a little less than impressed, but the workmanship that has gone into producing that back is clearly of the highest order, because that leather back is actually amazing, to the point where you can’t readily see the join between the plastic inside of the leather case, and the leather outer. It’s a brilliant production, and it looks as smooth as can be in your hands as well (not to mention the feel) — the leather adds a touch of class that machined metal and glass just can’t emulate, as well as giving a very satisfying, natural tactile feel.
Beyond the leather case, the feel of the G4 is not all that different to that of the G3, though the front of the device is a darker gray to black rather than the gunmetal of the G3. Buttons and charger ports are all in the same place, with power and volume on the rear near the camera lens, and a micro-USB on the bottom.
The G4 does support Qi charging but there’s a wrinkle; it requires the use of an appropriate back case to add the Qi coil to enable the feature. At this stage, the Qi coils are only present in the flip-case, but I have little doubt that third party accessory manufacturers will make Qi-enabled backs for the G4 to enable the feature without needing a flip case. The other beautiful thing is that with removable backs come removal batteries AND a micro-SD slot, two things that Samsung has decided to forego this year, and that HTC has lost a while back. For a phone so clearly pitched at demanding users, the G4 includes these two killer features that road warriors simply must have — the ability to swap out batteries on the road, and micro-SD for infinitely expandable storage.
LG UX 4.0 – the Human Centric OS
Once we get past the physical considerations, there’s the software, and I think that anyone who’s used an LG phone before will understand and grasp the G4’s software in a heartbeat. Like other manufacturers of late, LG has toned down the LG UX 4.0 UI from some earlier iterations, and the G4 feels fast, refined and clean in a market where others still haven’t managed to weave their look into Android without suffering from stutter.
Android 5.1 is loaded at launch, with LG UX 4.0, and the combination is sleek and powerful. I’ve noticed random (and inexplicable) stutter in Samsung’s Galaxy S6, and in HTC’s One M9, but in my playing with the various features on the G4, I haven’t yet come across it. It’s possible that it’s there, waiting for me, lying in wait, but I haven’t found it yet, and since I’ve had the G4 in my hands, I haven’t really let it go… so make of that what you will.
While the default launcher background could be described as a little garish, once you look past that you find an intelligent, functional design that mixes style and function (much like the phone itself). The launcher is uncluttered by unnecessary apps (though of course carriers may change that), the notification shade has some quick settings readily available (including brightness, volume, and the standard WiFi/Bluetooth/other toggles that we’ve come to expect). The phone’s settings are readily changed through a well laid out settings app, where nothing is too difficult to find and they avoid the monolithic list of settings that Android provides by default. It’s reminiscent of Samsung’s Settings app on the S5, but done better. The four categories of Networks, Sound and Notifications, Display and General are logical, and it makes finding things rather easy.
The camera UI is probably the most interesting, and LG hasn’t let anything slide here — this is a camera interface that can rival the settings you have available on most stand-alone cameras, and in my limited testing around Singapore, the results rival what you can produce on a DSLR. Thanks to a very well designed lens with an f/1.8 aperture, and the ability to control all the manual settings in isolation (shutter speed, ISO, aperture, exposure and more), you can craft some amazing shots.
I’ve had a limited opportunity to explore the camera on the full range of subjects, but as you can see from the few quick snaps below, you will not be left wanting here.
Obviously there’ll be many more photos taken soon so you can get the full breadth of the G4’s camera capabilities, but please appreciate we’ve had limited opportunities at the time of writing to fully explore what the camera can do.
All in all, the G4 is a great package. It represents the union of a brilliant camera, fast and refined software, and powerful hardware. The inclusion of a 3,000 mAh battery, and an architecture that’s designed to sip away at that power means that the G4 is easily an all-day phone, with the functions and capabilities that you want in your pocket.
I should note that I am not easily impressed. I have been critical (for years) of phones which have found popular favour. Samsung’s Galaxy line have been hugely popular and successful handsets, but until the S6, I’ve not actually enjoyed using them all that much. I’ve found flaws and irritations that have pushed me away from using them beyond the review period. HTC have done slightly better, but it wasn’t until the second generation of HTC One that I invested and bought one to use for myself. With the HTC One M9, I was a little less impressed than I’d expected to be, and it wouldn’t be my first choice for a phone. I’ve been equally critical of LG’s previous handsets; while they’ve been technically ahead, I’ve not personally been a huge fan.
That changes today.
I think the G4 represents the turning of a page; LG has well and truly entered the top-tier smartphone race with the G4. The camera is indescribably good, and I can’t wait to get out and take dozens of photos to demonstrate its full potential. The software is enjoyable and fast, without overdoing it. The physical design is refined, subtle and yet it makes a statement. A phone can be a hunk of plastic and metal, and still be a fashionable piece of equipment. I’m looking forward to spending more time with the G4 an reviewing it thoroughly, but for now, I’m impressed, and that says it all.
Chris is in Singapore as a guest of LG for the launch of the LG G4.