LG is on something of a comeback trail – the brand that killed it in the feature phone market, then fell apart when smartphone became ‘a thing’, is now starting to show signs it can be a front runner again.
The LG G4 is the result of years of forward momentum, combining the insane sort of specs we’re used to seeing from the Asian manufacturers with a recognized brand and decent attempt to create a usable user experience.
But the last few flagship ‘G’ phones have had one thing in common: loads of good bits, but a slightly uneven finish. It’s lacked the final polish that would have made it a market leader, but usually combined it with a cheaper price and therefore evened out the equation.
The LG G4 does a few things differently though. This time the brand has aimed for elements the user will actually want: longer battery life, improved camera and upgraded screen, and combined them with a slightly outlandish design: covering the thing in a leather coat that’s certainly something the rest of the market hasn’t seen yet.
Then there’s the LG G5 – the latest phone from the company, which was announced at MWC 2016 and brought with it a brand new modular design. But the LG G4 still has its merits, and it’s now cheaper than ever.
One of the early sticking points I had with this phone was the price – it came at a ‘normal’ level, rivaling the iPhone and Galaxy flagships pound for pound. That’s now dropped massively to make it, once again, one of the cheapest and most attractive top-end handsets in price terms.
In the UK this phone retails for around £280 (US$359, about AU$475), which is much less than the Galaxy S6, even though that one has had some nifty price cuts as well.
I’m not sure what LG is doing with the G4. There are two options on offer, and I’ve been testing both. The first is a leather back, and the one that LG is pushing as the ‘premium’ model, and the latter is the polycarbonate version with a diamond effect.
It’s attractive enough, and has the same brushed metal effect as last year, but lacks anything like the ‘wow’ factor LG is going for with the leather option.
Let’s start with leather (on a separate note: a dangerous statement for a first date). I’m really disappointed with what LG has done here. It’s too thinly stretched over the back of the phone to be considered premium, and when you’re fighting against the beauty of the HTC One M9, it’s a real misstep.
There are now two leather variants on the market, brown and black. The former looks more striking, but the latter feels a little more rugged, with a nicer experience in the hand. The leather doesn’t feel as thin and stretched, for a start.
Leather could have been a good idea, if it had the same feel as an expensive wallet or watch strap. But the thin material used here almost feels plastic, not premium. The Moto X has a leather back option, and I know some people love it, but for many a leather back is a novelty, not a statement of wealth, luxury or quality.
And let’s be honest: the leather back is just that, a back. One you can buy and clip on, rather than a part of the phone’s design itself.
When it comes to the plastic version, the LG G4 doesn’t feel as nice in the hand as the rest of the market’s big hitters: the HTC One M9 has a really well-crafted finish, the iPhone 6 a lightweight ceramic feel that begs you to fondle it, and the Galaxy S6 has shown that Samsung’s not completely inept when it comes to offering a phone made of metal and glass.
The LG, on the other hand, is all about being lightweight and ergonomic in the hand. The rear cover bulges out a little to curve into the palm, which is designed to make it nicer to hold and allow for a greater battery space (3000mAh, compared to the 2500mAh on offer in the Galaxy S6, for instance).
One of the big features LG is making a big deal of is the fact said battery is removable, which explains the need for a plastic cover (easier to remove and less likely to break than a metal choice).
I’m not sold on the need to have removable battery. I know some people love the safety it brings, the idea that you can carry around a spare, but in reality I’d rather use one of the battery packs I’ve become accustomed to slinging in my bag – plus they’re universal.
Making a battery removable does have the added benefit of letting you change it out if the power pack starts playing up a year and a half into your two year contract, but it comes at the cost of design. There’s a reason the S6, One M9, iPhone 6 and Sony Xperia Z3 all look better than the G4, and that’s the fact they have unibody chassis.
I’m glad LG has offered this choice just so one of the market’s big hitters is doing it, and if you’re one of those that think the leather is equally as premium as metal, then this is a great feature to have (the cover also hides the microSD slot too).
But the lack of unibody has minimised the amount of battery space available and made a less attractive phone.
The phone itself is large without being TOO unwieldy. Yes, we’ve become used to having massive phones in our hands, but where the LG G3 was just on the edge of being too big, this 5.5-inch screened device has been curved and hewn to make it a little less sharp to use in the hand.
You’ll still need to wriggle it around quite a lot to use it day to day, but given the trade-off gives you a phenomenal QHD screen, it’s worth it. That display is slightly curved, but I’ve not seen a great deal of use for that in general use.
The rear keys are present again – one of LG’s favourite design tweaks – meaning that there’s very little buttonry around the phone. The rear keys are easy to find, have a pleasant ridged effect and are distinct from other elements of the phone. I came to love them on the LG G2 and still find them really nice now.
The only other thing to point out is the infra-red port on the top of the phone – it’s slight and most will miss it (and I’d rather it was on the rear of the phone as it makes controlling the TV a little easier when the phone is held up) but it’s good to see its presence continuing.