When LG launched the G3 smartphone last year the company surprised many by delivering one of the best all-round handsets available. Good-looking, bristling with new specs (Quad HD started here folks), light and tight software, and a middle finger to LG’s compatriot Samsung, the G3 kicked ass in all the right places. It also helped to put LG truly on the smartphone map, if the company was skirting the edges before, the G3 put it directly into the center and consumers were looking to see what LG could do next.

LG G4  -0Next, at least in a flagship sense, is the G4, a sequel to the G4 that is seeking to pick up right where its predecessor left off. In a market of incremental updates, it was almost impossible that LG could hit another complete home run again, the surprise has gone, but when reviewing the handset we wanted to see if it established the company’s name in the elite or proved that the G3 was something of a one hit wonder.

Read on to find out which.

Design

We want to make it clear that it is hard to flat out criticize a smartphone that we ultimately find very good-looking, but we are going to try anyway. The G4 checks plenty of boxes, it’s svelte, imposing, and even sexy, but it also misses a few steps too. LG had promised that the device would be a radical change from the G3, but really one look at the G4 is enough to tell you that is simply isn’t. Is it different? Yes, it is a distinction for sure between the two devices, but this is no design overhaul.

LG G4

Not that we particularly needed one as the G series remains among the most aesthetically pleasing from a distance. Up close the G4 is well made, it feels and looks premium, but these days premium has come to mean one thing… metal. LG’s new flagship is not made of metal, which really isn’t a deal breaker, but we assume for many it may be, especially in a market where even Samsung is now using metal.

We hate to be those guys, the ones who complain about plastic vs. metal, but how much sweeter would the G4 have been with the cold touch of aluminum? LG has attempted to make up for this with a leather back plate, and the effect is actually very nice and we must give props for the company for trying something different. Ultimately though it is hard to say the G4 is up there with the HTC One M9 (old design and all), Galaxy Note 4, or the iPhone 6 in terms of mouth-watering appeal.

That said, we are really nit-picking because that’s sort of our job. We are sure many people will think the G4 is outright beautiful and some of us in the office would be in that group for sure.

Display

The G3 was a game changer and was the first time that we could say that LG was a true innovator in the smartphone market (in terms of hardware at least). That’s because the handset arrived with a Quad HD screen, a new display resolution that is beyond 1080p Full HD and is only now starting to slowly arrive on other flagships. Indeed, some like the HTC One M9 and Sony Xperia Z3+ still use 1080p panels, so the G3 is even beyond them.

With the G4, LG really did not have to do too much to the display, so the company merely tweaked the experience and made it all better. There is a big debate whether Quad HD is even needed in a screen below six inches; this review is not the place for that, but all we can say is that the G4 has one of the best smartphone screens we have ever seen. Is that down to Quad HD or LG’s prowess in this sector? We don’t know, it’s probably a combination of both.

LG claims that the 5.5-inch 1440 x 2560 resolution panel 20% greater color reproduction, 25% stronger brightness output, and 50% better contrast than the G3’s screen. The result is a level of clarity and detail we have rarely seen, helped in spades by a pixel density of 538 pixels per inch, everything is just so crisp. Color reproduction is also excellent, although we found the G4 was favouring a slightly saturated finish. To the naked human eye, reds are red, greens are green, and… well you get the picture.

Software

Another area where the G3 triumphed where LG had failed before was with software, the company’s simple UI take on Android was a joy to use. Because the Korean giant decided to keep things light, Android was allowed to flourish and the G3 was a very enjoyable user experience. UX 4.0 as it arrives on the G4 doesn’t veer too far from that winning formula and in fact attempts to make things even easier and simpler.

LG has really decided less is more on the software front and the result is still a very useable UI that looks cool (flat, light, open), and it is hard to find any lasting problems. Our only minor gripe would be that at times the UI does lack detail and maybe some more features would be welcome, although we readily admit that if LG had put more features into the experience we could well be asking for less. It’s a give and take compromise and we think the company has struck a solid enough balance.

Some of the company’s software standards are present, such as Knock On, QSlide, Dual Window, and with Android 5.1 Lollipop running out of the box you also get all the benefits of Google’s newest full release OS.

Core Specs

Screen: 5.5-inch Quad HD

Processor: Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808

RAM: 3GB

Storage: 32GB

Expansion: Yes, micro SD card slot

Rear Camera: 16 megapixel, OIS, f/1.8

Front Camera: 8 megapixel

Battery: 3000mAh

Performance

We are delighted that LG decided to opt for the Snapdragon 808 instead of the Snapdragon 810. Both are 64-bit chipsets, but the latter has been plagued by overheating issues that seem to not be going away, so LG going for the admittedly lesser processor (on paper) is a wise choice. It also shows that the company is not necessarily interested in a spec war and is doing what is best for its flagship in the long term.

How does that translate to performance though? Well, the G4 is no slouch that’s for sure and any day to day use will be gobbled up with ease. Indeed, even multitasking to stupid levels did not throw the G4 off and it dealt with all we could throw at it (multi window browser sessions and video simultaneously for example). Benchmarks reveal that the device is not as fast as some of its rivals though, and perhaps in games you may notice this. The very top tier and graphically intense titles are slower on the G4 than they are on the iPhone 6 Plus or the Samsung Galaxy S6 for example. However, we are talking minor details that we are certain would be unnoticeable to the casual gamer and even power users may not see the difference. We think it is a worthy compromise anyway considering the other option was the Snapdragon 810 and potential overheating issues.

Cameras

Cameras are of course a huge part of the smartphone makeup these days, but LG has never seemed to get itself to the upper echelons of this part of the market. The G4 continues that trend and is not the best flagship camera experience you can have at the moment. Is the G4 snapper bad? Not by any means, but it is not a jaw dropping experience either and we still feel as though LG is not as serious as other companies on this front.

LG G4 cameraThe rear 16 megapixel 1/2.6” lens with OIS is set up to automatically detect the light source and decide whether it is artificial or natural. From there the G4 adjust its lens accordingly to produce the best shot possible, and it seems that this particular feature works very well. Color tones are also very accurate and our images tended to match the hues of the subjects we shot, although we sometimes found darker colors looking a little washed out.

In terms of software, LG has overhauled its camera app and it is a typically user friendly affair, although really there is not much new here that we have not already seen elsewhere. Round the front there is an 8 megapixel camera, which is a generous lens for the selfie enthused users among us.

We have been reviewing long enough to know that cameras are very subjective and it depends on what the reviewer takes photos of. With that in mind, we are cautiously impressed with the G4’s shooters but are not confident they are among the best available.

Verdict

It was too much to expect LG to deliver the sort of all-round surprise it did with the G3, it simply does not happen like that. Instead the company has done the next best thing with the G4 and has made the already spiffing G3 even better. The device has been improved in every single sense and with the G4 LG has cemented its place among the best smartphone manufacturers in the world. Is it better than the Galaxy S6 for example? Maybe not, but then again we would not say the GS6 is better than the G4 either.

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