Equipped with a lightning-quick processor, big and bright display, and 16-megapixel camera that can shoot both JPEG and raw file formats, the LG G4 is a stellar device. It's also one of the most enjoyable LG handsets to use thanks to its interface's welcomed facelift, and has both expandable memory and a removable battery (an old-school rarity these days with marquee handsets).
Despite all its pros, however, the handset feels like a slightly tweaked, but ultimately repackaged LG G3 . Sure, there's a new leather-clad option, and there's nothing wrong with the G3 per se (especially when you retain everything we liked about it, like the laser-guided focus and better-than-full-HD resolution). But when your newest offering doesn't progress far enough beyond your previous endeavor, it's hard to get excited about it.
With its lack of cutting-edge hardware and innovative software, the G4 played it safe. And in this fast-paced mobile industry, tame won't work in the company's favor; especially now that Samsung redesigned its Galaxy S6 with a sleeker and thinner look, and launched the envelope-pushing S6 Edge counterpart. All in all, while the G4 is a solid device, it isn't compelling enough to outshine its ambitious competitors.
In the US, all four major carriers and US Cellular carry the device. With a two-year contract, the handset costs $200, though US Cellular offers it for $200. Off-contract, it ranges from $552-$630 depending on the carrier, and prepaid carrier T-Mobile currently sells it for $480.
To entice customers, LG is bundling a promotion: 100GB of Google Drive storage for two years, for free.Editors' Note: This review has been updated on August 25, 2015, with additional performance analysis from US carriers.
|LG G4||Samsung Galaxy S6||HTC One M9||Apple iPhone 6||Apple iPhone 6 Plus|
|Display size||5.5 inches||5.1 inches||5 inches||4.7 inches||5.5 inches|
|Resolution||2,560x1x440 pixels||2,560x1,440 pixels||1,920x1,080 pixels||1,334x750 pixels||1,920x1,080 pixels|
|Pixels per inch||534||557||441||326||401|
Like its predecessor, the G4 sports a 5.5-inch LCD display. The quad-HD touchscreen is razor-sharp, with graphics, images, text and movies appearing incredibly crisp. It has a 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution and 534 pixels per inch (ppi), which puts it way above the Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (which isn't Apple's current marquee handset, but the 6 Plus does have the same screen size as the G4) and between its Android competitors the Galaxy S6 and the HTC One M9 .
To the naked eye, however, you won't be able to discern each device's relative sharpness from another. When we looked at high resolution images, HD trailers and even text zoomed all the way in and under a magnifying glass, there were no standout differences between the handsets' sharpness. Each one offered an ultra-sharp viewing experience.
LG also claims that the phone's screen, an IPS Quantum Display that it says is the first of its kind anywhere, is 25 percent brighter (500 nits) and has a 20 percent wider color range than its previous QHD screens on mobile devices. Contrast has improved by 50 percent over last year's G3, up to 1,500:1.
Translated in the real world, we can attest that the G4 is indeed noticeably brighter. When both are placed side by side on maximum brightness, the G4 is much more luminous and colors look more distinguished than the G3.
Compared to its competitors, the handset is brighter than the One M9, but it looked a tad dimmer than the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6s. This is especially noticeable when looking at a blank white swatch. Both iPhones had the purest and brightest whites, followed by the Galaxy S6. And while both the G4 and the One M9's displays aren't bad by any means, they did look a touch more washed-out compared to the other two.
LG also reports that its phone's color accuracy has improved, resulting in more true-to-life red and blue tones. Though it's not necessarily noticeable when looking at the G4 by itself, color differences become more discernible when placed side by side with others. Red hues on the G4 looked similar to the One M9, with tones coming off as deeper and authentic. On the Galaxy S6 and iPhones, reds appeared more orange-y and unrealistic.
Skin tones and blues also appeared true-to-life on the G4 and One M9, though on the iPhone 6s they looked the most accurate. And while the Samsung has made improvements over the years with the Galaxy's over-saturation, skin tones came off drastically warmer, and its blues still looked more turquoise or greenish compared to the other three. Blacks came off well on the LG's device too. Though the Galaxy S6 had the deepest and darkest black hues, the G4 was a solid second. On the iPhones and One M9, blacks tended to look a bit more washed-out and gray.
Ultimately, however, it comes down to personal taste. You may like the Galaxy S6's vibrant and saturated tones, which gives just about everything -- videos, images -- more pop. Or you can prefer the G4's expansive size and accurate red hues and skin tones, which is more attuned to what your eyes would naturally see. Whatever you choose, know that when you use handsets of this caliber by themselves, these aforementioned color discrepancies won't be an issue, and the G4 offers a clear and sharp viewing experience regardless.
|LG G4||Samsung Galaxy S6||HTC One M9||Apple iPhone 6||Apple iPhone 6 Plus|
|Dimensions (Imperial)||5.87 x 2.96 x 0.35 inches||5.65 x 2.78 x 0.27 inches||5.69 x 2.74 x 0.37 inches||5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27 inches||6.22 x 3.06 x 0.28 inches|
|Dimension (Metric)||149.1 x 75.3 x 8.9mm||143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm||144.6 x 69.7 x 9.6mm||138.1 x 67.0 x 6.9mm||158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1mm|
|Weight||5.4 oz.; 152g||4.8 oz.; 138g||5.5 oz.; 157g||4.55 oz.; 129g||6.07 oz.; 172g|
Similar to the LG G Flex 2 , the G4's display is curved. However, the former is arched about four times steeper, whereas the curve on the latter is barely noticeable to the eye. In fact, you can only really see it if you place the phone face down on a flat surface. It also doesn't make a notable impact on comfort. Though it's nice to hold in your hand and up to your face while on a call, that's mostly thanks to the round back that curves from left to right and contours to your palm.
The G4 has a number of design options, with three different kinds of material for the back cover. The first is vegetable-dyed stitched leather over plastic, which includes light blue, black and tannish brown. The other back plates have either a ceramic paint or metallic elements.
We received the leather and metallic versions to review, and the latter feels similar to the G3's faux-metal backing. The material fends off fingerprints and is smooth, but it isn't too slick, so gripping is still easy. We also liked the subtle "dented" diamond pattern on the back -- it catches the light in an interesting manner.
The leather model, meanwhile, feels much warmer to hold, more comfortable, and really does make it look like a totally different device to the plastic model. The black version is grain leather, and textured with grooves. The brown counterpart, meanwhile, is smoother. Both are made out of real leather though, so it won't be the phone of choice for vegans, and it does mean it's prone to scuffs and stains.
From the front, the handset looks nearly identical to its predecessor. There are some changes, though: its corners are a touch sharper and it has a shorter speaker grille up top. Its dimensions are also bigger all around, with the chin being noticeably longer and the height increasing from 5.76 inches (146mm) to 5.86 inches (149mm).
Oh and just for the record, the handset isn't water resistant, so be sure not to submerge it underwater.
Compared to other flagships, the phone doesn't look as premium. The Galaxy S6 is thinner, and its dual-glass panels and metal trimmings give it a chic aesthetic. The One M9's all-metal body has a stated elegance, and it's hard to beat Apple's polished, unibody design in the iPhone.
It's also heavier and bigger than its competitors, but given its 5.5-inch display, that's not necessarily a criticism -- just something to keep in mind if you have petite hands or pockets. In fact, the 6 Plus, which also features the same sized screen, has an even bigger size footprint and weighs more.
Hardware and key components
The device is equipped with Qualcomm's 64-bit, hexa-core Snapdragon 808 processor, which has a clock speed of 1.8GHz, a 3,000mAh removable battery and 3GB of RAM. You'll also get NFC support that works in conjunction with services like the digital payment platform Google Wallet, 32GB of onboard storage and a microSD card slot that can hold up to 2TB.
On the back is a 16-megapixel camera -- a jump from the previous 13-megapixel effort, and for your selfie and video chatting needs, the phone's front-facing camera has been bumped up from 2.1 to 8 megapixels.
- Android 5.1 Lollipop
- LG's custom user interface, UX 4.0
- Smart Bulletin, Event Pocket, Memories in the photo gallery
- Built-in Wi-Fi calling available from US carriers T-Mobile and Sprint
The G4 runs Android 5.1 Lollipop , which includes a richer approach to recent apps known as Overview, notifications on the lock screen and Guest Mode. Google staples such as Gmail, the Chrome Web browser, Maps, the Now digital assistant service, the Play Store and more are preloaded. You can also launch search queries by sliding upwards from the center home softkey, or by saying "OK, Google" after you turn the option on in the Settings menu.
Overlaid on top is LG's latest UI, UX 4.0. Bright, colorful and more in tune with Android's Material Design aesthetic, UX 4.0 is LG's most refreshing UI yet. It's easy to navigate and to understand -- we especially liked the fun animations on the lockscreen, the charming app icons and the clean simplicity of the dialer and settings menu shade.
One new baked-in feature is LG Smart Bulletin. Smart Bulletin dedicates an entire home screen page to display widgets of certain apps, including the music player, your Calendar, the LG Health fitness tracker, QRemote (which uses the IR blaster on the device's top edge to turn your handset into a universal remote), and more.
Event Pocket in the calendar app syncs with your Facebook events so you don't have to manually enter them in, and lets you drag and drop notes and images into your Calendar. (For example, you can drop a photo of one of your many household plants that needs watering on a specific day.) In addition, the photo gallery can now organize pictures and videos taken in the same event or location and package them into "Memories" to share, and works similar to Motorola's Highlight Reel. There's also Smart settings, which automatically turns on and off phone settings (like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and sound profiles) when it senses you're in a certain location, such as your home or workplace.
Other features we've seen before are Smart Notice, another digital assistant that shows notification cards for upcoming events and weather info, as well as alerts for addressing any long-unused apps or missed notifications. Smart Notice gives users access to LG's Quick Help too, for any phone troubleshooting.
Given the G4's large display real estate, Dual Window (which is nestled in the Overview hotkey) splits your screen in two so you can use two apps simultaneously. LG's signature KnockOn and KnockCode feature enables you to wake up or unlock the device with various tapping gestures while the display is asleep. Unlike Apple iPhones or Samsung Galaxy handsets, it does not have fingerprint recognition. With GlanceView, you can also check the time, date and any missed notifications on the sleeping screen by swiping your finger downward from the top edge.
Expect some pre-loaded apps and bloatware to come with your phone when you buy it from a carrier. AT&T has DriveMode, an app that sends out customized messages to incoming calls or texts when the smartphone's moving 25 mph or faster; FamilyMap, which helps locate family members on your AT&T plan; MyAT&T, which you check your data and account info; and more.
Some of Verizon's apps include My Verizon Mobile (through which you can check your account and data profile), VZ navigator for maps and its branded security app.
T-Mobile users will receive T-Mobile My Account, which gives you information about your phone and data plan; apps that help set up your visual voicemail and mobile hotspot; and a 30-day trial offer to the media-streaming service T-Mobile TV, among others.
Sprint loaded only two of its branded apps: a family-friendly Sprint Fun and Games app and SprintZone, so you can check on your phone and data information.
Both T-Mobile and Sprint have built-in Wi-Fi calling, meaning you can automatically make calls over available Wi-Fi networks (without you or others having to download another app or service) if cellular coverage is spotty or weak.
|LG G4||Samsung Galaxy S6||HTC One M9||Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus|
|Rear video recording||Ultra HD (4K)||Ultra HD (4K)||Ultra HD (4K)||Full HD (1080p)|
|Front video recording||Full HD (1080p)||Quad HD (1440p)||Full HD (1080p)||HD (720p)|
LG has pushed the boat out for the G4's camera, with a brighter f/1.8 aperture (which can take in more light) and a larger 1/2.6-inch image sensor. New manual camera controls let you adjust white balance, focus, brightness and ISO with more precision.
You can also quick-launch the camera by tapping the volume-down button twice. The front-facing camera includes a new gesture command that lets you take four photos in quick succession in order to try out different poses. We took the camera for a spin around Paris (bien sur) to see just what this camera can do. A small selection of our test shots are embedded below -- see more in our full LG G4 camera test article, or in the gallery below.
We're pretty pleased with this first shot with the G4. There's loads of detail at full screen and the auto HDR mode has helped achieve an extremely even balance between the bright sky and the shadowy bushes on the left.
The G4's exposure is great here, with a very even balance between the bright and dark areas. There's a ton of detail at full screen too. The auto white balance hasn't done a great job however, giving an unnaturally warm color cast to the scene. The S6 Edge's attempt has similarly great exposure, but has much more natural colors.
Looking at this graffitied building, it's clear to see that both the G4 and S6 Edge have slightly darker buildings than the iPhone 6, although the iPhone's shot has overexposed the sky more than the other two. Detail and colors are comparable across all three shots, however.
The HDR mode has worked very well on all phones here, with much more controlled skies being shown. The G4 has the most detail when viewed at full screen, certainly better than the iPhone 6, which has half the resolution. The iPhone's is again a little brighter and there is more contrast on the graffiti.
The G4's manual controls allow you to independently change ISO, shutter speed and white-balance settings. In this shot, we were able to slow the shutter speed to 2 seconds (we supported the phone on a tripod), in order to capture the trails of car headlights below and achieve smooth waves on the river.
The G4 is also among the first flagship Android phones that allows raw image shooting. Raw photos are essentially images that haven't been processed by the handset -- they're simply taken directly from the image sensor. As white balance data hasn't been saved, it allows you to change this afterward in editing software like Adobe Lightroom. Raw photos typically record more detail in highlight and dark areas, letting you rescue blown-out areas more easily than you can with JPEG images.
By shooting in the G4's raw format, we were able to greatly increase the brightness of the image, as well as alter white balance and a couple of other basic tweaks to produce an image that wouldn't look out of place coming from a dSLR.
The camera takes shots in both JPEG and raw format at once. The images above were taken together, with the same settings. The left is the unprocessed JPEG, while the right is the raw image that we've processed in Lightroom. We've been able to increase the brightness of the sky, as well as tone down some of the strong highlights on the tower's lights, without bringing in too much image noise. It's an extremely impressive effort from a phone camera. ( Click here for more LG G4 test photos.)
Call quality and data speeds
In San Francisco, we tested an unlocked G4 using AT&T's network, and handsets from US Cellular, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint as well. It's important to note that given different times and locations, what you experience on these networks will most likely be different than from what we observed, especially since the unlocked unit isn't optimized for any specific carrier.
In general, call quality on all the five branded networks was decent -- connection was continuous, none of our calls dropped, and volume range was appropriately loud. Our calling partner was easy to understand and hear.
However, for the unlocked variant, there was a low but constant whooshing static noise throughout the call. Though it didn't render the call hard to hear, it was distracting. Our partner also told us our line sounded a tad echoey, as if we were calling from a large empty room, or a bathroom. We did not detect the same rustling sound with the other carriers.
The external speaker for the unlocked device had the same whooshing noise throughout, but other than that, volume was still loud and our partner's voices was clear on all phones. We were also told that our partner could not tell when he was switched on and off speaker and that we sounded consistently loud.
4G LTE speeds on the unlocked variant's AT&T's network were fast and consistent. For Web browsing, it took about 2 seconds to load CNET's mobile site and 3 seconds to load the desktop version. The New York Times' mobile and desktop sites loaded in 5 and 8 seconds, respectively. The mobile site for ESPN clocked in at 7 seconds. After five trials on Ookla's speed test app, the mean download rate was 14.28Mbps down and 16Mbps up. The 44.91MB game Temple Run 2 took just 47 seconds to download and install.
Because we're located outside of US Cellular's 4G LTE network, only 3G roaming could be measured. In general, data speeds were slow but consistent. It took about 21 and 29 seconds for the device to load CNET's mobile and desktop site, respectively. The New York Times' loaded in 16 (mobile) and 26 (desktop) seconds. ESPN took 24 seconds. Average download rates were 1.08Mbps and upload rates were 0.42Mbps. Finally, Temple Run 2 finished downloading and installing after 7 minutes.
As for the 4G LTE networks of the other four carriers, performance was adequate. AT&T's unit clocked in the fastest speeds overall. When it comes to general Web browsing, Verizon was second, though after five trials, it took the longest to download and install Temple Run 2 on average compared to the others. And at times, it was a toss up between T-Mobile and Sprint, who clocked in similar speeds.
We also managed to download the 1.7GB movie "Gravity" once on each of the four handsets. As you can see from the chart below, AT&T took the shortest with 17 minutes while Sprint took over an hour and a half. Again, these aren't averages like the other data points, so they should be taken as mere glimpses of the carriers' data speeds.
LG G4: 4G LTE data speeds on major US networks
|Average download speed (Mbps)||17.17||11.65||5.32||7.85|
|Average upload speed (Mbps)||12.49||14.74||8.21||7.15|
|CNET mobile site load (seconds)||5||8||19||16|
|CNET desktop site load (seconds)||4||25||37||31|
|Temple Run 2 app (44.68MB)||37 seconds||2 minutes and 42 seconds||1 minute and 10 seconds||1 minute and 58 seconds|
|"Gravity" movie download (1.7GB)||17 minutes and 51 seconds||59 minutes and 28 seconds||40 minutes and 59 seconds||1 hour, 43 minutes and 46 seconds|
Of course, data speeds depend on many variables, including your location and time of day, so don't be surprised if your personal experience from your network ends up differing from the results we've measured.
|LG G4||Samsung Galaxy S6||HTC One M9||Apple iPhone 6||Apple iPhone 6 Plus|
|Processor||1.8GHz hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808||Octa-core Samsung Exynos 7420||2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810||Proprietary 64-bit A8 chip with M8 motion co-processor||Proprietary 64-bit A8 chip with M8 motion co-processor|
|Battery||Removable 3,000mAh||Non-removable 2,550mAh||Non-removable 2,840mAh||Non-removable 1,810mAh||Non-removable 2,915mAh|
The G4's hexa-core 1.8GHz Snapdragon 808 processor sounds like a step down from the G Flex 2's octa-core 810 processor, but LG says that the 808 chip is actually more optimized for the G4, and works to boost the phone's camera, imaging and display performance. While we can't parse out and test how the chip improves these features specifically, we do know that the 808 performs well on our benchmark tests.
Its highest Quadrant score was 26,320 and its best multithread Linpack score was 606.715 MFLOPs in 0.28 seconds. On average, the phone took 35 seconds to power off and restart, and only 1.5 seconds to open the camera. It is much faster than the G Flex 2 with user tasks, even though the latter sports a Snapdragon 810 processor and scored higher on benchmark tests. (We have good reason to suspect that the lag found in the phone is actually due to software issues, and LG's software update didn't improve performance any.)
Placed side by side, the G4 was speedier at quitting apps, opening new tabs in Chrome and calling up the keyboard, and it was twice as fast to launch the camera.
Compared to other Android rivals, however, the phone didn't edge out the competition. For instance, the Galaxy S6 had a 36,249 Quadrant result. Samsung's flagship, along with the One M9 (which does have an 810 processor), scored consistently higher than the G4 on our 3DMark Ice Storm and Geekbench 3 tests. All three devices did score higher than the iPhone 6 though, except when it came to Geekbench 3's single-core analysis.
But while we can split hairs all day about numbers, our real-world observation didn't pick up any significant lag or sluggishness. In fact, it was just the opposite -- LG's handset is lightning fast. Everyday tasks such as launching the app drawer, shooting photos in rapid succession and returning to the home screen were executed with ease. Graphic-intensive games like Riptide GP 2 and Kill Shot showed high frame-rates, quick load times and smooth graphics rendering.
Having a removable battery is a boon for power hogs who may need to switch batteries in the middle of the day. Though the handset can last a couple of days on standby or with little usage, it'll definitely need some juice at the end of the workday with some casual to high usage. After we spent the day watching videos, surfing the web, and making calls, the phone's 15 percent battery warning popped up in the late afternoon.
During our battery drain test for continuous video playback, the G4 lasted 10 hours and 38 minutes. That doesn't beat the Galaxy S6's 12 hours and 36 minutes runtime (both have wireless charging capabilities), but it's still a solid amount of hours to clock in. It's definitely better than the G3's, which also had a 3,000mAh battery, time of 9 hours and 22 minutes.
If you're at the end of a two-year carrier contract, the LG G4 is a considerable upgrade from the G2 -- a worthy buy given its faster processor, brighter display and impressive camera. The device also exceeds the recent G Flex 2 . The latter may have a unique curve, but it's not as fast and it doesn't have as sharp of a display as the G4.
LG's flagship also offers a larger screen, for about the same weight, as the HTC One M9. Though HTC's phone is undoubtedly better looking, we're partial to the G4's camera -- particularly the night-time slow shutter shots and the raw file option -- and sharp screen resolution. It performs on par with the One M9 in benchmarking tests as well.
If you already have a G3, however, you should feel perfectly happy to keep it, since the G4 isn't a significant upgrade. Indeed, its lack of aspiration means it fails to expand or elevate LG's G brand to a higher level of innovation. The G2 was the first to have the control buttons on the rear, and the G3 introduced us to its barely-there bezel and laser-guided focus. This iteration, however, feels more like a premium phone rather than the company's new flagship.
Compared to the Samsung Galaxy S6 , the G4 falls just short. Though we like the G4's UX 4.0 more than TouchWhiz, and its throwback features like expandable memory and a removable battery, the Galaxy S6 is still better. It's brighter, takes great photos and has a longer-lasting battery. In addition, Samsung has been forward-thinking and reactive to user trends. It has integrated fingerprint scanning and a new design (two if you include the novel-looking S6 Edge ). When all's said and done, the G4 is a great phone for the now -- but the S6 is a great phone for the now and beyond.