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LG G4 review: This powerful, fast beauty takes too few chances

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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.

Camera quality

Camera specs


LG G4 Samsung Galaxy S6 HTC One M9 Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
Rear camera 16-megapixel 16-megapixel 20-megapixel 8-megapixel
Rear video recording Ultra HD (4K) Ultra HD (4K) Ultra HD (4K) Full HD (1080p)
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 5-megapixel "Ultrapixel" 1.2-megapixel
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.

LG G4 camera test with HDR.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

LG G4 camera test.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Galaxy S6 Edge camera comparison.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

G4, S6 Edge and iPhone 6 camera comparisons.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

G4, S6 Edge and iPhone 6 camera comparisons, with HDR.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

LG G4 raw image, unprocessed.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

G4 raw image, processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

G4 unprocessed JPEG image (left) and processed raw image (right).

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.)

In our standard studio shot, objects here are in focus, and the flash leaves a natural white hue against the background.

Lynn La/CNET

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.

LG G4 (unlocked with AT&T) call quality sample

https://podcast-files.cnet.com/podcast/LGG4Unlocked.mp3

LG G4 (US Cellular) call quality sample

LG G4 (AT&T) call quality sample

LG G4 (Verizon Wireless) call quality sample

LG G4 (T-Mobile) call quality sample

LG G4 (Sprint) call quality sample

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.

Left to right: Data rates for an unlocked device (on AT&T's network), US Cellular's roaming 3G network, and AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint's 4G LTE network.

Lynn La/CNET

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


AT&T Verizon T-Mobile Sprint
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.


Processing speed

Hardware


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.

Compared to the Galaxy S6 (right), the G4 falls a bit short on benchmarks.

James Martin/CNET

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.

3DMark Ice Storm (Unlimited)

LG G4
18,611
HTC One M9
23,332

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3

LG G4
1046
2981
Samsung Galaxy S6
1468
5063
HTC One M9
1072
3953
Apple iPhone 6
1634
2935

Legend:

Single-core
Multi-core

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

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.

Inside the phone is a removable 3,000mAh battery.

James Martin/CNET

Battery life

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.

Conclusion

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.

Should the LG G4 be your next handset?

James Martin/CNET

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.

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