Today, consumers have a broad selection of premium phones ranging from the Apple iPhone 6 to the Samsung Galaxy S6 to the LG G4. What’s common between most of these phones is their focus on wireless performance, user experience, battery life and photography. However, they do vary in these categories in ways that set them apart from one another, in sometimes good ways and sometimes bad ways.
The differences between these phones has also been illustrated by what SoCs (System On a Chip) they use which vary from 2 to 6 to 8 CPU cores. Some SoC manufacturers are even taking these high CPU core count designs and pushing them towards 10 cores, a somewhat counter-intuitive and consumer-confusing approach. I write about the “8 Core Myth” in regards to its marketing and an auto industry lesson illustrating why the race to 8 and 10 CPU cores is a bad idea for smartphones.
For my evaluation of LG’s G4, I used the device beyond the standard two weeks and actually used it for a month. I carried this phone with me always, and used it along with my Apple iPhone 6 Plus and will be referencing other reviews to back up any of my own experiences.
LG puts a heavy focus on the camera
The thing you first notice when you start using this phone is really how much effort LG has put into making the LG G4’s camera as good as it is. As a result, they’ve effectively made the camera the focal point of the phone and created an awesome overall photo and video experience. They do this with a 16MP f/1.8 camera with a 1/2.6 Sony sensor and an 8MP f/2.0 front-facing camera. The main camera fires up in under half a second after firing up the camera icon, but feels a much slower ~2 seconds when you hold down the volume down button.
One of the reasons for the LG G4’s fantastic camera performance is because LG has implemented their second generation of hardware OIS (optical image stabilization). This feature allows you to zoom in on an image while recording a video or taking a photo without the massive camera shake you normally expect. This “hovering” functionality of the G4’s OIS is better than anything I’ve ever using, including the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The camera also has a manual mode, which allows you to manually control the shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, white balance, manual focus and even save the images as RAW files. The higher-end camera features are great for experienced photographers, but I’ll stick to the already very capable auto mode.
The LG G4’s camera is also capable of 4K video recording, which is also made possible in part by the fact that the phone has removable storage and can support up to 2TB of MicroSDXC removable storage. The LG G4 also has 4K slimport support, making sharing 4K content easier than ever before.
The end-to-end still and video camera experience is orchestrated by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 808′s balanced, heterogeneous combination of CPU, memory controller, GPU, dual ISP, and DSP. The quality could never happen without these components or the heterogeneous architecture of the camera “system”.
LG’s design decisions
The LG G4 has a very simple plastic body that can be sophisticated and distinctive when you add the optional stitched real leather back. The real leather is a welcome change from the pleather of the Galaxy Note line of phones from Samsung. The phone also has a curved back to more comfortably fit the natural curvature of the hand, which is the exact opposite of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge whose display is curved, but back is not, the exact opposite of the G4. Having a curved back seems like more of a real design benefit rather than a gimmick. As in previous generations of the ‘G’ family of phones, starting with the G2, LG has put the physical buttons of the phone on the back. These buttons include the power button as well as the volume up and down button. One of the ways that LG works around not having front-facing buttons is with their tap-to-wake display technology which allows you to wake up the phone with a simple double tap of the screen. Even with all of this, I wish that they had a fingerprint reader somewhere on the back.
Before LG launched the G4, they actually announced the display that it would be using. The panel that LG created for the LG G4 has some of the most accurate colors on earth with a 120 percent color gamut that works at a resolution of 2560 x 1440 at 5.5” delivering a PPI of 538, nearly double that of the Apple iPhone 6 with a PPI of 326. They also increased the brightness by 30% without increasing power consumption and have a 50% higher contrast ratio than panels of the same resolution.
As a result of the design and this display, the LG G4 is a 5.5” phone that fits in your hand like a 5.2” or smaller phone. It has a fantastic screen brightness of 500 nits, which is virtually unheard of in a phone and significantly helps in outdoor direct sunlight conditions. It also has a 1500:1 contrast ratio, whereas most phones generally still have a 1000:1 ratio. As a result, of all this, the LG G4 simply has an awesome display, which is incredibly important nowadays as people put more and more focus on the quality of their displays.
The LG G4 with the Snapdragon 808 has some of the fastest connectivity on the market with Qualcomm’s X10 LTE modem, capable up to 450 Mbps (Cat 9) with 3x CA. According to our tests, Qualcomm is both faster and more energy efficient than Samsung. Apple also uses a Qualcomm modem, so modem performance is similar between LG and Apple. While most carriers in the world don’t support Cat 9 LTE, there are already 13 networks in deployment, trial or testing. There are, however, already 38 Cat 6 networks in deployment or trial and 64 commercially launched CA networks.
The LG G4 also supports 802.11AC Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth 4.1 LE which results in some fantastic use cases. It also has features like NFC which one would expect to be standard nowadays, but isn’t always, and will become more important as Google rolls out their second iteration of Google Wallet. Last but not least, the phone also has Slimport 4K support, which means that showing the phone’s 4K content should become a lot easier than transferring it to a storage device and playing it from there.
Battery life and charging
The LG G4, like its predecessor is packed with an enormous battery. The LG G4’s 3000 mAh yielded me a day of active use, which is impressive when you consider that the G4 has a 500 bit, QHD display and a Cat 9 modem. I suspect some reviewers that may have found the battery life lackluster may not have been honest about how they tested their display brightness.
From what I’ve seen, reviewers have pegged it at 6 hours of screen time and 2 hours of full charge time on its 3000 mAh battery. The G4 had 16 hours of talk, 8 hours of web browsing and 7 ½ to 12 hours of video playback. The Samsung Galaxy S6, by contrast had 7 hours of use and a 78 minute full charge on its 2,550 mAh non-removable battery with 13:37 hours of video playback.
Contrary to previous rumors, the LG G4 does support QuickCharge 2.0, but you need to have the right charger to enable it and the fact that LG doesn’t supply one is a little disappointing. The phone also has a Super Power Saver Mode, which works great for getting extra usage out of the phone. I kinda wish more reviewers would test the longevity of this mode and see how much it really improves battery life. It would also have been nice for this phone to support wireless charging, like Qi or Rezence.
As mentioned before, the LG G4 is one of the few phones out there still with removable storage and battery. The reason for this is because LG understood that having a camera capable of 16 MP photos, RAW photos, and 4K video would require a phone to have more storage. This extra storage is easily accessible and upgradable thanks to having a removable MicroSDXC card slot. The MicroSDXC card slot in the G4 is capable of supporting up to 2TB of capacity, however those capacities do not currently exist yet in the MicroSDXC form factor. As a result, the biggest you can buy right now is 256 GB and that’ll set you back about $350, but that also means you have double the storage of any phone in the world.
A more reasonable purchase would be a 128 GB memory card because those can be had for between $78 and $99 and automatically put your phone’s storage in the highest tier of phone storage sizes for a fraction of the cost. In fact, many 128 GB phones generally will end up costing close to $1000 while the G4 with 128 GB of storage won’t cost you more than $700. Beware of counterfeit cards and those mis-labeled as “micro” but as long as you buy from a reputable retailer you should be fine. Also, for a short period of time, T-Mobile is throwing in a 128 GB MicroSDXC card in for free, which is essentially a $100 value.
Software features I liked and used
When it comes to pre-installed software, more software doesn’t usually mean a better experience. In fact, Samsung has removed much of the ‘bloatware’ they had pre-installed in the past, while Apple has none and LG never had a lot of it. LG has done a pretty good job of only loading the things that are necessary, which both reduces clutter, performance hits and wasted storage capacity.
I also particularly liked LG’s knock on feature which allows you to turn on the display with a simple double tap of the screen. If you’re feeling adventurous you can also unlock the phone’s screen with a knock code instead of a passphrase or pattern. LG also included the QRemote, which is a very useful application of the IR blaster on the phone which can allow you to remotely control your HDTV, AV setup, projector, STB, AC and other appliances from your phone. It worked great with my Samsung HDTV and Time Warner Cable cable box.
The LG G4 is an overall fantastic phone that is made so fantastic by its incredible camera, great display and leading connectivity. The phone stays awesome thanks to its good battery life and fast charging, both of which are supporting a Snapdragon 808 SoC, which some people may forget is actually a 6 core SoC. The LG G4 is a perfect example of how having more cores, be they 8 or 10 will not improve the user experience in any meaningful way. I also suspect that we will see more Qualcomm Snapdragon 808-based flagship phones before the year is over, simply because of how well LG’s G4 utilizes an SoC that many criticized on paper as being ‘weak’. The LG G4 is no slouch and you’d never guess how many cores it has inside of it if you simply compared it against the Apple iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6.
You can chock up yet another phone with less CPU cores, like the Apple iPhone 6 that delivers a really good experience.