Wholly cow: our hands-on review of the leather-clad LG G4

Today saw the synchronised world launch of LG’s new flagship Android phone, the LG G4, and we were at the London leg to give it a try. Hosted by Gabby Logan, the event featured the big cheeses of LG Europe talking about the phone, plus some awkward moments – the G4 has leaked twice, and when LG Europe CEO Brian Na asked “You don’t believe everything you read, do you?” a member of the audience audibly shouted “Yep!”. (He wasn’t wrong, the leaked details were mostly accurate).

launch banners

Most of LG’s keynote focused on the camera, detailing the improved laser focus, fully-featured Manual Mode and a world-first RGB colour sensor. Apparently, it’s the closest they’ve ever come to “capturing what you see with the naked eye.” There was also much talk about the (hideous) leather design and the new vegetable-based process they came up with for tanning it – I did ask which vegetables specifically but no one at LG was able to answer.

leather 2

There was no mention of Apple in LG’s keynote, but it did feature a groan-worthy dig at Samsung: “Our phone has an SD slot, which we think gives it the edge over the competition”. Ho, ho.

Hands on review: LG G4

LG’s last flagship, the LG G3, was one of the first to show off a quad-HD screen and offer two-day battery life. Meanwhile, their new G-Flex 2 offers a talkable design and innovative camera features. So the LG G4 has a lot to live up to, and I expected to love it based on the previous two – but I just can’t. Granted, I’ve only had an hour or so with the phone, so maybe my opinion will change when I get a review unit. I doubt it, though.

The handset

The whole handset is gently curved – not to the extent of the G-Flex phones, but enough to offer an ergonomic cradle against the face. It’s fairly beefy, and LG addressed this in their keynote, stating that most customers said they’d “happily sacrifice slimness for a decent, removable battery.” I agree entirely on the decent battery front, but I don’t think LG had any worries there (the 3000mAh unit on the G3 is famously long-lasting), and do people really expect removable batteries still? So few flagships have them, and with portable chargers abounding, I’m sceptical that many people actually feel this way. Still, it’s useful to have, and sets the phone apart from its rivals.

black down

The leather design, though, is abhorrent. What on earth were LG thinking? “Let’s make a phone that looks like the lovechild of a baseball and a shoe”? Yes, it stands out, but for all the wrong reasons. Even more bafflingly, the leather design comes in no less than six colours. Cows died for this design. It wasn’t worth it.

leather

Blessedly, there’s also a vegetarian version. It’s polycarbonate plastic, and looks a lot worse in real life than it does in the photos.

Expectation:

G4_CeramicReality:

 

I was expecting classy matte textures with a subtle sheen, and I got shiny, hard, fingerprinty plastic. Disappointing, as this would have been the design I’d have gone for.

Both designs have all the hardware buttons on the back, which takes a bit of getting used to. Volume keys sit either side of a power button, as on the G-Flex 2, which is actually quite useful when you’ve got the phone in your hand, because it’s near where your fingers naturally rest. Taking a screenshot on the LG G4 is a faff, though: holding the power and volume-down keys while still holding onto the phone is pretty awkward.

G4_Genuine Leather2

The screen

Onto the good bits. The 5.5-inch quad-HD Quantum IPS panel is every bit as bright and beautiful as you’d expect, and does a tremendous job of displaying the camera’s best work. The adaptive brightness feature seems to work well, viewing angles are about as wide as they can be, and colours appear both vivid and accurate.

end

The display is protected by Gorilla Glass 4, and apparently has 20% better durability than flat phones when dropped face-down, thanks to the curve.

The camera

This is the big focus (sorry) for this phone, with that new RGB sensor, a Manual Mode for photography experts, and a host of useful software features. The main camera is 16MP with an 8MP front-facing, both of which can be operated using the buttons on the back. Double-tap the power button and the camera will come on, even if the screen’s off – bizarrely, LG tried to zing Samsung by saying that their similar feature “only works with the Home button.” Well, yes. That’s the only button the S6 has!

Quite a lot of the camera features are only going to be interesting to a very niche audience of photographiles, but those people will love it. For instance, you can save your images in RAW format with one tap:

Screenshot_2015-04-28-17-10-45

And there are endless options for tweaking the performance of the f/1.8 aperture rear camera in Manual Mode, including white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and so on.

The gesture selfies we saw on the G-Flex 2 are included too, which means you can hold up your hand like a high-five, then make a fist to automatically take a selfie 3 seconds later. You can now also take 4 in a row, 2 seconds apart, by doing high-five, fist, high-five, fist. You have to do it pretty quickly, though, and it does start to feel weirdly like communicating in machine sign language. Once you’ve taken it, you can check your selfie (before you wreck your selfie) by bringing the phone up quickly:

Screenshot_2015-04-28-17-10-50

As with the HTC Desire Eye and co, you can also say certain words to take photos, though LG’s are a bit odd (whiskey?!):

Screenshot_2015-04-28-17-10-36

 

Both cameras are incredibly quick to focus and snap, and took exceptionally clear, detailed shots in testing – though we were in a well-lit room. I’d be interested to test the HDR and low-light capabilities in trickier environments.

The battery

I was a little disappointed to see no increase in capacity on the LG G3’s 3000mAh unit, but with Android Lollipop and a 64-bit processor, it should still last longer than its predecessor. If you buy the matching LG Circle Case, the G4 can offer wireless charging, too, and the removable battery will make a small set of people very happy.

black side

The experience

We haven’t had an in-depth look at the G4’s performance yet, but its 3GB of RAM and new SnapDragon 808 processor sound promising. That processor is hexacore rather than the octacore chips most phones are using – in other words, it has six cores rather than eight – but that still includes support for filming in 4K ultra-HD, plus 4G LTE. It’d be a bit daft if a phone called G4 couldn’t offer 4G, after all.

The slightly less-powerful chip makes sense considering the G4 will be a fair bit cheaper than the top-flight smartphones using the next one up, the SnapDragon 810 – and it also means no one will be concerned about the reported overheating issues on the 810. Not that we saw any in either of the phones we used with that chip, but rumours persist.

LG mentioned in their presentation that the G4 comes with Google Docs, Slides and Sheets pre-installed, which got us wondering how much space is available when you get the phone:

Screenshot_2015-04-28-17-16-32

Yikes. Almost all the used space was in “misc” (the red category) – we’ll be interested to see if the final release units have the same issue. There’s always the microSD slot, though, which takes cards up to the mythical 2TB also accepted by the HTC One M9, and every G4 owner gets 100GB of Google Drive storage for 2 years to boot.

Software-wise, there’s a raft of new features that we mostly saw in the pre-launch UI video, including automatic organisation of photos into event-based albums, personalised heads-up messages on the home screen, and notifications when apps are drawing power behind the scenes. That last one is a core feature of Huawei’s UI, and while in theory it’s useful, in practice it’s naggier than Navi from Zelda. Hopefully LG’s implementation is better.

There’s lots of room for personalisation on the G4, with the user able to alter the order and number of navigation buttons (up to 5, many phones only offer 4) and even change the system font:

Screenshot_2015-04-28-17-11-24 Screenshot_2015-04-28-17-12-46

It’s a shame they’re all terrible apart from the default one, but it’s nice that the choice is there.

There are also some pretty useful features tucked away in Smart Settings:

Screenshot_2015-04-28-17-14-07

Turning WiFi on when I get in range of home is something I have to use Tasker for on most phones, so that’s a really thoughtful inclusion.

Overall

Having absolutely loved the LG G3 and G-Flex 2, I was really excited about this phone. I had every expectation of wanting to snap up a Ceramic White model and take it home with me. But I was disappointingly underwhelmed at the launch event. There’s not much to talk about on the G4 unless you’re a photographer or have a thing for leather – the battery and screen would be talking points on another phone, but they’re just too similar to the last iteration to feel new (HTC feels your pain, LG). The camera is excellent, but so is the S6‘s, and this one feels too geared towards a niche market. Where’s the mainstream appeal?

Maybe I’ll feel differently when I’ve had more time with the phone, but my current feeling is that the LG G4 is an ugly phone sorely lacking a point of difference.

In short? Needs more cowbell.

The LG G4 will be released in the UK on the 28th of May, priced at £500 for the plastic version, or £525 for leather. In the meantime, LG should be announcing soon how to get one of the 4,000 test-drive units they’re lending to consumers.

Holly Brockwell

12 comments

  • I got to say the editor needs to leave personal impressions at the door, and be a little more objective.

    Calling the leather “hideous” is really a personal call. I think its the best leather trim I’ve seen.
    And asking what vegetables they used in the tanning prosses was hilarious. Vegetable tanning referse to the process of making leather soft and mailable for use in the leather goods and stitching.
    Today vegetable fibers, proteins, and acids are used instead of animal brains. Perhaps the author was thinking they use beets to get the red color.

    And its not “photographiles” they are called photogs.

    Get a clue. Other than that nice review. And the LG G4 is looking to be a winner.

    • She didn’t come across as being too clever in the clip I saw of her on the BBC site either. She made herself look dippy and not all that clued up on technology.

      As for “….and a 64-bit processor, it should still last longer than its predecessor.” – showing her lack of knowledge. Why exactly should 64bit mean that the chip uses less power than a 32bit processor??! That’s like expecting a car with a 4 litre engine to have better fuel economy than a car with a 2 litre engine. Yes, power efficiency will improve with newer technology, but it’s a much more powerful chip too.

      Plus, too much personal opinions and trying to be funny. She’s supposed to be a tech journalist, not a bad comedian..

      I was far more impressed with the phone than I was with her. :-D

      • I thought 64 bit processor are more efficient and therefore improve battery life compared to a 32 bit one?

        • Not necessarily. Newer processors (newer technology) are more energy efficient, but the energy savings can be cancelled out by the faster clock speeds and running the 64 bit bus instead of the 32 bit bus, and about a hundred other variables in manufacture of the chips, such as the size of the individual transistors, and the design of the IC. It’s a bit more complicated than saying 64bit chips are more energy efficient lol

          • Like I said, there’s more to it than just the design of the chip. Clock speeds, manufacturing processes etc. You need to compare one specific chip to another specific chip to determine anything meaningful. You can’t make generalisations. And anyway, the SOC is just one part of the phone. There are plenty of other things that determine battery life too, such as the screen technology and resolution, and the efficiency of all the connectivity chips for Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, etc etc..

          • So all things be equal it is not possible for a 64 bit processor like the latest Exynos to be more energy efficient than the older 32 bit version? And one of the design goal for the 64 bit Exynos was not energy efficiency?

          • Put it this way. I’ve got a G2. The battery life on the G2 is well known to be incredible. I get almost double the screen on time per charge than I got with my last phone, a galaxy S4. Anyways, the LG G3 doesn’t have anything like as good battery life as the G2, you can confirm this on many websites that have done tests. Why is this? The new G3 has a newer processor than the G2. But it’s also more powerful, so overall it uses more power. Plus it’s got the quad HD screen that sucks power. There’s far too many variables to just look at specs on a piece of paper (or website!) and decide which phone should have a longer battery life.

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