The LG G4 – the best Android smartphone of 2015?

Smartphones are not only getting smarter, they’re also getting bigger. It was only a couple of years ago that my old iPhone 4S felt like a premier device that could do almost anything. Now, after spending a lot of time using a Nexus 5, the diminutive iOS handset seems more like something out of Zoolander than a phone that grown ups can use.

Zoolander

Of course Android phones were the first to make the leap into larger forms, with most of the top models for the past few years dwarfing Apple’s offerings. Samsung even introduced a new category of device with its Note range, causing the creation of a word the world could truly do without – the Phablet. What was wrong with the Tahone? It sounded far more exotic and less like a marital aid, but them’s the breaks.

Now LG has recently updated its flagship range with the new G4, a powerhouse device with many excellent features…but, has the craze for size actually hampered this design?

Having spent the last eighteen months using a Nexus 5 as my daily driver, I’m not one to eschew the delights of a bigger handset. Admittedly it did take a little getting used to initially, but now I’d regard the 5″ device as probably the optimum size. It’s big enough to enjoy the web, videos, and reading, but not so much that you can’t reach anything on the screen or feel like you’re holding a tea tray to your head when you make a phone call. Important stuff.

Nexus 5 & LG G4
Nexus 5 & LG G4

The LG G4 comes in at 5.5″, which might not sound like much, but actually makes quite a difference. In the hand it’s heavy, although not uncomfortably so. The body and screen are gently curved, which does make it sit well in your palm, but on this Korean model I reviewed the current genius trend for making expensive, mainly glass devices, incredibly slippy is in full force. For the first few days I was terrified of the G4 leaping from my grasp at any moment, so much so that I avoided taking it out of my pocket if I was walking down the street. Those who live in plush, green fields, or never leave the confines of a deeply carpeted house, will avoid these stressful issues, although static electricity could become an issue in the latter. LG does offer a leather backed version, which would certainly go a long way to solving this issue, but if you opt for a more standard model you’re definitely going to need a case, or at least some sedatives to avoid a heart attack.

While you can use the G4 one handed, it’s not really ideal. The reach is just too big for my average sized hands even with Android’s sensible placement of navigation buttons. To compensate for the larger frame LG has once again opted to place the power and volume buttons directly on the back of the unit rather than the side, just like on the G3. While this does make them easier to reach, it also makes them impossible to see, and I found myself feeling around for them unsuccessfully on more than one occasion. Maybe with more time you would get used to it, but for now I find it somewhat awkward.

Buttons on the back
Buttons on the back

LG has skinned Android on the G4, but it’s nowhere near as aggressive as Samsung or HTC’s offerings. The icons, settings, and general feel is clean and light, with a recognisably Android feel. Swiping left from the home-screen reveals a news stream app, rather than the Google Now page that is so useful on stock Android. Of course the Google Now launcher is freely available, and I did download it to regain my purist badge, but it’s only applicable to the top layer, as the drop down settings menus still remain the LG defaults. That’s not to say they’re bad, not at all, and after using the handset for a week or so I was whizzing around like a native. One excellent feature I liked was the tap to wake function, in which you simply double tap the screen and it will act as if you’ve pressed the power button. It worked for me about 70% of the time and was an easy way to quickly check notifications and even the time without picking up the device.

The LG user interface
The LG user interface

So, the screen’s too big, it’s too heavy, slippy, and the UI isn’t as good as it could be. Surely that’s a pretty damning opinion of the G4?

Well, no.

You see many of those objections are down to personal preference, clouded by my love of Google’s Android UI. If you want a larger phone but don’t quite want the step up to phablet territory, then the G4 is a very impressive unit. The display is bright, crisp, and is a fine place to watch YouTube or surf the web. Touch responses are accurate, and the whole interactive experience is fast, smooth, and easy to use.

Battery life is fantastic. On my Nexus 5 I usually finish the day with about 20% remaining, less if I’ve used it heavily that day. For the couple of weeks with the G4 I hardly ever got below 50%. The one time I managed to drain it involved travelling all day, making a few calls, moving between wi-fi antennas (always a drain on a battery) and taking about one hundred photographs in a dark room. Even then I still got home at around 1am with 5% left.

Very, very good.

Oh, and the battery is removable, so if you do manage to burn through it, you can always pop in another. While you’re at it, slap an SD card in there so you can take even more photos.

The camera, though, is the prime reason for buying a G4. It really is about as good as it gets on mobile phones at the moment. Using the device at a gig, with the usual challenges that low lighting and fast moving subjects presents, I still managed to get some really decent shots. This is mainly down to the extensive manual mode that the G4 offers. I even used the digital zoom, which on most units returns awful results, and snapped a couple of cool atmospheric images. Seriously, this camera is brilliant.

20150606_215855

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At full zoom, in changing stage lighting, and with the subjects moving.
At full zoom, in changing stage lighting, and with the subjects moving.

Verdict

The LG G4 is an excellent, premium smartphone that delivers pretty much anything you want from an Android device. It’s powerful, fast, has a lovely display, and that camera, oh yes.

It surprises me then that I just don’t feel much love for it. I think the size feels too big to be truly comfortable in my hands, and while the UI is snappy and well laid out, it’s not as simple as a Nexus. I had hoped to upgrade to this model from my Nexus 5, which of course was made by LG, but I think I’ll hold onto that model for a little longer yet.

These are just personal gripes though. The G4 will be an incredible phone for most people and should certainly be at the very top of the list for anyone who wants a larger handset. Prices seem to be less than iPhones and Samsung G6s at the moment, and for the money I think you’d be getting a real bargain.

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