First impressions of the LG G4 from the London launch event

A converted church, complete with stained glass windows, proved to be a fitting venue to launch a smartphone with more then the usual amount of elegance. The optional leather back cover and the gorgeous display on the brand new LG G4 were shown off well and credit to LG for having everything to hand (apart from working wi-fi, but then this never works at events, so….!), from refreshments to copious demo units to filming areas to staff to help out. Very well done. But on with the device itself…

Site
ONE Marylebone, site of the LG G4 launch….

Helpfully, LG assumed that, rather than rehash all the stuff that all Android phones can do, it was better to concentrate on what’s actually new for the G4. Over and above the G3, but also over and above the competition, on the whole. This boiled down to:

A better screen

Quantum
The ‘Quantum’ screen

IPS LCD screens have been evolving steadily over the last five years and this was one of the best. I’m not sure about ‘Quantum’ as a term, but LG claimed more accurate colours from a wider spectrum, higher brightness (per unit of power) and higher contrast, for better outdoor visibility. Inside, at the event, the screens looked muted by default, with auto-brightness turned on, but cranking things up manually revealed that the display will go very bright indeed.

A better camera

Camera improvements
Bigger aperture, bigger sensor….

Cameras remain one of the differentiators in smartphones. Which is why it’s ironic that those in the top devices are getting very similar, all with 1/2.6″ (or so) sensors, F/1.8 apertures (or so) and Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), with LG claiming up to two degrees of angular correction for the latter, and with 3-axis compensation, rivalling the best OIS from Nokia, pioneers of smartphone stabilisation.

Camera
Up close with the G4 camera module….

In addition to market leading stats above, the G4’s camera is also aided by an innovative ‘colour spectrum sensor’, mounted just below the single LED flash on the back – this samples the colour and light levels from both the main subject and the overall frame and then adjusts the white balance accordingly, an approach which should be more accurate than simply monitoring content in the viewfinder.

My tests, limited at the event of course, were pretty conclusive that the G4’s camera is right up at the top end and comparable to the Galaxy S6/S6 Edge and maybe beyond. Here’s part of a shot I took of a camera rig in almost complete darkness. Without flash. I was stunned:

Sample photo
An extreme low light shot that turned out to be stunningly detailed. A VERY impressive phone camera in the G4…..

Time will tell, of course, there’s only so much you can tell from event camera test shots. Watch this space for a full review on AndroidBeat and on The Phones Show.

Optional leather backs

leather1
Introducing leather

One of the more controversial aspects of the G4, though do note that this is strictly optional (and costs extra) – there are plenty of plastic and ceramic back cover alternatives. The leather is very thin and glued to a plastic sheet in a manner reminiscent of those faux-leather backs for older Samsungs. I’m being a little unkind, since this is real leather and finished well – the feel in the hand is certainly premium and I loved the burgundy colour being shown off on the stands.

Colours
Some of the range of leather colour options…
leather2
Up close with the brown version, showing the quality stitching. The leather back is reckoned to be about £20 extra.

Replaceable high capacity battery and microSD expansion

microSD
MicroSD expansion!!

With Samsung changing the habit of a lifetime and switching its flagships to iPhone-like sealed battery and sealed storage designs, there are a lot of Android enthusiasts who will be extremely glad to see that the G4’s back peels off to reveal a replaceable 3000mAh battery and microSD expansion.

Battery
Announcing a large and removable battery! You could almost hear the cheers in the room. Or maybe that was just me….

This, in addition to the other benefits and being quite a bit cheaper, should give the G4 the edge in many markets – it certainly caught my eye.

Back off
With the G4’s back off, showing battery and slots….

The microSD slot is stacked above that for a micro-SIM – it’s a touch fiddly, but does work, though you do have to take the battery out first, so there’s no ‘hot swapping’ of either. Once the back’s back on, the G4 felt very solid, with no creaks, and you wouldn’t know it wasn’t a sealed design.

You can see the speaker in the image above, by the way. I tested this and found it a little tinny by recent competitor standards – and, of course, it’s mono. One area where the G4 is lagging a little behind, perhaps, but then space is saved on the front and bezels can be manageably thin….

Here’s the G4, side by side with Microsoft’s latest phablet, the 5.7″-screened Lumia 640 XL, to give you an idea of size.

G4 etc
Lumia 640 XL and LG G4, side by side for comparison. One a phablet, the other a phone?

In the hand, the LG G4 didn’t feel like a phablet though – I could wrap my hand around the phone, always a sign of something which will stay in the hand rather than get dropped.

S6E
Side by side with the Galaxy S6 Edge, there didn’t seem to be that much in it, size-wise, despite the G4’s larger display….

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There was mention – briefly – of tweaks to the LG UI (dubbed 4.0), including ‘Event Pocket’ in Calendar, improvements to ‘Smart Notice’ on the homescreen and better image navigation in Gallery. Much of this will need a review device to try out, of course, with one’s own data and settings.

Smart
Improvements to LG’s Google Now-like notification widget….
event
Event Pocket

Overall

The G4 is expected to cost around £500 including VAT in the UK, depending on outlet. At this price it undercuts the Samsung Galaxy S6 by a good £100 and, all things being equal in terms of marketing, should steal something of a march on its big rival. Maybe Samsung will slash the S6’s price to match?