The LG G4: First Impressions

(Warning TL:DR)

Since the announcement of the Nexus 6 left me without a new phone to upgrade to, due to its size, I have been searching for my next phone. My requirements weren’t too grandiose, I felt. I waited and I waited. I will admit I was tempted by the Samsung S6 but the capacitive buttons were one compromise too far for me.

When the leaked mini site for the G4 came to light I immediately knew I had found my next device, despite the 5.5” QHD display, I wanted 5.2” max and FHD, and the lack of Qi charging out of the box it ticked almost all of my other boxes and the leather back simply looked stunning. The software was a concern for me as I am a ‘Stock’ fan coming of a fairly long line of Nexus (4, 5), GPE (M7) or Moto (G) devices but convinced nothing better was around the corner and being unwilling to stay with the Moto G any longer than necessary I decided to jump over to the G4.

Well after a few days with LG’s latest and greatest the G4 I can at least confirm that I am happy today.

For reference I got a LG G4 H815T from Hong Kong with the black leather back (and a spare goldish silver one I’m not using). It is running on Telstra’s 4G network.


Hardware:

look and feel

As you would expect from any 2015 flagship the LG has a nice hand feel. The front panel is a single slab of slightly curved glass with a nicely rounded and integrated metal finish plastic surround, it is adorned by a single LG logo at the bottom and a speaker, camera, notification LED and a sensor pack at the top. The sides are almost comply unobstructed the whole 360 degrees around, thanks to the rear buttons, with only the USB micro and headphones at the bottom and a small finger hook for the removable back cover at the bottom right, on the top is an almost unperceivable microphone hole and a IR LED. On the rear the stitched leather back, which does feel a little “plasticy” to me, is interrupted by the rear camera pod, which is ever so slightly raised, the power and volume buttons, LED flash, laser focus sensor, rear mounted speaker (more on this later) and a nicely embossed G4 logo.

The subtle curve to the screen is visually noticeable from a “hey something looks different” perspective but is still subtle and it definitely adds to the majesticness of the device. The plastic metal look sides are crisp, smooth and look excellent but longevity is my concern. I will be housing this in a bumper. As mentioned the leather is a little plasticy (in my opinion) to the feel, compared to say my wallet, couch or shoes but it is still one of the nicest, if not the nicest, materials I have ever felt adorning a phone. I will be very interested to try the brown leather when I can pick one up in Australia. I am a leather phone convert.

From a size perspective it’s a little big for me. When navigating one handed my sizable hands can’t reach the upper corners, and when gripping the device I can’t “wrap” my hand around it. It can be a little disconcerting and in my short time with it I have noticed that this causes me to clamp on to it very tightly, which in turn puts “pressure” on the parts of my hand touching it. Not a big deal or a deal breaker.

Overall LG has pieced together a very nice light feeling device.

Camera:

The camera is everything I hope it would be. It’s not perfect, not every shot is a master piece but it gets it right more often than not and far more often than any Android or iOS device I have ever used. Launch to shooting is normally quick but on several occasions I have had a perceivable lag in the shutter button becoming pressable for the first shot. For those wanting a wide selection of settings the LG camera app has a lot to offer with selfie, panorama, rapid shot, full manual modes and even voice shutter controls. There is a lot in the camera app and I haven’t really jumped in yet.
I also haven’t tried out the G4 with the Google stock camera app or other 3rd part apps. I will eventually get around to experimenting to see how much of the magic is the sensor and ROM and how much might be in the app.

HDR on

I used to avoid taking photos with my phone because invariably they would be no good, but now with the G4, and the improved Google Photos app, I find myself wanting to take more and more pictures. When I do take pictures it’s more often than not of fast moving little people and the G4 is routinely giving me a few usable playground shots of my daughter that I would never have dreamed of getting before (it doesn’t like massive changes in local length i.e. running towards the camera). I can only imagine what you could do with this camera if you spent the time to learn how to use it and compose the shots more than my parental/ family point and shot style. I did have massive issues taking images outside in a mixed light situation so I need to experiment with it a bit to learn how to get the most out of it.

One issue is the camera quick launcher (double press on volume down), I find this very hit and miss to wake the phone and open to the camera (I turned off take a photo on wake) from “deep sleep”. From the lock screen it works a charm but only about 10% of the time does it work from a completely off state.

The camera is still a win, hands down best smart phone camera I have ever used.

Speaker:

It’s not all beer and skittles as they say. While I haven’t missed any calls or notifications yet (due to the rear speaker) for media playback and gaming (I’m binge playing the new Hitman: Sniper atm) without headphones I find myself repeating old behaviours. How many of you know the phone grip where you use your fingers and palm to “direct” the sound from a rear speaker around your hand and back to your ears? Well after about 3 seconds of playing media I instinctively found myself returning to this hold.
Sure its loud enough for normal use and for my ears the sound quality is acceptable but I have defiantly decided that stereo front facing speakers are one of those once you have tried it nothing else will ever be good enough again features/ specs. Having used the M7 and Moto G, both with front facing speakers, using the G4s rear speaker is a lesser experience and I’m aware of it.

Everything else

Whilst I won’t be waxing poetically about the rear buttons on the G4 they are serviceable, I may still be learning to use them but I often have to flick my finger back and forth to find the right button. However double tap on the home screen to wake is one of those features that I must simply have from this point forward. I also find that the tap to wake is a little temperamental but it works 90% of the time first time, I must be doing it wrong the other 10%!

The back is easy to remove and I have dropped a 64 GB Toshiba SD card into it to hold all of my music and anything else I want to move over as time progresses.

I have ordered a replacement Qi/ NFC antenna/ receiver for the G4 and am anxiously waiting to see if I can reinstate my beloved Qi charging to the G4, if I can I’m off to the 3D printer to make a bunch of custom bits and bobs, thanks .

Battery

Whilst I haven’t run any scientific tests my real world usage has come up a little short of what I would have wanted. With WiFi, Bluetooth and location on 24/7 and an average of 2 hours screen on and 2 hours of podcasts a day I am getting about 10 -12 hours out of a full charge. As a result the phone rarely lasts me from the time I leave for work until I get home without a top up.

On non work days it does seem to last longer which could be due to reduced podcast listening, latter time off charge, higher WiFi availability or another factor I haven't identified. In the end I am currently in a place where I am now actively looking to charge my phone when its convenient to ensure I’m never caught short.

Display

To be honest it wasn’t until writing this that I even remember it had a QHD display, I am obviously not noticing any real world usage difference. The adaptive brightness works well, and I’ve never had an issue with it not being bright enough so far. Perhaps a little darker in a dark room would be nice but it’s not a big deal.

That said when paying attention to images captured on the phone the picture jumps with brilliant colours and detail.


Software

I can’t really comment on the pure LG experience because within 60 minutes of my unboxing I had: installed Nova Prime, Today calendar, Gmail exchange server patch, VLC, SwiftKey, the Google Contacts, Clock and a Lollipop calculator. I was unable to replace the dialler which vexes me terribly, I find LGs dialler and contacts sluggish and the colour theme unpleasing, this is more likely a reflection of my preference for stock than any specific failing in LG’s behalf.
So for the device I’m using I really see 3 main UI components from LG: the lock screen, the notification shade and the settings menu.

Lock Screen

The lock screen works exactly as I would want it to, all of my notifications are present (with security options for those who want them), and I have yet to meet a notification I couldn’t interact with appropriately. The lock screen is also the home on one of LG’s little improvements, I have been able to customise the lock screen to allow the quick launch of 5 of my most used apps/functions: Phone, Hangouts, Google Search, Pocketcasts and the camera, and of course simple unlock to home screen.
I view this as I view Nova Prime, its stock plus, it has all of the look and functionality I want from stock plus customisation that I can choose to use or not, this is a nice improvement LG has made and I will miss it if my next device doesn’t have it.

Notification shade

For many years I have used “Power Toggles” to inject my most used shortcuts to the top of my notification shade. With the LG shade I no longer need it, it is another nice touch over stock ROMs. I have been able to customise the shortcuts to present me with all the functionality I want, in the order I want it. If I had any complaint it would be that 1. It takes up a little too much space and 2. for the 2 functions LG has decided to provide sliders for (volume and brightness) there is no toggle option if you would prefer that. If you get a lot of notifications it can be a little janky to navigate but again I think I just have to learn how to use it.
I think I would still prefer the single pull down for notification and a double pull down for quick actions and notifications combined but even as it is I am liking it. Google certainly needs to improve its customisation of quick actions to keep up with the OEMs.

Settings

Without a doubt the first thing you’re going to want to do is hit the 3 dot overflow menu and switch to the “list view”. This makes it more familiar, easier to find things and more visually appealing.
Once this is done it is just as serviceable as any other phone settings I have used. I don’t profess to have memorised the stock layout anyway so the amount of seek and peeking on settings hasn’t changed for me. Any comments re the menu would again just reflect my preference to a familiar stock look, I haven’t found anything marvelous or horrible in there.

Volumes, notifications, muting and vibration

I was never a fan of the full implementation of Google's priority notifications. For me I have occasions where I want the phone on silent but my Wear device and phone to still vibrate for notifications, achieving this was a pain in the backside on 5.x stock devices I had. LG has managed to both improve and complicate this some, and once more this is another I need to spend more time with it feature.

LG has included both notification priority toggles and settings and a “mute to vibrate” toggle and setting. So now when I’m in a meeting I can mute the sound and keep the vibrations coming, my issue has been at bed time. If I set the device to volume mute and vibrate on (there is no option for vibrate off) my phone rattles away on my bedside as notifications roll in and I get the inevitable “what was that” from my wife. However if I set it to Priority only it still seems to still play system noises such as going on charging. I still need to experiment what noise come through. I have found myself setting it to both priority only and vibrate and thus far this has worked but then my priority list of phone numbers won’t be able to call through to me in “emergencies”.

I have also tried to automate this using the inbuilt “downtime” feature but am still trying to figure out if its working (mainly due to the system sounds still playing and that it doesn’t display the priority icon when active). I have set up an IFTTT for auto muting and unmuting my volume to coincide with the downtime but this also seems inconsistent in its effect so more experimenting will be needed.

Overall I like having mute with vibrate back and I am also willing to learn that my issues with getting nocturnal notifications working is a wetware issue. However if it has taken me 5 nights to not solve it perhaps it’s not intuitive to automate.

Speed and performance

I don’t run benchmarks, I don’t care about throttling or thermal dynamics, I care about how it feels to use. From that perspective I haven’t noticed any lag, stutter or jank. Some apps load slower than others but from my looking at the slower apps they are all actively hitting a server immediately upon opening and it is actually my internet speed/ server response time that is causing the “slowness”.

I conducted a few app races between the G4, Moto G and Note 8 and in every “race” the G4 (unsurprisingly) won from completely shut down app to ready to use. Make of that what you will. For me thus far it has been a smooth and enjoyable transition from the often slow and infuriating Moto G.


Overall

The LG G4 has both confirmed some of my previous _“must have”_ specs and features as well as added some new ones. I can say for certain that the *“perfect”* Android Device for me would have: 5.2” max screen, G4 class camera, tap to wake, customisable lock screen and quick settings, stereo front facing speakers and the list goes on. I also would note that I truly hope that leather on phones becomes an ongoing thing, it is far superior to plastic, glass or metal in my opinion, it’s a match made in techno-heaven impact resistant and premium quality.

There is a lot to this device, and certainly a lot from the original LG software perspective, I haven’t looked at thus far. That said this is without a doubt the best device I have ever owned or used. Now will it stand the test of time? Will it reveal issues, quirks or annoyances in the coming weeks/ months as the glow of newness subsides and the cold had reality of using it emerges? I don’t know, but I do know that it is a well build, zippy and pleasing device to use today, in a word I am finding it Majestic.

Pros:

Looks and feels great, especially the leather
Great camera
Quick lag free performance
That camera

Cons:

Rear facing speaker
Plastic bezel
5.5” is a little too big

Undecided

The software

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