With so many Android phones that all essentially do the same thing, it can be tough to make a device that stands out.
Still, LG is giving that a try with its latest flagship phone, the LG G4. With the classy, subtle fabric-like pattern around the screen, the new G4 is a handsome device at first glance. It also has an incredibly sharp screen and fast internal components.
Looks and specs aside, the G4 still suffers from the same big problem you see in a lot of Android phones: The software is bloated and complicated, which makes it tough to recommend the $US600 phone over a lot of the competition.
However, it does offer a few bonuses like removeable storage and a memory card slot, two features a lot of rivals are starting to abandon in their devices.
Design and hardware
The power/sleep and volume buttons on the G4 are on the back just under the camera, but there’s no real reason why they’re there, as it doesn’t make those buttons more accessible. It’s merely a different way of doing things and can be awkward to use.
The phone, including the screen, is also slightly curved towards you from top to bottom, which makes the G4 a little more comfortable to hold than traditional phones. Otherwise, it doesn’t offer any benefits in terms of viewing angles.
Then you get to the G4’s back.
The model I tested came with a white plastic back, which the company calls “ceramic craft.” There is nothing about this white plastic back that suggests ceramic or craft. It’s a cheap plastic back with a subtle raised diamond pattern.
Other back options include a “metallic grey” plastic back, and genuine brown and black leather options with stitching going up the middle that costs about $US50 more.
However, the backs are removable, which means you can switch out the battery with a fresh pack and expand the storage for music, photos, and files with a microSD card. Removable batteries and expandable storage are important features for a large group of users, even though many Android phones have started ditching those features lately.
Still, it means that there’s little to differentiate the flagship G4 from a mid-range device when it comes to design if you get the plastic versions. And despite the lack of premium materials (unless you get the leather options), the G4 still costs about as much (around $US600 from most carriers off-contract) as devices that look and feel more premium, like the Galaxy S6, HTC One M9, and iPhone 6.
What it’s like using the G4
The G4 runs the latest version of Android (5.1) with a heavy LG “skin” on top that’s overly colourful. If you swipe left, you’ll find LG’s Bulletin feature, which is a useful hub for you calendar, music controls, LG’s Health app, and even a remote for devices like a TV, cable box, audio setups, and projectors. Also, LG’s skin lets you tap your screen to wake it from sleep.
Overall, the G4 is snappy and works great, but so do a lot of cheaper Android phones, most of which cost half as much, and some look and feel more premium than the G4.
The reason why you’d buy a G4 over a mid-range device is its excellent camera. It takes fantastic pictures with accurate colours that rivals the Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6’s cameras, and it beats them in some cases.
My Verizon test unit was laden with apps and other so-called bloatware that no one wants, like Cookie Jam, Empire, Hotels.com, and Panda Pop. It also came with a range of Amazon apps, LG’s own apps, and Verizon apps. That means you have to juggle multiple apps that do the same thing, like the three preinstalled apps for messaging. In this case, the G4 represents everything that’s wrong with Android devices, where all three parties involved in making a phone are competing for your usage.
You can uninstall some of this bloatware, but not all of it, and it’s frustrating.
For example, the G4 comes with an NFL app that you can’t uninstall and constantly sends you news notifications, which is obnoxious. You can disable those notifications, but why am I forced to have this app on my phone, especially when I don’t like football?
Overall, the G4 is a good phone, but it’s difficult to recommend when it costs about as much as other flagship devices that look and feel much more premium and the software is so bloated. The only thing really going for it is its camera, which doesn’t particularly stand out from the other flagships, either. (The Samsung Galaxy S6 camera is slightly better.)
But if you’re part of the crowd that wants the latest flagship with a removable back so you can change out batteries and expand storage for music and photos, the G4 is a solid bet.
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