Hands on: LG G4

Hands on: Buttery leather and a brilliant screen bring LG's G4 to new heights

Luxurious real-leather backs and an extraordinarily vibrant screen provide tangible upgrades that really pop on LG’s latest flagship smartphone.

Samsung and HTC have wheeled out their big guns, and now it’s LG’s turn. The LG G4 picks up right where the G3 left off, but adds a luxurious real-leather back, quantum-dot technology at work in the screen for improved color, a major camera upgrade, and more.

We took a quick look at the G4 during a briefing in New York and came away impressed with LG’s latest flagship. Here are our first impressions of the LG G4.

Just a little curve

At first glance, the G4 doesn’t look too different from the G3. It has the same 5.5-inch screen trimmed by a thin bexel, and the same signature power and volume buttons centered on the back of the phone, beneath the camera sensor. But look more closely at the G4, and you’ll notice the slight curve of its body, which makes it nestle more comfortably into your palm. Although the G4 isn’t nearly as sharply curved as the G Flex 2, it does have a slight bend to it.

The thickness varies from 6.3mm at its narrowest point, to 9.8mm at its thickest point in the center. That makes it slightly thicker than its increasingly slimmer competitors, but still quite light at just 156 grams.

Luxurious leather

The biggest upgrade comes from premium new materials, most notably an optional, vegetable-tanned leather back. This is no pleather like the kind we saw on some of Samsung’s earlier phones. LG claims it’s using the same grade of leather and the same tanning process used by major fashion brands to make leather handbags. The leather has been treated to withstand water, stains, and scratches, and LG claims it will grow more beautiful with age, which anyone with quality leather goods can attest to.

The shade of red didn’t have the orangey-yellow cast you often see from reds on smartphone screens.

In person, it felt incredibly smooth to the touch; not at all like plastic or rubber, as poorly made leather goods often feel. We loved the caramel color, and the stitching up the center of the back adds a classy detail reminiscent of high-quality watch bands. Despite reservations about real leather on a phone, LG’s execution left us impressed.

Of course, LG knows that some people are going to hate the leather back, so it also offers plastic backs with either a metallic or ceramic-like feel. We got a closer look at the metallic back, which sports a cool, reflective diamond pattern, in lieu of the standard brushed metallic look of last year’s G3.

Quantum color

The G4 is the first-ever phone with a “Quantum” Quad HD screen, which LG promises will offer superior contrast, more accurate color representation – especially with the blues and reds in images, and increased brightness, all while consuming less energy. It’s the same quantum-dot technology many TV manufacturers are incorporating into their latest flagship displays. Explaining how it works gets complicated, but suffice it to say, the screen looks gorgeous.

LG G4
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

The screen is virtually the same size (5.5 inches) and resolution (2,560 x 1,440) as last year, but LG’s new Quantum technology appears to bring colors to the next level. We saw a picture of strawberries on the G4, the Samsung Galaxy S6, and the iPhone 6 Plus, and the G4 undoubtedly reproduced the reds more accurately. The shade of red was richer, deeper, and didn’t have the orangey-yellow cast you often see from reds on smartphone screens. For owners who watch videos on their phones all the time, the Quantum tech could make a significant difference, but we’ll have to do more testing to say for sure.

Stepping back to stay cool

Remember all those rumors about Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 processor overheating? Well, based on our toasty experience with the HTC One M9, there may be merit to the claim, and LG’s decision to put a Snapdragon 808 in the G4 all but confirms it. Despite explicitly saying that it had no problem with the 810 earlier in the year, it seems likely that overheating was a real concern for LG. The company claims it worked closely with Qualcomm on the 808, and that the 808 is the superior processor, no matter what the numbers say.

Obviously, we’ll have to test it in more detail to pass any judgment, but in our limited testing, the G4 seemed to handle tasks just fine and didn’t overheat. The processor is also backed by 3GB of RAM, which should make for a pretty powerful device.

LG offers 32GB of built-in storage, but unlike Samsung, it’s keeping the MicroSD card slot around, so that you can expand the memory, if need be. Rounding out the technical specs is a 3,000mAh battery, which LG says is good for 19.6 hours of 3G talk time. We’ll let you know how it fares in testing.

The software is mostly stock Android 5.0 Lollipop, but LG has added a few of its own features as usual, with which owners of the G3 will be quite familiar.

Big camera upgrades

LG has always boasted about its cameras, and almost every year it comes up with an intriguing new upgrade for them. The G4’s new feature is a spectrum color sensor, which sits right below the flash and promises to improve white balance, detect lighting conditions, and adjust the colors in the photo intelligently. It works alongside a 16-megapixel camera sensor with an f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization (OIS) technology.

LG G4

Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

LG says the upgraded camera should make for better photos in low-light and more accurate color reproduction. A new manual mode will also let professional photographers adjust ISO, white balance, exposure, shutter speed, and other metrics as they see fit. We’ll have to do more extensive testing to see whether the camera lives up LG’s expectations, but from what we saw, it looks pretty great.

For selfie-takers, there’s also an 8-megapixel front-facing camera that can be controlled with the same gesture that we saw on the G3. This time, the camera will take four selfies, though, to ensure that you get at least one great shot.

Conclusion

Overall, LG’s G4 looks to be a fiercely competitive flagship in a sea of great flagships. The intriguing new screen technology, innovative color spectrum sensor, and other photographic improvements will certainly make the G4 stand out. Since many of the technologies LG is using are relative unknowns, we’ll need to test them out before we can say whether it’s worth the upgrade.

Highs

  • Gorgeous Quad HD screen with “Quantum” tech
  • High-end design with multiple options
  • Near-stock Android experience
  • Improved camera technology

Lows

  • Leather and plastic back covers may not appeal to all
  • Not water-resistant
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