Update: with a new low price and Android Marshmallow incoming, how much more impressive is this top-end phone from LG?
LG is on something of a comeback trail - the brand that killed it in the feature phone market, then fell apart when smartphone became 'a thing', is now starting to show signs it can be a front runner again.
The LG G4 is the result of years of forward momentum, combining the insane sort of specs we're used to seeing from the Asian manufacturers with a recognised brand and decent attempt to create a usable user experience.
But the last few flagship 'G' phones have had one thing in common: loads of good bits, but a slightly uneven finish. It's lacked the final polish that would have made it a market leader, but usually combined it with a cheaper price and therefore evened out the equation.
The LG G4 does a few things differently though. This time the brand has aimed for elements the user will actually want: longer battery life, improved camera and upgraded screen, and combined them with a slightly outlandish design: covering the thing in a leather coat that's certainly something the rest of the market hasn't seen yet.
One of the early sticking points I had with this phone was the price - it came at a 'normal' level, rivalling the iPhone and Galaxy flagships pound for pound. That's now dropped massively to make it, once again, one of the cheapest and most attractive top-end handsets in price terms.
In the UK this phone retails for around £300 (around $460, AU$640), which is much less than the Galaxy S6, even though that one has had some nifty price cuts as well.
I'm not sure what LG is doing with the G4. There are two options on offer, and I've been testing both. The first is a leather back, and the one that LG is pushing as the 'premium' model, and the latter is the polycarbonate version with a diamond effect.
It's attractive enough, and has the same brushed metal effect as last year, but lacks anything like the 'wow' factor LG is going for with the leather option.
Let's start with leather (on a separate note: a dangerous statement for a first date). I'm really disappointed with what LG has done here. It's too thinly stretched over the back of the phone to be considered premium, and when you're fighting against the beauty of the HTC One M9, it's a real misstep.
There are now two leather variants on the market, brown and black. The former looks more striking, but the latter feels a little more rugged, with a nicer experience in the hand. The leather doesn't feel as thin and stretched, for a start.
Leather could have been a good idea, if it had the same feel as an expensive wallet or watch strap. But the thin material used here almost feels plastic, not premium. The Moto X has a leather back option, and I know some people love it, but for many a leather back is a novelty, not a statement of wealth, luxury or quality.
And let's be honest: the leather back is just that, a back. One you can buy and clip on, rather than a part of the phone's design itself.
When it comes to the plastic version, the LG G4 doesn't feel as nice in the hand as the rest of the market's big hitters: the HTC One M9 has a really well-crafted finish, the iPhone 6 a lightweight ceramic feel that begs you to fondle it, and the Galaxy S6 has shown that Samsung's not completely inept when it comes to offering a phone made of metal and glass.
The LG, on the other hand, is all about being lightweight and ergonomic in the hand. The rear cover bulges out a little to curve into the palm, which is designed to make it nicer to hold and allow for a greater battery space (3000mAh, compared to the 2500mAh on offer in the Galaxy S6, for instance).
One of the big features LG is making a big deal of is the fact said battery is removable, which explains the need for a plastic cover (easier to remove and less likely to break than a metal choice).
I'm not sold on the need to have removable battery. I know some people love the safety it brings, the idea that you can carry around a spare, but in reality I'd rather use one of the battery packs I've become accustomed to slinging in my bag - plus they're universal.
Making a battery removable does have the added benefit of letting you change it out if the power pack starts playing up a year and a half into your two year contract, but it comes at the cost of design. There's a reason the S6, One M9, iPhone 6 and Sony Xperia Z3 all look better than the G4, and that's the fact they have unibody chassis.
I'm glad LG has offered this choice just so one of the market's big hitters is doing it, and if you're one of those that think the leather is equally as premium as metal, then this is a great feature to have (the cover also hides the microSD slot too).
But the lack of unibody has minimised the amount of battery space available and made a less attractive phone.
The phone itself is large without being TOO unwieldy. Yes, we've become used to having massive phones in our hands, but where the LG G3 was just on the edge of being too big, this 5.5-inch screened device has been curved and hewn to make it a little less sharp to use in the hand.
You'll still need to wriggle it around quite a lot to use it day to day, but given the trade-off gives you a phenomenal QHD screen, it's worth it. That display is slightly curved, but I've not seen a great deal of use for that in general use.
The rear keys are present again - one of LG's favourite design tweaks - meaning that there's very little buttonry around the phone. The rear keys are easy to find, have a pleasant ridged effect and are distinct from other elements of the phone. I came to love them on the LG G2 and still find them really nice now.
The only other thing to point out is the infra-red port on the top of the phone - it's slight and most will miss it (and I'd rather it was on the rear of the phone as it makes controlling the TV a little easier when the phone is held up) but it's good to see its presence continuing.
This is where LG first begins to flex its muscles: the display on the LG G4 is simply mind-blowing. I've often said that the screen on the phone is the thing most brands have to get right if there's any chance of making their phone a critical success among users, as it's the element most will use more than anything else.
However, while LG has a rich heritage in making impressive screens, it didn't use that power with the G3, making a darker screen that ticked the headline-making box of being the highest-res on the market.
This time around, the difference is quantum. Literally. The new Quantum IPS display on the LG G4 is really, really nice to look at, and vies for top spot with Samsung as the best on the market.
At 5.5-inches, it's not the easiest to navigate around with one hand... in fact, it's impossible. But what you get in return is a large display that displays everything amazingly well. The contrast ratio is the part that impresses me the most - it's almost as deep and rich as the Samsung Super AMOLED offering, which is really cool to see from an LCD.
The colours look rich and vibrant, which LG is talking up because it adheres to a more modern cinematic standard - the brand is all about making sure the buying public equates this phone to 'cinema quality' images.
It's an irrelevant point in practice, as it just means the colours are a little deeper, and the red especially are brighter than ever. There's a lot of science about how we all perceive different colours more strongly than others, but in reality it just means this is a very colourful screen.
I really miss the ability to tweak the settings up and down - I'm all for deep, rich and even over-saturated colours, but many hate that - and one of the big advantages Samsung has is the option to change the intensity of the screen.
The auto-brightness is a bit too aggressive though - at night you'll be struggling a little see the screen even when it's trying to intelligently match to your surroundings.
The other cool thing about the display is the 'Knock On' effect that allows you to wake the phone from sleep. It's really useful as it prevents the need of hunting around on the back of the phone for the power button.
It's such an intuitive way of opening the phone that I constantly do it on other handsets, irritated when it doesn't happen. It's not super accurate, sometimes needing a second to 'rest' before opening up, and the 'Knock Code' (meant to replace the PIN or swipe code method of security) is too fallible to be considered a really useful too.
Knock Code allows you to tap certain portions of the screen to create an invisible pattern that'll open your phone, but having used this for months I've never felt like it really works accurately all the time in the same way as the fingerprint scanner on the iPhones or the exceptionally speedy option on the Galaxy S6.
Some people swear by it though, so if you can settle on a code that's perfect for you and your tapping it's a nice option to have.
Last year, with the G3, LG brought out a more mature, flat and altogether less cartoonish interface than seen in previous mental splatterings for its user experience.
That option has been refined well again in the LG G4 - it's pretty colourful (in a pastel sort of way) but looks refined and takes Google's Material design language to present cleaner icons.
The notification bar in particular is cleaned up, with fewer things showing there when you're pulling the shade down to see what's happening in your world. Where before there were a million sliders and icons on here, there are fewer now so it's more usable.
Q Slide apps are still on there, and I still can't really find a reason to use them. In theory, the idea of being able to float a calculator or contacts list over the top of the screen, resizing as you go and reducing the opacity to see what's behind seems like a good idea.
It means I could be browsing something on the internet, suddenly need a calculator, and then not have to drop out of the app just to do my slick sums.
But even at 5.5-inches, there's not enough space for this. Every time I end up just opening the app full screen and then flicking between the two... I feel things like Q Slide just get in the way of what's good about the phone.
Actually, it's not super easy to flick between apps, as pressing the 'all running apps' button (a lovely minimalist square on the bottom set of navigation icons) takes a second to open, which is infuriating when this phone is supposed to have a powerful processor at the heart.
It's not as fast as I'd hoped either. The camera takes a couple of seconds to load from sleep (at least) and the homescreen rebuilds when you've used a couple of apps quickly, with the wallpaper, icons and widgets all disappearing to be flashed back up again - although now we're at retail software this is rare, and occurs less often than Samsung.
In practice, it's slightly slower at opening and shutting apps than the Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6, but ahead of the clunky HTC One M9 or Sony Xperia Z3.
Like the design, this is unbecoming of a phone that's supposed to be absolutely cutting edge.
Smart Notice was the big news from LG last year, with the phone able to tell you important things when you needed to know them, clue you in on the weather and generally be your fun-time buddy on the go.
It was rubbish.
Highlights included: 'FRIEND had a birthday today' and 'The shipping forecast for New York is...' - not exactly the cutting edge information we've all been waiting to hear.
This year things are a lot better though. While there were a friend / birthday incidents again, in just a few days there were many more instances where I got a lot of useful hints, with questions about adding frequent callers to my contacts and genuine insight into the weather, telling me it would be windy later that day and a coat would make a lot sense.
The left homescreen, where HTC houses Blinkfeed and Samsung its weird Flipboard info, is no longer just the pointless 'tutorial videos' that we saw last year. It's now myriad widgets for things like LG Health, a music player and updates to your calendar. It looks nice enough, but it's pretty useless unless you're using your phone to track your health.
I wouldn't recommend it though - you won't get accurate step data, and you'll need to keep adding bits and pieces to the app to work out how healthy you're being.
The rest of the widgets are fine, but I didn't find anything was particularly useful - the calendar and music widgets both appear contextually in the notification panel, and are more useful there.
It would be great if I could have things like a Spotify widget in there - or other options I want - but apart from Smart Settings (which open apps or start certain actions when you enter a certain zone or connect something to the phone) I barely used this panel at all.
Overall, I'd say LG has once again taken a massive step towards being seen as a relevant choice to being your next smartphone by making the user interface more mature and useful - like all brands, it's thrown in some 'differentiators' to help market the phone but you can turn off most of these, as they can obscure the good bits of the phone.
Once again, I'm confused by LG. I'm not sure what it's up to with the battery life of its flagship phone, as while it's got some decent specs on board, it doesn't last long enough - especially compared to how good this brand can be on battery life.
Here's how the battery will last over the course of a day: Getting up, spending 10-15 minutes messing about on the phone before deciding that it's a terrible way to start the day and...you know what? Emails can wait...will lead to an 8-10% battery drain (with brightness set to auto).
Then a ride to the station, Bluetooth music streaming, for about 10 minutes. The 45 minute commute will mostly be watching a video or two, checking feeds and listening to music wirelessly again - I'll arrive at work with about 80% remaining at best.
However, this is where it gets annoying. Despite some days being less heavy, I'll still leave work with only 30-odd% left, with minimal interaction and the phone connected to Wi-Fi. If I stream YouTube videos or use it for gaming at lunch, there's a strong chance the charger will need to come out about 4PM to ensure there's enough juice to get me home as it will be below 15%.
Even with minimal use during the day, the LG G4 was always below 15% come bedtime, if not completely run out. While I appreciate that a lot of what I do could be construed heavier usage - email is always syncing, for instance - compared to something like the LG G2 the battery life simply isn't good enough.
The upshot is my confidence in the G4's battery is not high - it's about the same as the iPhone 6 and HTC One M9, but slightly better than the Samsung Galaxy S6.
The screen is again the big suck on the power, with all those pixels needing power and the brightness needing to be up a little higher to keep the display viewable at all times. But it seems that despite being on Android 5.1, the problems with the OS have maintained - it's the Google Services and the OS taking the second and third biggest drain slots.
Android 6 Marshmallow is incoming though - LG is going to be one of the first manufacturers to roll it out, and it could really change the battery life on all these phones.
The large, high-res QHD screen makes sense as a reason to drain the battery, despite LG promising that the hexa-core processor should be less hungry and the GPU is smart enough to throttle less important actions.
The odd thing here is that our media battery test, where we stream a 90 minute HD video on full brightness, only saw a drop of 15% - which is a lot less than other phones on the market. The reason for this is pretty obvious: LG's good at switching off the unnecessary things in the background when you're watching a video, it's just the background syncing that hurts the power.
The Sony range is still the best for power management and once again confirmed that the need for a QHD screen doesn't come close to being enough of a sacrifice for better battery life.
And there's no inbuilt wireless charging, much to my wireless chagrin. If Samsung can chuck two types in the S6, then LG can put at least one standard in there - especially when there's so much wasted space under the cover.
LG's making a big deal about the camera prowess of the LG G4, and rightly so: if you're going to release a new flagship phone, the screen, design, battery and camera should be the elements you get right before adding any bells and whistles on top.
The specs make for salivating reading: there's a 16MP camera on the rear, and it's fused with an f1.8 aperture that is designed to deliver spectacular low-light ability. On top of that LG has added in a huge amount of control to the camera, allowing users to choose the settings for pretty much any area of the snapper they wish to play with.
That includes RAW support, which is baked into Android these days and will attract some of the more photographically-minded among the smartphone community.
However, there's the necessary 'Auto' and 'Simple' modes that will let you just take snaps as and when you want to, getting the best picture you can without having to mess around with the settings.
LG's also touting the fact its camera loads in 0.6 seconds - coincidentally faster than Samsung's 0.7 second opening speed on the Galaxy S6. However, where Samsung has added the quick open to double tapping the home button, LG's speed is only when tapping the camera icon.
You can open the camera using the rear volume key, double tapping it to fire up the snapper, but that's only when the phone is asleep - and it takes about two seconds to load. That's not slow, but it's nowhere near as fast as Samsung manages.
In practice, the LG G4 is an accomplished camera, and up there with the best I've ever tested. The Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 both offer phenomenal pictures just by framing and tapping the shutter button, and LG probably slips the G4 just in between these two in terms of picture quality.
The low-light claims definitely hold up to scrutiny - trying it in darker, shadowy places the results were amazing, even compared to the Galaxy S6, which has excellent ability in this space too.
However, the processing LG places on top of its pictures is higher, so edges seem ever so slightly less sharp than that seen on the S6's pictures - which I considered the gold standard in low light photography. It's your choice though: slightly brighter pictures, more muddy results. The difference is very, very slight though.
In good light though, the LG G4 really comes into its own. The laser autofocus will generally give good, sharp results and the colour and brightness levels are excellent.
That said, a quick snap picture doesn't always give something sharp and in focus - that laser is either misfiring or not as impressive as the marketing sounds.
Overall, the LG G4 has a great camera, and will result in amazing pictures most of the time, with bright, clear and colourful images. The results are always too over-sharpened for my tastes, but that's been a feature of LG's camera prowess for years.
It's worth noting that most of the above is talking about automatic mode, rather than the manual control, which gives brilliant pictures if you know how to play with the settings - manual focus is awesome, and altering the exposure and ISO settings never failed to get the right picture.
If you're someone who knows what they're doing with photography, this is a brilliant phone to play with - but for the automatic mode, it's not quite as impressive. Very good, but just below the best I've seen.
Music, movies and gaming
Media is an area LG has been bossing for a while now, and that's continued with the G4, thanks to great screen and onboard compatibility with loads of files, including lossless formats and the best the audio world can offer.
The music options through the app are excellent, with pretty every element of the app being something you can mess around with to get the best out of the audio experience.
We are a mostly approaching the point where there's nothing really to add to the story - sure, it's great that the phone can handle the high resolution audio, but that's not much use when you consider there aren't loads of file types that support it out there. Yes, it's good to have the 'Hi-Fi' sound option on there, but right now there's not a lot of use for it.
The LG Music player is actually surprisingly basic for something from the South Korean brand that usually revels in giving you as many options as possible.
In fact, only the ability to split sound between headphones and Bluetooth when both are connected is something to make me perk up, where Samsung has a whole audio suite that can tailor music to getting the best out of any headphones, no matter the quality.
I do like the 'music video' option in the settings, as it will automatically search YouTube for the video for you to watch - it would be way cooler if this played in the window though.
When it comes to movies, LG has got the bases covered once again. You'd assume that this was one of the best phones for watching videos on - after all, it's got a cinema quality screen (according to LG) and the QHD display that delivers the joint-most pixels on the market.
On top of that, the curved glass is supposed to help with reflection to make it a more pleasant experience, so overall the signs were good.
And the experience matched, for the most part. When thinking about watching videos on the LG G4 my mind instantly points out the brightness levels - I has to push them right up to the maximum to get the best picture, as glare was often something of an issue (even when commuting on a train).
When the brightness is cranked up, the picture is good – really good – but like last year, I'm still not convinced we need QHD screens. No, scrap that: we don't need them yet. There's no great content out there which really takes the full potential of these screens and makes them into a compelling reason to buy the phone, so why place the battery sucking display on there at all?
You can make a case for the menus and internet browsing looking a little sharper – and they do, for the most part - but it doesn't add enough to the mix to make the LG G4 really need a super high resolution display.
The colours are deep and rich, although the red balance is really high, screaming out of the screen compared to the more muted blues and greens.
It's a tricky one to review the LG G4 for movies – while the display is clear, large and super sharp (all things I'm looking for in a phone for watching videos) it seems a bit unnecessary. That said, if battery life doesn't bother you, the G4 offers excellent performance.
For gaming I was expecting the LG G4 to be excellent – even two fewer cores shouldn't hurt here, although I was intrigued to find out whether the higher res screen might drop the framerate.
As expected, it was great. The screen is expansive and responsive, the frame rate was rapid enough to crank out most of the top-end games on the market right now and 32GB of internal space should be enough to install loads of top-end options.
It's still not got the ability to run multiple games in the background – they'll still shut down as you flip between them – and there's still way too much lag when trying to push it up onto a big screen. However, these aren't really massive issues that affect your general day to day gaming.
The only real issue for the LG G4 as a gaming device is the speed with which it munches the battery.
I wasn't expecting that with the 808 hexa-core processor, so it's a disappointment to see it run down so quickly.
What else should I consider?
LG has this habit of launching into a market that's already well-stocked with new high-end flagships, and as such has a slew of rivals to fight off when making a case to be your new smartphone for the next two years.
LG has historically had price on its side when it comes to one-upping the competition, and now it's super cheap too. So how does it stack up against the competition?
Samsung Galaxy S6
Samsung's Galaxy S6 (and its brother, the Galaxy S6 Edge) is a phone that's shown the South Korean brand still knows how to make a really decent handset.
While it's got the same QHD screen as the LG G4, the shrunken dimensions combined with the Super AMOLED screen make it a really compelling thing to look at – plus it also comes in a variety of storage sizes, from 32GB to 128GB… although does so at the expense of a microSD slot, which LG offers.
It's more expensive than LG's offering, and the gap between the two will likely continue to grow – and weirdly the S6 is a more complex phone than the G4 too, where historically LG has been all about smashing as much stuff in its devices as possible.
HTC One M9
The HTC One M9 is almost the nemesis to the LG G4, adding in style and design prowess but dropping the camera and screen quality. However, there's something about the refined package that HTC has created here that makes it more impressive, with the classy Sense overlay joining well with the Boomsound speakers and metal chassis to offer something rather decent.
That said, the LG's leather back will entice some over the metal, the camera is much better here (with more modes) and the screen much better too, with both phones ending up neck and neck in battery life.
iPhone 6 / 6 Plus
I've included both these phones here simply because they both offer slightly different competition to the G4. The iPhone 6 is one of the front-running phones on the market simply due to the mature experience it offers, but the 6 Plus brings a larger screen (similar to the G4) as well as extended battery life.
Both thrive through the iOS app ecosystem and familiar user interface, as well as exceptional design and speed under the finger. However, LG creams the two of them with its screen technology, and even though Apple's got some great camera tech the South Korean brand still manages to provide improved snaps.
Oh, this is a tricky one. You're an LG fan and you can't decide which phone to go for. The LG G4 is superior in terms of photography, the screen is better quality (although the same res) and the design is curved and enhanced.
There's more power stuffed inside and the battery life is roughly the same. So surely the new model? Well, no, as the LG G3 is lot, lot cheaper than the new offering, and comes with Android 5 too.
I'd advise the LG G4 as the phone of choice simply because it will get software upgrades for a year longer – and now the price has dropped a little too.
The LG G4 is a phone that's designed to keep building the head of steam LG's creating in the smartphones space, building on the worldwide success of the LG G3 sales.
The brand should be applauded for trying something different with the design: the leather back and curved chassis are just the sort of thing that anyone looking to not be a 'me-too' brand should be doing.
There's a lot going on with the LG G4, and for the most part it's rather positive indeed.
The LG G4 has a large, expansive and rich screen – one of the best on the market, without doubt. I'm going to label it as a positive as while there's not really enough content out there to make use of it (and therefore the battery sucking aspects are more annoying) the great colour reproduction and sharpness generally make everything look that much better.
The camera errs on the side of sharpness too much for my liking, and LG has repeated its usual trick of mudding the edges of some darker snaps, but overall I got great pictures time and again – the low light capabilities are exquisite at times.
The curved chassis might be thick, but that doesn't mean it felt large in the hand, and I still believe the rear buttons make sense from an ergonomic point of view.
The battery life is still too poor – what on Earth has Google done with Android to make Lollipop so thirsty on the power?
I never, ever got through a whole day on battery with the G4, no matter what I was doing, and quickly found myself topping up at 4PM just to make sure I could make it through the commute home. Not good enough, especially when a slower processor was chosen to help with battery drain.
The leather back just doesn't work. Some out there will like the novelty, but it's not even nice feeling leather. When you feel it for the first time it doesn't feel like a quality leather wallet but more plastic leather – thin and grainy. Plus it's leather on a phone – miles away from the premium feel of the HTC One M9 or iPhone 6.
The plastic options are just too cheap-feeling to be used on a flagship phone - and while this is still a better interface than Samsung's TouchWiz, it's still not as fast or fluid as I'd expect from a phone of this ilk.
It's not the fastest out there among the flagships either. It's not the slowest, but for general zipping about this is a middle-of-the-road phone.
I know the number of LG fans is growing, and for good reason: the South Korean firm is working hard on bringing the best from its labs into a smartphone. The screen and camera on the LG G4 are really good additions and are genuine upgrades from last year's G3.
However, the brand still hasn't shown me it can make a truly market-leading smartphone. The decision to use leather and plastic is awful – LG needed a premium design and failed badly in trying to be a little different.
Those that value a removable battery need to realise that an all-in-one design comes at a price - so if you value the option of being able to swap out a power pack, you'll have to accept a lowering of design prowess.
It feels slightly churlish criticising the G4 in some ways, as it's a strong phone with a lovely screen and decent elements that people really want. The issues are around the ergonomics the larger phone brings, the poor choices in leather and plastic and the battery life - and although the new super-low price means the G4 is a better proposition with the power on offer.
The overall package is just slightly too rough around the edges to say this is a really brilliant phone, although with the new lower price it's a much, much more attractive proposition - with the cuts, you should definitely consider this as your new phone if you want a flagship phone while paying a lot less.