LG G4: Australian Hands On

The LG G4 is a beautiful piece of smartphone hardware. A slightly curved 5.5-inch screen, carbon fibre weave on the front, and sumptuous fine-grain leather wrapped around the back. The G4 is built around one amazingly good camera, and it's also the first phone I've seen with Android 5.1 -- and takes full advantage of that new software.

Campbell Simpson travelled to Singapore as a guest of LG.

The Camera: 16 Megapixels, F/1.8, OIS

I fully expect most of the buzz around the LG G4 to revolve around its camera, and rightly so. It's a 16-megapixel 1/2.6-inch (Sony IMX234) sensor, rivaling the one in Samsung's Galaxy S6 and Note 4 for sensor pixel density, but improves on those two with a fixed f/1.8 lens letting in 11 per cent more light shot-for-shot than the S6 and 80 per cent more light shot-for-shot than the previous LG G3. And it takes some genuinely great photos, for a smartphone camera. It's a good sensor in the first place, capturing appreciably high levels of detail in a brightly lit setting. Ramp up the ISO and it will start to blur, of course, but in my anecdotal experience even high ISO images look broadly similar to that of a good point-and-shoot compact camera rather than a run-of-the-mill smartphone.

Most impressive is the lens attached to said sensor, though. It has a maximum aperture of f/1.8 -- equal fastest of any smartphone -- and does let in a great deal of light shot-for-shot against its competitors. While I'll let others get into the absolute nitty-gritty of it, suffice to say that it's very competitive with the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 Plus, taking equal or better photographs depending on the setting. A lot of that comes from some really good image stabilisation built into the lens, which means you'll capture clean and blur-free photos down to an (extremely slow, for a smartphone) 1/4 second shutter speed -- a feat I pulled off many times even given my shaky hands.

It's so good, though, to say that LG hasn't neglected the software side of the G4's camera suite. If you want it to be, the G4's camera app is simple -- no grid lines or fancy beauty modes or anything, just tap to focus and fire the shutter. But if you don't want it to be, if you're the kind of person that likes tweaking their photos in VSCO and Instagram and the like, you will love the G4's manual camera mode. From it, you can adjust white balance (on a colour temperature scale), ISO (from 50 upwards), shutter speed (everything down to 5 seconds) and can even preset a manual focus point from any of more than a dozen steps from macro to infinity. It's the manual focusing that most impresses, especially for close-up shooting, and it's genuinely easy to use if you've ever held a digital SLR before. Of course, even in the manual mode there's an auto-exposure lock if you want to concentrate on framing.

Here are some official samples from the LG G4. Click on the image below to see the gallery:

And here are some photos, downsampled to 1080p resolution, that I've captured in a few quick minutes with the LG G4:

The Software: Android 5.1 Lollipop

The G4 will (likely) be the first phone to launch in Australia with Android 5.1, unless Google decides to introduce a new Nexus handset in the next couple of months. Being Lollipop, the G4's operating system is relatively simple and lightweight, with a lot of bright colours on top of 5.1's already colour-blocky Material Design look. For the most part LG continues the same trend that defined the previous G3's interface -- a holistic combination of flat round and square iconography and menu systems, with little transparency to confuse things. It looks good, but more importantly it's easy to understand as an Android newbie -- moreso than Samsung's alternatives. Everything you'd expect in terms of included apps, with the usual fripperies of free Google Drive storage, is included -- but no bespoke apps like Samsung's Milk Music or video streaming services.

LG is only offering the G4 as a 32GB variant, although it also has a microSD card slot supporting cards of up to two terabyte in size. Roughly 22.6GB of storage space is available for apps and media to be installed upon straight out of the box. That should be enough for the regular user, especially since we've all become wizened to having 16GB of storage or less by default -- especially on phones with no expandable storage option -- but anyone planning to watch 1080p or 1440p video or downloading a large high-res audio library might want to invest in a microSD card.

The Screen: 5.5 Inches, Quad HD, Curved

The LG G4 is built around its 5.5-inch screen, and with a high screen-to-body ratio it very much feels like a giant LCD panel with a smartphone stuck on behind it. That's a good thing -- No unnecessary bulk, although it's slightly taller than the G3 it replaces. That 5.5-inch screen is a 2560x1440 pixel unit like the previous model, but it makes a huge improvement in brightness from the alright bright G3. This is an LCD that will look great outdoors and rivals OLED for maximum luminance. It's also beautifully detailed and has incredibly vibrant colours -- something LG is playing up with its stock wallpapers -- thanks to a massively improved colour gamut from its IPS Quantum (but not quantum dot) display.

The curve, although it's nowhere near as prominent as the edges of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge or the flex of LG's own G Flex 2, is a really nice accent and really stands out when you put the G4 on its front and admire the rear leather. It's a curve that follows the rest of the phone, too, on the back and around to the sides. It's just a really nice but understated extra. In-cell touch allows for the gap between glass and LCD panel to be drastically reduced, too, so the display looks closer to the face of the phone than on previous LG smartphones. It's not quite as contrasty a display as any brand new Samsung AMOLED panel, but it's significantly better than the slightly washed-out look of previous phones from LG.

The CPU: Snapdragon 808, Hexa-Core

One potential sticking point with the LG G4 when you put it head to head against the Samsung Galaxy S6 that is its natural competition is the fact that it's using a Snapdragon 808, a cut-down version of the Snapdragon 810 with six cores and a 1.82GHz maximum clock speed. The Snapdragon 810 -- as used in the HTC One M9 and the Japanese release of the Sony Xperia Z4 -- has a 2.8GHz maximum and eight cores, as well as a more powerful companion graphics processor. While the 810 has been plagued by a series of overheating problems -- I think that might be the reason we're not getting the Z4 in Australia, while the One M9's launch was delayed to fix an overheating "bug" -- the fact remains that the 808 is less powerful, and will fall behind in benchmarks especially compared to the S6's Samsung Exynos 7420 octa-core (which is made on a brand new, incredibly energy efficient architecture).

Be that as it may, the 808 is nonetheless a powerful processor and one that deserves to be inside a flagship smartphone like the G4. It has four low-power cores and two high-power cores, and will happily run on one or two of the lesser units for background tasks like Web browsing or playing music with the screen off. Ask it to play a modern smartphone game or something more serious, though, and the dual power cores come into play, consuming more power and creating more heat but ensuring things run smoothly. It's only at the absolute top end of things -- and that's usually synthetic scenarios like benchmark testing and so on -- that the LG G4's competitors will notice a significant difference in power. The G4 has 3GB of RAM, so should be no slower switching apps and storing files in temporary memory than its competitors -- although they all take different approaches to software and mileage may vary.

Pricing And Release Date: We Don't Know, Yet

LG is running a staggered release for the G4 -- it'll go on sale in Korea very soon, but smaller regions like Australia won't be able to get hold of stock for a couple of months at least. There are twofold reasons for this -- firstly and simply, the G4 is going to be popular and it'll be a challenge for LG to get stock and keep up with demand in other parts of the world including its home territory before an Australian launch. That's understandable, and there's nothing we can do about that. The second reason is the rigour with which Australian telco partners test their local devices to make sure they comply with their requirements and don't do anything untoward. For a carrier like Telstra, that means testing every conceivable feature of the phone and measuring its radio frequency emissions to make sure that the G4 isn't leaking -- and this is an extensive process. It's how Telstra gets its Blue Tick scheme (for good smartphone signal reception), but it also delays local releases.

The G4's processor could be its weakest point, and having to wait to get hold of it isn't great. But the build quality is supreme -- some of the best I've seen in a smartphone, with clear and genuine thought going into the entire package -- and the camera is equally deserving of superlatives. The software package is simple and stays out of the way, with a few welcome tweaks like that excellent Pro camera mode, but for the most part it is a clean and colourful iteration of Android 5.1 Lollipop. I can see the LG G4 being a surprise hit when it's released. Of course, we don't know exactly when that is and how much it'll cost, but I can say that I fully expect it to be in Australia in three or four months' time at most, with a price tag to beat the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and iPhone 6 Plus -- that's the way that LG works. I actually can't wait to get my hands on one again.

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